Sunday, June 23, 2013

Small Medium at Large

Our house is quiet again. My granddaughter and her mommy and daddy have moved to Kansas, taking with them their barking dog with the bladder control problem. I have regained possession of the tv remote and could sit around in my underwear if I so desired, which I don’t. The anticipation of their move was stressful for me and I still dread the upcoming nine hour drives when we want to visit them. People deal with anxiety in various ways, and I have never handled mine well.

There are no atheists in foxholes. The often-cited proverb notes the human tendency to turn to God in times of fear or stress. Many of us give little thought to prayer when things are going well, but immediately seek divine help when facing trouble. Life isn’t always easy. In fact, it isn’t supposed to be. Like seedlings being readied for the garden, we must be hardened off by limited exposure to harsh conditions. We come through adversity feeling stronger by the experience. No pain, no gain.

In Catholic belief, suffering is redemptive. Joining our suffering to the suffering of Our Lord is efficacious. It remits the temporal punishment due for our sins. Doing so before we die is much preferred than doing so afterwards. In this way, we can actually find joy in suffering. That does not mean we welcome suffering or should not take measures to alleviate it.

I take medication to help me deal with anxiety, stress, high blood pressure and other ailments. I seek comfort wherever I can find it, spending an hour in front of the Blessed Sacrament on Sundays when our parish has Eucharistic Adoration, or lighting a candle before the Divine Mercy painting. I pray for relief from my anguish over worldly problems that plague my peace of mind. I feel guilty at times knowing that my worries are so minor when compared to those of others.

When life’s troubles seem too much to bear, people often look for reassurance that God is in control and all of this worldly pain will be rewarded in the end. A woman in our faith formation group recently raised a question about Theresa Caputo, the Long Island Medium, who has a show on cable channel TLC. Theresa claims to have the ability to communicate with the spirits of those who have died. The show depicts her relaying messages from departed loved-ones to people she encounters in her everyday life. The question involved how we as Catholics view someone claiming to be a medium.

The catechism tells us conjuring up the dead and recourse to mediums should be avoided. (CCC 2116) The admonition is not so much because to do so is bunkum, but rather to avoid the possibility of demonic influence. Catholics do believe souls are immortal. We ask those in heaven for their intercession, and God in His infinite power could certainly allow our departed ones to communicate with us if He so desired. The catechism directive seems to refer mostly to divination for the purpose of foretelling the future, though it does specifically warn against “recourse to mediums.”

In the case of Theresa Caputo and others like her (John Edward, James Van Praagh, et. al.), they are not typically fortune-tellers. They claim to receive messages from departed spirits which they relay to family members still living. An Internet search will turn up many claims that all of these so-called mediums are fakes, basically using an old trick called a cold reading where subjects are led to reveal information by responding to certain questions. Some are accused of employing researchers who obtain inside information about people who will be in attendance for shows. Obviously television programs can be carefully edited to make the star look good.

I have to acknowledge the possibility that God could allow certain people to have this ability. Criticism would naturally come from atheists trying to debunk anything that could point to an afterlife or the existence of God. In the case of Caputo, she often presents messages that would seem to support Catholic belief. She purportedly sees souls of aborted or miscarried babies in the arms of departed loved-ones. Yet, she also brings up ideas contrary to Catholic belief, such as talking about her previous lives with her spiritual advisor, who incidentally has the Divine Mercy painting hanging on her wall.

I am going to reserve judgment regarding Caputo. It would take an extremely cruel person to prey upon someone mourning the loss of a family member for the purpose of financial gain or notoriety, and Caputo does not come across as someone so heartless. Is it all real? I don’t know, probably not, but it is entertaining and causes us to think seriously about what happens after we leave this world. For those seeking reassurance during a trying time, her messages can bring comfort, but approach cautiously with feet firmly planted in your Catholic faith.