The MOST Theological Collection: Catholic Apologetics Today: Answers to Modern Critics
"Chapter 21: False Angels"
"I have met Jesus!" This statement is common today. Not all, but some will say that they have the Bible and Jesus: What more do they need? They say that the Church did not give them Jesus, they had to find Him for themselves, so they need not bother with the Church.
It is very difficult to deal with people of this belief; they claim that they have something that overrides and is superior to any reasoning or theology or proof: they feel they have met Jesus.
They are similar to Eve in Genesis. Eve was in the garden one day, and along came the tempter. He remarked, "My, what a nice garden. Do they let you eat from all the fine trees here?" "Yes," said Eve. "Oh, just a minute. There is one over there. God says we must not eat from it. If we do we will die." The tempter seemed surprised, "He said that! Why can't you see He is holding out on you. He knows if you eat that, you will be like gods. He wants to keep that just for Himself; He doesn't want anyone else to get in on it." Eve looked at the fruit. "Yes," she thought, "God may know things in general, but right now, why I can just see for myself that it is good." So she took a bite. "Yes, it is good. I can feel that for myself."
The inspired writer of Genesis was trying to make a point in this part of the narrative. Among other things, he was showing us the psychology of sin. In every sin, not just the first sin, the sinner in effect, says, "God may know in general, but right now, I can feel and see this thing is good."
So it is with some who have "met Jesus." They can feel, can almost touch Him. So they can know on their own. They do not have to take the word of stodgy churchmen, who probably have never met Jesus themselves.
As we said, it is difficult to get through to these people. They claim to have proof they can feel, so there is no need to take the word of anyone, including the Church.
If they really had met Jesus, they would know that He does not contradict Himself. The words He said long ago would still have meaning. For example, "And if he will not hear them: tell the Church. And if he will not hear the Church, let him be to you as the heathen and publican." (Matt. 18: 17). For "He who hears you, hears me; and he that rejects me, rejects him who sent me." (Luke 10:16). As we saw in Chapter 14, "binding and loosing," as the words were used at the time of Jesus by the Jewish teachers, meant imposing or removing an obligation by an authoritative decision. So to be certain of divine truth, we cannot do without the Church.
Similarly, we need spiritual food. Jesus Himself said, "I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever ... He who eats my flesh, and drinks my blood, has everlasting life: and I will raise him up in the last day." (John 6:51 & 55). But we get that Flesh and Blood of Jesus only from the Church. Not to all, but to the Apostles, and thereby to their successors, He said, "Do this in remembrance of me." (Luke 22:10; and 1 Cor. 11:24). So we must have the Church. If we do not, Jesus warns us, "Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, you shall not have life in you." (John 6:54).
Simply, we have shown from the words of Jesus Himself that He established a Church, gave it the commission to teach and promised that its teaching would be protected. One who wishes to ignore that, even if he thinks he has "met Jesus," is not really a Catholic at all. Instead, Jesus says we should look on him "as the heathen and publican." (Matt. 18:17).
Also, if one looks for wonders which our senses can take in, the Church has them in abundance. They include cures that are beyond the possible power of suggestion, cures completely proved by modern science, not to mention the Host of Lanciano, the image of Guadalupe, and many others. And it is only the Catholic Church that has a Lourdes and other places where miracles have happened that have been scientifically checked. No sect even tries to claim such miracles-except of course for the questionable cases we have mentioned, in which the power of suggestion can be a factor.
It is worthwhile, at this point, to review the sound principles on "feelings" in religion. These principles were established after centuries of experience on the part of ordinary people and saints and are principles in accord with the scientific studies of sound theology approved by the Church of Jesus.
Feelings in religion can stem from any one of three sources: God or a good spirit, an evil spirit, or ourselves. We will look at some of the characteristics of each.
God and His agents can and often do give us feelings. St. John of the Cross, a saint who had an unusual amount of supernatural experiences himself and who was at the same time a great theologian, compares feelings to toys. When a person comes to what is often called the "second conversion," that is, when he starts to work in earnest on growing spiritually, God often sends him feelings to wean him away from things of the world. St. John tells us to think of "a child holding something in one of its hands," such as a sharp knife.130 We dare not just try to take it away. So instead, "to make it loosen its hold upon it, we give it something else to hold in the other hand," some toy. Then the child will safely let go. But we should not need toys permanently, and so St. Francis de Sales, another saint of wide experience and theological learning, advises us, "We must from time to time make acts of renunciation of such feelings of sweetness, tenderness, and consolation."131 Otherwise, the real motive that leads us to pray and try to serve God may not be He, but the pleasure we get out of it.
Satan, too, sometimes sends us religious feelings. He has a thousand wiles. He can lead us by feelings to make good resolutions that are too ambitious for our present state. Then we will soon fall and probably give up trying. Again, Satan helps people to feel pleasure in religion to make them proud. They may say, "We must be saints," or, "We do not need the Church." But Satan can exploit aridity or dryness, too (we mean lack of emotion). He can tempt us to say, "We are strong souls, we do not need such toys."
Finally, we ourselves can be the source of feelings, especially, but not solely, by way of suggestion. The great St. Teresa of Avila, who had such a profusion of divine favors-visions, revelations, feelings, etc.- wrote about people who want to see visions and such manifestations, "I will only warn you that, when you learn or hear that God is granting souls these graces, you must never beseech or desire Him to lead you along this road ... there are certain reasons why such a course is not wise." She explains in detail: First, the desire shows a lack of humility; second, one thereby leaves himself open to "great peril, because the devil has only to see a door left slightly ajar to enter"; and third, the danger of suggestion: "When a person has a great desire for something, he persuades himself that he is seeing or hearing what he desires."132
A further word on that warning about lack of humility. There are two levels, or tiers, in the rules for the spiritual life. Among the first are the basic rules which everyone must follow, or take a loss. Among the second are the things in which great individual variations are possible, and even usual. For example, St. Francis de Sales was a highly refined gentleman; but St. Benedict Joseph Labre lived like a tramp, with body lice, and probably smelled bad. St. Francis of Assisi is said to have been reluctant to let his first followers have books at all; St. Thomas Aquinas lived his life surrounded by books. Each of these saints followed the same basic principles of the spiritual life-yet what differences in approaches!133
Returning to the role of feelings in the Christian life, we could point out many more possibilities of deception from feelings-and many more good things about them too. But we trust we have shown that no feelings, no imagining that one has "met Jesus," can ever justify disregarding the words which we know came from Jesus in the Gospels. However good some things may seem to be, we must remember Eve-the fruit seemed obviously good to her.
Finally, St. Paul warned the Corinthians that at times Satan "transforms himself into an angel of light." (2 Cor. 1 1:14). It was true in St. Paul's day and is still true in our day.