Preface: The phenomenon of 'falling' in Charismatic healing prayer services still causes confusion, misunderstanding and question for outsiders and even some insiders.
To assume that this individual has received the gift to heal and that individual has been healed in the Charismatic healing prayer services has brought about many questions. This does not mean that from past to present times, nobody has received the gift to heal and nobody else has been healed by prayers and miracles. This article is written as one smaller lamp to shine on both issues.
The author has read over a dozen books on Charismatic Renewal and attended healing prayer services with the “falling” phenomenon. He has also attended “The five-day Charismatic Priests’ Conference” in Malvern, Pennsylvania several times and attended “The five-day National Charismatic Conference for Priests and Deacons” in Steubenville, Ohio a few times. Besides, he attended “The five-day Charismatic Worldwide Retreat for Priests and bishops” in the Vatican in 1984 with some 6,000 priests and 80 bishops from 101 countries. Among the international speakers were Pope John Paul II, Cardinal Suenens, a few bishops, several priests including Father Cantalamessa and Mother Teresa of Calcutta.
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As usual, when getting sick or falling ill, people want to be healed by one way or another. To be healed, they go to the hospital, see a doctor, physician, even charlatan or magician or witch doctor, then take medication and avoid unhealthy food and drink. In addition, ancient Jews also seek to meet Jesus and ask for healing. As for Catholic people, they pray to God asking for healing or make a pilgrimage to a holy place to ask God, or Mary or this saint or that saint to heal them. People also ask priests or the laity whom they know to pray for their healing. They also go to healing prayer services in Charismatic healing prayers.
Medicine and surgery can heal diseases but do not heal all diseases.
In the modern and present times, with an innovative invention of science, medicine and technology, human beings witnessed treatments of diseases with surgery successful beyond imagination. The expenses of medical services such as costs for hospital, doctor / physician, medicine, account for a significant expenditure in the budgets of individuals, families and nations. However, with many diseases that even modern medical technology remains helpless. Some patients have been hospitalized for months and years, yet their illness has not been relieved.
Jesus came to heal sickness and disease, but not to heal all patients.
Reading the Gospel, one can see Jesus healed the sick, the suffering and those who were possessed with demons. However, the main purpose for his coming is to heal sickness of the human soul, to liberate humankind from sin, in order to restore spiritual life by reconciling humankind with God. That is the reason why in Mark's Gospel (Mk 1: 35-39), Jesus separated himself from the crowd to go and pray, preach in the synagogues and expel demons. While many people remained sick in need of healing, yet he still left them. The reason is he still had the more important mission to fulfill. That is to spread the good news of salvation, to bring healing to the soul as well. Jesus did not use his power to save himself from suffering and death either. He voluntarily accepted suffering and death because he realized that the value of suffering and death for the love of God and neighbor could bring salvation to humankind.
That is why sometimes people pray, asking for physical healing, and yet Jesus gives them spiritual healing and they do not know about it. There are cases that embracing (the carrying of) physical illness can bring spiritual benefits to people, making them dependent on God. If the disease is cured physically, people may presume that their spiritual life is good, nothing is to be blamed. Due to spiritual benefits to humankind, God can also delay healing. If God grants quick healing to each person, they may quickly forget the grace of God, unable to assess the importance of healing, making them less dependent on God.
Sometimes prayer for healing is answered / other times it is not.
There are cases when people are cured, that medical doctor and scientist could not explain why, but only realize that they have been cured without technological treatment or medication. Oftentimes people call such cures are from miracles. Miracles still happen every day in the times people live in. What people need is to use the eyes of faith that they can recognize and witness miracles. Every day people also have opportunities to express their faith in the power of God, asking him to heal. What needed is prayer. Prayers must go hand in hand with faith, since if prayers without faith, then prayers are hardly acceptable to God.
