Friday, September 1, 2017

Be Happy - Choose Joy

With the news channels reporting non-stop tragedies, scandals, and woes of one type or another, it’s easy to allow ourselves to become disgruntled and despondent. But we have to fight against that urge. Not only is it a form of spiritual suicide to wallow in such feelings, but it is exactly what our enemy wants.

Catholic blogger and author Michael H. Brown posted this message recently on his website Spirit Daily. It bears repeating:

For Satan is a supreme liar, and will whisper into your ears discouragement, disparagement, false notion, umbrage, anger, false memory, exaggeration. He can also make you hear something other than what a person is saying. 
As far as anxiety, that’s a form of fear. The devil makes you dread for the future, for your job, for your health, and for your family; and especially he wants you to fear him. He wants you afraid because his minions are parasites; they use fear to energize and materialize their disembodied existence; they revel in and feed off anxiety, anger, and fear.

This doesn't mean we have to go around with smiles pasted on our faces at all times. I know this would be hard for me, given my personality.

But we can at least be mindful that choosing gloom and doom isn’t what God wants for us. We have a choice. We can choose to walk out from under the black cloud and into His light. We can choose to be what we’re called to be: joyful children of God.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

R.I.P. William Peter Blatty

While taking a theology class at Georgetown University in 1949, William Peter Blatty heard about an extraordinary case of diabolical possession involving a 14-year-old boy in nearby Prince George’s County. The story stuck in the back of his mind. Two decades later, Blatty secluded himself in a cabin near Lake Tahoe and tapped out a novel on a green IBM Selectric about a 12-year-old girl who became possessed by a demon. He called the novel The Exorcist.

Topping most lists as the scariest movie ever made (and the scariest book ever written), The Exorcist not only made Blatty a star, but opened the door to a whole new generation of horror films, a sub-genre that could be called the “Supernatural Thriller,” the likes of which today are reflected in modern hits like “The Exorcism of Emily Rose,” “The Conjuring,” and the Paranormal Activity franchise films.

Blatty also achieved something else with The Exorcist that in the early 1970s was considered countercultural, if not downright heretical. He made evil a tangible thing. He personified it. It was something that was real, that was intelligent, that was cunning. Yet it could be confronted and overcome. By religion, of all things! This flew in the face of everything the pop psychology of the time preached, that the concept of evil was outdated, irrelevant, and, if anything, was just a “disordered psychoses” appearing in a few unfortunate individuals.

Blatty died on January 12, 2017, at the age of 89, after a short battle with blood cancer. He was a lifelong Catholic, albeit one who struggled with his faith, like so many of us. (More...)

* * *

Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him.

(The above content was originally published on the blog JohnHarkerBooks and has been reproduced here with permission from the author,)

Monday, November 14, 2016

Evil Unleashed

Yesterday I wrote about the rise of interest in the occult and the correlative rise in exorcism requests. Author John Harker goes into this in more detail in his new book, Evil Unleashed: True Tales of Spells Gone to Hell and Other Occult Disasters. The ugly, horrifying consequences of participating in the occult are showcased in twelve fascinating chapters, with plenty of interesting and thought-provoking bits of advice sprinkled throughout from experts in the paranormal field. (Some Catholic, some not, but all worth considering.) John is an acquaintance of mine, and I’m happy to help him out by giving his book a plug here. If you know of anyone who’s in danger of getting entangled in the occult, or if you’re in the mood for a spooky-good read yourself, pick up a copy and share. The more you know about the enemy, the more you can arm yourself against it.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

The Rise of the Exorcists

There has been a lot of talk in news circles lately about the astonishing rise in the number of exorcism requests around the globe. In Italy alone last year, there were 500,000 such requests. While the pleas for help cross all belief systems, it is, of course, the Catholic Church that is in the forefront of the melee. After all, when you think exorcist, you think Catholic priest, not Presbyterian minister. Thankfully, more priests are being appointed to this special ministry, in large part to Pope John Paul II’s 2003 exhortation to bishops to make it so. In the United States, the number of official Church-approved exorcists has risen from 12 to 50 in the last 20 years.

