MAY 25/JULY 2014
U.S. Catholic magazine endorses New Age including Reiki, Yoga and Zen
The U.S. Catholic
monthly magazine (www.uscatholic.org/)
describes itself as “a forum for lay Catholics reviewing the intersection of U.S. cultural and political
life and the Catholic faith.” It is published by the Claretian Missionaries from Chicago, Illinois. Its editor is Fr. John Molyneux, CMF. Their email addresses are email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org,
What is U.S. Catholic magazine?
U.S. Catholic is the most award-winning religious general-interest magazine in the United States. U.S. Catholic is dedicated to the belief that it makes a difference whether you’re Catholic. We believe that Catholicism is a spiritual path that makes sense, a way to live a better and richer life. We invite and help our readers to explore the wisdom of their faith tradition and to apply that faith to the challenges of life in the 21st century.
U.S. Catholic does not claim to have all the answers but is committed to voicing and raising the questions American Catholics grapple with. We conduct our mission with a sense of humor, respect for our tradition and our readers, and a firm belief that the Catholic faith, well lived, responds best to our deepest longings and aspirations.
Who publishes U.S. Catholic?
U.S. Catholic magazine is published by the Claretians. Following in the footsteps of St. Anthony Claret—a prolific writer and publisher whom Pope Pius XI called the “Modern Apostle of the Good Press”—the Claretians in the United States began their publishing ministry in 1935 with the first edition of the magazine The Voice of St. Jude. In 1963, during the Second Vatican Council, The Voice of St. Jude transformed into U.S. Catholic magazine. Today Claretian Publications in Chicago is one of the country’s most respected Catholic publishers of magazines and newsletters.
Who are The Claretians?
The Claretian Missionaries are a Roman Catholic religious community of priests and brothers. We are dedicated to the mission of living and spreading the Gospel of Jesus. For more information, visit www.claretians.org.
Following are a few extracts from the May 2013, 2014 issues of the so-called Catholic magazine which serve to warn readers not to trust anything and everything that comes with the label “Catholic”.
1. Lessons from the church in Asia
May 20, 2014
A U.S. Catholic interview with Claretian Missionaries Fr Samuel Canilang, the director of the Institute for Consecrated Life in Asia (ICLA) in Quezon City near Manila, Philippines, who currently serves on the Vatican’s Commission for the Church in China. The institute which is focused on preparing Chinese men and women for ministry in China, was founded by the Claretian Missionaries in 1997 and educates religious and lay students from all over Asia, offering degree programs in consecrated life, missiology, spirituality, and biblical ministry.
What are some of the spiritual practices that you’re adopting or adapting from other religious traditions?
Two years ago we invited an Indian Jesuit, Father Sebastian Painadath, who founded the Sameeksha Center for Indian Spirituality in the state of Kerala. He tries to integrate Christian prayer and meditation practices with Hindu practices, especially yoga. We invited him to direct the annual retreat of our students, and he introduced our students to some yoga ways of meditation, postures, and all that.
Then last July we had Ruben Habito, a Filipino-American Zen expert from the Perkins School of Theology in Dallas, give a Zen weekend and retreat at our school.
How has your own spiritual life been enriched and changed through these practices?
When I was a Claretian novice, we were introduced to some of these Asian practices like Zen or yoga meditations. I have been practicing them ever since.
Then in my doctoral dissertation I also explored interspiritual dialogue. I did some research on Greek Orthodox spirituality and studied the ancient ascetic spiritual tradition of Hesychasm. During that research I discovered the Jesus Prayer, and to me it resonated with forms of prayer and meditation in Asia, particularly the mantra.
A mantra is repetitive, and so is the Jesus prayer, as is the Muslim form of prayer called “Remembrance of Allah” or Dhikru’llah . When I am practicing the Jesus Prayer, I try to blend these commonalities.
When you pray a mantra, you get a phrase and you repeat it again and again. For example, there are the Hindu mantras “Aum” or “Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare.” Or the Sufi mantra “al-Hayyu, al-Qayyum” (The living, the eternal) and “La ilaha illa’llah” (There is no god but Allah). The Jesus Prayer works the same way. It has several formulas, but the most famous one is “Lord Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” You repeat it again and again.
But before you even get to that, you should have some kind of preparation, like breathing exercises, to relax yourself, to calm yourself. So, I often use yoga postures and breathing exercises in connection with my Jesus Prayer.
The Jesus Prayer posture, as practiced by the Orthodox monks on Mount Athos in Greece, is very difficult because you have to concentrate on your navel. But if you combine the prayer with a Zen or yoga meditation posture, it is simpler.
Fr. Sebastian Painadath SJ is a high-ranking leader of the heretical and New Age Catholic Ashrams movement in India. See http://ephesians-511.net/docs/CATHOLIC_ASHRAMS.doc. His name figures in over thirty of this ministry’s reports.
2. Spiritual exercises: Can other religious practices strengthen your Catholic core?
By Heather Grennan Gary, former editor, May 2013 issue of U.S. Catholic
Catholics searching for ways to experience their faith in both body and soul often look to other religious practices. But do they stretch their faith too thin?
Christine French attends Mass every Sunday, sings in the choir, volunteers with Vacation Bible School, and participates in a Bible study. She’s also a committed yogi who, whenever she’s in her hometown of Omaha, makes a beeline to her favorite yoga studio.