Evidence found in the Gospel is when the Pharisees ask Jesus for a sign, he refuses to perform it because they have no faith (Mk 6: 5,6) or they just want to test him (Mk 8: 11-12). On the contrary, people can see that the faith of the woman afflicted with a hemorrhage and the synagogue official is a faith assertive, strong, simple, sincere and humble. The gospel records the synagogue official ‘fell at his feet’ (Mk 5:22) and the woman with a hemorrhage ‘fell in front of him’ (Mk 5:33). As human beings, people also find it difficult to refuse someone when he/she cries out to them so humbly and earnestly. Whenever Jesus worked a miracle, it was from people with faith. Without faith, there will be neither miracle, nor healing. All those who receive the grace of God's miracles, have one thing in common, that is, they are motivated by faith in the power and mercy of God.
Sometimes people can behave like the Pharisees, that is, to just sit there with mouth open, waiting for fruit to fall, waiting for God to work a miracle, before they put faith and trust in God. However, God wants them to express their faith first, before he acts. God knows what each person needs. If people shut the door of their hearts, then God has to bear, because he has given humankind the freedom to choose and he respects their freedom.
To say so does not mean when afflicted with disease, the faithful do not need to see a doctor, or to take medication. To go to the doctor or to take the medication, if necessary, people still have to do, but at the same time, people still need praying for the grace of healing. God's ordinary way to treat human diseases is to use doctors and medicines to facilitate his healing process. Occasionally, God does not need rely on the doctor or medicine to cure, but to heal directly, called miracles. There are certain Christian denominations presume that there is no need to go to the doctor and take medication. They maintain that going to the doctor and take medication is to lessen their faith in the power of God. They do not know that God also relies on doctors and medicines to treat human diseases.
Thus, there is no conflict between the doctor’s treatment, medication taken and prayer offered for healing. Both methods: the doctor’s treatment with medication and prayers for cure, complement each other in order to restore health. People also go to places where miracles of healing have been reported as Lourdes and other places to pray, with hope for healing. Healing prayers at Lourdes each week have been filled with hundreds or even thousands of patients, including many patients on wheelchairs or stretcher cars. However, only a small number of patients have been certified by the International Medical at Lourdes including non-medical doctors, as cured in an extraordinary way, without medical and scientific explanations. The latest case was cured extraordinarily is Sister Luisina Traversso, certified by the International Medical Board, according a letter dated February 10, 2012 from Bishop Jacques Perrier of Lourdes.
Desire to be healed in Charismatic Healing Prayers with the 'falling’ phenomenon.
The Charismatic movement after the Second Vatican Council II has helped stir up a desire to pray: prayers of praise, forgiveness and thanksgiving to God and prayers of petition, including prayer for physical and spiritual healings. In those Charismatic healing prayers, people in need of healing, ask the the group to pray for them. Those in the group pray silently or aloud for one another. They also pray in tongues, put their hands on their heads, shoulders or backs of others. The laying-on of hands also has a psychological effect in giving moral support to one another. Normally, the group leader is a priest calling for healing prayer service. The healing prayer service includes Scripture readings, songs, and prayers of praise to God and general prayers for everyone present. Then, if anyone who wishes to be prayed over for his/her own intentions, comes forward before the priest leader for his laying-on of hands on his/her head with prayers.
Whether being cured or not, the purpose of the Charismatic healing prayer group is they want to pray together for praise, thanksgiving, atonement. They also to help one another maintain the collective faith of the group and to give moral support to each other in happiness as well as in sadness, in success and failure , 'in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health' (Rite of Marriage) .
The fallen phenomenon is caused by psychological factors, not by the action of the Spirit
During a laying-on of hands healing prayer, insiders as well as outsiders witnessed a ‘falling’ phenomenon. Normally, while standing in a state of consciousness, a patient directs his/her eyesight in coordination with nerves, tendons and muscles to keep the body in balance. However, with his/her eyes closed and mind focusing on healing, the patient just follows instructions of a leader. When the patient standing there with his/her eyes closed and mind in a state of trust, then the leader only touches the forehead of the patient, making the body naturally incline backwards a little. If the instructor pushes harder, the patient will tilt backwards further out of center of gravity, easily making him/her to fall. As such, people in the group have to arrange to support the patient, lying down backwards on the floor.
