Sunday, May 15, 2016

Comunità Cenacolo: A Solution to Some of Canada's Problems

An image of the front entrance to Comunità Cenacolo, Medjugorje
Cenacle Community (Comunità Cenacolo) in Medjugorje, Herzegovina

If you have never heard of Comunità Cenacolo (Cenacle Community in Italian), it is a Catholic community whose outreach spans to many parts of the world, striving to respond to the needs and desperate cries of so many people (men and women), mostly young, whose lives are troubled due to: alcohol abuse, drug addiction, depression, disappointment, and those searching for joy and the true meaning of life. Those that enter the community do so as a matter of acknowledging that they have a problem, and need help to find the solution, to change their lives for the better, and begin life anew.

It is said that the worst death is the loss of all hope. At the Cenacle Community, hope is rekindled in each individual, strengthened by God's blessings and graces, and a community experience, where each individual quickly realizes, "I am not alone." Where once darkness and sadness filled the lives of these individuals, it is replaced by light and joy; the beginning of a new simple, family-orientated life centered on: work, prayer, faith in God, communication and interaction with each other, and those that visit Cenacolo (many pilgrim groups visit to hear testimonials), all of which is reinforced by the group recitation of the entire Rosary, imploring the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

An image of Sister Elvira Petrozzi, smiling with her hands held out.
Sister Elvira Petrozzi
Comunità Cenacolo was first established in Italy in 1983, by Italian Sister Elvira Petrozzi, a member of the Congregation of the Sisters of Charity, whose concern about the troubling conditions of so many youth in society, prompted her to petition her superiors for the freedom to pursue what she discerned to be, a new calling, the Cenacle Community. It took several years for Sister Elvira to be given the freedom to pursue the call, but once released, she set out, with two other fellow religious, Srs. Aurelia and Nives Grato, to establish the first community.

An abandoned old house in Saluzzo, Italy, a town in the province of Cuneo (Piedmont region), served as the humble beginnings of this community. On July 16, 1983, on the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Comunità Cenacolo officially opened. It wasn't long before troubled young people began arriving at the door, and so began the work of what would later become an international ministry. Currently, there are fifty-six houses spread throughout the world: Italy, France, Croatia, Medjugorje (Herzegovina), Ireland, Brazil, Austria, Dominican Republic, and Mexico. There are also four community locations in the United States: three in St. Augustine, Florida (one being a house only for women) and one in Hanceville, Alabama.

I was first introduced to the Cenacolo Community during my pilgrimage to Medjugorje in late June'2014. It afforded me the opportunity to see, first hand, the many "fruits," that have been harvested in the "spiritual orchard" of Medjugorje; a place that Saint Pope John Paul II referred to as, "The spiritual center of the world."

During my visit to Cenacolo, I listened attentively to the testimonials of two young American men (see photo below) who revealed the details of their troubled lives to a group of pilgrims that I was apart of. It was fascinating to watch and listen to them; they truly were powerful witnesses of God's grace and work being accomplished through their lives at the community. At the time of their testimonials, it was abundantly clear that they were well adjusted to community living, and were well on their way to living a normal and virtuous life, closely connected to God and Our Lady, Queen of Peace.

Recalling that visit to Cenacolo, I can not help but think of the scripture passage from John, "I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing." (John 15:5)

Two American men Comunità Cenacolo, Medjugorje providing testimonials to pilgrimages
Two American men from Comunità Cenacolo in Medjugorje, giving their testimonials to pilgrims.
The photo to the right is Sister Elvira Petrozzi.

Since my visit, I had not thought too much about Cenacolo. Certainly the community came up in conversation with other Medjugorje pilgrims, but what prompted today's post was inspiration I received stemming from my attendance at the annual Marian Day of Prayer conference in Toronto on May 7. At that conference I was reunited with three other Medjugorje pilgrims, two of which were guest speakers at the conference: Diane and Ben Wasiniak, a mother and son team whose testimonials spoke of the effectiveness, success, and necessity of Cenacolo.

Ben and Diane were such powerful witnesses because of their personal experience with Cenacolo in Medjugorje. Ben entered Cenacolo on May 25, 2012, and left on June, 2, 2015. As he put it, it was "three years and breakfast," meaning, once he completed his time there, having made the successfully transition, the next day he had breakfast, and it was time to go. Cenacolo had served its purpose, he was a new man, changed for the better, prepared and strengthened to meet the challenges ahead, and close to God and Our Lady. On a personal note, I can tell you that Ben is an extremely personable and likeable young man; it was a pleasure to have met him in Medjugorje, and spent time with him in Toronto.