“In my head I replace a few of the things they say in class,” says French, a math teacher currently working on the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota. “When the instructor tells us that we have the power and to trust ourselves in meditations, I often think about how God is in control and I need to surrender to him. We are being asked to spread love, joy, and peace to others, and I think my source of that love, joy, and peace is Jesus. They say [the source is] the universe in class, but I’m capable of making that adjustment in my head.”
Still, she knows some of her Catholic friends and family don’t feel the same, so she tends to keep quiet about her practice. She won’t give it up, though, and here’s why: “Yoga integrates my physical body with my spirituality, something I have never found in the church.”
While yoga causes some Catholic eyebrows to raise, it’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to non-Catholic spiritual and religious practices that have made their way into the lives of many Catholics.
Part of that comes from the mainstream acceptance of practices such as yoga, meditation, and holistic healing. Another part comes from a greater visibility and understanding of other religions as well as more personal connections between Catholics and adherents of other religious traditions.
The phenomenon of Catholics engaging in “alternative” spiritual practices is hardly new—Thomas Merton started his dialogue with Buddhist philosophy professor D. T. Suzuki more than 50 years ago. But in the past quarter century alone, church leaders have been particularly focused on the issue. Recent church documents have set forth doctrine (Dominus Iesus, 2000), have urged bishops to respond and caution “those who are interested in some Eastern religions and their particular methods of prayer” (Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on Some Aspects of Christian Meditation, 1989), and have instructed Catholics “to have an understanding of authentic Catholic doctrine and spirituality in order to properly assess New Age themes” (Jesus Christ: The Bearer of the Water of Life, 2003).
In her book Lived Religion: Faith and Practice in Everyday Life (Oxford), religion sociologist Meredith McGuire explains how lived religion doesn’t have to be logically coherent and based on systematic beliefs. Rather, she writes, “It requires a practical coherence: It needs to make sense in one’s everyday life, and it needs to be effective.” Religious practices that promote physical and mental health, improve personal relationships, and help make sense of the world often offer just that, regardless of where they come from.
That’s a challenge for church leaders who are charged with helping Catholics understand what is authentically part of church tradition—and what is even acceptable to church tradition. In 2009, for instance, the U.S. bishops issued Guidelines for Evaluating Reiki as an Alternative Therapy, a document that brought chagrin to Catholics who had used the nonmedical healing technique that originated in Japan more than a century ago.
A Reiki practitioner places his or her hands on or above a patient’s body to restore the flow of “universal life energy,” and, in turn, helps the patient heal physically or spiritually. The bishops’ guidelines state that Reiki “finds no support either in the findings of natural science or in Christian belief” and stress the lack of scientific evidence explaining Reiki’s effectiveness.
In regards to spiritual healing, the guidelines warn: “To use Reiki, one would have to accept, at least in an implicit way, central elements of the worldview that undergirds Reiki theory, elements that belong neither to Christian faith nor natural science.” The guidelines specify that Reiki therapy is inappropriate for Catholic institutions, including health care facilities and retreat centers, because “a Catholic who puts his or her trust in Reiki would be operating in the realm of superstition, the no-man’s-land that is neither faith nor science.”
Cobbling it together
The sociologist Robert Bellah famously wrote in his 1985 groundbreaking book Habits of the Heart (University of California) about “Sheilaism,” a term he picked up from one of his interview subjects, a nurse who had assembled a selection of spiritual truths and named the resulting “religion” after herself.
While Sheila herself was not Catholic, “I think we can say that many people sitting in the pews of Protestant and even Catholic churches are Sheilaists who feel that religion is essentially a private matter and that there is no particular constraint on them placed by the historic church, or even by the Bible and the tradition,” Bellah said in a lecture shortly after the book was published.
The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life offered supporting evidence of Bellah’s claim when a survey it conducted in 2009 found that 28 percent of Catholics believe in reincarnation, 29 percent believe in astrology, and 17 percent had consulted with psychics or fortune-tellers.
The essential question Catholics need to ask when it comes to assessing a resource from outside their tradition, suggests Paulist Father Thomas Ryan is what effect it will have on the coherence and integrity of their faith.
Ryan, who directs the Paulist Office for Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations in Washington, takes reincarnation as an example. “For us Christians there’s a beginning and an end. That’s a very different worldview from the traditional Eastern understanding of the cycle of rebirth.” Additionally, the centrality of human effort in the concept of reincarnation conflicts with the centrality of God’s grace that is the core of Catholicism. When Catholics evaluate a non-Catholic resource, Ryan says, “There’s a need for discrimination, discernment, and sometimes rejection.” But Ryan cautions against rejecting resources outright. “I do think there is a difference between syncretism and enrichment,” he says, pointing to a key theme that runs through Pope John Paul II’s encyclicals Dominum et Vivificantem (1986) and Redemptoris Missio (1990)—that the Holy Spirit is present and active everywhere in the world, not just within the church. “The seeds of the Word are out there. We ought to have our antennae up for what might be edifying and beneficial.”
One example of enrichment involves the “tricycle” of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving—practices that are required of all Christians. “The tire that’s rather flat on that tricycle is fasting. We as Catholics have lost sense of the when, the why, and the how of that practice. When we encounter Muslims who are fasting for Ramadan, from sunrise to sunset, that might lead us to ask, ‘What are we missing?’ and to go back to our own treasure chest and take another look.”
