Inner Healing Prayer Concerns, part 3


As stated above, these overly spiritualized methods of healing place far too much emphasis on emotion as the single greatest criterion used to determine the presence of the Holy Spirit. In a “prayer session”, when the “prayer minister” is leading the recipient through their memories often the question is “what do you feel?” and then when it is time to ask the Lord to reveal his truth, it is again emotion that is looked for to determine whether the person has fully accepted the Lord’s message in their hearts. Yes, I see the value of leading people to a cathartic moment, which can be very powerful in someone’s life in helping them reconcile their past. I practice marriage counseling from an Emotionally Focused perspective, too. However, I once again raise caution on making on-the-fly assertions of the work of the Holy Spirit. Time ultimately will tell if what occurred produced genuine fruit from the Lord. Humility is in order here, not presumption.

IMG_0428Furthermore, what tends to occur in these “prayer sessions” is that a direct correlation is made between crying and Holy Spirit’s presence. Cardinal Suenens, who wrote much about the need for balance in the Charismatic Renewal, calls this phenomenon of excess emotionality the fabrication of an artificial spirituality (Nature and Grace, pgs. 2-3). In other words, over spiritualization of healing that is primarily governed by emotion is not the work of the Holy Spirit, but some artificial experience. This is a major problem. Often people walk away from the ‘healing prayer experience’ thinking that it was God and that they are fully healed, yet they may not have been. This disrupts the inner sensors and sensibilities of one’s soul to properly discern God’s presence. Precisely for this reason, St John of the Cross in the Ascent of Mt Carmel, cautions one seeking these types of visions and signs in prayer; because the devil can deceive us with visions, too; God rarely grants them; and when we do receive a vision or sign, we are prone to misinterpreting them or cling to them instead of God himself (Book Second, Ch. 18). God’s ways are not our ways and to make quick assertions of God’s will is often a foolish enterprise.

Along these lines, another problem arises when there are teams of prayer ministers that are not sufficiently trained in authentic Catholic spirituality, theology, or sound counseling techniques leading ‘prayer sessions’ at conferences. What then occurs is that they are only trained to look for wounds of the past and emotion as the presence of the Holy Spirit. To place a vulnerable soul in this care is negligent behavior. It stands to reason that the unskilled “prayer minister” will only look for what they are trained to look for and as the adage goes, “when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” Again, the method alone does not leave room for the nuances of grace and reason, and ignores the complexity of the human condition. People get hurt in these situations, and it is extra painful because we are talking about claims of God’s presence.

Another problem that arises from an overly spiritualized approach is a lack of structure and appropriate emotional boundaries. Often, there is an expectation within the milieu of these groups to expose your deepest wounds to a stranger or the group at large. This fails to honor the positive aspect of shame as discussed in JPII’s Theology of the Body (12:1). Simply stated, JPII recognizes that shame exists in our fallen world as a means to safeguard the mystery and inherent goodness of the human person. It is good for us to have a healthy sense of emotional modesty[1]. To fully expose oneself emotionally to a group or individual who have not proven themselves trustworthy, leaves people overly vulnerable and the potential for hurt is great. On this side of heaven, emotional intimacy is only capable with a small number of people; usually our spouses, family, close confidants, spiritual directors, counselors, and even in ongoing group therapy. To make the expectation that recipients should come for a weekend event and pour out all of their deepest secrets in a brief prayer session is reckless behavior.

[1] Certainly, one can go to the other extreme, repress their emotions, and never open up to a trusted other; this can lead to emotional isolation. I am merely proposing the need for a healthy balance with emotional vulnerability.

Inner Healing Prayer Concerns, part 4


Often at these events, there is an expectation of miracles and signs and wonders. To claim that there is a formulated approach to getting a miracle can only mean one of three things: it is Liturgical (ie: Mass), it is superstition, or something on the natural plain is occurring. In Jason Evert’s book St John Paul the Great: His Five Loves (pg. 187) he states that JPII had many miracles occur because of his prayers while alive on Earth; but when he was asked about this JPII stated that miracles are up to God and no reason to dwell on it or attempt to figure it out. Generally, God honors creation and human reason and has given us many natural methods for healing; and while it is certainly up to him to bring about a miracle whenever he chooses, it is presumption on our part to claim that we have a foolproof way of getting that miracle.  Precisely for this reason, the “Guidelines for Prayers for Healing” issued by the Congregation for Doctrine of Faith in 2000 was written in a language that moved away from “healing prayer” to “prayers for healing.” Making this shift is crucial because ‘healing prayer’ denotes automatism while ‘prayers for healing’ puts the practice in the realm of intercessory prayer and leaves true openness to the response of the Holy Spirit. This echoes the previously used quote from A School of Prayer.