Cenacolo is not only a time of transition for its members, but also for many of the parents whose children are in the community. One can only imagine the impact upon parents—as well as to loved ones, other members of the family, and friends—when someone they care and love is besieged by serious trouble. Those of us who attended the Marian Day of Prayer conference, were given a glimpse of all that a mother goes through, with Diane's testimonial. As a devout Catholic, Diane prayed for her son, "kept the faith," and did all that she could for Ben while he went through his transition, part of which included meetings with other parents whose children were also in the community. Here is how Diane described those meetings:
Parents are asked to attend a meeting every first Saturday to get together to support each other and discuss the current topic. It is a spiritual exercise to discuss how we need to examine ourselves and make changes. There are different regions based on location that parents meet and some parents travel eight hours or more to attend. It is extremely important to be involved and parents are expected to attend. We have Mass, then breakfast then recite the Rosary and then have the meeting. It is a great support for parents.
An image of Ben and Diane Wasiniak giving their testimonials at the Marian conference.
Ben and Diane Wasiniak, giving their testimonials at the Marian conference

During Ben's testimonial, he pointed out that Canada does not have any Cenacolo communities, and that we all need to pray that Cenacolo comes to Canada. It was a point well made, and well received; one that seemed to remain with me in a significant way. As to the exact reason why, the answer became clear the next day on Sunday, as I spent some time in prayer, and reflected upon the conference. Amongst all that I had seen and heard, what stood out the most was Ben and Diane's testimonials about Cenacolo. In response to that inspiration I began to write the first draft of this post.

Ben is absolutely correct, Canada could certainly benefit from several Cenacolo communities. The effectiveness of Cenacolo makes it worthy of pursuing. I completely agree with Ben, we need need to pray for this, and if it is God's will, it will be.

If you are wondering what a day in the life is like in Cenacolo (Medjugorje), below is a summary that captures the core of each day's schedule:

  • The day begins at 6:15am, where the community gathers in the chapel to recite the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary, on their knees, in front of the Blessed Sacrament.
  • One individual is committed to reading the Gospel, and shares how it has affected his life in community. Each day, a different individual reads and shares the Gospel experience.
  • After the Gospel sharing, everyone eats breakfast together.
  • Community work begins after breakfast. Depending on the particular location, this could mean tending to animals, gardening, landscaping, construction, or an ongoing community project.
  • By 10:00am, the community enjoys a five-to-ten minute break with a snack, then it's back to work.
  • At lunch (Noon), everyone eats together, but first the community recites the Angelus, and a thanksgiving prayer for the food they are about to eat.
  • After the community has eaten, there is thirty-to-forty minutes of sharing with another member. Community members pair up for this sharing; one that is by choice and consensual. Pairing changes each day, due to the importance of sharing with someone different. This goes on until approximately 1:15pm.
  • After which the community walks together reciting the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary, with the special intention for Sister Elvira.
  • Work continues after the Rosary is recited.
  • At 4:00pm, there is another five-to-ten minute break, with another snack.
  • Work continues for a bit, then a decision is made with respect to some free time. It may mean a quick football (soccer) game, practicing singing, the playing of musical instruments or something else.
  • By 5:30pm, everyone is expected to be showered and ready for prayers in the chapel, where the Glorious Mysteries of the Rosary are recited.
  • The community eats dinner together, after which they recite another set of the Mysteries of the Rosary.
  • Bedtime is 9:00pm.

If it all seems somewhat regimented, it needs to be. It is important to develop a consistent daily routine, one that will help each individual to develop positive work and prayer habits, discover and learn new things about themselves, grow in virtue, and make that positive transition to a new life.

Although most aspects of community life are readily understood, there are times when what appears to be obvious, does in fact have an added meaning or purpose. Case in point, the example that Ben shared at the conference; the task assigned to him of picking individual blades of grass from gravel or rocky parts of the landscape. At first, Ben loathed the idea, but it soon proved to be a learning experience, a time of discovery about himself. 

Plucking individual blades of grass takes time and patience, and patience is something that Ben needed to develop. In addition, he also learned to be obedient. Ben was assigned to picking blades of grass on more than once occasion. It wasn't long before Ben welcomed the task, knowing that it had a personal meaning for his own journey. This example spotlights how Cenacolo is very much a community experience, but also an individual journey.

If you are wondering how Cenacolo deals with issues and problems, the community has the answer: the Responsible, who is the person in charge of the entire community. The Responsible, works closely with "work groups," to discuss any issues or problems, and they are typically dealt with quickly, so as to not allow what may be a small problem to develop into a bigger one.

