Emmitsburg Council of Churches

Spirituality or Syncretism

Father John J. Lombardi

Spirituality or Syncretism- "the combination of different systems of philosophical or religious belief or practice"

I was at a spiritual conference recently where the priest-lecturer said that we are all part of God, we are all divine. I more than winced. However, having been around the block of new age and eastern religion and heard some of this before- I wasn't knocked off my seat (actually full disclosure: I was sitting on the floor). I was curious what others thought.

Later I heard some complaints about this and was struck by the concern and conviction of the audience, and also by the sponsoring-leader's composure and critiques-he neither overreacted nor ignored the problems. He even tried to reason with the priest after many complaints were made known and, seemingly, the priest did not respond well.

These events bring up the three important issues in our Catholics circles:

Doctrine- is biblical, Catholic and spiritual wisdom codified into propositions and is supremely important for solid Christian teaching. Our thoughts and ideas affect what and who we are-and how we approach God and the spiritual life.

In the case of the priest-lecturer it verged on two heresies. The first, in saying we are part of God, and we are divine is incorrect. God alone is God, we are His creatures and we are sinners (Rm. 3:23), even though in Christ's death we are redeemed. Second, while we are part of God's will, Church and Mystical Body, we are not pantheists- i.e. believing we are gods.

While the priest probably had good intentions, the statements I heard from him were definitely serious and injurious. However, we must admit there is an enticement to humans to become Divine-like so that we are not just blobs of matter only; there is more than just this physical world. Jesus Himself says we are like gods (Jn. 10: 34--quoting Psalm) and many of the saints have said that God became man, that man might become like God.

Yet, the priest in making such "divine comments" without clarification and fusing them with Buddhist and Hindu scriptures is simply confusing. It is also misleading to ignore that Christ alone is Lord and Savior (Acts 4:12) and that our Catholic-Christian religion is founded by Jesus Himself and therefore unique (Mt. 16:18.) Our particular Catholic-Christian spiritualities are helpful, even essential to our salvation and not "second tier teachings," i.e. detriments and embarrassments, which are trumped by eastern teachings. The bible has dealt with this before: St. Paul counsels Timothy to preach Jesus Christ Savior and not be embarrassed and to be aware that people will have "itchy ears" for false doctrines ( II Tim. 4:1-3). The priest, in fusing religions and spiritualities confuses people by promoting relativism, which implies that every religion and spirituality is the same.

Community- when a problem arises in our parishes or communities it is necessary to pastorally and prudently deal with it. St. Paul had to do this all the time, especially at Corinth. Issues ranged from money and sex, to idol worship, church cliques and bad beliefs. It was up to Paul to somehow balance Christ, community and creed, (no easy job) but he was strong and up to the task.

In today's world however, there is a tendency for "false tolerance" or putting up with serious wrongs under the banner of tolerance even though the wrongs are harming many people. Obviously, some issues in our Faith are more serious than others and need firmer, quicker attention. You won't have a community or team if you allow problems and errors to fester. When I heard of the leader's true, heartfelt concerns I knew he was a wise and Christ-centered man.

Correction: it's difficult to correct another person, let alone a priest, but sometimes it just needs to be done. Pope John Paul II was exemplary at fraternal correction. He would invite a person in to reconsider their opinion again and again and then re-embrace orthodox truth and wisdom. He would never force them although he knew the importance of truth-telling in teaching.

In a way, the event I described earlier was a difficult experience for the community and leaders (and priest) but they handled it well. In grappling with truth and community, as well as leadership and formation, they realized the importance of faith and sacred tradition. Where there was once friction I saw a fruition of Christian community and love of faith.

There was a time when I looked far outside the Catholic Church for truth and mystical life. I blended, fused and confused my faith with other spiritualities. Fortunately I learned, through others, that genuine mysticism, meditation and hope-filled theology are already in our Catholicism. We Catholics need to do a better job at spreading the orthodox beauty of our faith, especially in a time when some folks say they are spiritual but not religious. Perhaps this is why we lose so many people to eastern religions, new age and Protestantism.

The community I experienced recently is doing all these things and I am hopeful for them. On one hand, we must avoid the extreme of rigorism-a tightness of not being open to anything outside our religion and on the other syncretism-which is blending anything we want into our faith which dilutes it.

We should be thankful we have devoted lay-persons and spiritual disciples like those who helped the priest-to seek the Lord and our Catholic Faith more fully!

Read other reflections by Father John J. Lombardi