Father Gary Thomas of the Diocese of San Jose, and Father Vincent Lambert of the Diocese of Indianapolis, are two such priests who have answered the call of their bishops. Many exorcists like to stay anonymous even within their own parishes, but Fathers Thomas and Lambert are known for their accessibility and their willingness to talk about what many people don’t want to hear: that personified evil is a real thing. Satan and his demons are active in our world and they’re making many people’s lives miserable. Full-blown possession still remains a fairly rare occurrence, but the incidence of demonic attachment, infestation, and oppression is staggering.

Why the uptick? Father Lambert believes that the increase in demonic activity is not merely because the Devil has “upped his game,” but also because more people are willing to play his game today through activities that are opening up doorways to evil in their lives. These activities include things like drugs and pornography, falling away from traditional faiths, and persisting in a life of sin.

And then there is the occult. Whether it’s labeled New Age studies, metaphysics, or the dark arts, interest and participation in these activities is booming. When asked in an interview if the occult is satanic, Fr. Thomas answered:
“Not in and of itself, but it’s opening a doorway. It’s tampering in the spirit world, and you do not know who’s going to show up. So when someone gets into Wicca, black magic or white magic, psychics, séances, Tarot cards, spells, or all that other idolatrous stuff, they don’t know what’s going to happen. They’re tapping into a realm they know nothing about, most of the time.”
In the light of all these warnings, statistics, and stories of evil spirits running amok, you might wonder how safe you are from satanic influences. Fr. Thomas leaves us with this hopeful message: “If you have a strong faith life, a strong prayer life, and a strong sacramental life, then you have nothing to worry about.”

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Saturday, October 15, 2016

The Ouija Board: Just Say No

It seems that every October Hollywood releases at least one new horror movie, capitalizing, of course, on the spirit of Halloween, which in this country has gotten way out of control. (But that's another blog post.) Two years ago the movie Ouija  made quite a splash at the box office, so much so that this year a prequel to that movie is coming out, Ouija: Origin of Evil. While interest in the movie itself isn’t necessarily of great concern (I happen to love horror movies myself), it’s the real-life obsession in the movie’s subject matter that is unsettling: the Ouija board.

Tens of millions of these “games” have been sold since their inception in the late 1800s. Modernized by Parker Brothers in the 1960s (and now sold under the Hasbro label), the board has been marketed as a harmless toy and party game. In fact, in 2008 Toys R Us even began selling a special pink edition just for little girls. How cute! Maybe the demons will wear tutus and ribbons when they come to the sleepover! (The board has since been removed from the store, but a glow-in-the-dark one is still available.)

Make no mistake: the Ouija board is not a toy. It’s not a game. It’s not harmless.

Fr. Thomas Euteneurer, exorcist and author of Exorcism and the Church Militant, is on record as saying that as many as ninety percent of the possession cases he encounters began with a Ouija board.

The late Catholic demonologist Ed Warren once called the Ouija board a “notorious passkey to terror.”

And the late Jesuit author Malachi Martin, who wrote extensively about demonic possession, once explained that the individual does not even have to intentionally engage the demonic. Simply dabbling in the occult, he believed, whether it was playing with a Ouija board or attending a séance or practicing transcendental meditation, the enneagram, etc., can dispose a person to possession because he has made himself an "aspiring vacuum" to whatever happens along.

Something “happened along” one night many, many years ago in my own life, when a young female relative who was babysitting me thought it would be fun to show me her Ouija board. She was going to try to contact a long-dead family member known only to me as “Aunt Marie.” She started moving the pointer around the board until the word “H E R E” was spelled out. My babysitter was visibly shaken, I remember that, but whether or not she was faking, I don’t know. Nothing else dramatic happened right then. But later that night after I had gone to bed, I remember waking up and seeing a very scary-looking woman coming in my room through my window. She was smiling at me maniacally and I just knew–I could feel–that her intent toward me was evil. I screamed for my parents and the vision vanished. Maybe it was just a bad dream. Nevertheless, I never saw that Ouija board again.