Perhaps the most fundamental aspect of Cenacolo is that it operates solely and completely on Divine Providence, which manifests itself in many ways: volunteers, donations, assistance from local families and communities, help from consecrated religious, and other ways. Medjugorje is blessed to have two Cenacolo communities, one for men and one for women.

The Cenacle communities throughout the world are truly something special; God's love and mercy reaching out to those lost souls, who need to be found. Perhaps it would be most fitting to end my post by quoting from the Cenacle Community's web site, "We are the first to be amazed by what the Lord is working in front of our eyes, and to thank Him because He makes us daily witnesses to His Resurrection, in the strength of which we see every day life return in the smiles of people who had lost all hope."

Hvaljen Isus i Marija (Praised be Jesus and Mary)

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Our Lady of Good Counsel

Original image of Our Lady of Good Counsel from Genazzano, Italy
Original image of Our Lady of Good Counsel
from Genazzano, Italy
Today is the feast day of Our Lady of Good Counsel, a Marian devotion that I discovered several years ago from the reading of Michael H. Brown's book, Seven Days With Mary. It is an especially important devotion for those who are struggling with sexual sins, and the temptations that accompany them. What ever our struggles may be with confusion, debauchery, and uncleanliness, the Blessed Virgin Mary is available to us to dispel our darkness, and bring us back to Jesus, protecting and guiding us at every step of the way.

Our Lady of Good Counsel is a much needed devotion for Canada, because like many other countries in the world, Canada has fallen prey to the global sexual revolution. We have experienced the negative ramifications for several decades, most notably in the deterioration of the primary cell of society, the family, including the discarding of traditional family values; not to mention the increased spiritual battle for those individuals seeking to lead a chaste and virtuous life. 

As to the many other negative ramifications, we need not expend any great amount of time or energy to identify them: pornovision on cable tv; pornography readily available on the internet; the sexualization of culture within all advertising mediums; immodest attire; an increased level of promiscuity; marital infidelity; the indoctrination of children in the education system with sexual immorality; "same sex marriage" since 2005, a younger generation that fails to recognize and acknowledge the importance and truth that sexual intercourse is a conjugal act performed only within the sanctity of marriage; the lack of understanding of the meaning of the human person, and the challenge of human sexuality, as revealed in the work of St. Pope John Paul II's, Love and Responsibility, and his other great body of work on the human body, Theology of the Body; and the list goes on and is growing.

There are many evils in society, but there is a remedy; that remedy is to be found in Mary. We need to continually seek the comfort of Our Lady's mantle, through prayer, in a world that is becoming increasingly evil.

A brief introduction to Seven Days With Mary

Seven Days With Mary is a seven day personal retreat with Mary. The graces that flow from these devotions can barely be described with words; it truly is a time of Divine Intimacy, something that can only be fully understood when experienced. There are a total of seven Marian devotions: Our Lady of Saragossa, Our Lady of Montserrat, Our Lady of Good Counsel, Our Lady of Guadalupe, Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal, Our Lady of Lourdes, and Our Lady of Prompt Succor, all of which are officially recognized and sanctioned by the Church. Each devotion comes complete with a concise historical account, followed by meditations, prayers, and concludes with the recitation of the Rosary.

Brown recommends that you pray this devotion for seven consecutive days to receive the maximum benefit. As to which particular devotion you begin and end with, it does not matter, so long as you practice one devotion per day. Think for a moment of what it must be like to be immersed in deep prayer with Our Lady for a few hours each day for seven consecutive days. I can assure you from my own personal experience, it is a grace filled week that will end with your heart felt gratitude and praise to God and Our Lady for the gift of these devotions.

It would be remiss of me not to mention that part of the reason why Seven Days With Mary is available to us, is due to Brown sharing his gift of faith with the world, something that personally resonates very well with me. Brown went on a pilgrimage to each of the seven Marian locations, and subsequently wrote about his experiences. Having read about Brown's conversion story—consider reading Prayer of the Warriorapproximately twenty years ago, it is quite easy to recognize his love for God and Our Lady, which Seven Days With Mary spotlights in a beautiful way.

Mary's mission in the Church and in the world

Mary was chosen as God's vessel to give birth to, raise and protect Jesus Christ, Our Saviour and Redeemer, whose life, death and resurrection defeated of the "kingdom of darkness." 