Practically speaking, often there is a claim that one is healed from the prayer experience when in fact they are not. They leave the conference thinking that they are healed and no longer continue the work of good psychotherapy. This is a problem and a direct result of false claims or assertions made by these leaders. Worse still is when someone is lead to a traumatic memory and there is no appropriate follow-up care to help them deal with their pain. They go home far worse and without care.

We must trust and appeal to the prudential ways of the Catholic Church. It is hard to determine the work of grace in our lives. Precisely for this reason, the Church is slow to make determinations about miracles, sainthood, and apparitions. Inner Healing ‘prayer’ disregards that prudential approach that is part of our Catholic tradition and falls well into the realm of presumption. Rather a healthier alternative honors both faith and reason, which as JPII stated in his opening of Fides et Ratio, “are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth.”

Here it must be stated that emotional healing and spiritual healing are not synonymous terms. To do so leaves no room for the role of redemptive suffering in the growth of the person’s soul. Benedict Groeshel in Spiritual Passages (pg. 118) describes that as one progresses in the spiritual life, there is a decrease in deep existential anxiety. I believe this to be true, however suffering often is the vehicle that allows that deep peace to abide in our hearts. Let us not pigeonhole the work of the Holy Spirit through fundamentalist approaches to healing, but rather take a fuller approach that truly honors the whole person.

When Inner Healing “Prayer” does work it is because of the natural healing that occurs when we bear our deepest longings to another and feel their unconditional acceptance and love. As I alluded to earlier, this vulnerability needs to be done appropriately and not forced by groupthink. We absolutely need people in our lives that can see us as we really are, but usually that takes time and trust to be achieved. Brené Brown in, Daring Greatly, states that shame gets washed away in the empathy of another (pg. 75). JPII goes further in Love and Responsibility (pg. 181), by writing that shame gets swallowed up by love. True intimacy and relationship are what brings healing, not the overly spiritualized magic tricks. The real miracle is the grace of baptism and confirmation that allows one to become a sacramental sign of God’s love and to be capable of receiving that love. The body and only the body makes visible what is invisible, as stated in the Theology of the Body (19:4). This is the gift of authentic relationship that leads to Christ and it does not need to be contrived by emotionalism or superstition.

Inner Healing Prayer Concerns, part 5

Demonic Presence

A major aspect of these approaches is an exaggerated focus on demonic activity. For a much more thorough explanation on the topic, I will point the reader to the work of Cardinal Suenens and his text on the subject, Renewal and the Powers of Darkness, in particular Chapters 10-11, which offers great clarity to the theological and psychological dangers in popular deliverance practices. Yes, I do believe it is right to not ignore this topic and remind people that the devil is real, but many of the supposed remedies offered through deliverance prayers are superstition and tend to increase people’s fear of the devil. It also further complicates the presenting issues by drawing attention away from the real problems and fixates on demonic activity. The irony is that this is what the devil wants: attention on himself and not the Lord. The Screwtape Letters by CS Lewis does a wonderful job of exposing the many tricks and temptations used by devils in attempt to lure us away from the Lord.

Furthermore, many of the “family tree” healing prayers ignore the grace of baptism, where in the rite there is an exorcism prayer. Yes, if a person is genuinely possessed, all bets are off and the exorcist must examine any possibility as to why the possession has occurred, but full possessions are rare. Most of us are fine when imploring Ignatian discernment of spirits principles that focus on real solutions, real growth in human virtue, and not just quick-fix prayers. I know that there is a place for deliverance prayers, but I believe that the approaches in question lead to fear and fixation on spiritual activities at the negation of natural methods to healing. For example, one can certainly claim that certain sins are generational (i.e.: my dad’s dad was alcoholic, which affected my dad, which in turn affected the way he fathered me…), but the solution is to deal with the actual issue of alcoholism through recovery and an appeal to mercy. To be overly distracted with some ‘plaguing demon’ on the family tree unnecessarily complicates the issue. Moreover, in prematurely jumping to the supernatural realm, this family would not focus its attention on the real solutions to the problem. Yet, if by chance there was plaguing demon tormenting this individual, the required solution is more than what can be accomplished by lay people and this person would need a well-trained priest.


201_2613409I hope that you can see a thread throughout this post…there are major problems when an environment becomes overly spiritualized and ignores the gift of human reason, the complexities of the human condition, and makes debased claims about preternatural matters. There usually are no quick fixes to our emotional problems and anyone who claims to have one is promoting a potentially damaging situation. Nothing can substitute the arduous path of healing and growth; unless it is a genuine miracle from the Lord.

