Reception of the Documents of the Universal Magisterium by the
Community of Theologians and Theological Institutes II
Ensuring the Catholic Identity of Theology
By Bishop Thomas Dabre
Chairman, Doctrinal Commission of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI)
VIDYA JYOTI THEOLOGICAL REVIEW, MARCH 2004 EXTRACT [For introduction see February issue.]
NOTE: THIS STUDY BY BISHOP THOMAS DABRE WAS PUBLISHED A YEAR AFTER THE RELEASE OF THE FEBRUARY 2003 VATICAN DOCUMENT ON THE NEW AGE- MICHAEL
New Age Phenomenon
The document Jesus Christ the Bearer of the Water of Life seeks to study the New Age phenomenon. Today this mentality is spreading in different parts of the world, India not excepted. Rather, much of the New Age thinking emanates from Indian sources. This document should be studied particularly in our theological institutes, for the New Age ideas about God, the mystery, salvation, saviour, meditation . . . are ambiguous and incompatible with the tenets of our faith.
New Age has become immensely popular as a loose set of beliefs, therapies and practices, which are often selected and combined at will, irrespective of the incompatibilities and inconsistencies this may imply (Jesus Christ the Bearer of the Water of Life, A Christian Reflection on the “New Age”, Pontifical Council for Culture and Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, 2003, 2.5).
We need to study the issues raised by the New Age, namely, the cosmic Christ, spirituality, mysticism, GodWithin, man’s divine potential, prayer and meditation, salvation from within, suffering, etc. This document has made a good study of the New Age phenomenon but it can be expected from theologians that they now further reflect on these issues, particularly in theological institutions and houses of formation, because of the growing influence of the New Age in India and other parts of the world. Right principles for a correct assessment of the New Age practices and ideas have to be taught to future priests and religious. For this the document is helpful.
Eastern Forms of Prayer and Meditation
In this age of interreligious dialogue, there is greater interest in the spirituality of Eastern religions. Some of the clergy, religious and the laity are adopting
Zen meditation, yoga exercises, vipassana
and other eastern and psychic and therapeutic practices and techniques.
Some of these things are done in our houses of formation. Some go to the USA and conduct eastern exercises but do not practice them in their personal lives or ministry when they are here!
As the Second Vatican Council has urged us, whatever good and noble values we find in other religions has to be acknowledged, preserved and promoted (NA 2). But these must be correctly assessed in the light of the Christian understanding of faith, prayer, meditation and mysticism. This will help for proper integration and enrichment, and avoid syncretism on the one hand and dissipation of authentic Christian prayer and meditation on the other. For this the document On Some Aspects of Christian Meditation
gives us useful guidance. (St Paul Publications, 1990.)
Without doubt, a Christian needs certain periods of retreat into solitude to be recollected and, in God’s presence, rediscover his path. Nevertheless given his character as a creature, and as a creature who knows that only in grace is he secure, his method of getting closer to God is not based on any technique in the strict sense of the word. That would contradict the spirit of childhood called for by the Gospel. Genuine Christian mysticism has nothing to do with technique; it is always a gift of God; and the one who benefits from it knows himself to be unworthy (23).
The language of techniques in spirituality is a fallout of the present scientifictechnocratic culture. One can easily, therefore, see that such purely scientific terms are alien to the language of spirituality. This is not to deny that the socalled techniques can be helpful in the spiritual search, but authentic spiritual experience is not the direct result or effect of such techniques. Authentic spiritual experience is not merited by the exercisant but gifted by God’s purely gracious goodness and love and received by us in pure openness and selfsurrender.
Eastern Christian meditation has valued psycho-physical symbolism, often absent in western forms of prayer. It can range from a specific bodily posture to the basic life functions, such as breathing or the beating of the heart. The exercise of the Jesus Prayer, for example, which adapts itself to the natural rhythm of breathing, can at least for a certain time, be of real help to many people. On the other hand, the eastern masters themselves have also noted that not everyone is equally suited to make use of this symbolism, since not everybody is able to pass from the material sign to the spiritual reality that is being sought. Understood in an inadequate and incorrect way, the symbolism can even become an idol and, thus, an obstacle to the raising up of the spirit to God. To live out in one’s prayer the full awareness of one’s body as a symbol is even more difficult: it can degenerate into a cult of the body and can lead surreptitiously to considering all bodily sensations as spiritual experiences (27).
The prayer methods and meditation practices taught in the houses of formation in India are derived from the WesternLatin rite Church. The document admits that there is not much scope in it for the psychophysical dimensions. Spirituality needs to be understood integrally and thus to be complemented by other vital dimensions. However the warning in the document is relevant. Spirituality should not be made into a cult of the body. Care must be taken so that the body is lifted into the spirit along with spiritual sensations. In spiritual experience the body needs to be spiritualized and sublimated. As the Lord teaches, in heaven they shall neither eat nor marry. The present day hedonistic and permissive society needs to hear the message of the spiritualization of body and matter.
Some physical exercises automatically produce a feeling of quiet and relaxation, pleasing sensations, perhaps even phenomena of light and of warmth, which resemble spiritual wellbeing. To take such feelings for the authentic consolations of the Holy Spirit would be a totally erroneous way of conceiving the spiritual life. Giving them a symbolic significance typical of the mystical experience, when the moral condition of the person concerned does not correspond to such an experience, would represent a kind of mental schizophrenia which could also lead to psychic disturbance and, at times, to moral deviations (28).
Our theologians should reflect upon such a serious warning. Many youths in the corporate world, administrators, etc., have recourse to such stress relieving practices and psychedelic experiences. Spiritual experience is easily equated with such psychophysical experiences. Without denying the good elements that these practices may contain if kept within certain parameters, the nature of spiritual experience and its relationship with such practices and experiences needs to be explained.
See CHURCH MOUTHPIECE THE EXAMINER ACCUSED OF PROMOTING HERESY