Tonight, the inscription over the doorway of Chez Alexandre is erased, as the Feast of the Pentecost has come upon us, and we remember the birth of Mother Church, and the work that has been ours to complete until the end of time.
For the last nine days leading up to the Feast, we have contemplated the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit. People will talk of "the movement of the Spirit" as being a guiding force in the Church. Whether adherents of the charismatic movement, or progressive Catholics speaking of "reforming" everything and everyone but themselves, this can be very misleading. In the second century, Saint Ireneaus, Bishop of Lugdunum in Gaul, was a spiritual disciple of Saint Polycarp, who was in turn a disciple of Saint John the Apostle. He noted very early in the history of the Church, numerous errors in teaching and practice, the refutation of which were compiled in his great work Adversus Haereses (Against Heresies). It is well known that he attacked the errors of Gnosticism. What is less well known, is that among those errors was the misuse of claims to certain "gifts of the Spirit."
It is with some trepidation, therefore, that I lay claim to one of my own.
From when I was in high school, I have suspected that I possess the ability to detect a diabolical presence. I do not merely refer to someone doing evil, or a particularly unpleasant or mean person or incident. I am referring to to the Prince of Lies, to the Evil One, to Satan himself, manifest in some person, one who might appear benevolent, or otherwise harmless. This is not implausible, as throughout human history, the greatest acts of man's inhumanity to man, were committed by those who were perfectly at peace with themselves about it.
The first time was at a high school retreat, with a priest who, I believe, attempted to be inappropriately familiar. (This was described in a 2002 piece entitled "My Charismatic Moment.") But there have been others. There was the man who claimed that God was calling him to lead others to establish an agrarian colony in western Ohio, who appeared meek and mild-mannered, but who frightened me to death just being alone in a car with him. There was a pastor who refused to assist me when I was in genuine distress, and justified it by belittling my situation. He was only a pastor for two years, before being unceremoniously removed. That was nine years ago, and he has not been a pastor since then.
These are the significant instances, but there have been others. They have provoked a fear that I cannot for the life of me explain.
We have spoken of the nature of evil in this journal before, as described by the late Dr M Scott Peck in People of the Lie. People commit horrible, unspeakable acts, and manage to sleep perfectly well at night. We may call upon the Holy Spirit for guidance, but the response is a highly personal one, applying only to us, and not a clarion call to gather a following. There is a danger in attributing such credence to private revelations, and the Catechism of the Catholic Church is very clear on the need for caution. But I do believe that, for myself, such guidance has saved my life on at least one occasion, and has led to peace of mind on others.
To know of its power is surely not to boast, but to be cautious, to pray often, and to be ever mindful of the true Source of that power, and its limits in the confines of our fallen nature.
Let the deep song be hidden in the deep
Pulse with our lifeblood, waking or asleep.
Yours is the knowledge earth can never know.
Let not its mockery hurt you. Ah sing low.