A new lens on faith
For the past four years Tim Brauhn, 27, has fasted during Ramadan with his Muslim friends—something he first tried in his year as a Faiths Act Fellow (a program sponsored by the Tony Blair Faith Foundation in conjunction with the Interfaith Youth Core). “It’s part solidarity, part soul sharpening,” says Brauhn, a Catholic entrepreneur and social media consultant who lives in Denver. He fasts during Lent as well, and his Ramadan experience helps him make sense of what his Lenten practice means. “When I observe a worship ceremony, or when I participate in a spiritual practice, it’s always complementary,” says Brauhn. “The idea of a deli counter version of religion doesn’t appeal to me. But the moments when I get another lens on my faith help me to move forward.”
Since college Brauhn has spent time in mosques, synagogues, and temples, and he looks for connections between the religious traditions he encounters. In particular, he sees similarities between his own Catholicism and Hinduism—enough that he keeps a statue of Ganesh, the Hindu deity known as the remover of obstacles, on a small home altar along with prayer cards of St. Francis and St. Ignatius. It’s a focal point, Brauhn says, where he’ll sometimes light incense.
When asked whether he’s thinks he’s practicing the kind of syncretism that the Vatican has warned about, Brauhn says no. “Catholicism is my center,” he says, adding that a bigger problem than drawing from other traditions is the dearth of religious literacy among adults, including Catholics. “If you don’t know what you are doing and why [during Mass]—you’re just going through the motions.”
A great spiritual hunger
Susan Stabile, 55, a law professor at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota and a spiritual director and retreat leader, has never met Brauhn but would agree with him on this point. “I believe there’s danger in people thinking they can pick and choose, but I also think some people have an irrational fear of things that come from other traditions. There’s an enormous difference between drawing from a faith tradition and blending faith traditions,” she says.
“People have an incredibly deep spiritual hunger, and many are not being fed in their own church,” says Stabile, who hopes her new book Growing in Love and Wisdom: Buddhist Sources for Christian Prayer (Oxford) will help offer sustenance. “Part of my message is, ‘Hey guys, you don’t have to go somewhere else.’ ”
Her message comes from personal experience. After 12 years of parochial school, Stabile gave up her Catholic faith as a high school senior. She graduated from college as an atheist and was introduced to Buddhism during law school. Several years later Stabile moved to Asia, quit her job as a lawyer, and was ordained a Buddhist nun at a Tibetan monastery. She stayed almost four years before deciding to return home to New York.
She continued her Buddhist practice after returning, however, because it had kindled a spiritual awareness that her Catholic upbringing lacked. Eventually she married, had a baby, and started her gradual return to the church when her daughter, then 8, asked for Catholic religious instruction. As part of the religious education program requirements, Stabile started taking her daughter to Sunday Mass.
“I started to hear the gospels in a way that spoke to me,” she says. She later found her way to St. Ignatius Jesuit Retreat House in New York, where she undertook the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. It changed her life.
“People ask me if I am a Buddhist Christian. I don’t call myself that,” says Stabile. “I am a Christian. I am a Catholic. I take back from Buddhism some things that I use in my Catholic practice.”
That approach works for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), which wrote in the 1989 letter on Christian meditation, “One can take from [the great religions] what is useful so long as the Christian conception of prayer, its logic, and requirements are never obscured.”
The CDF also says that “each member of the faithful should seek and find his own way, his own form of prayer. … Each person will, therefore, let himself be led not so much by his personal tastes as by the Holy Spirit, who guides him, through Christ, to the Father.”
The underlying challenge, of course, is that Catholics of all ages are ignorant about the depth of their religious heritage and the richness of its spiritual practices. Stabile remembers how when she told her high school chaplain that she was leaving the church, he couldn’t persuade her to give it a second chance.
“If he had given me Merton’s Seven Storey Mountain or even Augustine’s Confessions, it would have made a difference,” she says. “For a lot of Catholics, the sum total of their prayer is what they recite at Mass and the rote prayers they know from childhood. The piece that’s often missing is the affective experience, the heartfelt knowledge—from thinking and talking about God to feeling and being with God.”
Christine Gallagher started finding that heartfelt knowledge when she took a graduate theology class at Villanova University called Current Contemplative Practices. Her assignment—20 minutes of centering prayer twice a day—wasn’t universally embraced by her classmates, but she found that the method of silent prayer popularized by Trappist Father Thomas Keating worked well after she got the hang of it. “It’s really helped me create a more integrative spirituality,” she says.
A few months into her practice, she remembers the day she decided to do her centering prayer right after she helped out with the Stations of the Cross last Lent. As usual, she sat with her hands open, palms facing upwards in her lap. But during her prayer, she felt a powerful, painful sensation of her arms being stretched out. “So much of the Stations of the Cross had been about the pain and agony Christ experienced,” she says. “Through centering prayer, I was able to experience my faith in a deeper and more personal way.”
The prayer form also has helped her to develop her intuition. “I feel like I can sense energy around me, like when people move into a room, or I can sense they’re in a bad mood before they know. I respond better to people because I can ‘feel’ them. That’s something I never hear about in mainstream Catholicism. I want to continue to hone that skill and use it.
“I’m still going to Mass and doing service and am interested in social justice. But centering prayer has taught me to pray and do that authentically. It’s helped me understand who I am and find the Holy Spirit within myself.”
Parish yoga nights
And for many, that’s the goal when they look to outside spiritual traditions. Like Christine French, Ali Niederkorn is a devout Catholic and devoted yogi. Niederkorn, an education and management consultant and certified yoga instructor from the Chicago area, first started practicing yoga a decade ago with the goal of exercise and relaxation. She found much more.
