The Charismatic Gifts: Healing
Yes, even the Catholic Church calls it a charismatic gift or, more correctly, a charism or spiritual gift. Spiritual gifts range from those miraculous abilities given by the Holy Spirit that are listed in the Bible such as speaking in tongues, prophecy, and healing to those found in the stories of the saints in the Catholic Church like reading hearts, bilocution, levitation, and the stigmata. The provision of distinction is necessary given the variance of abilities as found among adhearers to different Christian beliefs. For instance, Pentecostal/Charismatic churches proclaim to have ‘regained’ the supposedly lost ability of having the charismatic gifts found in the Bible but do not demonstrate the capability (ever, to my knowledge) of having the latter gifts. In fact, some Protestants proclaim some of those gifts to be solely demonic. Catholics who possess the charism of gifts obviously often have them from both lists.
Accordingly, the Catholic Church will attest through its long list of the stories of the saints that none of the gifts have ever been “lost” or that the Christian collective went into some sort of ‘dead zone’ where the spiritual gifts were extinguished. They have always been contained in the Church by her people at one point or another. Not everyone has these gifts, but all have some gifts of the Holy Spirit dispensed upon them through the Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation. Confirmation itself confers upon the believer the full outpouring of the Holy Spirit (CCC 1302) and it is the task of the faithful to discover the gifts which we have been given and to utilize them for the building up of the Church. We are not to “seek out” higher gifts or practice or perform methods of those spiritual gifts with which we have not been tasked with using. The practice of the laying on of hands (and/or sometimes the anointing with oil) to “receive the Holy Spirit” has been adopted by Pentecostal/Charismatics. The interpretation of the passages in Acts (2:1-42; 8:14-17; 10:44-48 for them, has become a separate act from conversion but it is also different than the Sacrament of Confirmation.
To this end, we have a different demonstration of what each end of the spectrum of Christianity would qualify as a spiritual gift. In both ends there are those who claim to have these gifts only to end up demoralizing, discouraging, and disrupting the belief of “would be” or “already” Christian followers. They are a devastating plague to Christianity because they exercise these claims under the guise of Christianity. Apostasy and heresy reign overwhelmingly in this spectacle circus of charlatans claiming to have “spiritual gifts”. The unrestrained abuses committed by these thieves is abundant because there is no higher temporal authority which calls any one of these individuals to account. The heretical practices can continue unabated because there is no hierarchical structural system in place to guard the faithful against them. The demonstrated fact that hordes of people adhere or follow these practices is proof enough that there needs to be a hierarchical system in place to protect followers of faith from being ensnared by heretical teachings. While it does not prevent individuals under a temporal hierarchical structure from falsely proclaiming these gifts, and they do in the Catholic Church, the disavowment of the Church, or at least its incredible hesitancy to approve such miracles, does prevent mass hysteria to error and makes leery subjects of its followers because it thoroughly ‘tests the spirits’ of these claims before allowing, by approval, these claims to be validated. That is not to say Catholics cannot attend or pursue these people who claim supernatural gifts, or that they aren’t real without official Church approval. It simply means that the Church provides a safety net for its followers by thoroughly inspecting all claims of the miraculous to prevent their spiritual children from being lead astray by error and false teaching.
As stated earlier there is a difference in the demonstration of these gifts according to ones Christian beliefs. Last night on ABC’s Nightline, the segment, Beyond Belief had a special on Mary titled The Miracle Mysteries (click to view entire episode). The story covered many of the sites of miraculous visions of Mary, its focus on Medjugorje (of course without stating that it is an unapproved site according to the Church). It also covered many of the Catholic beliefs about Mary and then attempted to debase them with secular and Protestant reasoning without competently explaining the foundation behind our beliefs. The errors they propagated with this line of reasoning only underscores the misinformation people hold as truth against the Church’s teachings about her. Therefore, while it was encouraging to see a whole piece devoted to Mary (even if it was on a segment called Beyond Belief) the entire basis for belief was undercut is an unfairly bias way by attempting to refute that same belief through secular and Protestant argument.
Having felt the need to establish that fact did not shy me away from the last part of the segment that they focused on which actually does have me sceptical. In part, because the show did not (and I feel deliberately) follow through with its segment to a conclusion of the subject they were investigating. It focused on a woman who claimed to speak with Mary and claimed the gift of healing. She receives multitudes of people every day and moves through the crowd somewhat like a celebrity featured onstage at an arena… sans the Blues Brothers intro music. The show followed a lady who’d come to see her for healing from stage 4 breast cancer. The lady laid her hands over the woman and (presumably since I don’t speak the ‘healers’ native language) began to pray. Reminiscent of a charismatic deliverance, the lady eventually slumped over on the couch she was on appearing to have passed out or, as the show put it, was in a state of ‘religious ecstasy’. The show more or less ended with, “Was she healed? We don’t know yet. Follow up on our website.” Besides being anti-climactic, by not including the results, it leaves the taste of sceptic disbelief in one’s mouth.