In terms of psychological aspect, then if a person asks for a laying-on of hands prayer over him/her without ‘falling’ - as it has been seen in the laying-on of hands healing prayers - the person might be afraid that people present might presume the person is slow to believe or does not want to be healed. That is why in his/her mind, he/she wants to fall. That is why in his/her mind, he/she wants to fall. The reason people who ask to lay hands in praying fall, is because they know that someone behind is ready to help them fall. Otherwise, it is difficult to fall, unless they slip or stumble across obstacles In addition, in the healing prayers, oftentimes, a priest leader exposes the Blessed Sacrament on the altar or carries it in front of everyone present. Experiencing the presence of God’s majesty and transcendence and recognizing his/her condition of weakness and sinfulness, the person finds it easy to engender a sense of admiration, adoration and fear – this fear is different from fright or scare – causing limbs to become weak, difficult to resist when leaning; thus vulnerable to fall. Then when wishing to ask somebody for something, one has to put him/her in a weak position and express his/her privation in need of help.
When wishing to ask God for healing, one must also recognize their weakness, helplessness. Therefore, consciousness induces falling. Conscious that falling is in a weak position, one is in need of cure. Those who fall are often those afflicted with physical and psychological diseases such as mental illness, thus want to be healed. Therefore, in the atmosphere of the healing prayer, there are those who fall, not caused by the leader, using hands to touch the forehead. Thus, the phenomenon of falling, interpreted according to psychological and emotional reasons, is more appropriate. However, the falling occurs in a healing prayer, insiders presume it is the action of the Spirit. Referring the falling to the psychological reasons, one can explain why one leader/instructor who, lays hands in prayer for this person, causes this person not to fall. When the same leader/instructor lays hands in prayer for another person, causes another person to fall? The answer is when people feel drawn to a leader/ instructor or hold him / her in consideration, they tend to be touchy and sympathetic before his/her prayers and his/her ways of prayers, thus feeling easy to induce the act of falling.
If saying that the falling phenomenon is due to psychological-emotional factors, then who has laid out those psychological-emotional principles? After all, God has placed those principles in the minds of human beings, as he has put the laws of physics, science, chemistry equations, and mathematical formulas into the cosmos. If there is the phenomenon of falling, there is a phenomenon of 'ecstasy'. There is also again a phenomenon of faint when facing terrified objects. Facing a happy occasion as a mother of a newborn child in the Central Maternity Hospital in Hanoi where her child kidnapped, then found November 8, 2011, made the delighted mother fainted as reported by many newspapers in Viet Nam. These phenomena as such are caused by psychological-emotional factors brought about.
Effect of placebo and effect of moral support by the prayer group
There are cases diagnosed, the doctor cannot find a medical reason, but patients thought they carry a certain disease and insisted on applying medication. Therefore, some doctors decided to let them take drugs 'pretending', in English-French language called ‘Placebo’, which means 'I will please' in the first person singular in the future, due to the Latin etiology Placere in the infinitive tense. Although placebo is an innocuous drug, without causing good or bad effects to the body, 'patients' taking Placebo with reassured state of mind, in hope of being cured, so they say they feel better. A patient in the falling position lying there, closing eyes as if to meditate, also experiences relaxing feeling and relieves stress. Lying there to contemplate in a prayerful and spiritual atmosphere, it also provides a feeling easing emotional pain and mental pressure and conflicts in life, similar to the placebo effect. Being healed can be interpreted according to psychological factors.
In addition, when this person prays silently for that person in the heart, then that person does not know what this person does pray for that person. Yet when this person prays aloud for that person, then that person knows how and what this person prays for that person. Thus, that person would feel reassured and feel like being helped for curing. Having the feeling of being helped is beneficial for a sick people. If thinking one has illness or worrying about illness, it can produce illness or make it worse. Those who came to Lourdes to pray, though not cured, their faith was renewed when they witnessed other patients as well as those who helped care for them, showing their faith with humility and insistence to pray before the statue of Our Lady of Lourdes or in a public prayer at the square before the Blessed Sacrament.