“I was seeing this overlap between how we use our bodies in Mass and how we use our bodies in yoga, and was wondering why no one was talking about it,” she says. In 2007 she attended a workshop given by Paulist Father Ryan, who is a longtime yoga practitioner. “For the first time I heard yoga tied to the Catholic faith, and it was music to my ears,” she says.
Eventually Niederkorn met up with fellow Catholic yogi Dina Wolf, and the pair was encouraged by a young adults group at Old St. Patrick’s Church to come up with a Catholic-friendly yoga class. They struck on the idea of designing a yoga practice to embody the theme of the Sunday readings.
For people who are accustomed to using words and thoughts for prayer, the practice can be both a challenge and a relief. “My weakness is that my mind can get in the way of my communion with God and with others,” says Niederkorn. “The kinesthetic knowing that prayer yoga allows has helped me with discernment. It’s given me an understanding of what light and dark feel like, and helps me understand God’s will even before my brain kicks in.”
The class starts with centering time and an introduction and ends with guided meditation and prayer. Running about 90 minutes, the class typically draws six to 12 people. The parishes that currently offer prayer yoga see it as a ministry rather than just a space to host a yoga class.
“We’ve had many people come for prayer yoga—and, before that, a winter spirituality series on yoga—because they wanted to understand a Christian context for what they were already doing,” says Susan Pudelek, director of pilgrimage ministry at the Shrine of Our Lady of Pompeii in Chicago. Pudelek sees participation in practices such as yoga or meditation as different from religious traditions such as the Passover Seder or Ramadan. “With yoga, we all have bodies, and they all basically work the same way. These postures help move you to a certain level of calm so you can enter into prayer more deeply.”
On the other hand, the Seder meal—which has a growing popularity among Christians, including as an event at some Catholic parishes—is a Jewish practice that directly relates to their identity, much as the Ramadan fast is for Muslims. If those practices are not done in connection with members of that tradition, Pudelek has reservations.
“I understand the attraction to it, but it can feel a little like taking something and mimicking it. I’ve heard Jews ask, ‘Why are they doing it?’ It’s important to know why you want to do something from another tradition—if it’s to learn about it, or to be in solidarity for a particular reason, maybe. But when it’s not our tradition or identity, we’re only getting the surface, not the full, authentic practice. It’s preferable to have a sense of the tradition, respect it for what it is, and not co-opt it.”
See for yourself
Even if pastoral professionals appreciate yoga, not everyone does—Wolf and Niederkorn have had a few critics over the years. They’ve invited these folks to observe prayer yoga for themselves. Three people took them up on their invitation; two of them seemed satisfied after their initial visit, and one was satisfied enough to become a regular prayer yoga practitioner.
“I fully agree that bringing other religious traditions into [the church] is problematic,” says Niederkorn. “But it’s not that we’re bringing a Hindu practice into the church. It’s a spiritual practice that happened to be used by Hindus but could easily be used by anyone—including Christians.”
Ryan considers the interplay between religious traditions to be one of the particular graces of our age, providing Catholics with regular opportunities to be challenged and inspired to live and understand their faith more fully—and to challenge and inspire others to do the same.
Niederkorn, like so many other Catholics, is deeply grateful for that grace. “I’ve developed a much more personal relationship with God through prayer yoga,” she says. “My challenge is how to take what I experience on the mat and practice that in my everyday life.”
Interested in reading more? Here are two web-exclusive sidebars that accompany this article: Ten ways to determine if a practice is compatible with your Catholic faith and some tips to get you started with drawing from other religions.
A reader responded:
#Why is praying with your hands over another in Reiki different than priests who bless us by holding their hands toward or over us? Maybe the words are different but they don’t have to be. We can do yoga as exercise or Reiki as a means of physical prayer taking the good from another tradition and adding it to the richness of our traditions.
And the editor of U.S. Catholic was so exhilarated that he sought the reader’s permission to publish the letter in their rag.
Despite the U.S. Bishops’ warnings on the practice of Reiki by Catholics, see http://ephesians-511.net/docs/REIKI_AS_A_NEW_AGE_ALTERNATIVE_THERAPY-EVALUATION_BY_THE_US_BISHOPS.doc, U.S. Catholic magazine does not condemn it but subtly promotes the occult therapy; the same with Buddhist Zen meditation and yoga which are addressed in two Pontifical Documents, 1989 and 2003. The magazine endorses the view that “religion is essentially a private matter and that there is no particular constraint on them placed by the historic church, or even by the Bible and the tradition.”
Fr. Thomas Ryan,
a Paulist priest in Washington, DC is a leading “Christian yoga” enthusiast and instructor. He directs the Paulist North American Office for Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations in New York City, and author of Prayer of Heart and Body: Meditation and Yoga as a Christian Spiritual Practice. See http://journalism.nyu.edu/publishing/archives/livewire/archived/christian_yoga/, http://ephesians-511.net/docs/YOGA–02.doc,
etc. at this ministry’s web site.
3. Thinking about drawing from other religions? Here are some tips to get you started
By Heather Grennan Gary, former editor, May 2013 issue of U.S. Catholic
Susan Pudelek spent two decades working in interreligious contexts, including a stint on the staff of the Council for the Parliament of the World’s Religions. In her current work as director of pilgrimage ministry at the Shrine of Our Lady of Pompeii in Chicago, she oversees occasional interreligious workshops and events. For those who want to learn about or participate in practices of other religions, she offers these guidelines.
