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Psychological Healing
in the Catholic Mystic Tradition

Questions and Answers

I was invited to a breakfast after Mass, a Catholic Woman’s Society. . . . For the most part their aims seemed holy enough. A desire to promote Consecration to Our Lady, Eucharistic Adoration, holiness within the family, supporting the poor, etc. After the discussions there was a bit of prayer, and those who felt the desire to pray in tongues were invited to do so. I was very taken aback by this, and embarrassed as people around me began to sing in unintelligible words. There was also group discussion where people would propose their ideas, and how they felt the Holy Spirit was motivating them, and then everyone around the table would punctuate this with “Praise Jesus! Thank you Jesus!” which is all quite well and good, but I felt like I was at a Protestant thing I’ve seen on TV. You know? I could only hang my head and pray silently that He would guide these good people as they seemed to think they were being guided. I think it was their certainty that it could only be the Holy Spirit that guided them, that frightened me a bit.
 
Now, when it comes to tongues, I myself have never desired to pray in this way, but I cannot condemn another if God inspires them, and I mean a genuine inspiration. But what is real and what is false? What is the Holy Spirit and what is simply human emotion trying to find satisfaction in the wrong places? When I read St. Paul in 1 Corinthians, it seems tongues are kind of a pointless thing as they bear little fruit, and he more or less tells them to stop wasting their time. Or so it seems to me.

Outline of the Answer
• Increasing Communication
• Unintelligible Speech
• Spiritual Pride
• Interpretation

 
Speaking in tongues is first mentioned in Acts in regard to Pentecost when the Apostles spoke to the crowds, and everyone from the various nations heard everything in his native language.

  

Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim.
 
Now, there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven staying in Jerusalem. At this sound, they gathered in a large crowd, but they were confused because each one heard them speaking in his own language.

  

—Acts 2:3–6

Notice that, in this case, speaking in tongues had the purpose of increasing communication, so that the “mighty acts of God” (viz., the Incarnation, Passion, and Resurrection of Christ) would be proclaimed to all nations; it had nothing to do with babbling unintelligibly.

 
Unintelligible Speech

Nevertheless, in his Epistles, Saint Paul does mention that speaking in tongues is a gift of the Spirit, and we know that he was referring here to unintelligible speech because he also mentioned the gift of interpretation of tongues (1 Corinthians 12:10).

Now, the problem, as you well perceive, is that speaking unintelligible things can lead to abuse. If we don’t know what is being said, then it can just as well be something diabolical as it can be divinely inspired. Plus, when people get together in groups, social pressure can easily lead to hysteria, shared delusion, and spiritual pride.

 
Spiritual Pride

In fact, Saint Paul had to correct this very problem of spiritual pride within the Corinthian church. Paul told the Corinthians that “building up” the church—edifying others through encouragement and solace (1 Corinthians 14:3)—is far more important than speaking in tongues. So he reminds them, “if you, because of speaking in tongues, do not utter intelligible speech, how will anyone know what is being said?” (1 Corinthians 14:9). Thus he gives his summary rebuke against the Corinthians’ inflated “spirituality”:

  

Otherwise, if you pronounce a blessing [with] the spirit, how shall one who holds the place of the uninstructed say the “Amen” to your thanksgiving, since he does not know what you are saying? For you may be giving thanks very well, but the other is not built up. I give thanks to God that I speak in tongues more than any of you, but in the church I would rather speak five words with my mind, so as to instruct others also, than ten thousand words in a tongue.

  

—1 Corinthians 14:16–19

Saint Paul truly understood the meaning of dying to the self in the service of others, in the imitation of Christ’s love for us. Therefore, he offered pure, practical advice to the Corinthians: set aside personal pride and self-satisfaction, and instead seek always the salvation of others.

Saint Paul is telling us here that if we want to speak in tongues privately, to express simple feelings of thanksgiving or happiness, it might serve our own edification; still, it does nothing to assist the salvation of others. If others are present, however, it’s a different matter. So again listen to Saint Paul’s counsel:

  

If anyone speaks in a tongue, let it be two or at most three, and each in turn, and one should interpret. But if there is no interpreter, the person should keep silent in the church and speak to himself and to God.

  

—1 Corinthians 14:27–28

 
Interpretation

Note that when Saint Paul speaks about someone who should interpret he is not referring to self-interpretation, for if that were the case, the whole experience could be a matter of self-delusion. Interpretation is a real gift in itself, distinct from the gift of tongues. It’s also a gift rarely manifested today in prayer groups that encourage speaking in tongues. In my opinion, that lack says quite a bit. Just like in psychotherapy, when interpretation [1] is absent, there is no healing meaning to what has been said. It’s all just a lot of “talking to the air” (1 Corinthians 14:9).

Read more about the spiritual fruits
that should be produced by real prayer

 

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Notes

1. In psychotherapy, interpretation is a process whereby the well-trained and experienced psychotherapist brings out into conscious awareness the unconscious meaning of the client’s speech.

 


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