Attending a healing prayer service in a church, under holy atmosphere with the Blessed Sacrament exposed, a person with a psychological-emotional problem such as a neurological disease who expresses his/her problems and is listened to with understanding support, his/her burden of life can be relieved. A handicapped person on a wheel chair also wants to be healed. Listening to religious songs and prayers aloud for patients with the spirit of trust and humility may cause the heart of a handicapped person on a wheelchair felt like needles picking lightly into the skin or a current of certain chemical energy running into the body, making the body move, thus creating a gentle feeling, rising from the heart to the mind as if making him/her want to lift up the body. In some cases, patients seen limping or in wheelchairs, encouraged and morally supported by a priest-instructor and his assistants along with prayers, use internal strength, jump to his feet and walk almost normally. This phenomenon looks similar to a baby walking with the encouragement of his/her parents, stretching out their hands waving; the baby can walk more steps. As for a handicapped patient who, has been able to walk during a healing prayer service, can later walk normal, then it is a different story.
In medicine, there are those doctors who boycott prescription of placebo because they think doing so is deceiving 'patients'. But without the placebo prescribed, those who often have negative attitudes, or are afraid of a disease, or worry about getting the disease, that is they worry to such a degree that they get a disease. Thus, although it is an innocuous drug, it also helps those who think they have the disease, to be assured for maintaining hope to be cured.
The Charismatic healing prayer service, if not helping cure a disease physically, it helps patients increase spiritual energy in their illness and soothe emotional wounds in the family, in married life or lessen their tensions of life. Besides, it also helps maintain the collective faith of the patients who, due to their share of sufferings and feelings, are listened to and supported by prayers of the priest-instructor and the attendants. The Charismatic healing prayer service also helps maintain hope of the attendants. With hope, people continue to pray. Without hope, people will stop praying.
The falling phenomenon is not be encouraged in the healing prayer service
Admittedly, those laying-on of hands healing prayers of the Charismatic Movement is due to the influence of the Pentecostal Movement (i.e., fifty days after the Passover = Pentecost) - one of the Protestant denominations. The Second Vatican Council encourages Catholics to learn from other Christian denominations how to pray for the grace of the Holy Spirit to touch their hearts and lives. However, the Catholic Charismatic Movement need not imitate everything, which the Pentecostal Movement does, but must screen, eliminate, and embrace what is suitable for the Catholic Church, in order to build up the Catholic identity in the Charismatic healing prayer services. For instance, Catholic priests wearing vestments while celebrating Mass, but during the homily, go out of the pulpit and make gestures like shrugging shoulders and knees, dancing, cheering, then surely it is not appropriate in the praying and worshiping atmosphere. Even mimicking those gestures and postures of the ethnic Catholic Charismatic groups, that their culture is different, then, people of a different culture, while looking at it, would feel strange.
About 6,000 priests and 80 bishops from 101 countries gathered at the Vatican in 1984 for “The Charismatic Worldwide Retreat”. Photo by: John TB Trong
According to Cardinal Suenens, a Belgian and an influential figure of Vatican II and later becoming a prestigious character of the Catholic Charismatic Movement, in one session of the Second Vatican Council, an invited representative of the Pentecostal Movement, named David de Plessis, sounded to alert the Council Fathers of the mistakes of the ‘falling’ phenomenon. It was aching and troublesome for them. The phenomenon that the Pentecostal Movement recorded by the words sounding like the action of the Spirit, such as: Resting in the Spirit; Slain in the Spirit; Overpowering of the Spirit. In fact, according to some authors, such as the Anglican minister John Richard, Rev. Richard Bain, Rev. Mahoney, S.J, Rev. Theodore Dobson, Cardinal Suenens and some other priests, the falling phenomenon was just a 'backward' falling phenomenon. For Cardinal Suenens, it poses many doubts and questions about the phenomenon of falling . According to his conclusion, the phenomenon of falling must be eliminated from the liturgical celebration, as not existing in the long tradition of Christianity. Later, Rev. Emiliano Tardif, Rev. Richard Bain and some other priests, no longer encouraged falling in the healing prayer service. The way of falling here is falling back, taking a risk if no one helps a patient lie down.