1. The more grounded you are in your own religion, the more you have to offer others.
When you talk with people who do interreligious work, one truth becomes clear: The ones who contribute the most are those who deeply know their tradition, who are active and visible in their own faith community, and who have an authentic spiritual practice. “By looking to your own religion first you’ll encounter the richness and the beauty and tradition that you might not have known was there,” Pudelek says. “Then you can encounter others with an open mind and heart.”
2. Prepare to learn together, not worship together.
“The only people with whom we can really have a common prayer are other Christians,” says Pudelek. When she plans interreligious programs, her goal is to help participants see how other religions understand and are aware of the divine rather than to introduce them to particular practices. And when it comes to interreligious worship, she says, a good rule of thumb is to allow members of each religion to say their own prayers rather than have shared prayers. “It’s like in music: We don’t all sing the same note at the same time. We’re looking for harmony, not unity.”
When Pudelek is a guest at a non-Christian religious service or ceremony, “I’m there to listen and learn and be a respectful, humble presence,” she says, rather than to join in. “That approach says a great deal to others about our faith.”
3. Know your own non-negotiables.
Pudelek has a few: “I believe that God is a loving God, and that all human beings are made in the image and likeness of God. I believe in Jesus Christ: That he walked the earth, that he was persecuted and crucified and died and was raised from the dead. That truth is the core of my being. My goal is to hold that truth while learning from and having love, compassion, and respect for people of other religions.”
4. Read Nostra Aetate.
The Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions is short—fewer than 1,600 words—but Pudelek calls the tone of the Vatican II document “broad and glorious.”
“All Catholics need to know what’s in here—that dialogue with and respect for other religions are vital, essential parts of the Catholic identity.” END
These liberal Document-manipulators always fail to cite the whole truth from #2 of Nostra Aetate:
“The Catholic Church rejects nothing what is true and holy in [other] religions. She looks with sincere respect upon those ways of conduct and of life, those rules and teachings which, though differing in many particulars from what she holds and sets forth, nevertheless often reflect a
ray of that truth which enlightens all men.”
They interpret it as a mandate for the Hindu-isation of the Church. The Document says absolutely NOTHING about our being obliged to assimilate, adapt, adopt or incorporate their “ways of conduct and of life, those rules and teachings” into our faith, rituals and way of life. It only says that we do not reject but we respect what is true and holy for them.
It also says that they only contain “a ray of that truth which enlightens all men“. Key words: ‘a ray’, ‘that truth’.
Christianity is that “truth which enlightens all men“. The Word of God [Scripture plus tradition] is the fullness of that revealed truth. But Catholic scholars and theologians would still prefer to chase “a ray of that truth“. They play with the mirror, struggling to grasp intangible reflections while ignoring the blazing light that is their treasured possession.
The Document (in #2) emphasizes, however, that the Church is “in duty bound to proclaim without fail, Christ who is the way, the truth and the life
(John 14:6) in whom men may find the fullness of religious life, in whom God has reconciled all things to Himself” and cautions us to enter with “prudence … into discussion and collaboration with members of other religions“.
These liberals never tell us that! -Michael
4. So what about that yoga practice?
By Heather Grennan Gary, former editor, May 2013 issue of U.S. Catholic
Ten ways to determine if a practice is compatible with your Catholic faith
Just because a spiritual practice comes from outside the Christian tradition doesn’t automatically mean it conflicts with church teaching—nor does it automatically mean the opposite. If you’re not so sure about your son’s meditation practice, your friend’s devotion to reiki, or if you can, in good faith, take that yoga class, your goal should be to wisely discern the answer.
In 2003 the Vatican released a provisional document titled Jesus Christ: The Bearer of the Water of Life: A Christian Reflection on the ‘New Age‘ by the Working Group of New Religious Movements. The group (composed of staff members of the Pontifical Council for Culture, the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity) acknowledges that “It can be hard to distinguish between things which are innocuous and those which really need to be questioned.”
The term “New Age” is a bit of a catch-all in this document; it lumps together practices such as acupuncture, Zen meditation, yoga, homeopathy, transpersonal psychology, transcendental meditation, Feng Shui, crystal healing, and astrology. “The mere use of the term ‘New Age’ in itself means little, if anything,” the authors write. “The relationship of the person, group, practice, or commodity to the central tenets of Christianity is what counts.”
Here are 10 questions the document presents to help Catholics evaluate whether a particular spiritual practice is acceptable.
The “ten ways” or “10 questions” make as joke of the grave warnings against New Age in the Pontifical Document since U.S. Catholic is out and out New Age and so I do not reproduce them here.
A reader of U.S. Catholic writes suitably:
#I respect your opinion but cannot agree. If we study the scriptures, the Lord says to be holy for he is holy and won’t ever contaminate us with the false paganism practices of this world. We are to really practice what we learn from the bible and stop sugar coating everything for the benefit of your own to be pleasing to others. Our Lord is the same yesterday, today and forevermore, he doesn’t change with the times. That is a straight lie from the devil. Yoga is demonic, look it up.
5. Om-schooled: How Yoga can influence your Catholic prayer
By Meghan Murphy-Gill, August 22, 2010
Catholics can take a lesson from
the Hindu tradition of yoga
when it comes to praying with body, mind, and spirit.