Certainly, we cannot throw out the baby with the bathwater and state that prayer has no room in counseling. I pray with each of my clients who are open to it. Also, I try to be docile to the Spirit and hope that he is present in my sessions. However, my assertion stands that these fundamentalist approaches to ‘healing prayer’ negate the full operations of the Holy Spirit in the life of the counselee and counselor. Yes, the Holy Spirit guides me as a counselor; but when I sit in the counseling room, He uses all things to help me help my client: my temperament, clinical training, experience, expertise, books I have read, prayer, therapeutic interventions, personal maturity, active listening skills, and reason. All things are at his disposal…including the patience, effort, and redemptive suffering of the person seeking help.

I discourage anyone reading these types of conferences until there is greater clarity on these methods and approaches by the Church. Instead, try to find well-trained Catholic clinicians in your area by contacting your parish, diocesan family life office, online databases such as and, or through the Catholic Psychotherapy Association.

Please leave respectful comments below. I wrote this in charity and I expect the same in return. I believe there is real dialogue that needs to occur on these topics and may the Lord guide us to better understand his ways.

For your reference, here is the pdf of the full critique: Sacasa – Healing Prayer Critique

No White Flags in Marriage

Last year, my sister Rosie, her husband, Roger, and their two beautiful daughters came to visit us in New Orleans. They drove all the way from southeast Florida, which is no small feat under normal circumstances but considering that my brother-in-law has Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS or Lou Gehrig’s Disease), it makes this long trek seem almost heroic.

While they were visiting us, I was amazed by my sister’s tireless attention to his needs and by Roger’s humble acceptance of his condition. He is in the advanced stages of ALS, living in a wheelchair and no longer able to speak. He communicates with a smile for ‘yes’ or grunts for ‘no’. Rosie’s love for Roger shows as she attempts to anticipate his needs and when she can’t, she cycles through a list of close-ended questions to understand what is wrong. At times, her patience runs out, but she is dedicated to making sure Roger is taken care of properly. I am grateful the ‘ice bucket challenge’ craze that swept the nation a few weeks ago, yet seeing Rosie and Roger up close has given me a new perspective on not only ALS but how life continues despite a chronic illness.


At times during their visit, I would simply admire their marriage and contrast it with what many would expect a “good marriage” to be. I, also, found myself thinking about the many couples I have heard over the years complain about “communication problems” and wondered how a relationship can thrive when communication is reduced to mere glances and head nods. I was at their wedding 9 years ago and never imagined that this would be their life now. But who does? How do you prepare for such things? You can’t. What I see in them is a remarkable ability to accept the struggles of life and make the best of it. I see how they choose joy through their profound faith and hope in Christ Jesus. Their marriage has been stripped to its most raw elements: love and dedication. This is a reminder that is really does not take much to make a marriage good.

While Rosie and Roger were in town, they connected with the Gleason House, an organization started by former Saints player Steve Gleason aimed at helping ALS patients improve their quality of life through technology. In doing so, they were able to see new technologies that allow ALS patients to open doors, set the thermostat, or turn on a TV. As you would expect, these things are expensive. Roger and Rosie recently discovered that Team Gleason has awarded them a generous grant that will cover more then half the expenses of getting their house outfitted, so Roger can regain a small amount of his independence. Roger can now turn on the TV, change the channels, control the ceiling fan and even text message with just his eyes! This is a huge blessing to our family.

I now understand why Steve Gleason chose the motto “No White Flags” because he is communicating the importance of having a determined spirit that never gives up or surrenders. I think this is a good motto for most marriages to abide by. Far too often, couples choose to raise the white the flag when the glow of the honeymoon fades. They overlook the simple ways they can express their love to one another because they are waiting for the “perfect” moment or they cannot let go of a particular hurt. I understand that divorce happens, yet, I look to my older sister and her husband as a model of self-sacrifice and faith-in-action rarely showcased in our throwaway society.

Journey with the Holy Family

Holy_Family_icon1What would you do if an angel came to you in a dream and directed you to get up, leave your home, and travel to a foreign country? What if you just finished an 80 mile hike and had a baby in a manger? It would be pretty intimidating, don’t you think? Imagine St Joseph having to explain to Mary, who just delivered her miraculously conceived son, that there would be no time for rest.  They had to go and they had to go immediately. They were no longer safe in Israel and were fleeing to Egypt for refuge. Egypt!? That is the place of slavery, not safety.  The Israelites took 40 years to get out of there and now they were being summoned back. Mary and Joseph were aware of the circumstances, but God had spoken and what would you do? In the wings of faith, they responded, got up and left the only country they had called home.