Mary continues to be His chosen vessel, the great antidote to paganism, by taking back territory from the Evil One and his demons, and restoring it for Jesus. This is a fundamental aspect of Mary's role in our lives, to bring us back to God, to help us on our earthly pilgrimage, to remind us of what Jesus taught us, to reveal to the world that God is real and He does exist. Mary is "the" messenger from God.

Part of how Mary accomplished her mission is through her many apparitions in the history of the Catholic Church, something that continues to this day—Medjugorje in particular—fulfilling her role in the strengthening of the Mystical Body of Christ. So numerous are Mary's apparitions that not even the Church knows exactly how many times she has appeared, and the associated miracles connected with each apparition.

Our Lady has founded hundreds of churches, and has deeply affected major historical figures, men who, as Brown states in the Preface, "...[S]haped the very boundaries of our world—like Charlemagne." (iv)  

Given to Mary is a reservoir of graces granted by Jesus, that she dispenses with exquisite generosity. They are available for the asking, especially through the sincere and devout recitation of the Rosary, the most powerful prayer next to the Holy Mass. A standard include in our Rosary intentions should be our imploring of Mary to shower upon us, with great abundance, the many graces we need in all that we pray for.

Seeking Our Lady in time trouble and need, is exactly what Seven Days of Mary is all about; that is, invoking her intercession, seeking her aid, and meditating on her role in our lives, as we try to find our way through the current darkness.

The historical account and miracles at Genazzano, Italy

Genazzano is thirty miles southeast of Rome, and is the location where the devotion to Our Lady of Good Counsel began. During the reign of Sixtus III in the fifth century, a church was built and named Madre nostra del Buon Consiglio or Our Lady of Good Counsel; a name derived from the writings of St. Augustine.

The location of Genazzano is of great significance. Like so many other places where Our Lady had acted to recover territory, that had been lost to demons, and restore it back for Jesus, so to did Our Lady move to deliver Genazanno from what had become a place of orgies and ceremonies dedicated to a pagan goddess. Mary, the most pure and beautiful Mother of God, pushed aside Venus, the goddess of lust and sin.

The church at Genazzano served Christians for a thousand years, but eventually it fell into ruins. In close proximity were splendid edifices dedicated to St. John and St. Nicholas. The deteriorated state of the church greatly concerned a very pious woman named Petruccia de Geneo, whose husband had been caretaker of the Augustinians in the town. He died in 1436, and with the money he left Petruccia, she set about to provide basic necessities of the church, and vowed to rebuild it to its former glory.

Petruccia's ambitions were for the most part, mocked by the townspeople, and the task of rebuilding proved to be much more difficult than she had originally anticipated. WIth only a few rough and unfinished walls constructed, the money ran out. This did not deter Petruccia because as she insisted, the Blessed Virgin Mary assured her that against all logic, the church would be rebuilt. Her response to the continued mockery from the townsfolk, "My children, don't take such notice of this apparent misfortune, for I assure you that before I die the Most Blessed Virgin Mary and the holy father St. Augustine will complete the church." (25)

On April 25, 1467, the feast day then of Our Lady of Good Counsel, was well attended by the townsfolk and even more so during that year, with the feast falling on a Saturday. The exceptionally large crowd typically gathered at the public square, the Piazza of Saint Mary, having clean fun where once there had been baths and decadence of pagan idols.

At approximately 4:00pm, the crowd was astonished to hear what sounded like a celestial harmony. Borrowing from the Church historian, Monsignor Dillon, Brown describes it as, "...[H]igh in the clouds, the music of angels, as if a portal or opening to paradise had been flung open." (26) The vision of what the townsfolk saw was described as a beautiful white cloud that sent forth vivid rays of light. It lowered, and to the amazement of everyone present, it rested upon the unfinished walls of the church's chapel, dedicated to Saint Biagio.

Suddenly the bells of the high campanile (Italian bell tower) began to peal. This further astonished the crowd because the campanile was in their sights, and there was no human effort involved. What then followed was the pealing of every church bell in town, in unison, creating a festive sound throughout. Captivated by the events, the townsfolk were filled with such a holy feeling, that they filled the enclosure and pressed around where the cloud remained.