Walking into the dark chapel, gothic arches soaring overhead and didactic glass staining the pews with jewel-toned light, I tried to calm my mind. Papers, classes, work, broken relationships, my future. The thoughts sparked in rapid succession, a finale-on-the-Fourth-of-July-show in my mind. I dropped a knee to the cold floor, blessed myself, and slumped into the nearest pew. Slouched against the pew’s hard back, I tried to quiet the thoughts stumbling over themselves. Ineffective, I finally sunk to the floor, struggling to disregard the slush and sand that seeped into my pants. The hardwood brought my attention all too readily to my knees. My back ached from the weight of my pack, my neck tightened around a crick, and every muscle complained from the laps I had done in the pool the day before.
But never mind. I drew my attention past the aches and pains, past the unyielding floor beneath my knees, past the cold wetness of my jeans. Unfurling my hands in front of me, I finally raised my eyes to the only lit object in the room: a gold-plated tabernacle brilliant with the reflection of a single spotlight. A candle flickered behind red glass in the corner.
Finally, I found silence.
That ritual in the dark campus chapel defined my years as an undergraduate. It was not that I was overly prayerful-more like chaotic to the point of self-detriment. Only in those moments passed in that cold, beautiful room could I find a peace that would draw me beyond my concerns. I could rarely initiate those blissful silences myself. Too many frustrations, anxieties, responsibilities plagued my mind. Over the years, though, I found an unexpected weapon in my arsenal against all of the daily stresses that obliterated peace. It was through the discomfort of kneeling, the humiliating and unappealing process of lowering myself to a dirty floor, that my mind could wrap itself around what I was doing. My prayer was made possible through my posture.
The notion that my body’s position impacted my prayer was nothing new. It all began nearly a decade earlier with the inspiration of a very rotund Franciscan friar. Shuffling back and forth in front of our youth group, Brother John gave us a challenge. “Next time you’re praying, I want each of you to try it with your hands clasped in your laps.” He showed us what he meant, his knuckles white with intention. “Then, try praying with your hands open, face up, on your knees.” He added to his list: hands placed over one’s heart, arms crossed over the chest, and limbs waving in the air. “Pay attention,” he instructed, his voice boiling up from deep within his frame, “to what your mind does each time. Do you find it easier to focus? Harder? Which works best for you?”
Taste-testing those postures alone in my room, I remember marveling at how drastically they affected my prayer. With my arms crossed in front of me, I couldn’t talk to God with any kind of authenticity. When I crossed them behind my back, suddenly I was open and honest. With each position, my prayer looked very different.
Providentially, it was at that time in my life that I began to practice yoga at the local gym. The appeal of yoga lay in the benefits to my posture and the definition added to my abs and arms. Considerations of the real meaning of the spiritual exercise never crossed my mind. That is, until I found myself in a Hindu theology class five years later.
As a theology major with a focus on comparative studies, much of my undergraduate career circled the lessons diverse religious traditions could teach one another. Hinduism especially entranced me. It was fascinating in its foreignness. As a devout traditional Catholic who grew up with a healthy spattering of New Age, I appreciated the newness of the lessons I learned by studying Hinduism, with its meditative self-knowledge, exotic festivals and flavors, eclectic practices. It all caught my fancy. So when I was given the opportunity to study Hinduism firsthand, I found myself on a plane faster than I could say “Bhagavad Gita.”
The yoga I encountered on that first journey to India was far removed from the yoga of flexibility and muscle tone. The yogi, a bird-like man with bushy eyebrows shadowing his coke-bottle glasses, sat before our class with his knees beneath his body and raised his arms above his head. “I want you all to inhale when you raise your arms like this.” Then he rapidly thrust his arms down-a pantomimed motion of a weight-lifter lowering his weights-exhaling a loud hrumph.
“You should exhale out your nose. I want to see snot flying,” the yogi explained, showing us the action once more to confirm for everyone exactly what he meant. I looked at my classmates, trying to stifle a laugh. What was this? This wasn’t yoga. Where was the warrior pose? Downward facing dog? Sun salutations? I inhaled and exhaled exactly as instructed, embarrassed when the requisite snot did fly.
Later, while consulting the professor who had brought me to India, I learned that the exercise we practiced was indeed yoga. “It’s a new type of yoga evolved from a very old form,” she explained with a smirk, acknowledging that my confusion was to be expected. “It’s meant to focus on the breath,” she explained. “Remember, that’s vital to yoga-the breath. You’re always supposed to focus on the breath. Be mindful of the breath.”
Mindful was exactly what I became. Never in my life had I spent more time working to breathe. My entire thought process began to center upon how to make my lungs inflate and deflate in new ways. Suddenly I was extraordinarily present; when you’re spending so much time focusing on how to breathe, you can’t help but be present to every moment.
That, it turns out, was exactly the point.
In the months following my experiences in India, I learned that the practice of yoga comes in many variants. Stemming from assorted religious books of Hinduism, the most comprehensive yogic text is the Yoga Sūtra by Patañjali. Within this text, Patañjali explains that “yoga is the cessation of mental fluctuations.” That is, it is complete control of thoughts for a singular purpose: Realizing liberation is the ultimate pursuit of Hinduism. “Which requires the greater strength,” asks Patañjali, “letting go or restraining? The calm man is not the man who is dull. . . . The calm man is the one who has control over the mind waves.”
To gain this control, Patañjali explains, one must practice assorted exercises ranging from adherence to nonviolence (ahimsā) to-yes-postures. Forming those exotic contortions with one’s body is not the goal. The goal is to be able to focus one’s mind while forming those exotic contortions. The postures of yoga are meant to lead the mind beyond the postures. They’re the method, not the goal.
