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New Age is old Gnosticism

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Despite the secularism of our age — or perhaps, because of it — many people are rediscovering an interest in spirituality. One can go to almost any commercial bookstore and discover whole sections devoted to the theme.

Unfortunately, most of what sells as “spiritual reading,” usually classified under the heading of “New Age,” does not demand any more faith or belief than going to the movies. Not all that is marketed under the rubric “spirituality” is “chicken soup” for the Christian soul. Indeed, much of it, if consumed indiscriminately or unwarily, could prove poisonous to the life of faith. While New Age writings may seductively appeal to the legitimate longing of human nature, they are fundamentally opposed to Christian revelation.

Spirituality in our Catholic tradition is more than just narcissistic navel gazing. It is not a self-absorbed seeking after self-fulfillment found through esoteric teachings or practices. Christianity’s invitation is to look outwardly and beyond — to a “New Advent” of the God who calls us to a dialogue of love, a dialogue which invites us to conversion and submission to his will.

Authentic spirituality for the Christian is not so much about our search for God but God’s search for us. Spiritual life is a relationship with the Triune God entered into through our participation in Christ’s passion, death and resurrection through baptism and the living of a life of discipleship. This personal relationship with God grows through his free gift of grace and sheds light on our relationship to our fellow men and women and indeed on our relationship to the world.

New Age spirituality — born as a reaction to contemporary culture but nevertheless its child — certainly represents a new challenge to the Church today. Yet, there is very little that is “new” in New Age teachings. A joint statement issued a few years ago by the Pontifical Council for Culture and well as the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue quotes the Holy Father, who warns with regard to the “return of ancient Gnostic ideas under the guise of the so-called New Age: We cannot delude ourselves that this will lead toward a renewal of religion. It is only a new way of practicing Gnosticism — that attitude of the spirit that, in the name of a profound knowledge of God, results in distorting His Word and replacing it with purely human words.”

That statement entitled “Jesus Christ, the Bearer of the Water of Life,” offers an insightful analysis of the New Age movement and its incompatibility with sound Christian doctrine and practice. It specifically cautions against using the Enneagram, which in recent years has enjoyed some popularity among Christian groups and has even been promoted by some Catholic religious communities. The Enneagram, a pseudo-psychological exercise supposedly based on Eastern mysticism, introduces ambiguity into the doctrine and life of the Christian faith and therefore cannot be happily used to promote growth in an authentic Christian spirituality.

In Novo Milenio Ineunte, John Paul II urged parishes to become “authentic schools of prayer.” As he says: “…we who have received the grace of believing in Christ, the revealer of the Father and the Savior of the world, have a duty to show to what depths the relationship with Christ can lead.” (n. 33)

As “Jesus Christ, the Bearer of the Water of Life” says: “To those shopping around in the world’s fair of religious proposals, the appeal of Christianity will be felt first of all in the witness of the members of the Church, in their trust, calm, patience and cheerfulness, and in their concrete love of neighbors, all the fruit of their faith nourished in authentic personal prayer.”

Comments from readers

Anonymous - 02/24/2011 03:15 PM
I'm going to try to type this again (my Mac "mysteriously" turned off right before I was about to click "Send"...not surprised considering the topic), so hopefully I'll get all the way though this time...
Thank you so much for writing about this very little known, yet very important topic (new age).
Unfortunately, the *vast* majority of Catholics know little-to-nothing about New Age or the consequences of partaking in the practices associated with it. This may explain why for instance, Yoga, is being taught in schools, homes, and even churches. The schools, homes and churches range from public schools to Christian homes/schools/churches...and yes, that includes Catholic institutions (until somebody complains and it then it's banned). If you don't believe me, just google it. There's so much ignorance about this topic.
That's why I'm so very thankful for this article! The timing of it is so perfect too, because there's a GREAT "New Age" series being discussed on EWTN (Eternal Word Television Ntwk; Catholic cable channel) on a program called "Women of Grace" this very week! (2/7 - 2/9/2011)
By the way, this program can be viewed at *anytime* for FREE online. Just google: "EWTN Women of Grace 14545" and goto lhla, then click "television" to lookup show # 14545 - 14547 (I'm unable to copy the link here as external links are not permitted within comments on this site).
I missed some portions of the show myself when it aired on TV, but the little bit I saw chock full of great info! This is the type of series that would be great to have in every parish! For instance, either on a TV screen near the exit (so parishoners can watch it as they exit the church) or perhaps at a special "homily presentation". Or how about handing out transcripts of this program to every person at the ex its? I say transcripts (and not pamphlets), because I have yet to see any "good" pamphlets on this subject (believe me, I've looked...both large/small Catholic publishers).
People need to understand the serious consequences of the New Age, where (or who) it comes from, and more importantly, how to receive the grace of discernment so they can understand what offends our Lord, and then repent, confess, and share what they've learned with others who are unknowingly hurting themselves at so many levels.

Again, thank you SO much for writing about this topic.

Blessings & Peace,

Jan Sloan - 02/22/2011 03:08 PM
It's great to hear a bishop talk about such things so openly. There are far too many "well-meaning" Catholics who engage in this sort of activity who don't even realize its negative effect. There is an excellent book out right now from Saint Benedict Press titled "The Judas Syndrome: Seven Ancient Heresies Return to Betray Christ Anew". It discusses the heresies that were faced by the early Church and how they were dealwith then, and explains how they're reappearing now. And there's more than a few references to the negative impact of new age movements on the faith!
RICARDO GRZONA - 02/12/2011 05:00 PM
Muchas Gracias Monseñor Wenski.
La Nueva Era sigue haciendo daño, incluso aún dentro de nuestros dirigentes católicos que con poca formación, no están atentos a un discernimiento católico de nuestra fe, de una aparición extraña.
Gracias por recordarnos que nuestras parroquias deben ser escuelas de oración. Dios permita que podamos llegar también con la LECTIO DIVINA, que nos sugiere el Santo Padre en la Exhortación Verbum Domini (Números 86 y 87).
Todos queremos que nuestra Iglesia en Miami refleje cada vez más la luz de Nuestro Señor Jesucristo. Cuente con nosotros.
T. Mitchell - 02/11/2011 11:25 AM

It is shocking to realize the number of would-be or likely former-Christians and Catholics and Jews who have left Judaism or Christianity for the wide net of "New Age spirituality." When you tell such a person you are a Catholic or Christian, they may say, "Oh, that's religion, not spirituality." Imagine for 2000 years we haven't been spiritual apparently.

If you take even a casual glance at the worlds of Yoga, Kirtan, Meditation, the Goddess Movement, Astrology, all the various psydo-Healing arts like Reiki, the Drum Circle Movement, Unity Church, "consciousness tribe" you will see what is happily promoted as a Pagen or Tribal culture that celebrates essentially pre-Judeo Christian thought and lifestyle.

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