Healing put to the test, Part III

Taken from wrs.vcu.edu

[excuse this amalgam of thought-scraps I pasted together for this last post. Ran out of time. Tempus fugit!]

Healed by and for love

I have to end this train of posts. But how? There are so many ways to approach the topic of faith-healing. What best to say? I thought long and prayerfully on this while flying from Denver to Dallas and it came to me that, in keeping with my proclivity toward hyperbole, I should simply share a thought about a the “more excellent [hyperbolēn] way” (1 Cor 13:6). If I may, I’d like to exaggerate for the sake of emphasis and say that if I were forced to choose, as a Catholic theologian, one “sola” in our faith to retain, it would be sola caritas, “charity alone.” We are saved, sanctified, redeemed and healed in love, for love, through love, with love and by love so that we might be able to love with the very love with which God loved us in Christ dying on the cross. Hence, theologian Hans Urs von Balthsar says, “Martyrdom is the normative form of Christian existence.”

Four hundred years after St. John wrote his letter to Nicholas Doria about the charismatic nun, another Discalced Carmelite nun in France, St. Thérèse of Lisieux, would write:

I prefer the monotony of obscure sacrifice to all ecstasies.  To pick up a pin for love can convert a soul.

St. Thérèse considered herself a disciple of John of the Cross. She said,

Ah! how many lights have I not derived from the works of our holy Father St. John of the Cross! At the ages of seventeen and eighteen I had no other spiritual nourishment. He is the saint of love par excellence.

She fully embraced his mysticism of la fe desnuda y amor a Dios, “naked faith and loving God.” For her, love of God and neighbor alone, lived in the darkness of faith in intimate union with the Passion of Jesus, is the heart of her “little way” of perfection. She said,

Our love for Jesus is truly great when we do not feel its sweetness. It then becomes a martyrdom … When, on the contrary, we begin to seek ourselves, true love dies away. Unfortunately, many serve Jesus when he consoles them, but few are willing to keep him company when he is asleep … I do not desire sensible affection, a love that I feel, but only a love that is felt by Jesus. Oh! to love Him and cause Him to be loved! … Love alone saves.

Healing by Healing Others’ Wounds

I was speaking recently with a priest about my thoughts on faith-healing, seeking his critical feedback. He made a remarkable comment at the end of our conversation:

Look, if people want some good faith healing, I tell them — pray with the prophet Isaiah for a while in front of the Blessed Sacrament, and then spend a few days with the Missionaries of Charity cleaning up puke, clipping nails and washing feet. They’ll show you charity’s the best healer there is.

I imagine he was referring specifically to Isaiah 58:6-9:

Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen —
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter —
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your wound will be quickly healed;
then your righteousness will go before you,
and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.

I recall in the months I worked with the Missionaries of Charity in D.C., I met one day with Sr. Manorama to share my frustrations with a patient named Robert. She said, after I finished my venting:

I understand it’s hard sometimes. And I am glad you share these things with me. But Tom, it’s not about you. It’s about Robert. It’s about Jesus. You are here to love Jesus in these people. And inasmuch as it’s about Robert, it’s about Jesus. If you can accept that, you’ll make progress.

At first I was furious. Then I went to the chapel to calm down and I sobbed. Robert had pulled me out of myself. Taught me love. I made progress. Conversion. Healing. In fact, those next several months were among the most transformative of my life up to that point. They set a trajectory.

St. John:

Where there is no love, put love, and you will draw forth love.

Final fragments

As I end this meandering reflection, let me say that I believe the Charismatic Renewal, when its practitioners are well grounded in a thoroughly Catholic approach, can offer some very wonderful benefits. I have received many gifts over the years from those healthy elements of the movement that continue to flourish today. It is a very complex movement, with nearly numberless iterations, and it cannot easily be described or defined. John Allen, in his book Future Church, locates the Renewal’s origins and influence in the early 20th century Protestant Pentecostal movement which, today, represents a powerful and vigorous global phenomenon. Allen says,

When future histories of Christianity are written, the late twentieth century will probably be known as the era of the ‘Pentecostal Explosion.’ From less than 6 percent in the mid-1970s, Pentecostals finished the century representing almost 20 percent of world Christianity.

