The phone rang last night at 9pm and when I saw a family member’s number on the phone display, I sensed that something was wrong. I answered, and the normally upbeat voice of my relative sounded a little unnerved and she quickly revealed why.
She shared with me how she had just heard from a friend of hers who had lost her husband some months ago. Recently, overwhelmed with grief, the friend disclosed that she had met with a medium in hopes of contacting her late husband. And, it appeared to the widow, that she had. Both comforted and a little skeptical, she, a woman of shaky faith, turned to my relative, a woman of strong faith, for her take on the matter. She said the medium had been able to describe in detail moments shared only between her and her husband in his last days, despite only having known her first name. What, the friend seemed to imply in the email, should she make of this encounter?
The experience reminded me of a book that I had read in college—probably a bit prematurely in my spiritual journey, but helpful nonetheless—that dealt in part with such things. I shared with my relative how mediums really can in some cases contact “the other side”, but it is never Our Heavenly Father that they reach. Evil spirits can mimic deceased persons or recount such “hidden” knowledge as the last moments in a person’s life. A favorite trick they pull is showing or commenting on how happy that person is and how no one should worry about him, serving to both cheat the deceased out of prayers and having Masses said for him (the family now doesn’t think it’s necessary, though in reality the deceased might be suffering greatly in Purgatory) and also to ensnare the soul of the one seeking out the medium, becoming more involved in the dark powers in a misguided attempt to connect with the loved one. My family member remarked that this had been the case, as the late husband was shown to be in great spirits, laughing and telling jokes.
Fortunately for the friend she is a Catholic and we brainstormed ways to get her plugged back into her Catholic community. For the friend, it was important that she find the positive alternatives to what she was seeking. Clearly, she wanted to keep that bond of love between her and husband alive, and we have the beautiful teaching of the communion of saints, knowing that our connection is stronger than death and that we can pray for each other as we strive for heaven. We also can pray for our deceased loved ones in Purgatory to help speed them on their way to heaven. Second, by seeking out a medium, she was indicating a desire to meet with someone who’s a mediator between the spiritual and earthly worlds. And happily for us Catholics, we have them! Priests! Our beautiful friends who walk this earth in persona Christi; Christ who is the ultimate mediator between God and man. Finally, she experienced this in a group and how much more comforting a Catholic support group could be. And Mass. And sacred scripture. And the rest of our beautiful sacraments. We quickly had a long list of ways that the friend could open herself up to the spiritual world, but in ways that Our Lord Himself has given us, true, reliable, trust-worthy ways, and not by taking matters into her own hands. The danger in this friend’s case, we decided, was the feeling of a “quick fix”, of feeling like she had an immediate connection to the deceased. As Monsignor Pope wrote a few days ago of spiritual and physical growth needing time to develop, this friend’s faith would also need time to bloom, probably, before she could appreciate the lasting fruit of feeling a true connection to God and his children.
Feeling very hopeful for the friend and so grateful that she had such faithful friends in my relatives, I hung up the phone. For about eight seconds I felt really proud that I had been able to share some good thoughts with my family. And then I got the creeps—big time. I tried to reason with myself that our house was blessed, that we frequented the sacraments and prayed regularly as a family, so I had nothing to worry about. But as I pulled the comforter up to my nose and curled up into a ball, someone reminded me of all the evil I had personally welcomed into my house that day through my sin. I acknowledged it and asked Jesus for His forgiveness and protection, which I was confident that He would give. But it left me with the parting thought before sleep took over: what—or rather, who—do I open myself and my family to during the day?
The Vatican Radio on Monday wrote, “A very small word that sums up Christ’s mission on earth was the focus of Pope Benedict XVI’s Angelus reflections this week: "Ephphatha," which means, "Be opened.” Drawn from the Sunday Gospel, Mark Chapter 7, which recounts Christ’s healing of the deaf mute, Pope Benedict XVI said Jesus “became man so that man, made inwardly deaf and dumb by sin, would become able to hear the voice of God, the voice of love speaking to his heart, and learn to speak in the language of love, to communicate with God and with others”.
Today as we honor the Most Holy Name of Mary, let’s pray that we, our families, and our communities may be opened, as our Our Lady was, only to the infinite beauty, grace, and love that comes from the Godhead, and deaf and dumb to all messages contrary to Him and His peace.