Q. After reading Rey Flores’ excellent column in the December 12, 2013 Wanderer, I agree wholeheartedly except for the “we should all include people like these in our prayers.” Why pray for devils? We are taught that there are many devils prowling about the world seeking the ruin of souls. I for one cannot and will not pray for the Devil and his minions, be they on our streets or in the government. — G.B., via e-mail.
A. We think that if you go back and read the column again, you will see that Mr. Flores was not advocating prayer for devils, who are in Hell and beyond the reach of our prayers. He was talking about a pro-abortion protest in Argentina where the protesters “acted like they were possessed by demons” and where “some solid young Catholic men” formed a human chain of protection around a Catholic cathedral.
He said that “while it’s easy to hate these protesters, especially after watching them abuse these good young men, I don’t think that’s the best option. I think we should all include people like these in our prayers and trust that God will either reach their hearts or administer whatever punishment He will.”
Mr. Flores was urging prayers for those who acted “like they were possessed by demons,” not for demons themselves. There is no question that abortion is a demonic activity influenced by the one whom Jesus said was “a murderer from the beginning” (John 8:44). But it is also true that Jesus has overcome the power of the Devil, and prayers directed to the Lord can convert even the most ardent practitioner and promoter of abortion.
Dr. Bernard Nathanson is a classic example of the journey from abortionist to pro-lifer, from atheist to Catholic.
Prayer is also an important part of the rite of exorcism, not for the demon or demons possessing a person, but that the person possessed may be released from the power of the Devil.
Q. An article in the November 23 edition of The Economist magazine says that “a trickier controversy has been triggered by findings from the genome that modern humans, in their genetic diversity, cannot be descended from a single pair of individuals. Rather, there were at least several thousand ‘first humans.’ That challenges the historical existence of Adam and Eve, and has sparked a crisis of conscience among evangelical Christians persuaded by genetic science” (p. 37). What is the Catholic answer to what is being said? — E.G., Florida.
A. In his World Day of Peace Message 2014, Pope Francis gave the Catholic answer when he said that “according to the biblical account of creation, all people are descended from common parents, Adam and Eve, the couple created by God in His image and likeness (cf. Gen. 1:26), to whom Cain and Abel were born. In the story of this first family, we see the origins of society and the evolution of relations between individuals and peoples.”
It is Catholic teaching that there could not have been several thousand “first humans” because that would undermine the doctrine of original sin. In his 1950 encyclical Humani Generis, Pope Pius XII said that Catholics could not “embrace the opinion which maintains either that after Adam there existed on earth true men who did not take their origin through natural generation from him as from the first parent of all, or that Adam represents a certain number of first parents” (n. 37).
That opinion is known as polygenism, and the Holy Father said that it cannot be reconciled with the Church’s teaching on original sin, “which proceeds from a sin actually committed by an individual, Adam, and which through generation is passed on to all and is in everyone as his own.”
According to the Economist article, which was reporting on a recent meeting in Baltimore of America’s largest society for evangelical theologians, “academic papers on Adam are flying. Perhaps a dozen Adam books are out or due out soon.” But whatever scientific truth comes out of these discussions, it cannot contradict religious truth since God is the author of both.
Q. The scientific analysis of the Shroud of Turin seems to reveal it as the shroud of Christ, but a Catholic neighbor says that the Gospel of John 20:7 refers to “the napkin which had been on his head.” My neighbor doubts that the Shroud of Turin is of Christ because the head covering was on first and then the linen cloths covered Him for three days. Please explain what you can. And have there been any miracles connected to the Shroud of Turin? — D.P., New Jersey.
A. John 20:6-7 reads as follows: “When Simon Peter arrived after him [John], he went into the tomb and saw the burial cloths there, and the cloth that had covered his head, not with the burial cloths but rolled up in a separate place.”
The word “cloths” is plural because it refers to the large linen sheet wrapped around Christ’s body, which is believed to be the Shroud of Turin, from the town in Italy where the relic is kept, and to a smaller cloth that had been placed on His head, which today is known as the Sudarium of Oviedo, from the town in Spain where it is kept. In her book Sacred Blood, Sacred Image: The Sudarium of Oviedo, Janice Bennett concluded after much investigation that the Sudarium, which is also stained with blood, was used before wrapping the body in the larger shroud. She explained:
“The Sudarium, therefore, was not part of the shrouding process. It was used during the descent from the cross and during the transport of the body to the tomb in order to cover the disfigured face of Jesus, according to the orders of the Sanhedrin, and to prevent loss of blood. It was then removed and placed separately in the tomb. John 20:7 also indicates that Jesus had the Sudarium placed on his head before the burial, but not after. It would have been necessary to remove the cloth in order to anoint the facial wounds, and would not have been used to cover the face once again due to the large amount of blood it contained.
“It was sufficient to wrap the body in a clean white linen shroud, and is unthinkable that a dirty, bloodstained linen would have [been] left in place on the head of Jesus. While Jewish burial customs would have exempted Jesus from the washing ritual, a clean shroud was required by law” (p. 151).
There have been miracles of healing associated with the Shroud of Turin. For example, an 11-year-old girl in England was dying of a severe bone disease in 1954 and was partly cured by holding a photograph of the Shroud. She later went to Turin and was completely healed when the rolled-up Shroud was placed across the arms of her wheelchair. She attended a public exhibition of the cloth in 1978 at the age of 35 and said that after her healing, she had resumed a normal life, was married, and had a daughter of her own.
Q. I have had people say to me that they don’t believe in God because they can’t see Him. I have thought of responding to them by saying that if God were to appear to them in all of His infinite goodness, beauty, and glory, then their free will would be taken away, there would be no doubt left. They would not have the power to choose anymore. Their free will would be gone. What do you think of this argument? — L.G.S., Arkansas.
A. We think that those people could still refuse to believe, as they did after witnessing Jesus perform spectacular miracles, such as the raising of Lazarus. Recall that there were two reactions to that miracle: Members of one group had their belief in Jesus strengthened; the other group decided to kill Him. The hearts of the latter group remained hardened, just as the Pharaoh’s did after Moses performed numerous miracles.
C.S. Lewis once said of such people:
“If the end of the world appeared in all the literal trappings of the apocalyptic vision of the Book of Revelation, if the modern materialist saw with his own eyes the heavens rolled up and a great white throne appearing, if he had the sensation of being himself hurled into the lake of fire, he would continue forever, in that lake itself, to regard his experience as an illusion, and to find the explanation of it in psychoanalysis or cerebral pathology.”
The people of whom you are speaking have only to take the blinders off and look around to see God — in the beauty of a sunrise or sunset, in the magnificent works of nature, in the face of a child. “I see His blood upon the rose,” said the Irish poet Joseph Mary Plunkett, “and in the stars the glory of His eyes. His body gleams amid eternal snows, His tears fall from the skies.”