Dad is still a bull of a man at 90 years of age. Manual labor and a strong work ethic have molded him into someone who could physically live another ten years. But he has a broken heart from years of disappointment, depression, and now, to cap it all off, dementia.
He has regrets for the way he lived, focused on frugality and self-reliance. He raised seven children and built a nest-egg to care for his wife should he predecease her. This is how men growing up in the Great Depression lived their lives. But he cannot forgive himself for his flaws.
He knows God loves him but he cannot imagine why he still has to suffer as he nears his long-awaited union with his Savior.
He has asked me to stop “preaching” to him. I kid him and tell him that’s what deacons do. But I do not tell him, will not tell him, that deacons are more importantly called to serve the suffering and the dying, and that is one of the reasons why I am here with him.
So I simply tell him I love him.
On that we can agree. There are no fancy answers, he says, only love. God is love, he repeats, sometimes in the prayers he says loudly in the next bedroom as he lies alone at night.
“I love you, Jesus and Mary. Help me.”
Our Own Garden of Gethsemane
I can imagine that this is how Jesus must have felt in the Garden of Olives, when His Father allowed Him to undergo the agony of dying just the way all of us must someday die. Like Dad, we will not want platitudes or optimistic encouragement as we await union with the Most Holy Trinity.
As Dad says: “Give me facts. I want the truth.”
Jesus undertook all of our sufferings and sinfulness and atoned for us to His Father. His Paschal Mystery changed all of reality and broke the bonds of death. No one except God can fully fathom this tremendous mystery. Yet we can approach it in our own sufferings and brokenness. Dying can be long and lonely, like it is for Dad. It can be transformative, but only when we allow it to strip away all pretenses and lies, and join our sufferings to Jesus. And in this giving of ourselves to another, to father, mother, brother, sister or child, we enter into the Paschal Mystery, the waiting embrace of the True Beloved in His Passion, Death and Resurrection.
One of the things I tried to give Dad when he was doing very poorly about a month ago was to offer him the gift of Jesus’ healing. I requested permission from my spiritual director to conduct a deliverance. I sensed that Dad was suffering not only psychologically and physically, but also spiritually. He wanted to die because he no longer trusted someone very close to him. He had developed an inordinate attachment to death, with the possibility of a bondage to a spirit of death and despair.
The Ministry of Deliverance
The Sacrament of Reconciliation is the most effective means we have to break such sinful bondages. But sometimes we need to help those suffering to fully renounce the underlying illusions and lies that enable them to pretend that we do not have to, or cannot, change our lives to live in union with the Trinity.
Deliverance is a ministry to assist with breaking this bondage through the power and grace of Jesus Christ, who conquered sin and death once and for all through His Paschal Mystery. As the Letter of James proclaims: “Is anyone among you sick? He should summon the presbyters of the church, and they should pray over him and anoint [him] with oil in the name of the Lord and the prayer of faith will save the sick person, and the Lord will raise him up. If he has committed any sins, he will be forgiven.” (James 5:14-15)
With our modern sensibilities, many of us tend to downplay the impact of sin and evil in our lives. While all sin is evil, there are certain demonic aspects to sin that can bind and trap us into habits of thinking or behaving that are highly destructive and insidious. Some of these traits or habits have been passed down to us unintentionally in our families, or with some complicity.
One should always consult their spiritual director or a holy priest who has some experience in deliverance before proceeding with any deliverance. This person may then need to inform the bishop of that jurisdiction. If you are not under spiritual direction, you should not participate in this ministry. A deliverance can backfire when the person conducting the deliverance has unconfessed sin or spiritual pride. There is great danger in underestimating the hold and impact of evil in the world.
Tools for Deliverance
Deliverances should also only be undertaken after prayer and fasting. Moreover, prayers for the deliverance have to be offered concurrently by others who bear the particular intention for the spiritual health of the individual undergoing any deliverance. This is why many deliverance ministries are composed of teams of people with various gifts, some of whom do the most important ministry of praying for the spiritual healing of those being addressed.