Let us approach this Feast of the Holy Family with a renewed appreciation for the life they lived. Far too often, we forget that the saints had real problems; just like us. Who knows what hopes they had of a quiet life in Bethlehem?  Did Joseph believe he could have a successful carpentry shop there?  Or did all aspirations of normalcy go out the window when they both accepted a virginal conception?  As the man of the house, Joseph had to do the hard thing; put his wife and newborn son on a donkey and make the long trek to Egypt.  How long would they stay there?  Only God knew.  Although the details are different, we can all relate to facing trials, moments of uncertainty, and making difficult choices.

It is in these moments of crisis, when the pretenses of life come crashing down, we are left with the things that really matter.  When all else fails, we have our faith. St Joseph understood that as he led his family into Egypt. It is through the Holy Family that we see the intimate connection between family life and faith life. Despite their trials and sufferings, Mary and Joseph literally experienced Heaven on Earth because they raised the Incarnate Son of God. Every time they kissed his baby cheeks, they sniffed the sweetness of heaven. Every time they stared in his eyes, they saw a window into eternity. This is truly a mystery beyond mysteries.

Jesus came into the world through a family and continues to come through our families. What an awesome invitation we have to journey with the Holy Family and unite our suffering with theirs, so that we too my bring the hidden savior to the world.

If a man is called to…

If a man is called to be a streetsweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, here lived a great streetsweeper who did his job well.

Martin Luther King Jr.

Why Marriage?

Years ago, I was having a conversation with a boss concerning the upcoming marriage of a friend.  We were sharing our thoughts, excitement and joy about the moment, when he suddenly made the off-hand comment, “I don’t understand what motivates anyone to get married anymore.  Unless it’s their tradition or belief system, there really is no point.”  I was taken aback by his comment.  Thoughts came pouring into my mind:  defensiveness, anger, a desire to correct his erroneous thinking. Then I stopped and prayed, “Father, why would someone think this way?”  And the answer came immediately, “Look around and see what marriage has become. If you saw the world as he sees it, would you not reach the same conclusion?  Recognize his heart and reach out with mercy before condemnation.”

This exchange with my boss caused me to reflect on what has probably become one of the most defining questions of our time, “Why get married?”  For generations, we had taken this question for granted and simply assumed that marriage was the natural progression of relationships. Well, we all know what happens when we assume.  But now we are facing challenges to the foundations of marriage as the bedrock of social order, and we find ourselves struggling to find language to justify its very existence.  We can no longer simply say, “That is the way it was, so that is the way it should be.”  We must, rather, demonstrate to a progressively more faithless world the power, beauty and truth of the worldview that makes sense of marriage.  Pope John Paul II knew this well, as does his successor, and both have labored mightily to offer us the raw materials needed to re-evangelize our faltering culture with the Truth.

The beauty at the center of their vision is that this Truth is written on our hearts.  The call to nuptial love, to true communion, true intimacy, true love, is inscribed within every man and woman. We yearn to love and to be loved in a way that satisfies the soul and only a love that is both divine and human, like Jesus himself, will satisfy.  Marriage, in a singular way, allows us to wed those two loves in life-giving, lifelong fidelity and proclaim the stunning truth that such a love alone satisfies.

In the last few years, I have seen two distinct films that wrestle with the question, “Why marriage?” – The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and Away We Go.  Though both films are utterly different in their style, each posit their alternate versions of marriage and argue, in sync with our culture, that living together without a vowed commitment is acceptable.  At heart, however, what both films manifest is the deep fear which stands at the core of this proclamation.  In Benjamin Button, it is fear of an incurable condition.  In Away We Go, it is fear of dealing with past hurts.  While I felt compassion for the central characters in the film, my compassion did not blind me to the elegant truth of marriage.  The great tragedy in these films is that the characters, who could have discovered in suffering and failure new hope, instead settled for the compromise of fear.

I have had many conversations with couples that are in love and desire the very best for one another, but because of parental divorce, one or the other is simply afraid of getting married.  Instead of seeing hope in a new future, they fear themselves bound to repeat the past.  It is a great tragedy when we allow fear to govern our hearts.  God is compassionate on our weakness, but His mercy also calls us out of our weaknesses into new strength.  If our past taste of marriage has been bitter, God wishes to share the sweetness of His plan for love and make us, as He makes all things, new.

If we try to see marriage only in human terms, then we will end up, like my boss, unable to satisfy our wondering of “Why marriage?” The risk of love that is marriage, without God, becomes an unsolvable conundrum, a puzzle too difficult to comprehend. But through eyes of faith we see the mystery of ‘loving unto death’ as an invitation to seek grace, rather than despair in our own weakness.   We recognize that for a marriage to be successful, it requires One who is Love to be an intimate participant in the union.  Let us have the strength to face our fears, cry out to God, and not settle for less.