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Some years back we were made aware of a remark by a no doubt well-meaning priest who called the spirituality from an apparition site "shallow." It was a site that has led to literally millions of conversions, as well as healings and vocations.

Perhaps the attitude, as one more open scholar puts it, is: "Even if it can be shown that God does occasionally heal the sick, you should be superior to that type of spirituality."

In other words, we seem to be at a point, in a Church that has strayed, in places, from its roots, where those who dismiss virtually all reported supernormal manifestations fancy themselves, in their skepticism (and perhaps sometimes cynicism), as the "adults in the room." This is unfortunate, the sort of thinking, pervasive at many diocesan offices, rectories, and seminaries, that has stymied and perhaps even shrunken the Church, as if miracles, including exorcism and healing -- both so often practiced by Jesus and His followers (half of the first eight chapters of Mark are dedicated to healing) -- are no longer of relevance to the mature Catholic. It is an attitude that dates back to around the Fifth Century, when in many ways the Church pivoted from its original style (whereby there was direct laying on of hands and exorcism; more actions than words) and became increasingly institutional.

The attitude of superiority toward the supernatural seems to hold the notion that miracles were needed to establish the Church, but now that people believe, there's no further need for signs or proof, notes the scholar, Dr. Francis MacNutt, who specializes in deliverance and healing.

Miracles are treated as "props," in MacNutt's words; the mature Church of today no longer needs inducements of that sort to believe.

Yet can anyone seriously argue that the Church of today is as effective as the one immediately instituted by the Apostles and other disciples after the death of Jesus, Who had instructed them precisely to go forth showing signs of the supernatural: healing and casting out demons (Matthew 10:1; Luke 9:1; Luke 10:1)? The fantastic ministries of men like Gregory the Wonderworker -- massive conversions in places such as northern Turkey -- came largely and almost exclusively due to demonstration of the actual supernatural power of prayer. Attitudes that argue against this, points out MacNutt -- that are over-skeptical (a certain degree of skepticism is important) -- "completely undercut the good news Christ came to bring."

Some of it may go back to Saint Augustine -- who in his early writings asserted that healing had ceased in the Church and was no longer necessary.

"But his experience in his own life changed his mind," points out Dr. MacNutt. "Notably, in his own diocese nearly seventy attested miracles took place in two years' time. In 427, just three years before he died, Augustine, in his book of Retractions, took back what he had said in his early writing (De Vera Religione) about the age of miracles being past, and described miraculous cures which he had seen, dramatic enough to have changed his mind."

Incredibly, many of our theologians and seminary instructors, and as a result many of our clerics -- sincere men who try their best -- still draw from what Saint Augustine initially said, instead of from his later corrections. The same's true in the case of Saint Thomas Aquinas, who glimpsed the afterlife (in a vision shortly before dying) and announced that following what he had just seen (on the "other side"), everything he'd written was "like straw." (He never wrote again.) Check this out with every biography of him.

"How can we understand the lack of courses in mainline seminaries dealing with healing and, above all, deliverance?" asked Dr. MacNutt, who has a healing center in Jacksonville, Florida. "Strange as it may seem to many Christians today, the main factor in conversion was exorcism -- the driving out of demons!"

"Belief in the supernatural was accepted in those days and Christianity was presented as being in direct conflict with pagan gods," wrote the scholar, who added that modern non-miraculous Christianity was also infected by Platonic and Manichean thought (the latter a heresy).

The decline in supernaturalism might also be traced to the politicization of the Church since the time of Constantine -- a Church suddenly more involved in worldly affairs than person-to-person ministry.

Of course, there is a place for that: The Church needs an involvement in the affairs of cultures and societies. But has it gone too far, even way too far, in this direction? Surely, worldliness cannot constitute mature spirituality. As for sickness and healing, to ignore it, says MacNutt, is to possibly preclude and prevent it.

While there is such a thing as redemptive suffering, which is such a focus, Jesus healed all who came to Him. Sadly, perhaps tragically, the non-supernatural orientation of the modern Church has prevented an untold number of healings, exorcisms, and conversions -- which is not the way the Church began and for which we are held accountable.

"I am reminded of the parable of the enemy who went out and sowed weeds in the wheat field while the farmer slept," wrote Dr. MacNutt, in an excellent, compelling, and seminal book entitled simply Healing. "Using poetic liberty, I take the farmer to represent some leaders in the Church; the wheat is the good news that Christ has come to bring liberty to the captives and healing for the sick.

"Sometime in the night (the Middle Ages), the enemy came and sowed an interlocking network of weeds that choked out even the expectation of a harvest of wheat. Instead of the good news of healing, a multitude of interlocking arguments now encourage us to return to an acceptance of the bad news."

The lack of mysticism is why so many young and Hispanics find the American Church dry (and leave). The Church is doctrine but more than that it is power. And meanwhile what the Blessed Mother says, let us note, operating as it does on many levels, is deeper than what can be posited in a theology department.

[resources: healing books]

[See also: Michael Brown retreat, Raleigh, North Carolina area, June 20: prophecy, healing, spiritual warfare ]

[Feedback: (anonymous): "We have invested millions of dollars and millions of hours trying to bring the youth into the Faith! It does not work! The real problem with the youth is Fatherhood. If you bring the father of family into the Faith, normally the entire family comes into the Faith! If you bring a single youth into the Faith, you will only bring one other person into the Faith. We have pushed men out of the Catholic Church, while at the same time reached over backwards to women and youth. Check out Steve Woods site on Fatherhood. The results have been devastating! And we keep doing it. We need to bring men, fathers, into the Faith, they will bring their children and wives. Homilies alone will not convert. St. John Vianney had a terrible voice for homilies, and forgot parts of them. Yet he converted thousands.]

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