As I investigated these yogic teachings, I found myself reconsidering the postures Brother John had introduced. Weren’t they methods for becoming mindful of what I was doing? Wasn’t I more receptive when I prayed with open hands? Didn’t my thanksgivings feel more fervent when I placed my hands over my heart? Intrigued, I began to pray with my entire body.
After reading Matthew’s account of the Passion, I lay on my back with my arms stretched out on either side; the struggle to breathe in that position embodied for me Christ’s time on the cross. Going into the adoration chapel, I lowered my head to the floor asking for the humility that would let me worship more fully. In Mass I knelt, bowed, genuflected-engaging every traditional bodily attitude in the hopes that I would learn something altogether new from them.
And an amazing thing happened: I couldn’t help but pray.
Just as shooting snot out of my nose with intentional breath had brought breathing to mind, so had prayer postures made me mindful of praying. Kneeling during the consecration suddenly made me consider why I knelt. Bowing my head to the floor brought to mind what I adored. Meditating on my arms outstretched rendered thoughts of how redemption came. Yoga had completely transformed my Catholicism.
Perhaps this only makes sense. As Catholics we believe that externals matter. What we do with our bodies impacts what we experience within our souls. We might not be trying to rein in unruly thoughts so as to reach liberation, but we certainly can benefit from a physical response to those things we point to as sacred. Our bodies can be used to bring our thoughts into line.
Now I don’t advocate a blind process of folding our limbs, bowing our heads, or opening our hands; postures are only as useful as our consideration of them is authentic. Each practitioner should approach a practice with a skeptical and self-critical eye. And I don’t support the syncretism of religions or New Age. Our differences make us unique for valid reasons, and to pick and choose and assimilate selectively only ever diminishes the value of every religion.
But perhaps by learning from our Hindu brothers and sisters we can rediscover an element of our tradition that is as old as the religion itself. Whether it’s leaping with joy during worship or extending our arms during a benediction, letting our bodies form our prayer can breathe a freshness into our faith. I may not be thinking of the mountain pose when I’m standing during Mass, but through my study of yoga I’ve come to rethink what I’m standing for.
M. M. Hubele is a freelance writer and editor. She is currently working on a Masters in Fine Arts for creative writing at the University of Arizona. This article appeared in the September 2010 issue of U.S. Catholic (Vol. 75, No. 9, pages 32-34).
A CATHOLIC RESPONSE:
“U.S. Catholic” Publishes Article Endorsing Yoga
By Susan Brinkmann, August 25, 2010
U.S. Catholic has published an article encouraging Catholics who wish to improve their prayer life to try yoga.
Written by freelance writer, M. M. Hubele, the article entitled “Om-schooled: How Yoga can influence your Catholic prayer,” tells Catholics that they can “take a lesson from the Hindu tradition of yoga when it comes to praying with body, mind and spirit.” The basic premise of her article* seems to be that in order to understand the importance of the body’s position in prayer, one needs to practice – or at least learn – yoga.
“As Catholics we believe that externals matter,” Hubele writes. “What we do with our bodies impacts what we experience within our souls. We might not be trying to rein in unruly thoughts so as to reach liberation, but we certainly can benefit from a physical response to those things we point to as sacred. Our bodies can be used to bring our thoughts into line … But perhaps by learning from our Hindu brothers and sisters we can rediscover an element of our tradition that is as old as the religion itself. Whether it’s leaping with joy during worship or extending our arms during a benediction, letting our bodies form our prayer can breathe a freshness into our faith. I may not be thinking of the mountain pose when I’m standing during Mass, but through my study of yoga I’ve come to rethink what I’m standing for.”
The author explains how a Franciscan Friar originally taught her the importance of physical position in prayer, a lesson she claims to have appreciated, then calls is “providential” that this happened to be at the same time that she began to practice yoga at the local gym. “The appeal of yoga lay in the benefits to my posture and the definition added to my abs and arms. Considerations of the real meaning of the spiritual exercise never crossed my mind. That is, until I found myself in a Hindu theology class five years later.”
From this point, Hubele embarks on what appears to be a full-scale study of Hinduism that led her to India and a guru who taught her how to focus on breathing until he saw “the snot flying”.
It all taught her to be mindful, she writes, and helped her to discover that “Forming those exotic contortions with one’s body is not the goal. The goal is to be able to focus one’s mind while forming those exotic contortions. The postures of yoga are meant to lead the mind beyond the postures. They’re the method, not the goal.”
Her article, which was published by U.S. Catholic, a magazine that was once the subject of an inquiry by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith for an article appearing to endorse female ordination, does contain some notable contradictions.
For instance, the author claims to have been raised as a devout traditional Catholic “with a healthy smattering of New Age,” but concludes the article by saying she doesn’t “support the syncretism of religions or New Age.” One can’t help but wonder why she would discard something she considers “healthy”.
The article would have achieved balance if it had included a very sensible warning by the Church about becoming too interested in the physical aspects of Eastern prayer forms. In the CDF’s 1989 “Letter to the Bishops on Some Aspects of Christian Meditation,” then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger warns that body positions coupled with breathing techniques and meditation can have a calming effect on people that can be misinterpreted as spiritual wellness rather than just the relaxation exercise it is.
“Some physical exercises produce pleasing sensations of quiet and relaxation, perhaps even phenomena of light and warmth which resemble spiritual well-being,” he wrote. “But to take such feelings for the authentic consolations of the Holy Spirit would be a totally erroneous way of conceiving the spiritual life . . . When the moral condition of the person concerned does not correspond to such an experience . . . this would represent a kind of mental schizophrenia which could also lead to psychic disturbances and, at times, to moral deviations.”
