Bad spiritual habits

Ideas have consequences. They do. They are NOT harmless. Ask the victims of the Nazis or the Communists. Be careful what you wish for? Be careful what you think! Bad thinking leads directly to bad habits which lead to bad outcomes.

“Habits—repeated practices—that make us focus on ourselves rather than God, or stoke undue curiosity about the occult, leave us more susceptible to temptation and other demonic attacks.

Emotionalism

Angels and human beings have immortal souls. Two faculties or powers of the immortal soul are reason and free will. Using our reason, we can think about things such as the morality of a proposed action. Using our free will, we can choose whether to do it. Faculties that we share with animals are senses and emotions. Our emotions are more varied and complex than those of animals, though there is no denying that a dog can be happy, sad, or angry.

We can call reason and free will higher faculties; emotions and senses lower faculties. It is a serious mistake, though one that is common in our culture, to allow the lower faculties to govern our actions. This leads us to believe that a proposed action must be good if it is pleasurable to our senses or if it makes us feel happy. I have heard individuals justify immoral acts by saying, “God wants me to be happy.” This is true, but there are acts that will give us momentary pleasure but not long-term happiness. God wants us to live in eternal happiness, and to use reason rather than emotion and sensual pleasure to guide us there.

The same is true of spirituality. It is a serious mistake to think that emotions provoked during a spiritual experience indicate its depth and value. That is why, as we have seen, the Church instructs us that healing services must avoid hysteria, theatricality, and sensationalism. I have been present at such services where, despite this directive, people are encouraged to cry, make incoherent sounds, and even fall to the ground. A better spiritual experience is one that brings a sense of peace and calm, both during and afterward.

Spiritual Pride

The demons were good when God created them, but they fell from grace because of the sin of pride: “You said in your heart . . . ‘I will ascend above the heights of the clouds, I will make myself like the Most High.’ But you are brought down to Sheol, to the depths of the Pit” (Isa. 14:13–14). This illustrates the importance of being spiritually humble; we resist demons by avoiding the very vice that brought them down.

Spiritual Sloth

Sloth can refer to laziness in work and other daily obli- gations; spiritual sloth specifically refers to neglect of our obligations to God. Jesus warned us of the dangers of delaying repentance and neglecting to break our patterns of sin (Matt. 5:23–26; Luke 12:42–48). The Bible often refers to this as having a hardened heart (Eph. 4:18). Another way of saying this is: do not wait until tomorrow to make the good moral choices you can make today. Exorcists say that hardening of the heart, or wallowing in habits of sin, can open us to demonic attacks.

In addition to the usual spiritual means of avoiding spiritual sloth, there is a counseling technique that can be helpful in times of temptation. Before committing the sin, we can mentally put ourselves in the future and think about how we will feel about this moment. Will I be glad I acted this way, or will I regret it? What will the consequences be for others? What will the consequences be for me next week, next month, or next year? And what will the effect be on my immortal soul?

For example, if a man who struggles with drunkenness is considering having a drink, he should not dwell on the plea- sure of the drink. Rather, he should mentally put himself in the future and look at what is likely to happen as a result of this one drink. If he can delay the decision to drink—if he can think about the likelihood of getting drunk, the effects on his family and other relationships/obligations, and the damage to his soul—he may be able to excite his emotions in such a way that the drink is not so desirable. These emotions counteract the pleasurable emotions that demons try to provoke in connection with our particular weaknesses. Furthermore, by developing this thought process into a habit, by God’s grace we can break habits of sin that can be a door to demonic influence.

Casual Occult Practices

In artwork, the devil is often portrayed as a red creature with hooves, a pointed tail, bat wings, and a cruel smirk on his face. It would be beneficial if he actually appeared that way; it would be much easier to identify him and resist his temptations! Unfortunately, his operations are more insidious. This is also true of the occult practices that have become common in our culture. There are Catholics who would never consciously set out to worship false gods, but are lured by seemingly harmless spiritual gurus and practices that contradict the Faith. These are subtle means by which the demons try to gain a foothold and lead people away from God.

Playing with a Ouija board violates the first commandment, since it is an attempt to communicate with spirits in a way that excludes God. We can talk to angels, saints, and the souls in purgatory through their union with God, not through a board game. The only spirits that might respond to a Ouija board are demons and (possibly) human souls in hell, with neither of whom we should communicate.

Having said that, certainly many people have played with a Ouija board as children (I confess I am one of them). Many people my age have told me they did the same, and all have said they are not aware of any spiritual problems as a result. Does this mean that no harm comes from playing with a Ouija board? Definitely not, for two reasons. First, more than half of those in my generation who grew up Catholic are no longer practicing the faith. I am not blaming the Ouija board for that, but neither can we rule out the possibility that it had a negative spiritual influence on some people. Second is a comparison: when I was growing up most people were not wearing seat belts, and I didn’t personally know anyone who was seriously injured or killed as a result of this neglect. Nevertheless, that does not mean it was a good idea or a safe practice.

As with the Ouija board, people who have consulted palm readers, psychics, tarot cards, and horoscopes tell me it was just for fun, and deny suffering ill effects. Certainly they did not become possessed by the devil. But these activities, too, violate the first commandment, and they have the potential of opening doors to the demonic.

As we have seen, although psychics and palm readers have no inherent ability to see the future or other hidden events, demons may use these individuals and fool their customers. Demons can put ideas in their heads, such as information about peoples’ personal lives. When they report this informa- tion, they and their customers wrongly believe the knowledge came from psychic ability, palm reading or other activity. The devil would often prefer to hide his presence, and let us sin through pride (claiming extraordinary powers) and invoking false gods (such as tarot cards or the stars and planets).

Demons can also use people’s grief over dead loved ones to influence them, falsely leading them to believe—through objects being moved, or lights turning off and on—that a medium has made them present in the room. But souls do not return from the dead to leave such vague and mundane signs. And demons can use such false episodes to shake peo- ple’s faith in God’s saving power.”

Praying for safety & protection of all,
Matthew

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