First, in Deuteronomy 12:30-31, the Lord warns His people not to adopt the practices of the pagan peoples whose lands they were inhabiting. “…[T]ake heed that you be not ensnared to follow them, after they have been destroyed before you, and that you do not inquire about their gods, saying, ‘How did these nations serve their gods? – that I also may do likewise.’ You shall not do so to the Lord your God; for every abominable thing which the Lord hates they have done for their gods…”
As the commentary for this section explains, “Any practice that resembled the pagan customs was to be avoided since Israel was a people set apart [CCC 2171].”
In other words, don’t adopt the Hindu practice of yoga and try to Christianize it with prayers and incantations to Jesus. The Lord is telling us quite clearly that we are not to pose in the position of worship of the sun god and then think we are honoring Him because we chant His Holy Name while doing so. Even if we are not intending to offend Him, it would be prudent for us to take a step back and confront the purity of our intentions to discern how much of our own desires might be driving our decision to engage in such a practice. Do we really want to worship God, or are we just looking for a way to practice yoga without the guilt?
In Hosea 5: 1-15, the Lord passes stern judgement on the House of Israel for its unfaithfulness to Him, for “playing the harlot” and defiling themselves with paganism.
As the commentary states: “The Lord condemned the mixing of paganism with the divinely revealed religion of Israel. This condemnation included the tendency toward subjective attitude toward religious worship and rituals that denied the existence of one true religion. Such denial of the existence of objective truth tends to lead to the erroneous belief that all religions are equally valid.”
The mixing of pagan religious practices into Christian worship has indeed caused this shift away from belief in objective truth to the adoption of relativism and the belief that all religions are equally valid. While it is true that we are permitted to adopt what is good from other religions – this does not imply a wholesale adoption of pagan practices. As the frequently misinterpreted document, Nostra Aetate states, “The Catholic Church rejects nothing that is true and holy in these religions” because it believes that other religions “often reflect a ray of that Truth which enlightens all men.” What is often ignored is the fact that a reflection of a ray is not truth that is directly from the source, but only a reflection of the source that is found in the Catholic faith. In other words, we are not going to discover objective truth in pagan practices, which is why this document does NOT give permission for the wholesale adoption of non-Christian practices.
Sadly, the area of Christian worship that has been the most impacted by these erroneous interpretations are in the realm of personal prayer. This area has been infiltrated by a variety of practices that originate in the East, such as Mindfulness Meditation and the various offshoots of Transcendental Meditation such as Centering Prayer. This infiltration continues in spite of explicit warnings from then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger about the dangers of adopting practices that are not in accord with the Christian concept of prayer.
In a document entitled, “A Letter to the Bishops on Some Aspects of Christian Meditation,” Cardinal Ratzinger teaches that when it comes to prayer, we can adopt what is good from other religions, “so long as the Christian conception of prayer, its logic and requirements, are never obscured.”
Herein lies the problem. Buddhist and/or Hindu meditation techniques, by their very nature, are diametrically opposed to the Christian conception of prayer, which is “the raising of one’s heart and mind to God.” Sitting in an empty void, posing oneself in positions of worship of Hindu gods, focusing on one’s breath or feelings, has nothing to do with dialoging with the Creator. Instead, these practices encourage focus on the self, rather than on God.
The Commission for the Doctrine of the Faith for Spain’s Bishops Conference explained what can happen when we allow these concepts into our prayer lives: "Our pace of life, marked by activism, competitiveness and consumerism, generates emptiness, stress and anguish. In this situation, many people are resorting to methods of meditation and prayer that originate in religious traditions outside Christianity in response to a growing demand for emotional well-being. However, a spirituality understood as cultivation of one's interiority and self-discovery does not lead to God."
They warn that by adopting these forms of prayer, we begin to condition ourselves to come to prayer to relax, to find ourselves, rather than to be with God. This is because techniques aimed at "self-control of personal emotions and sufferings" are often used "without proper discernment about their compatibility with the Christian message of salvation."
Those using mindfulness methods "as a complement to the faith or to achieve a more intense experience of it," often "effectively abandoned the Catholic faith even without realizing it,” they warn.
This is because "the reduction of prayer to meditation turns this type of practice into a monologue that begins and ends in the subject itself. Eliminating the difference between the self and what is outside, between the sacred and the profane, between the divine and the created makes it impossible to distinguish the personal face of the Christian God. When divinity and the world are confused and there is no otherness, any type of prayer is useless.”
Instead of turning to the East, the Christian who desires a deeper relationship and experience of God should invest in a study of Christian mysticism in order to become aware of the rich contemplative tradition of our own faith before opting to augment it with pagan practices.
Books such as Fire Within by the late Father Thomas Dubay offer a thorough treatment of Christian spirituality as taught by the Carmelite Mystics and Doctors of the Church – St. Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross, and St. Therese of Lisieux. As comprehensive as this book is, it is easy to read and will quickly convince the honest seeker of God that authentic Christian spirituality has everything it needs to satisfy our hungry hearts.
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