It is also essential that some review of background factors that may have contributed to the spiritual bondage occur. These may be psychological, physical, or emotional in nature. Only in this way can the deliverance proceed and focus on the actual areas of bondage where the individual’s will has been compromised by sinful patterns.
I have had several deliverances myself. I was led to this ministry gradually after a tragic loss in my life. I did not think I really needed it, but found it powerfully liberating.
After receiving approval from my spiritual director, I prayed about this as I researched our more recent family history and genealogy. I was led to someone who Dad thought had information regarding an area of brokenness for him. After talking with this person, I was able to assure Dad that his suspicions were unfounded. This helped reveal to him the real basis for his brokenness.
Release from Bondage
I saw how profoundly Dad’s mental outlook on life began to immediately change. He was now ready to renounce this bondage. This is a critical prerequisite for a deliverance: to enter it willingly and in a commitment to fully address and renounce previous destructive and sinful habits, actions, or thoughts.
I began fasting and praying more deeply, and decided I should proceed as soon as possible. I left messages with a group of priests, religious sisters, and family members to keep Dad in prayer that evening when the deliverance took place.
Because Dad was able to forgive the several people he had hurt by his suspicions, the deliverance proceeded with great effect, and brought peace and joy back to Dad’s life. Dad felt freer to exercise control over his thinking, in spite of regret over his actions.
Dad then went that weekend to Reconciliation and Mass, and received the Anointing of the Sick. He found additional physical, psychological, and spiritual healing as a result.
I was impacted by Dad’s healing, too. Our bond in the family of the Most Holy Trinity was strengthened. I was graced to then address other and hidden wounds I had as a child and adolescent and assimilate the healing of these difficulties into a renewal of my own consciousness.
But like Dad says, the greatest of all God’s gifts is charity. It is where we have to go after we renounce sin, and it is best practiced with the poor and abandoned.
A Saintly Example
In this vein, St. Teresa of Calcutta may be the most powerful agent of charity in the last century. She left her native Albania to abandon herself to bringing dignity to the dying of India. She and her Missionaries of Charity performed this work and other remarkable acts of mercy through lives of contemplation, prayer, and activity. These were hidden, humble lives, lived for union with mankind and our Savior.
In Calcutta, it was common for many of the poor to die on sidewalks. Wanting to maintain their dignity, St. Teresa and her companions gathered them up from the streets and alleys and carried them to clean beds in their “hospital for the dying” and ministered to them in their last moments.
This was unheard of in India, let alone the rest of the world. Her ethic of life extended to the unborn, abused, widowed, and orphan. God’s mercy sprung up in her and filled others with consolation and healing, while she herself suffered a dark night of the soul, of feeling abandoned by God.
Can you hear her utter simplicity, humility, and saintliness in the following words? Listen with your heart: “There’s nothing to say about me,” she insisted (to a journalist). “I’m a poor sister like so many others. The Lord has entrusted a mission to me and I try to do it as best as I can. But he is the one who does everything. Jesus loves the poor. They’re his beloved sons and daughters. Even he was born into a poor family when he came into this world, and the most beautiful words of the Gospel are reserved for the poor. It’s necessary to talk about them and not me. I am worth nothing.” (From Teresa of the Poor by Renzo Allegri, p. 25.)
The Value of Family
This is what family does: being with each other in the desolation and brokenness and pain; celebrating the life well-lived by not drawing away from the unpleasantness of death and sin; looking beyond the grave to eternal life; and not focusing on ourselves. It’s what the most perfect family, the Most Holy Trinity, does. They stand by the dying.
There is a solitude to dying that cannot be bridged and that is final and absolute.
But we can bring dignity to death. We can offer the dying the best part of us, the self-gift of being there, and not running away. We can wipe away tears of heartbreak, of the dying inside or outside. We can let tears stream and life slowly ebb, regrets roll forward to what seems hopelessness, but is truly the foundation for new life. We can bring them the sacraments of the Church. We can be with them in their pain, and trust in God for all the rest.