The relative of whom I spoke I loved dearly. When she was around 30 years old, she disappeared under mysterious circumstances and has never been heard from again. She battled many demons during the short period of her life that I knew her, the addictive, destructive kinds that are on the natural plane. I’m sure, however, that her unfortunate interest in the occult only made things worse. I hope and pray I see her again one day.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church makes it clear how we are to approach the occult:
2116: All forms of divination are to be rejected: recourse to Satan or demons, conjuring up the dead or other practices falsely supposed to “unveil” the future. Consulting horoscopes, astrology, palm reading, interpretation of omens and lots, the phenomena of clairvoyance, and recourse to mediums all conceal a desire for power over time, history, and, in the last analysis, other human beings, as well as a wish to conciliate hidden powers. They contradict the honor, respect, and loving fear that we owe to God alone.
Fr. John Zuhlsdorf offers this no-nonsense advice: “Avoid, avoid, avoid things that might open you up to oppression by the Enemy, such as Tarot cards and Ouija boards and other things that might be taken to be ‘games’.  If you have those things destroy them NOW, not later.”

* * * * *

Need more proof that the Ouija board is a channel for evil? This book has plenty of stories from people in all walks of life who have dabbled with the boards and have regretted it. There are some good quotes from Catholic professionals in the book as well.

St. Michael, the Archangel, defend us in battle.
Be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil.
May God rebuke him, we humbly pray,
and do thou, O Prince of the heavenly hosts,
by the power of God, 
thrust into hell Satan,
and all the evil spirits,
who prowl about the world 
seeking the ruin of souls. Amen.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Gentle Advice from St. Francis de Sales

"Never be hurried in anything. Do all things calmly and in a spirit of repose. Do not lose your inward peace, even if everything seems to be going wrong. What is anything in life compared to peace of soul?"
-St. Francis de Sales

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Mother Teresa's Express Novena

Mother Teresa was known for many things, not the least of which was her intense devotion to Mary. Rarely was she seen without a rosary woven around her fingers, Miraculous Medals at the ready to pass out to friends and strangers, and a prayer on her lips in praise or petition. Many times this prayer was the Memorare, one of Mother Teresa’s favorite invocations to the Blessed Virgin. A popular story about Mother Teresa is how, when faced with a seemingly insurmountable obstacle, she immediately turned to Mary for help by praying an “express novena” of nine Memorares. And then a tenth in thanksgiving for favors received, such was her faith and trust.

Did it work? Well, those who worked with Mother Teresa were constantly in awe of how she seemed to always get what she wanted one way or another. Whether it was by appearing in person at the residence of a rich benefactor, influencing a powerful leader with carefully chosen words, or storming heaven with her prayers, Mother Teresa didn’t take no for an answer.

When I first heard about the express novena (also known as the “emergency novena”), I was intrigued enough to search the Web for stories about it. What I found was remarkable, and I urge you, dear readers, to do the same. There are countless testimonies out there that speak of the power of this devotion. And I am happy to say that I now count myself as a member of that camp. About a year ago I faced a personal crisis that led me to Mother Teresa’s emergency novena. I prayed it in my car on a cold February morning with as much fervor as I could muster given my depressed state of mind. Long story short, my crisis passed and my cloud lifted. While skeptics could claim it would have with or without the novena, I have no doubt our Mother in Heaven was looking out for me. Twice more this year I have had to turn to the novena for help. And twice more Mary has come to my aid. If anyone asks me if Mother Teresa’s express novena works, I will unequivocally say yes.

The Memorare is a beautiful prayer usually accredited to St. Bernard of Clairvaux, but its origins are actually unknown. The first manuscript of the Memorare appeared in 1489 as part of a longer prayer. It was popularized in the 17th century by a French cleric, Fr. Claude Bernard (perhaps the similarity in names is why it’s associated with St. Bernard), who taught it as part of his ministry to hospitals and prisons.

Regardless of who wrote it or where it came from, the Memorare is a treasure of our Catholic faith and should be taught to every child as early as possible. With child-like confidence let us return to it in our time of need.

The Memorare Express Novena

State your intention and recite the Memorare nine times.
Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known that anyone who fled to thy protection, implored thy help or sought thy intercession was left unaided. Inspired by this confidence, I fly unto thee, O Virgin of virgins, my Mother. To thee do I come, before thee I stand, sinful and sorrowful. O Mother of the Word Incarnate, despise not my petitions, but in thy mercy hear and answer me. Amen.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Lenten Book Sale

Now and for the next 40 days, my angels and saints ebooks will be on sale for 0.99 cents each.

These pictures link to Amazon, but the books are also available at most other online book retailers.

