Emmitsburg Council of Churches

New Age and How You can help

Father John J. Lombardi

"He who faithfully prays to God for the necessaries of this life is both mercifully heard, and mercifully not heard. For the physician knows better than the sick man what is good for the disease." +St. Augustine

Tibetan monks and the Grotto…Victim souls offering sacrifices amidst the "winds of war"…Fallen away Catholics and "New Age" mysticism… What's this all about?... Last week, while "shaving ice" off Mary's Mountain, I met some ladies visiting the Grotto and was amazed at their varied backgrounds: one of the ladies attends a "healing church with a metaphysical bent," another is going on pilgrimage to Knock, Ireland, and the third is a psychotherapist, who, in her spare time, transports Tibetan Buddhist monks on their travels…The Grotto attracts all kinds of pilgrim-souls!

Actually, the Buddhist monks--from the "Land of the Snows"--are our neighbors to the south, near Frederick on Catoctin mountain. While in seminary at Catholic University in the 1980's, a Tibetan monk came for a speaking engagement; it was an enlightening experience. In 1993 this Chaplain went to Tibet and learned about their trials-under Chinese communist oppression--and their tremendous spirit and culture. Thru these experiences I found out: what a mandala was (an intricately refined, chalk art-and story piece-an icon of sorts--made for meditation purposes); what a Tibetan monk recommends for pilgrimaging thru a perilous world (make sandals for your own feet); and I was amazed at how many people are interested in Eastern religions and spirituality.

During the conversation with the ladies at the Grotto, the "Tibetan-taxier" (herself a practicing Catholic) mentioned that the "neighborhood monks" were praying for peace during the buildup for possible war, particularly by "absorbing negative energies" and dissonant powers beclouding the Earth. One of them actually got sick. during the process. As I listened to this, I thought: This sounds like the practice of victim souls and the life-witness of St. Bernadette. I was attracted to the virtue of these monks, their concern for peace and also to their practical spirituality. We need more of this in our own Faith; actually it is part of our Religion though largely neglected today.

What is a victim soul:?-"A soul chosen by God, and deliberately corresponding with the divine will, who freely sacrifices himself, his health, happiness etc., and suffers, after the example of the crucified Christ, for the advantage of the Church and the good of others in general or of a particular person." ("A Catholic Dictionary," Tan, 1997)…With all the troubles of the world we need this spirit of heroic intercession today. There is so much suffering to be alleviated and repentance to be done-all, of course, in, thru and with Jesus Christ's unique work: "Do this in memory of me" (Lk. 22:19).

This spirituality entails an understanding of the following: Mediation-whereby a devout person assists between two parties, as Moses stood between God's wrath and the Israelite people (Cf. Ex 32:32), alleviating the Lord's anger . Mystical body-since we are all interdependent in God's community, with Jesus as our "head" and the rest of us the "body" (Cf. I Cor.13, Rm.12), we can affect other parts of the Body-by and thru the supernatural bond of the Holy Spirit. St Paul says: "I take joy in my sufferings for your sake, for I fill up what was lacking in Christ's sufferings on behalf of his body, which is the Church" (Col 1:24)…

Why do we need this form of "discipleship-in-suffering" today? Because suffering is generally seen as antithetical to God's Providence and Love-- victim souls can witness that, amidst any trial, heroic faith always helps and overcomes--"He (God) will strengthen you to the end"- (I Cor. 1:8). Suffering is also seen as contrary to the Americanist fountain-of-youth-mentality, and seems futile to our pragmatic ways. To these perceptions, victim souls, with their prayers and heroic virtue, can fill the void…will you? Ask yourself: How can I intensely merge my sufferings with Christ, and more readily blend my trials with Him? … Christians today can affect the world and even "the winds of war" by their prayer, good works and spiritual witness-especially thru suffering.

This is not the only form of spirituality Westerners are attracted to in Eastern practices and peoples. They are also attracted to channeling, exotic rituals, the promise of the afterlife. In today's world, let's face it: because of progressivsm's denigration of authentic interpretations of the Second Vatican Council, some Catholics have abandoned a heritage New Age desires. The supernatural life sought by so many baby-boomers is found completely in the Roman Catholic orthodox Faith- you just have to "scratch" for it. Just as "victim souls" is a "religious answer" to eastern practices, so are many other Catholic devotions. Some important themes of "New Age," and corrective Catholics responses, include:

