I’m only, oh, six weeks late on this, but I keep meaning to direct you to this webcam interview I did with blogger extraordinaire Brandon Vogt. It’s a 10-minute discussion in which we talked about evangelizing to nonbelievers, how to get traffic to your blog, how I find time to write, and the top three books that changed my life. And you can see it all right here!
Now, it’s bad blogging etiquette that I am posting the video here rather than directing everyone to the link where Brandon posted it on his own site, but I am in great need of an easy update this week, and desperate times call for ripping off other people’s content and making your own post about it. So you have to promise me that you’ll go check out his blog and subscribe to his RSS feed right now to make it up to him. You won’t be sorry: Brandon is one of the most insightful, energetic voices out there, and has a ton of interesting things to say. You’ll love his site. And I’m not just saying that because he invited me to write for his super-popular book and I’m “borrowing” his video.
On another note: I barely recognize the woman in that video.
For one thing, I look small. And fuzzy. One thing we did not discuss in our interview is how Brandon managed to look normal and clear, while I look like a redheaded hobbit, broadcasting from a distant planet where the webcam signal can’t quite reach planet Earth. Maybe we’ll hit that next time.
I seem startlingly energetic too. Where did all that go? Anyway, in the interest of full disclosure, me right now is much less like me in that video, and more like Henri the Existential Cat:
In the interview with Brandon, I laughed out loud at the part where he asked me how I have time to write, and I said confidently — as if this is just second nature of put-together people such as myself — that I simply get up early. Yes! You know, so that I can do a lot of work! In the morning! And be on top of the day! Did you hear that, internets? You just have to GET UP EARLY — LIKE I DO.
This interview was recorded back in my “six for six” phase when I was actually getting up around sunrise all the time, so I guess I thought that this might become a lifelong habit and was momentarily feeling proud of myself about that. Long story short, when a friend asked me what I was working on these days, I explained that my big goal for the summer is to see how late I can sleep, each day trying to top the morning before. The other day all five kids (or at least the ones little enough to be unable to feed themselves breakfast) slept until 9:40, but I feel certain that we can top that. 9:45 FOR THE WIN!
Oh, speaking of ennui: I’m still finishing up some book edits, and will probably be at it for another 10 days or so, but after that I should be back to something that looks like regular blogging. I very much look forward to that, for a lot of different reasons.
See you Friday!
Sara Mahoney has a cool blog called Losing It Together, where she and her husband write about getting healthy together. We recently had an email chat about my experience with food addiction, and how changing what I ate changed my life (or, put another way: how I killed off my alter ego, Jen-Tron the Eating Machine). She posted the short interview here if you’d like to check it out. Thanks to Sara for the idea, and for asking great questions!
Speaking of which, here’s something I’ve been meaning to tell you about:
You’ll notice in the interview that I once again plugged The Perfect Health Diet. As I’ve mentioned before, this was the book that made it all click for me. I’ve read approximately three billion books on the subject of nutrition, and I found this one to be the best. It’s written by two Ph.D. scientists who went on a personal quest to overcome some illnesses they were struggling with and achieve optimum health. A bit about their backgrounds:
Paul Jaminet, Ph.D. Paul was an astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, became a software entrepreneur during the Internet boom, and now provides strategic advice to entrepreneurial companies while pursuing research in economics (see pauljaminet.com for more information). Paul’s experience overcoming a chronic illness has been key to our views of aging and disease. [...]
Shou-Ching Shih Jaminet, Ph.D. Shou-Ching is a molecular biologist and cancer researcher at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School, and Director of BIDMC’s Multi-Gene Transcriptional Profiling Core. [...]
What I love about the book is that it’s written more like a doctoral thesis than a glitzy diet book. Rather than trying to strong-arm you to adopt their opinions through emotional stories or scare tactics, they simply talk about the research they did and explain why they found some arguments more compelling than others.
Anyway, I’ve also become a big fan of the authors’ blog, so imagine my delight when I saw this post on Good Friday. Even more cool was the ensuing discussion, where Paul Jaminet offered an excellent defense of the idea that not only are faith and science not incompatible, but that faith leads to better science. Definitely worth a read.
