Pastoral letter on the new age

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My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

1. For quite some time now concerns have been raised regarding the “New Age”. Indeed, many sectors all over the world have taken up, whether knowingly or unknowingly, certain attitudes proposed by this movement.
His Holiness, Pope John Paul II, in his Audience to Bishops from the US held last May 28, 1993, described how New Age ideas have influenced even practicing Catholics. I am attaching excerpts from this text to present to you an overview of the nature of New Age, including its incompatibilities with Catholic faith.
There is a second document that I would like you to be familiar with, written by the then newly appointed Archbishop Norberto Rivera Carrera of Mexico City. The now Cardinal Rivera Carrera issued a pastoral letter on the New Age movement, dated January 7, 1996, “as a response to the concern so many of you have expressed to me, either directly or through your pastors.” The title itself, “A Call to Vigilance”, is indicative of the urgency of the matter.
Addressing “pastors,... religious, missionaries, spiritual directors and confessors, teachers and catechetical instructors, and all the lay faithful engaged in apostolates in the archdiocese,” the Mexican Cardinal examines the origins and content of the New Age movement, the reasons for its rapid spread, its incompatibility with the Gospel, and the responsibility of all Catholics to counteract its influence.
2. In the Pastoral Letter I am writing you now, it is not my intention to repeat the expositions made by His Holiness Pope John Paul II and Cardinal Rivera Carrera, which, while directed to people of other countries, are very much applicable to our situation in the Philippines today. Rather, I simply wish to relay to you their teachings, which I fully uphold. I also wish to focus on the more pastoral aspects of the problem by now outlining some practical considerations and giving general directions for you to pursue assiduously.
3. First of all, it is necessary that the faithful be familiar with the New Age. In particular, be aware of its incompatibilities with Church teachings. The entry into the Third Millennium and even the call for a New Evangelization could easily usher in the idea that a New Age is dawning, oftentimes presented as a post-Christian era, in which some New Agers say the Age of Pisces (the fish, or ichthus in Greek, which is a symbol of Christ) is replaced by the Age of Aquarius (the bearer of the water where the fish comes from; Aquarius is thus greater than Christ and is the New Messiah).
No. 37 of Cardinal Rivera Carrera’s document lists down New Age elements most opposed to the Christian message – though these elements are not usually expressed explicitly nor imposed on the individual, the different New Age ideas and techniques ultimately lead the person to them in a very subtle way:

  • it depersonalizes the God of Christian revelation;

  • it disfigures the person of Jesus Christ, devalues his mission, and ridicules his redeeming sacrifice;

  • it denies the unique, unrepeatable event of his Resurrection by affirming the doctrine of reincarnation;

  • it empties the Christian concepts of creation and salvation of their content;

  • it rejects the Church’s teaching authority and its institutional form;

  • it relativizes the Gospel’s original, unique, and historically based content;

  • it deforms language, giving a new meaning to Christian and biblical terms;

  • it falsely bases its opinions on the writings of Christian mystics and turns their true meaning upside down;

  • it irreversibly waters down the practice of Christian prayer;

  • it discards the human person’s moral responsibility and denies the existence of sin;

  • it misleads children and young people in their religious formation;

  • it divides Christian families and exploits them for financial gain.

4. Secondly, I encourage all those tasked with education, starting with the parents, who are the first educators, and those who assist them, the teachers, school administrators, priests and religious, to be aware of some entry points of New Age values and principles. Please note that the New Age elements listed above are more often than not imparted in very subtle ways, oftentimes without the knowledge of the students and the teachers themselves! Worthy of special mention are readings, shows, songs and activities that tolerate or even promote values such as:

  • relativism and subjectivism: truth and goodness are relative, depending on the person’s values; these are imparted in certain “values clarification” exercises, that promote the idea that values should not be taught, but rather only elicited and reinforced (since one can not judge whether what another person values is indeed good or evil)

  • self-centeredness: including too much emphasis in self-awareness and self-development, at the expense of generosity, teamwork and concern for others

  • hedonism: assumes that all pleasure is good, whereas sacrifice, mortification, pain and suffering, taking up one’s cross daily and dying unto oneself, are all devoid of meaning

  • lack of respect for family: undermining parental authority and guidance, hatred towards spouse, abuse of children and women, sibling rivalry, weakening of marriage as an institution, promiscuity or sex outside marriage, pornography, desensitization as to the sacredness and real beauty of sex

  • culture of death: a pragmatic view to the point of considering life as disposable at will; not protecting the life of the unborn from the moment of conception, contrary to the Gospel of Life and to what is guaranteed by the Philippine Constitution (through abortion, preventing implantation through the contraceptive pills or the IUD’s that almost always have abortifacient effects, experimenting with or killing embryos); euthanasia, violence, etc.

  • overindulgence in fantasy through movies, video games, cartoons and pornography: which could make individuals live a self-centered world and care less about the real world, even giving rise to behavioral problems

5. Last but not the least, I exhort all the clergy, religious, catechists and lay leaders, especially those in charge of formation of formators: on us falls a special responsibility to be familiar with the New Age. Pope John Paul II, in the document I mentioned, warns us that New Age ideas have found their way “into preaching, catechesis, workshops and retreats, and thus influence even practising Catholics, who perhaps are unaware of the incompatibility of those ideas with the Church’s faith”. If one is not aware of what the New Age is, the possibility always exists that these words of the Holy Father might in one way or another apply to him or her – especially if one uses any method or techniques that are also employed by the New Age (see Cardinal Rivera Carrera’s discussion).

6. More concretely, I enjoin all to:

  • hold sessions to explain incompatibilities between New Age and Church teachings: invite experts WHO ARE NOT NEW AGERS and who are knowledgeable of and faithful to Church teachings

  • check for any influence of New Age, whether explicit or as mild undercurrents, in your activities (perhaps reexamine programs in the light of the two documents I attach)

  • encourage the people to return to the Bible. Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ, says St. Jerome. Christ has to be at the center of our proclamation of the Gospel.

  • embark on an intensive catechetical program at all levels – from children’s catechesis to adult doctrine classes. Only if our faithful are rooted in God not only in prayer but also in knowledge can they be protected from errors.

  • teach our faithful to love the liturgy, wherein we not only adore God, but are also sanctified by God. Encourage all forms of devotion to the Holy Eucharist, where Christ is truly present with his body, blood, soul and divinity. Make the sacrament of Confession more accessible to the people, which is the ordinary way for us to be cleansed of our sins and to receive God’s grace to strengthen us against temptation and sin.

Our wholehearted fidelity to Jesus Christ, the Messiah, is at the same time our prevention and our response to the ills and challenges posed by the New Age. Under the loving guidance of the Blessed Virgin Mary, may we continuously strengthen our dedication and self-giving to the Holy Trinity.

 Jaime L. Card. Sin

June 22, 2002

Feast of Sts. John Fisher and Thomas More

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