  • Monism. This means that "all is one" and that there is no distinction between God (or the "Absolute") and persons. What makes things seem dualistic (a bad term, or reality to New Agers) is illusion perpetuated by our sins and ignorance. Monism promises the hope of becoming God without distinction-or, "realizing godhood". It also implies we can transcend sin and evil (these are seen as figments of our illusions) thru participation in the Uncreated Mind. Even though Catholicism and the Bible teach we are creatures and can never become God, we can become God-like ("divinized"-cf. II Pt. 1:2) and filled with God (1 Cor 15:28).
    And, likewise, while we agree with easterners about the severe effects of sin, we can never deny its objective status (cf. Rm. 3:23 and I Jn. 1: 10: "If we say 'We have not sinned,' we make Him (God) a liar"), asserting these realties are not illusion. In short, Catholic believers agree with New Age persons about monism's implication of intimate links between the Creator and creation (God's immanence), while also affirming a separation (His transcendence). Eastern religions teaches we can achieve unity thru enlightenment; Catholics teach unity amidst differentiation-- only thru God's grace and human participation in the Ten Commandments and the life of practiced virtue. Catholicism is the best of both worlds-and hopefully you can help New Age people and fallen away Catholics discover this?
  • Ritual: Both Eastern and Western religions teach that humans are designed by God to praise and worship Him; this is the first, highest and most essential form of Religion and Life. This manifests in both simple and exotic forms of devotion, passed on thru centuries by saintly souls' encounters with God.. In times when our culture is overly sensualized thru various media forms (and manipulations), and when seekers are looking for spiritual "pomp and circumstance," we Catholics should remember this spiritual yearning and our Church's ability to "answer" it.
    But some have thrown out the "smells and bells" seekers yearn for. Why are so many "ex-Catholics" and seekers attracted to crystals, crimson robes, burning incense, meditation halls and golden statues?--Because it's in our soul's blood, and is not offered enough in some of our religious culture. As Catholics we know that the sacramentals (icons and holy cards, rosaries and holy water) are all "signals of transcendence" and can lead us to the Sacrament-Jesus Christ. When we realize that we are sensual people (and thereby need ritual), and combine this with God's grace, we can become holier.
  • Reincarnation. This errant doctrine attempts to explain the effects of sin and suffering, why some persons are more "enlightened" than others, and also life after death. While Catholics can agree with easterners regarding these issues, however, we categorically deny re-incarnation--continual deaths with rebirths. The Bible and Catholicism has always taught that we are born and die, and are judged, only once-- and then journey to Heaven, Hell or Purgatory. Positively, Catholics can bridge-build with Easterners and New Age individuals thru the doctrine of Purgatory (purification is an important element for them).
    Souls who are not totally prepared for Heaven will be purged in the afterlife-by God in a way they can or would not in this life-- in a trans-temporal reality called the Final Purification. St Paul helps us realize that "the flesh is hostility toward God," and also that God dwells in us: "If the spirit of the One who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you," He will give life to our mortal bodies also" (cf. Rm. 8:7, 9, 11) Channeling and Instrumentality-New Age seekers are entranced by levitating monks and spoon-bending savants; but, isn't everyone? Catholic and biblical saints have done similar things by realizing that God is the Master of all creation, by an intimate knowledge of the body and soul-union, and interaction between spirit and matter.
    Medievals, like Saints Hildegarde of Bingen and Albert the Great, knew such things thru experience and spiritual training-which is largely lost today. Weren't they "more advanced" than us in these ways, and can't they help us and our de-spirited culture which has largely forgotten or ignored these ways. Padre Pio could "read souls" and St Joseph of Cupertino levitated while saying Mass. All these people, thru great love of God and His people, became saintly vessels by assimilation to God's love, purification from sin, and participation with grace. Exemplifying this, when people went to St Paul in Ephesus, they put handkerchiefs on his face and when placed these upon the sick, healings occurred (Acts 19:11) . This "spiritual transference" in the Bible and in the Mystical Body show we, too, can be conduits and channels of grace-like the Blessed Virgin Mary, channel par excellence. But, do we really practice it today?
  • Ascetical and Mystical theology: Easterners and New Age persons like to talk of "mystical communion," "enlightenment," "contemplation" and "bliss". However, Catholicism has sometimes eschewed these themes in overemphasizing rationality. In neglecting the supernatural world and life of grace, we have hurt ourselves and lost many others. Think of the sacred traditions of our Church which remain for people to learn from-the meditational ardor of Benedictines; the Truth-seeking of Dominicans; the contemplative aspect of the Carmelites; the intellectual tradition of the Jesuits; the ascetic lifestyle of the Desert Fathers, and the holy lifestyles of married couples who are being recognized by Pope John Paul-all leading to deeper life in God through spiritually knowledgeable ways. "The very scribe who has been instructed in the Kingdom of Heaven is like the head of a household who brings from his storeroom both the old and the new" (Mt. 13:52).

Scott Hahn has said that "neo-Gnostics" and New Age groups have taken over the rich heritage Catholics once proclaimed and lived; and so Catholics are "ashamed" or embarrassed by some of the realities and terms they use and employ uncritically ("enlightenment" and "Light" and "channeling"). Hahn says we should not be disturbed by this "takeover" but re-appropriate the terms and spiritual realities-where appropriate--more critically, linked to our sacred Tradition …Catholics teaches that the Church is the expression of Jesus Christ extended in time and space. Therefore we should retrieve what is most holy and wise and renew this by applying it to conditions today.

We all can do a better job and attract fallen-away Catholics and Christians to Our Lord and His Church. A holy deacon, now suffering from-and being sanctified by-possible terminal cancer, Vince Perticone, at age 73, said recently: "You know, I love the Church more than ever." So should we!

Briefly Noted

Presidential Pulpit and Philosopher King?: In his State of the Union Address last week, President Bush addressed two of the most important issues of our day: partial birth abortion and cloning-saying they should be totally banned. Thank You!...He also mentioned that evil does exist (in the form of torture and rape), and that our rights come not from our Country but from God. He also invoked God's help and Providence in our challenges ahead. We applaud him for his courage and faith…

Quote of the week: "Let us thank God that He makes us live among the present problems. It is no longer permitted to anyone to be mediocre." Pope Pius XI.

Bible Readings: Mal 3:1-4; Ps 24:7-10; Heb 2:14-18; Lk 2:22-40 or 2:22-3: offer something-yourself- to the Lord.

Read other reflections by Father John J. Lombardi