If you’re interested in hearing more about that topic, you absolutely must go get a copy of Br. Guy Consolmagno’s talk, Why Does the Pope Have an Astronomer?, in which he goes into detail about this idea that adherents to the monotheistic religions do the best science. He also has an interesting (and funny) talk you can watch on Youtube called The Religious Life of Techies.
For many of you, Dawn Eden needs no introduction. She’s a popular blogger, a former rock journalist, Catholic convert, and author of the bestselling book The Thrill of the Chaste. I recently had the honor of interviewing her for the National Catholic Register, where she spoke for the first time publicly about her own experience as a victim of childhood sexual abuse. When I talked with her for that interview, I was overwhelmed by the amount of wisdom Dawn has gained on the subjects of healing and forgiveness. It was immediately clear that there was far more material here than could be contained in one interview.
So I wanted to share with you an informal Part II to our interview, in which Dawn speaks candidly on the subject of forgiveness — particularly forgiveness when you’ve been deeply hurt. The insights she’s gained through her healing journey carry powerful lessons for everyone, and so I am thrilled to share them here. And be sure to check out her brand new book, My Peace I Give You, which deals with these same subjects. Like with these interviews, I believe that the book contains powerful lessons for anyone who’s in need of healing and a deeper understanding of forgiveness.
Q: A central concept of your book is how to go about forgiving the unforgivable. In particular, you mention a quote from St. Josephine Bakhita in which she says that if she could meet the people who kidnapped and tortured her she would kiss their hands, because that was part of her journey to Christ. Do we all have to forgive in that same way?
Though we are all called to be saints, in daily life there may be many things that the canonized saints did that we are not called to do. With regard to Bakhita, what each of us is called to do is what’s within the Lord’s Prayer: to forgive, but not necessarily to reconcile.
In ministering to victims of abuse, we need to be very clear about the distinction between forgiveness and reconciliation. Many victims are under the mistaken impression that they are remaining in sin unless they reconcile with the abuser, but that’s not true.
Yes, we have to forgive. To forgive someone is to want God’s best for them. Thankfully, we don’t have to do the heavy lifting: all forgiveness comes from the Holy Spirit. When we forgive someone we ask the Holy Spirit to enter into us and forgive that person on our behalf, and we set our will on cooperating with the Spirit’s act of forgiveness.
Q: So there may be cases where people forgive, but don’t reconcile?
Ideally, forgiveness leads to reconciliation. But, unlike forgiveness, reconciliation is a two-way street. If someone is still abusive, the most loving and forgiving thing may be to not attempt reconciliation, inasmuch as having further contact with that person would only give him or her the opportunity to abuse again.
Q: How has this understanding of forgiveness helped you in your own journey of healing?
It is very freeing. No longer do I have to worry about whether I’ve worked hard enough to forgive. I just have to ask the Holy Spirit to work forgiveness in and through me. Then I need to trust that, with my having made the choice to forgive, the Holy Spirit will continue to work in me, taking the wounds that remain and join them to the wounds of Christ.
Q: You mention that it is good for abuse victims to pray for those who have harmed them, but acknowledge that doing so may be impossible without stirring up up painful memories. What do you recommend for those kinds of situations?
I once got a very helpful tip from a Sister of Life. I was talking to her about how I felt that I owed it to God to pray for a certain person, but that it was painful for me to think about this person. The sister advised me to commend this person to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, to say to Mary, “Please place this person inside your Immaculate Heart, so that every time I’m praying for the intentions of your Immaculate Heart, I am praying for him.”
Q: That must help channel your negative energy toward that person in a more positive direction.
You know that Twilight Zone episode where there’s a child who has a dark supernatural power, and uses it to cast anyone who crosses him out into a cornfield? He casts out anyone with whom he’s angry, sending more and more people away to this place, which is an allegory for hell.
I think many of us do that in our minds sometimes, cast people away, send them to hell in our thoughts. To place them instead into the Immaculate Heart of Mary is a positive counter to that attitude. In both cases, you’re removing those people from the foreground of your thoughts — but, through Mary, you’re able to wish them into a good and holy place.
