by Pierre Lambert, O.P.
Pierre Lambert, a Dominican, has been helping people suffering from inner distress for over three years, in the framework of a Service set up by the Church.
Translation Louise Thunin
“…a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from being too elated.” (II Cor. 12 : 7)
Concerning physical illnesses, the causes at the origin of our bodily dysfunctions are of two kinds. Some come from outside the body. Others are of internal origin. It’s the same for psychological suffering. A person’s inner disorder springs either from the milieu in which he lives, or from himself.
We enter life in the form of a microscopic cell, and we depend on the outer world for our growth and development . But the effects of the world around us on body and mind are not identical. In the realm of the body, what comes from outside is integrated into an already existing structure: the chromosomes of the cell nucleus and genes. On the other hand, in the realm of mind, insofar as we possess very few innate characteristics, these outer influences contribute, from conception on, to the formation of nearly all of our spiritual identity. The result is a very great diversity of personalities, since these develop under the effect of multiple outer experiences which, moreover, are not all compatible among themsleves.
We also find a difference when we study these two types of disorder. Physical illness is observable thanks to objective means of investigation, whereas psychological disorder cannot be directly perceived. It can only be discovered through what the person herself feels and expresses. That is why helping those who suffer from this sort of inner disturbance has to begin with determining what exactly is troubling them and the ways in which they suffer from it.
Therefore, to begin with, we must listen, but above all we must make the person comfortable, so he will speak with a complete sense of trust. Very often, he will not be able to share what he feels in the depths of his being before a great deal of conversation has taken place, perhaps about subjects that may appear superficial, but which open up an avenue to truly confidential communication. We must await the moment when the sufferer will be able to share her secret, beginning, perhaps, with a sentence such as : There’s something I have to tell you that I haven’t told you yet… This is when the deepest causes of her disturbance become apparent, and the listener will henceforth be able to help her discern what is wrong.
Among what people feel may be the causes of their disturbance, there are not only facts and living individuals, but also invisible entities, good or evil spirits. This is where we find the most controversial aspect of the problem for those who work with spiritual sufferers. How much credence can we grant to invisible entities ? Are they not merely pure imagination on the part of a person suffering psychologically ? Is it appropriate to grant them independent existence ?
My first observation: although these entities exist in the mind of the person, they do not constitute an innate component, for in our original cell nucleus, there is no pre-established knowledge of the invisible world.
The knowledge of these invisible entities takes form in the mind of each person by way of their education. Their existence, indeed, belongs to the collective unconscious mind of humanity. But this collective unconscious is not perceived as such by those who refer to invisible entities. During the formative period of a human being’s life, the convictions of his educators concerning the existence of invisible entities produce the same convictions in the student. Yet the convictions of teachers are very diverse and take on forms equally diverse, born within our unconscious, ancestral mind.
A person’s certainty concerning the existence of invisible entities, being a subjective truth, is considered by her as an objective truth, since it was presented in an objective way.
Those who seek proof concerning the existence of invisible entities take as their argument the various phenomena said to be caused by these entities. These are, first of all, visual or auditory perceptions, taken to be real, but which are also of a hallucinatory or telepathic order. Other phenomena are material in nature: doors and drawers found open after having been carefully closed, lamps which turn on in the middle of the night, objects removed from closed closets, various noises, a table leg that taps, automatic writing. Such phenomena can be brought on, more or less consciously, by living people (such as in cases of telekinesis, which have often been observed, but whose exact causes we do not know). They do not consititute objective proof concerning the existence of invisible entities, and we must be careful not to have too many illusions about their origin.
Jesus as a reference for an evaluation of inner suffering
In order to arrive at a certain objectivity on the subject, it seems that there is no other way than to refer to the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. The Kingdom of Heaven that he came to establish and that constitutes the main teaching of the Gospel is actually radically new : “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come.” (II Cor. 5,17) The reality initiated by Jesus Christ is in deep opposition to the old reality, that, precisely, of these invisible entities which fill the world of religions.
Moreover, considering the limits of our reason, we have to admit that we have no knowledge of these ancient things, whereas what we know of Jesus Christ, real man and real God, leads us to think that he possesses the knowledge of antiquity, of invisible entities, and of the new, that is, eternal life with him. Thus, thanks to the Lord, and him alone, it is possible for us to discover what invisible entities are : “I have come as light into the world, that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness.” (John 12: 46)
In the same way that a doctor analyses the intensity of a physical illness by comparing it to the normal functioning of the human body, spiritual or mental suffering can be perceived more intensely when it is compared to the fullness of life in Christ. It is also appropriate to to realize that the transformation of our spiritual being concerns all of us: “For God has consigned all men to disobedience, that he may have mercy upon all.” (Romans 11: 32).
From this point of view, spiritual illness takes on another countenance. It becomes a deprivation of the fullness of life in Christ. spiritual suffering does not have for its source an entity with horns and hoofs but a mental state, which, like a virus or a germ, spreads from one person to another, a mental state from which the Lord alone is capable of freeing us. Therein lies, to my mind, the main service that a minister of the Gospel can render in this realm.
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