Of course, none of this is mentioned, which is why Hindus are applauding the article.
Noted Hindu statesman Rajan Zed, in a statement made to
DNAIndia.com, said Yoga is a “living fossil” introduced to the humanity by Hinduism, was a world heritage, and we were pleased when it helped other faith traditions achieve their goals.” He also explains something else that Hubele neglects to add to her story – that yoga is a mental and physical discipline by means of which the human-soul (jivatman) unites with the universal-soul (parmatman) – which belongs to a belief system known as pantheism.
It is interesting to note that the reader’s comments about the U.S. Catholic article were surprisingly negative, with most people weighing in against the promotion of yoga for what can easily be discovered without it.
1. BRAHMA KUMARIS WORLD SPIRITUAL UNIVERSITY
2. CARDINAL OSWALD GRACIAS ENDORSES YOGA FOR CATHOLICS
3. CATHOLIC YOGA HAS ARRIVED
4. DIVINE RETREAT CENTRE ERRORS-05
5. FR ADRIAN MASCARENHAS-YOGA AT ST PATRICK’S CHURCH BANGALORE
6. FR JOE PEREIRA-KRIPA FOUNDATION-NEW AGE ENDORSED BY THE ARCHDIOCESE OF BOMBAY AND THE CBCI
7. FR JOE PEREIRA-KRIPA FOUNDATION-WORLD COMMUNITY FOR CHRISTIAN MEDITATION
8. FR JOHN FERREIRA-YOGA, SURYANAMASKAR AT ST. PETER’S COLLEGE, AGRA
9. FR JOHN VALDARIS-NEW AGE CURES FOR CANCER
10. IS BISHOP DABRE FORMER CHAIRMAN DOCTRINAL COMMISSION A PROPONENT OF YOGA
11. NEW AGE GURUS 01-SRI SRI RAVI SHANKAR-THE ‘ART OF LIVING’
12. PAPAL CANDIDATE OSWALD CARDINAL GRACIAS ENDORSES YOGA
13. U.S. CATHOLIC MAGAZINE ENDORSES NEW AGE-REIKI, YOGA AND ZEN
14. VISHAL JAGRITI MAGAZINE PULLS YOGA SERIES OF FR FRANCIS CLOONEY
16. YOGA IN THE DIOCESE OF MANGALORE
17. YOGA, SURYANAMASKAR, GAYATRI MANTRA, PRANAYAMA TO BE MADE COMPULSORY IN EDUCATIONAL INSTITUTIONS
1. A CATHOLIC ALTERNATIVE TO YOGA-PIETRA FITNESS
2. AUM SHINRIKYO YOGA CULT
3. AYURVEDA AND YOGA-DR EDWIN A NOYES
4. TRUTH, LIES AND YOGA-ERROL FERNANDES
5. WAS JESUS A YOGI? SYNCRETISM AND INTERRELIGIOUS DIALOGUE-ERROL FERNANDES
8. YOGA AND DELIVERANCE
9. YOGA IS SATANIC-EXORCIST FR GABRIELE AMORTH
10. YOGA-A PATH TO GOD-FR LOUIS HUGHES
11. YOGA-BRO IGNATIUS MARY
12. YOGA-FR EZRA SULLIVAN
13. YOGA-MARTA ALVES
14. YOGA-MIKE SHREVE
16. YOGA-THE DECEPTION-FR CONRAD SALDANHA
17. YOGA-WHAT DOES THE CATHOLIC CATECHISM SAY ABOUT IT
18. YOGA-WHAT DOES THE CATHOLIC CHURCH SAY ABOUT IT?
1. LETTER TO THE BISHOPS OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH ON SOME ASPECTS OF CHRISTIAN MEDITATION
CDF/CARDINAL JOSEPH RATZINGER OCTOBER 15, 1989
2. JESUS CHRIST THE BEARER OF THE WATER OF LIFE, A CHRISTIAN REFLECTION ON THE NEW AGE COMBINED VATICAN DICASTERIES FEBRUARY 3, 2003
TESTIMONY OF A FORMER YOGI-01
2. TESTIMONY OF A FORMER YOGI-02
3. TESTIMONY OF A FORMER YOGI-03
4. TESTIMONY OF A FORMER YOGI-04
5. TESTIMONY OF A FORMER YOGI-05
6. TESTIMONY OF A FORMER YOGI-06
7. TESTIMONY OF A FORMER YOGI-07
8. TESTIMONY OF A FORMER YOGI-08
9. TESTIMONY OF A FORMER YOGI-09
10. TESTIMONY OF A FORMER YOGI-10
11. TESTIMONY OF A FORMER YOGI-11
12. TESTIMONY OF A FORMER YOGI-12
13. TESTIMONY OF A FORMER YOGI-13
14. TESTIMONY OF A FORMER YOGI-14 VIRGO HANDOJO
15. TESTIMONY OF A FORMER YOGI-15 PURVI
REIKI AND CRANIOSACRAL THERAPY-DR EDWIN A NOYES
REIKI AND HOLISTIC HEALING AUGUST 2004/AUGUST 2009/MAY/OCT/DEC 2012
REIKI-FR CLEMENS PILAR 14
REIKI AS A NEW AGE ALTERNATIVE THERAPY-EVALUATION BY THE US BISHOPS APRIL 2009
TESTIMONY-MY EXPERIENCE WITH REIKI
2004, EDITED JULY 2010