Q: Those of us who are longtime fans of your writing notice a change in your topics and tone: You used to be known for getting into heated debates with secular feminists, but you don’t do that anymore. Did this journey of healing have anything to do with that?
Yes. There was one event in particular that led me to reconsider the way I’d been acting out against feminist bloggers:
I discuss this in more detail in the book, but there was a time several years ago when I antagonized feminist bloggers, because I saw them as encouraging the same kind of attitudes that fostered my childhood sexual abuse. Though I make no apologize for proclaiming those truths about human life and dignity that the Church proclaims to be true, it was wrong of me to lash out in uncharity.
A turning point came after a woman named Zuzu began a series of blog posts reviewing The Thrill of the Chaste at the blog Feministe. She was picking and choosing things to insult me about, setting out to thoroughly shame and embarrass me, making fun of me in the most uncharitable way.
At first I just wrote her off as a mean-spirited person. Then one day I saw a blog entry of hers about her childhood, in which she talked about the difficult aspects of her relationship with her mother. She gave specific examples of her mother transgressing certain boundaries, and while they weren’t acts of sexual abuse, learning about them made me have so much compassion for her. I realized that it was a shame that I had burned so many bridges, and therefore couldn’t reach out to Zuzu and say, “I know how you feel.”
It was a point of conversion of heart for me, which led me to seek to avoid vitriol and uncharity in my public witness.
Q: What would you say to someone who feels trapped by old wounds, not sure where to even begin down the path of forgiveness?
I recommend partaking of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. That may sound strange, because certainly those who have been abused have no reason to confess things done to them that was not their fault. But, as I write in in My Peace I Give You, although the primary reason we go to Confession is to be forgiven our sins, forgiveness is not the only thing that happens in that sacrament. Christ touches us, and, whenever He touches us, He gives grace.
A problem that many abuse victims have is anxiety caused by their uncertainty over the state of their soul. They have so absorbed the lies imprinted upon them by their abuse that they have trouble discerning the difference between the lingering effects of the sins committed against them, for which they are not responsible, and their own sins, for which they are responsible.
Recently a friend who suffered from this painful uncertainty asked me for advice on confession. I recommended to her that when she went to confess, having told the priest the sins that she was certain were her responsibility, she should add, “Since Jesus is with me in this sacrament, I want to ask His healing grace while I am here, because I was abused when I was a child. I know I am not responsible for my abuse, but it has led to my having thoughts that distance me from Him. If any of those thoughts are sinful, I am very sorry, because I don’t want anything to separate me from Him. And even if they are not sinful, I ask Jesus to cover me with His Precious Blood and heal my hidden wounds.”
A few months after suggesting that approach to my friend, I went into the confessional and was moved to say the very words I had recommended. It was very powerful. Afterwards, I could not believe it had taken me so long to take my own advice.
A big thank-you to Dawn for taking the time to chat with us. Do check out her book My Peace I Give You, where she shares more profound thoughts on peace, forgiveness, and healing.
Q: You mentioned that secular professionals are sometimes involved in the exorcism process. What kind of reactions do you typically get from them? Do they think all this exorcism stuff is crazy, or do they agree that something supernatural is going on?
It is more accurate to say that secular professionals are involved in the consultation process but not usually in the exorcism sessions themselves. However, I have had psychologists involved in the prayer sessions, and they are always in admiration of the distinct and quite potent way that the Church has to heal people through ritualized prayer. This is spiritual healing, not psychological healing. They discover, sometimes to their amazement, that science doesn’t have all the answers or resources for healing the human person. When there is a demonic problem it will often block the individual’s psychological or medical healing, but after the person is liberated from his demons, the other types of healing are able to bear more fruit. By and large, any time I have had a psychologist join me in a prayer session they are awed by the power of God to heal a person at the core of his being.
On a related note, one other exorcist I know of invited a couple of (agnostic) journalists into a prayer session and they were just struck speechless with their inability to explain what was going on. Only faith can explain it fully. While the journalists did write about their encounter, the Church discourages any kind of publicity of such private matters, for the sake of privacy and the dignity of the person. In the case of priests who talk about this publicly like I do, it is important just to share information and stories that cannot be traced back to the individuals who are the subjects of the prayer sessions. It is done exclusively to build people’s faith.
