Friday, 1 November 2013

The Last Diagnosis

Pope Francis, our meek, loving, liberal, progressive pope, has his own hidden skeleton: he firmly believes in the reality of the devil (surprise, he's a Catholic!).

Now this side of Pope Francis is never paraded in secular media's limelight. The reactions could've been interesting though, because il Papa didn't mention evil in an abstract (read: modern) sense, as if it is a negative energy that can be exhaled out during a yoga session. No, Pope Francis takes the devil very seriously and very literally, as a being, a spiritual creature, a fallen angel, an enemy. He implies that not acknowledging the presence and power of Hell poses a danger of "diminishing the power of the Lord" (yep, isn't that what's happening in this age of ours?).

Of people who claim that the Biblical scenes where Jesus casts out unclean spirits are actually Jesus healing a mental illness, Pope Francis insisted:

"It is true that at that time, they could confuse epilepsy with demonic possession; but it is also true that there was the devil! And we do not have the right to simplify the matter, as if to say: 'All of these (people) were not possessed; they were mentally ill'. No! The presence of the devil is on the first page of the Bible, and the Bible ends as well with the presence of the devil, with the victory of God over the devil."

Look at how the Holy Father spoke: with a sense of urgency! He speaks as if he has ever beheld the devil with his own eyes (I wouldn't be surprised if he really has). The Pope rightly recognises that while mental illnesses do cause odd behaviours in people, demons also exist and likewise they can produce similarly broken personalities and bizarre attitudes. Like any other Catholic teachings, this is not an "either/or" issue, it's a "both/and" reality.

I'm reminded of one time during a morning shift at the ER. A young man was admitted because he suddenly dropped down and lost consciousness. We couldn't find anything wrong from physical examination, lab results, and CT images. Yet he constantly drifted between the twilight state and the comatose state. After 3 days trying to find a diagnosis, the mother gave up and told us she wanted to seek help from a "learned man" instead (a "learned man" is a local metaphor for a paranormal), because she believed her son was jinxed, or worst, possessed.

I reported this to the senior ER doc. She neither discouraged nor encouraged the choice; she simply said: "Well, we're doctors. We don't believe in that stuff."

Which made me think. Sure I'm a doctor, but first and foremost I'm a person of faith. I belong to a Church who has been battling the dark force since her Pentecostal birth. Our Master personally defeated Hell with His own blood. Heck, I'm supposed to believe in "that stuff"! Regardless of whether  the young man was really possessed or not, "that stuff" exists, is active, and is harmful. "That stuff" has to be acknowledged with a certain measure of respect, not because it is noble, but because it is beyond our humble understanding. The possibility of demonic activities shouldn't be scoffed at and dismissed as silly, but it should be silently taken into consideration; if not for immediate answer, it's for our last card, that "last diagnosis".

"Do not confuse the truth. Jesus fights the devil: first criterion. Second criterion: he who is not with Jesus is against Jesus. There are no attitudes in the middle. Third criterion: vigilance over our hearts because the devil is astute. He is never cast out forever. It will only be so on the last day."

For Catholic doctors, I propose this: Do what you have to do. Follow the procedures. Find the right diagnosis and give the right treatment. But remember what Sir Conan Doyle said through the mouth of Sherlock Holmes: "When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth." Pray for all your patients. If you can, even, offer to pray together with them, not just privately in your room.

"Do not relativize; be vigilant! And always with Jesus!"
—Pope Francis


Image: "The Exorcism", from Les Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, Folio 166r

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