Thus, if in the Charismatic healing prayer service, the priest/instructor does not want to see patients fall, then, he should not mention the fall. To avoid the falling phenomenon while laying on-of-hands prayers for healing, then instead of letting the patients stand or kneel on the floor – since kneeling on the floor is easy to fall too, he can invite them into rows of long benches with back supports and kneelers so that they can sit or kneel or stand with back and front supports when reclining to tilt backward or forward. The priest/instructor should remind patients to find a comfortable seat, for if sitting too close to each other, it would be difficult to express personal feelings and gestures of piety. It should also arrange to leave an empty row in front of an occupied row so that the priest/instructor and his assistants can get through and pray for patients.
In order to maintain the Catholic identity, healing prayer service should not be included in the mass. If planning a healing prayer service with the mass, it would be hard to avoid gestures or spontaneous prayers that may encourage others in the group to follow and it would be easy to go out of the mass setting. Then, before the healing prayer service, if the instructor mentions it is possible that falling will occur and during the service the guide adjust the lights to dim and suggest the attendants to close their eyes, then in their mind, it would induce them to fall.
The spirit of repentance needs to be emphasized in the Charismatic healing prayer service.
During the healing prayer service, the priest/instructor can read a Scripture passage on repentance and help reflect on the spirit of repentance. When participants want to contemplate the majesty and power of the Almighty with human weakness, sinfulness and illness and with the spirit of repentance and the need to be healed, they may kneel or sit, hanging their heads on the bench backrest in contemplation or repentance. Repentance with tears or just repentance is a very intimate moment that people can have before the One, whom they believe and worship, making it hard to forget. There are those, who cannot cry in front of anyone, which means no one can make him or her cry; they can only cry before the Blessed Sacrament. As a precaution, the assistants should bring a box of tears tissue, if there are people who need to use. The spirit of repentance and tears also help ease the burdens of life and soothe emotional wounds.
There are those who came to see their spiritual directors. At first they did not consider what they had done in the past was wrong. When they were told, it was sinful. They themselves admitted it was wrong; then, they repented and confessed their sin. They prayed before the Blessed Sacrament with their repentant heart and their tears flowed out. Since then their heart and life changed. There was also a priest at some point in his life, decided to make a silent retreat at a retreat house in the countryside. On one evening, the priest sneaked into the chapel alone, stepped up before the Blessed Sacrament, felt his whole body weak, with no strength upright, his knees collapsed to the floor beside the Tabernacle. Before he could say a word, his tears flowed out profusely. His tears of repentance made his heart and life changed since then.
On the day of Pentecost, when people heard Peter and the Eleven preach Jesus as the Son of God, crucified on the cross and rose again to atone for the sin of the world, they asked: ‘What are we to do, brothers’ (Acts 2:37). Peter answered: ‘You must reform and be baptized, each one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, that your sins may be forgiven, then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit’ (Acts 2:38). The faithful have been baptized, confessed their sins and received Confirmation. However, they still need to stir up and maintain the spirit of repentance. Repentance is the message that Christ preached (Mt 4:17; Mk 1:15; Lk 13: 3, 5) and the Church has been repeating it for the message of repentance is pertinent to all people of all times and ages.
In order to receive the spirit of repentance, it is essential to look at the spiritual life to find out the roots of sins such as jealousy, grudge, and hatred, backbite, gossip, blame, slander, distortion, innuendo, fabrication, anger, pride, deceit, lust. To receive the spirit of repentance, one must ask for the grace of fear of the Lord - not that kind of fear that makes one avoid God - but the fear of offending God. Repentance is different from guilt feeling. Guilt feeling makes people scare as to avoid God. When confessing sins with sincerity and humility, sins are forgiven; then, the sins are forgiven, not necessarily to bear the guilt feeling. However, penitents should maintain the spirit of repentance as to help themselves experience the presence and love of God in their personal lives in order to live their faith joyfully according the message of the Gospel. The spirit of repentance should help people feel closer to God in heart, instead of believing in Him only in mind. There are those who only appeal to the mercy of God. They pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet regularly and they promote God’s mercy, yet ignoring the message of repentance. They need to realize that repentance is a necessary and suficient - not necessarily a prerequisite - condition for God's mercy.