Q: What about non-Catholics or non-Christians? Could a priest help them with demonic possession?
Yes. There is no prohibition to exorcising those who are not members of our faith or of no faith at all. In fact, if it is done correctly, an exorcism process can be a moment of evangelization for those who do not have explicit faith in Christ or the Catholic Church. Conversion to the Church is not a condition for receiving exorcism either. “What you have received freely, give freely,” says the Lord, but every exorcism is a true witness to the power of Christ that operates through His Church.
Q: I’ve noticed that you tend to get an extremely negative reaction when you say that the Harry Potter books are dangerous. Some folks hear that and think, “I know a lot of people who read Harry Potter and remained strong in their faith, or have even been inspired by the message of good conquering darkness” — and, conversely, they don’t know anyone who has read these books and gotten involved in the occult, so it doesn’t ring true for them. What would you say to that?
I would encourage anyone who holds the beliefs mentioned above to read the articles by Michael O’Brien on Harry Potter and other occult phenomena. The best one is Harry Potter and the Paganization of Children’s Culture. He has recently come out with a book of a similar name. He holds that Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling writes out of a completely pagan worldview, and even though there may be some points of contact between paganism and Christianity (some basic notions of good and evil, for example), the totally pagan mindset of the Harry Potter 400-million-book-onslaught is what is dangerous.
The Harry Potter series will not make a person demon possessed; it will, rather, normalize the existence of demons and infuse the occult language and imagery that celebrates them into the minds of the young. It is absolutely not true to say that this stuff doesn’t get people involved in the occult. Go and look at the Harry Potter section in Barnes and Noble and see what occult and witchcraft phenomena this series has spawned for our youth.
It is also my contention that the vampire craze is a direct result of a decade of Harry. Pretty soon the Harry Potter generation, who are now a decade older, get bored with the childish “Hogwart School of Witchcraft and Wizardry” and spell casting, and they need a little more “mature” form of occult entertainment.
Q: What about other books that involve magic? A lot of people say, for example, that C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia brought them closer to Jesus, even though the stories involve magic, spells, etc. What is your response to that?
Following from what I said above, I believe that the infiltration of pagan images and occult themes into the minds of our children has a devastating effect on them.
Tolkein’s and Lewis’s works come entirely out of a Christian worldview, despite the use of magic and some occult powers. In Lewis and Tolkein, the use of these preternatural powers is not ambiguous like it is in the Harry Potter series, and the figures who use them are either totally good and Christ-like (Gandalf, for example, becomes a Christ figure in his use of power to heal and protect people from evil) or they are totally evil and use power like demons do to harm and control (i.e., Saruman and Sauron).
Q: I read in your bio that you participated in the Marine Corps Officer Candidate Program in college, attended basic training at Quantico, Virginia and graduated at the top of your Company. Has this experience in the Maries helped you at all in your role as an exorcist?
It gave me a strong sense of the Church Militant — that still remains for me a defining image of how the Church should operate in confronting the evils of our day. I believe that if more Churchmen had a fighting spirit, the power of evil would not be so virulent in our culture. It is true to say that when the Church is weak, all of society is weak. By extension, when church leaders are weak the Church is much less able to be the conscience of society.
Q: You mention in the book that in some sense Satan and demons are disempowered now. Were demons more powerful before Jesus’ birth and death?
Very much so. There’s a great book by Fr. Jean Danielou, a Jesuit priest, called The Angels and Their Mission. He describes angels being sent into the world to try to lead men to God. However, because of the tendency of human nature to be corrupt, the demons won by leading men into idolatry, and only Christ could set it right. The power of Christ against evil has been delegated to the Church — he sent disciples out to heal the sick, preach the good news and cast out demons — but the Church needs to operate as the Church Militant in order to restrain the power of evil in the world. If it doesn’t, the power of evil grows.
Thanks again to Fr. Euteneuer for taking the time to chat with me! Again, if you’d like to learn more about this subject, I highly recommend his book, Exorcism and the Church Militant.