It reminded me of an episode that Lisa Ling had done for her investigative show of a charismatic preacher who claimed to have spiritual gifts including healing. Her observation lead to her following a paralytic man who was seeking healing with the wholehearted belief that he would be healed because “God told him so” only to somehow remain faithful to that same God and faith when the healing did not take place as he was ‘told’ it would. This is sometimes accompanied with a salt-ridden chiding, ‘You didn’t have enough faith [that’s why you weren’t healed].’
Most of the so-called healing that I’ve witnessed in the unchecked realm of Protestantism goes, almost verbatim, something like this: “The Lord is telling me that there’s someone out there right now who has problems with their eyesight. (It is always a general ailment mentioned that is glaringly unspecific. In fact, I heard this one just this morning) You have a detached retina and you’re starting to experience the problems with this in your vision.” Then, either through the vicarious ‘laying on of hands’, (specifically if this is being done via television or radio) or with the request of donations, a ‘seed gift’ as its sometimes called (because you’re planting a ‘seed of faith’) you can be sent some holy object which has been prayed over (this I’ve heard or seen is anything from a ‘golden key’ to a ‘blessed handkerchief’) that will deliver you from your oppression. Usually it’s healing, sometimes it can be different difficulties such as finances or trouble with loved ones.
Even without the promises of delivering a ‘blessed’ object or asking for money, these people purport to ‘prophesy’ about the needs of specific healings by talking about generalized problems to an enormous audience of desperate people. Does anyone else feel like recalling the spoofing of this same act by John Edward and similar psychic tv shows a few years ago? It’s essentially the same thing only these people are operating in the realm of God and faith. Maybe they really do believe they’ve got the ability to do this. I don’t doubt that sometimes God can work through all sorts of different religions to accomplish His will. However, I certainly wouldn’t tread into this territory lightly.
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven,
but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.
Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name?
Did we not drive out demons in your name?
Did we not do mighty deeds in your name?
Then I will declare to them solemnly, ‘I never knew you. Depart from me, you evildoers.'”
– Matthew 7:21-23
The encouraging thing about it is that there are wonderful examples of very holy men and women who have, by the Charism gifts of the Holy Spirit, healed sick and dying people. A recent example of this would be the request Pope John Paul II made to Padre Pio for a dying friend of his and she was, in turn, healed from her cancer. It is a beautiful thing to witness the extraordinary miracles of God in our everyday lives, however, these supernatural gifts are a rarity at best and whatever they may offer the world today, it is on a much more tiny scale. Most people won’t or don’t get healings. Many suffer in their plight of illness and, if they’re Catholic, have learned to offer that suffering up to God in a very spiritual way. I read an author who described the extraordinary spiritual gifts mentioned in the Bible this way; he said that if you look at the whole context of the entire Bible you’ll see that those who were prophets and miracle workers in the Bible were truly far and few between. They’ve always been far and few between. We have to remember that, time wise, the Bible is very compressed history. Also, God only sent prophets and miracle workers to affect great change in the course of the world at very specific times. For instance, Moses was sent to free God’s people from Egypt. Samuel came to prepare for the Israelites for their ruling king. Elijah came to confront the sinful people of Israel. The Apostles set out to convert the world to Christianity. These instances of massive change in the Bible required massive influence and supernatural abilities. Every gift served a momentous purpose. The Apostles spoke in tongues, for instance, because they needed to spread the Gospel to the four corners of the known world. The necessity for this gift is not as prevalent now because we have spread the Gospel to the four corners. In every country around the entire globe, the Gospel has been made available or been taught. We have the natural ability now to translate and to write in the language of the native peoples. In the time of the Apostles, speaking in tongues would have been the best and fast way God could spread The Word to the known world. As the world has the need, so doth God provide. The world today can be healed physically, but I think the ultimate bottom line for God is not the healing of the body, which decays and dies anyway, but the immortal, the spiritual, which lasts forever.
And the apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith.”The Lord replied,… “Who among you would say to your servant who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, ‘Come here immediately and take your place at table’? Would he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare something for me to eat. Put on your apron and wait on me while I eat and drink. You may eat and drink when I am finished’?
Is he grateful to that servant because he did what was commanded? So should it be with you. When you have done all you have been commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants; we have done what we were obliged to do.'” – Luke 17:5-10
In other words, do what you are commanded to do with the faith, grace, and gifts that have been given to you by God. Seek God’s help in doing the things He’s called you to do and to utilize your gifts for their highest purpose. Do the work God has commanded you to do. Do what you are obliged to do and God will give to you according to your needs. Faith, gifts, and grace is increased by doing.