Wishing you all a blessed and holy Lent!

Monday, January 18, 2016

St. Dymphna and Blue Monday

If you’re feeling particularly depressed today, there’s a reason for that. It’s Blue Monday. Yes indeed, there is actually a name for this annual event, courtesy of clever travel marketeers who want to convince people they need a mid-winter vacation to escape the gloom and melancholy of January. The concept was first heralded about a decade ago after careful calculations determined that the third Monday of the year is the most depressing due to the triple whammy of cold weather, Christmas debts, and broken New Year’s resolutions. So what’s a person to do given all that gloom and doom? Book a plane to Hawaii, of course!

The Catholic Church has another option if sun-soaked tropical beaches aren’t in your budget. (And given whammy number two, chances are they aren’t.) Instead of reaching for the sunscreen, trying reaching out to St. Dymphna, the patron saint of mental and nervous disorders. Dymphna was a 7th century Irish Christian princess who was forced to flee from her own father, a pagan king, when he ordered her to “marry” him. It seems the king was in the throes of a severe mental breakdown following the death of his wife when he made this outlandish request. Horrified, Dymphna fled to Belgium, but her escape was short-lived. The king followed her there, and when once again Dymphna refused his demand, in a rage of fury he cut off his daughter’s head with his sword.

The Catholic Bishops of England and Wales, recognizing the need for raised awareness of mental illnesses, and acknowledging that January is a tough month for many of us, troubled or not, have therefore designated St. Dymphna as the unofficial patron of Blue Monday and have issued a special prayer for her intercession, which of course can be said on any day of the week.

Prayer to Saint Dymphna for Help 

Good Saint Dymphna, great wonder-worker in every affliction of mind and body, I humbly implore your powerful intercession with Jesus through Mary, the Health of the Sick, in my present need. (Mention it.) 
Saint Dymphna, martyr of purity, patroness of those who suffer with nervous and mental afflictions, beloved child of Jesus and Mary, pray to Them for me and obtain my request. 
(Pray one Our Father, one Hail Mary and one Glory Be.)

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

St. Francis's Christmas Miracle

Living nativities–those church-produced (predominantly Protestant) programs that recreate the birth of Jesus with live actors, animals and elaborate props–are wildly popular during the Christmas season, often moving audiences to tears as the birth of the God-Man plays forth in a reverent, tender, and visually-satisfying 3D manner.

We Catholics, however, can take credit for the first living nativity (excluding, of course, the Actual Event), and we owe it all to St. Francis of Assisi.

In 1223, a generous and spiritual landowner by the name of John Vellita donated a piece of land to Francis and his followers. Located on a rocky and windswept mountainside on the outskirts of the town of Greccio, the land afforded Francis and his brothers a grand view of the town below.

Inspired in part by his new surroundings, Francis made an unusual request of John Vellita that December. He wished to recreate the original Nativity scene of Bethlehem for the townspeople. What better way, Francis felt, to welcome the Christ Child than to actually see, hear, and feel the harsh and poor conditions that He was born into. Sentimental stories and artists' renditions were fine, but this "reenactment" would help people understand how God used the ordinary to bring about the most extraordinary happening in human history.

John Vellita eagerly agreed, and soon a manger was set up in a cave on the hill, fresh hay was scattered around, and a donkey and ox were brought up to complete the scene. A simple altar was erected, beneath which lay a wax figure of the Holy Infant.

At midnight that Christmas, Francis celebrated Mass surrounded by the curious townspeople, who had made the trek up the dark mountain with lit torches and faith-filled hearts. As Francis spoke the words of the Mass, emotion overtook him to the point that tears rolled down his face. The onlookers were awestruck at the love and joy and piety that engulfed the humble man at the altar.

Then the miracle happened.

Francis picked up the wax figure of the Baby Jesus, and to the spectators' wondrous delight, the Infant appeared to come to life. He smiled at Francis and stroked his wet cheeks. Francis sighed deeply and was manifestly overcome with joy.

St. Bonaventure, in his biography of St. Francis, reports that the hay used in that "living nativity" cured all sorts of diseases and pestilence in the cattle that ate it over the ensuing months.

Today there is a church on the site where the "Miracle of Greccio" took place. It continues to be a popular place of pilgrimage, especially during the Christmas season.