For some people, there are certain kinds of sin, not confessed yet, since canonical impediment to their existing marriage has not been removed, but with repentant heart, people can still put trust in the mercy of God, that not to be hopeless. Thus, repentance is a prerequisite to live in the Spirit, meaning to live their faith joyfully in their particular and unique circumstances of each person. To attend or invited to attend the Charismatic healing prayer service, without helping them arouse and maintain the spirit of repentance, can hardly help them live the spirit of Pentecost. Thus, renewal in the Holy Spirit is to ask for the spirit of repentance as to be able to renew one’s heart and life according to the values and demands of the Gospel, not to aim at seeking renewal by asking for certain charisms such as charism of speaking in tongues  or 'charism' of falling or healing.
Being healed is effected by the action of grace
When there are people saying they have been healed at the laying-on of hands healing prayers, either falling or not falling, then among those instructor-leaders in those praying services, perhaps there are different reactions. An instructor-leader may claim he/she receives this gift to heal others. An instructor-leader, knowledgeable, humble and cautious may maintain there might be those who have been healed and those who have not been healed. If there are those who have been healed, then that is from the action of the Spirit, not affected by the instructor-leader’s healing prayer for. The all-powerful God can give certain individuals the gift to restore health to others. However, not everyone who says he/she has the gift to heal, Catholics have to believe so.
At Lourdes, every year millions of people come to pray, drink spring water of Lourdes, taking Lourdes mineral water bath, with hope of being cured. Yet only a handful of people, proved to be cured. Here, there is an international medical team including non- Catholics who had examined, reviewed and concluded that some patients were cured in an extraordinary way. When the Church wants to canonize a person considered holy, she requires a miracle by prayers to that person as a condition to be canonized. Miracles by prayers to a holy person to be canonized, too, must be investigated and scientifically proven.
What to do when going to the hospital, seeing the doctor, taking medication and pray for healing, yet still not cured?
To be healed of physical illness and mental sickness is a gift and a joy; people should thank God for that. As noted in the case of healing by miracles at Lourdes or healing by a miracle through prayers to a saint to be canonized, then the miracle must be proved with a thorough investigation by the Church and the healing proved by a team of doctors that science cannot explain it. As for individual cases, whoever believes they are cured by a miracle, the Church does not intervene, as long as their belief helps them reform their lives and hearts. What if they go to the doctor, take medication and pray with faith, but the disease is still not relieved, then how to explain and what position should be taken? The answer is while still on earth, Jesus did cure disease of a few persons, but the main purpose of his coming into the world was to cure diseases of the human soul. Before the coming of Jesus into the world for redemption, the author of the book of Wisdom realized that God had created human beings for eternity, but due to the sin of envy of the devil, that death entered the world (Gn 2:24). Therefore, Jesus came to restore life to the souls of men by dying to sin. Thus, one must realize that each person must go through the process of human life: birth, aging, sickness and death, so that people can accept the final phase of life in peace.
Thus, the attitude of the faithful must have is, when in sickness and disease, one should go to the doctor and take medication and pray for healing. However, as long as one still carries the disease, one needs to ask for courage and patience to endure for the love of God. The faithful accept suffering and sickness, with no way out, but accept them because of faith, love and trust as to participate in the Passion of Christ, with the hope of sharing in his resurrection. Only by such acceptance, it would bring peace and grace to the mind and soul when having to bear burdens of life.
(Rev) JohnTran Binh Trong
. See ‘A Controversial Phenomenon: Ecstasy in the Spirit ', in the book: 'Holy, lively breath of the Church' by Cardinal L.J. Suenens. Nguyễn Đăng Trúc translated into Vietnamese. Định Hướng Tùng Thư. Publishing, 2006 (In Vietnamese).
. See ‘Evaluating Speaking / Praying in ' Tongues ' in the Charismatic Renewal Movement ' by Rev. (John) Trần Bình Trọng, in www.mucvuvanbut.net in Section: Articles by Home Page author, posted 29 December 2009 (In Vietnamese).