Catholic Advertising Standards

Brendan O'Neill has picked up on a story about an evangelical Christian group called HOTS Bath (Healing on the Streets, rather than a sauna). Basically, the group has been brought to book by the Advertising Standards Agency for this slogan: 'Need healing? God can heal today!'

My initial reaction was to think of the Protestant evangelicals as the kind of people who try to manipulate both God and man to give quick fix answers for suffering. That reaction hasn't changed much even though the slogan itself appears innocuous. I don't much mind that this group has been censored by the ASA because they sound like the kind of Christians who in the middle ages would have been denounced as being dangerous, heretical and perhaps highly flammable charlatans.

Frankly, it isn't right for Christians to go around promising or misleading people by indeed advertising falsely that God might heal their back problems or arthiritic legs on the streets, as if Almighty God is a therapy that can just be wheeled out when people lay their hands on other people. It's actually quite blasphemous or at least sacriligious.

However, that said, exactly what would Catholic advertising look like nowadays? What do we have to offer and what could we be censured for claiming?

Well, first we promise (though we cannot guarantee) Eternal life, for wherever Peter is, there is the Church and wherever the Church is, there is eternal life. We promise that all baptised become adopted sons and daughters of God brought into the very divine life of the Blessed Trinity itself. We promise the forgiveness of sins to those who want it. We ourselves have received the promise that the gates of Hell shall not prevail against the Church and have been promised that the Lord Jesus will be with us 'even until the end of the ages'. We can promise the Body and Blood of the Lord Jesus Christ to those who desire it and are striving to live the Gospel. We promise that all Truth has been given to the Catholic Church as the full and definitive revelation of God. We promise the Church cannot err in Faith and Morals.

The one thing that we do not promise is that we shall all find physical healing in the Catholic Church in this life. Dramatic healings are rare in the Catholic Church, not because God does not or cannot heal or does not want to heal ailments, but because it is, for reasons known only to God, part of God's plan that suffering should not be eliminated from our earthly existence. At the end of time, we are promised, God will wipe away every tear from every eye. The kind of healing the Church can offer, through the Sacraments, is healing from particular sins - what is more such healing is something that requires our active co-operation.

So, it doesn't bother me one iota that this schismatic group have been censured. As a friend of mine often says, after all, error has no rights. The Catholic Church doesn't operate as do protestant evangelical ministries advertising 'healing' for physical sicknesses. Even at Lourdes where there have, since the waters sprang, been around 67 miraculous healings, nobody is ever told that the likelihood of their being healed at the Shrine is high. Actual physical healing is not expected and it certainly is never presumed.

And it is the unholy presumption of this group of Christians that leaves me with little sympathy for their having been censured. The Apostles and primarily, though not only, St Peter went about after Pentecost healing many sick and ill. The healing of the sick and ill was not a marketing ploy and we are talking here about healings that took place because God desired to work miracles through the Apostles in the building up of the Early Church. Incidentally, it has been reported that Pope Benedict XVI recently cast demons out of a couple of men standing in St Peter's Square without knowing he was doing so - perhaps because the men fell into what we could describe as the 'shadow of Peter' or perhaps because His Holiness is truly living up to his title.

Various wonder workers like St Gerard Majella and St Anthony of Padua, especially holy men and women down the ages have healed people of infirmities, but again these 'services' were not exactly advertised by these holy people. They developed reputations for holiness that led men and women to come to them. St Anthony wasn't on the streets of Padua saying:

"Come to Anthony's healing and therapeutic sessions. My intercession is powerful indeed! God can heal today, yes! Slip me a fiver and He'll almost certainly do it and sooner than you expected!"

No. Saints tended not to parade themselves so vulgarly. The wicked feared them and loathed them. Those who recognised their virtuous lives sought refuge in them. And, today, these reputations still bring people to them, hundreds of years after they have died. That is the Catholic way. It isn't 'in your face' marketing campaigns and the Church does not promise, in this life, a bed of roses to anyone.

We could advertise St Anthony of Padua, I suppose and say, 'Lost something? Call on St Anthony because his prayers are unfailing,' but even then, this is the kind of devotional leaflet you might find laying at the back of a Catholic Church. Similarly with St Jude, you might see a novena leaflet for those with 'hopeless cases'. I suppose we could go out giving these prayers and novenas to people on high streets, but, quite simply even that isn't really the Catholic way.

The Advertising Standards Agency are, in my opinion, reaching beyond their remit, which is a concern, but I do have a feeling that the Holy Inquisition would have backed their decision.

Comments

Pastor in Valle said…
The deacon in my parish pointed out today that in the new translation we pray that 'my soul' shall be healed. This is the true healing; healings of the body do take place (I have witnessed several) but they are (only) a sign of the deeper healing that the Lord provides.
We instinctively pray for the healing of our physical ailments, but these are not the real sickness.