Pentecostal Christianity emphasizes direct personal (highly individual) experience of God through the ‘baptism of the Holy Spirit,’ which often is believed to produce spiritual gifts such as healings, visions, and speaking in tongues. The “Pentecostalizing” of Catholicism is a phenomenon that is here to stay for a long while, especially in the global south. But, as Allen notes, though this cross-fertilization bears many benefits for renewal in Catholicism, it also bears the need for very careful discernment. Many of these Catholic faith-healing movements, in my experience, bear deep imprints from Pentecostalism, and I believe Mario’s posts point out some of the more important issues that require careful judgment.

Here also I would like to recommend some books. If you want some more on St. John, there’s a more general audience book I really like, The Impact of God: Soundings from St. John of The Cross by Iain Matthew; and another, bit more technical book, St. John of the Cross: Songs in the Night by Colin P. Thompson, that has a robust summary of John’s spiritual doctrine. On the Renewal, I like a book called Sober Intoxication of the Spirit: Filled With the Fullness of God, by the Pope’s household preacher, Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa O.F.M. Cap.


Those who attempt to unite, in a programmatic fashion, God’s healing power, psychological science, the extra-ordinary means of grace, charismatic gifts and preternatural powers must engage in a rigorous and ongoing discernment that never ever tires of a re-audit. Mario’s reflections, and those of the Fathers of Mercy, offer much for reflection. This is always a welcome thing in the Household of God.

8 comments on “Healing put to the test, Part III

  1. tom stang says:

    Thanks Dr. Tom, great series of posts. I was blessed to become part of the charismatic movement within the Catholic Church way back in 1971 (up in Michigan). It was within that segment of Catholicism that I learned about an experienced the Holy Spirit. Certainly, the gifts were attractive and useful – in the right context – but over the years the Lord has helped me see that I needed to view my charismatic vigor within the greater life of the Church. It is the core teaching of a “personal” walk, relationship, etc. with Jesus/Holy Spirit that the charismatic emphasis brings to a Catholic that is so attractive. That emphasis is very lacking in the teaching and ministries of the local Catholic communities. But I began to see that it is not lacking in the teaching of the Magisterium. My charismatic overtones only serves to help me love the Catholic faith more and to see the beauty in the fullness of truth. I too have seen the abuses of “heavy-handed” charismatic lingo and the emphasis on experience. You are right, a person who does not understand and live the fullness of Catholic teaching can be – and often is – lead down the path to self focus, serving the creature’s desire as opposed to seeking the Lord’s. Appreciate your posts so much, I know it is a lot of work. I thank God that He has given you the wisdom and strength to be faithful to this ministry to us out in the ether world.

  2. Anthony says:

    I think it’s telling that one of the the older communities we receive support from started as ecumenical (and has since changed to Catholic only because that’s what they are, de facto), but that our community has very intentionally chosen to embrace our Catholic identity, and in fact there are some (myself included) who would like to go further, incorporating more frequent Adoration and Marian devotions into our regular practices.

    I love Sober Intoxication. Are you aware there’s a sequel?

    • Great to hear, Anthony! It’s encouraging to see how many intentional faith communities are able to incorporate charismatic and devotional piety, and ground them both in a strongly Catholic identity. Yes! Cantalamessa’s second book is more of the same excellence, filled with Scripture, Tradition, historical context and solid practical advice. One thing I would love to see more written on is the relationship between the “charismatic” movement that swept Spain in the late 15th and 16th centuries (fiercely encouraged by the Franciscan chaplain to Spain’s Reconquista monarchs, Cardinal Francisco Jiménez de Cisneros), and St. John of the Cross’ critique of that movement, especially as it related to St. Teresa of Avila’s Carmelite reform. In other words, St. John was responding to something almost identical to the Pentecostal/Charismatic movements, and was trying to provide a critical framework within which its healthy elements could be preserved and cultivated. Great stuff!! Maybe some day I will have the time. Thanks for writing!

  3. mbtvalli says:

    This series of blog entries has been very helpful to me as I have had many years of involvement with the renewal and have had similar concerns. I appreciate this!

  4. Anthony says:


    Here’s a quote of Fr Giussani circa 1967: “Christianity never realizes itself in history as fixed positions to be defended, that relate to the new in terms of pure antithesis; Christianity is the principle of redemption that takes on the new, saving it.”

    And Pope Fracis in speaking to Communion and Liberation: “When I put in the center my spiritual method, my spiritual journey, my way of actuating it, I go off the road. All spiritualities, all charisms in the Church must be “decentered”: at the center there is only the Lord! For this reason, when Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians speaks of the charisms, of this beautiful reality of the Church, of the Mystical Body, he closes by speaking of love, that is, of what comes from God, what is proper to God and enables us to imitate Him. Never forget this, to be decentered!”


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