Eventually the rays of light vanished and the cloud gently cleared away, exposing a most beautiful object, an image of the Blessed Virgin Mary holding Jesus in her arms (the exact image is published with this post). It was another miraculous image that materialized from nowhere. Mary exuded a spiritual beauty, one of tremendous caring. Brown states that, "If at Saragossa she was the consolation of evangelists, and if at Montserrat she emphasized her influence on Church leaders like Ignatius, at Genazzano she showed herself as mother to every single person and she did so on a level that was tremendously individual." (27) 

Brown further describes the image, dedicating an entire page to it. Here is just part of that description: 
The image of Good Counsel as well as subsequent reproductions demonstrate a warmth that touches the most profound depths of our spirits. They indicate that in our greatest difficulties we can flee with great confidence into the warmth of Mary... (28) 
Mary's eyes are Heaven's eyes. They are maternal eyes. And her beauty is her warmth. As she looks down toward the Infant she holds, so too does she look down to all the people of earth, caring for them, concerned for them, knowing the many struggles...The sensitivity and yet the strength in the Genazzano image mesmerized all who set eyes upon it. Jesus has his right arm around his mother's neck and the left hand on her neckline hem. He is clinging to her in the most touching way... (29)
To this day, the colours and details on the painting remain inexplicably fresh.

What is most miraculous about the painting is that it has no means of support. It is a fresco done on a thin layer of plaster or porcelain; there is no way such an image could be transported without breaking into pieces. A miraculous image it is, with nothing to support it in the front, back or on top; it remains perfectly balanced, and does so to this day.

That small run down church was soon transformed both physically and spiritually, to become one of the most holy places in Italy and the world. Many who were depressed and distressed, flocked to the chapel of Saint Biagio. At first it was neighbouring towns, but then others from distant communities came as well.

Mary's intercession at Genazzano was one of many in the Middle Ages. She had been invoked to ward off plagues, and often a miracle was attached to a painting, fresco or statue. It was Heaven's anointing of such holy images and figures to sweep away the reoccurring threat of paganism.

After the miracle at Genazzano, the run down church was promptly rebuilt, just as Petruccia had prophesied. In the four months after the arrival of the miraculous painting, one hundred and seventy one miraculous healings were recorded, which eventually led to the official Church recognition of Our Lady of Good Counsel.

There were many other miracles attributed to Our Lady of Good Counsel's intercession: many blind received their sight; others cured of hearing loss, epileptic affliction, and delivered from demonic possession; and the ceasing of a pestilence that afflicted Italy during the seventeenth century, in which Pope Urban VIII made a personal pilgrimage to Genazzano to seek Our Lady's intercession.

Of all the miracles attributed to Our Lady of Good Counsel, the most interesting for me was Brown's own conversion. In the early 1980s when he was living in the fast-lane in New York City, he experienced a conversion through a local church on East 90th Street named after Good Counsel. Brown later learned that all those years he was away from the faith, his grandmother had been invoking Our Lady of Good Counsel for his conversion. 

A prayer to Our Lady of Good Counsel

Our Lady of Good Counsel is a much needed devotion today. So many people are lost, living in a dark world of fleeting and false sexual pleasures. No matter what our struggles may be, no matter how long we have struggled, available to us is Our Lady of Good Counsel.

Invoke the intercession of Our Lady of Good Counsel in times of temptation, when near occasions of sin, and as part of a devotion to lead a life that not only abstains from sexual sins, but one that is lived chastely; that is, of purity in mind and heart.

Here is a prayer to Our Lady of Good Counsel included in Seven Days With Mary:
O Mary of Good Counsel, inflame our hearts of all who are devoted to you, so that all of them have shelter in you, O great Mother of God. O most worthy Lady, let everyone choose you as teacher and wise counselor of their souls, since you are, as St. Augustine says, the counsel of the Apostles and counsel of all peoples. Amen. (34)

Our Lady of Good Counsel, pray for us.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

The Dangers of Tai Chi

A man performing tai-chi at sunrise on the beach
Tai-chi at sunrise
Today's post on the dangers of tai chi is based on a book, Yoga, Tai Chi and Reiki: A Guide For Christians, written by Brother Max Sculley, DSL, a De La Salle brother based in Brisbane, Australia. I first discovered this book in late'2013 as part of my effort to become better informed about the New Age and occult practices that have infiltrated into the mainstream of Canadian society, and in particular within my local community.

Prior to the discovery of this book, the thought of embarking on readings about yoga, tai chi and reiki, as well as other New Age and occult practices—material that was totally unfamiliar to me—seemed like a daunting task. The last thing I wanted was to be burdened with what I initially thought would be, volumes of reading on Hinduism, Buddhism and other Eastern beliefs. But along came Brother Max's book, which proved to be exactly what I had hoped for; a well written and thoroughly researched book that was easy to understand and follow. To top it all off, this book is only one hundred and eighty pages.

The Foreword and Preface are sure to impress the reader with a solid introduction to the truth about these New Age practices, that includes stern warnings from Brother Max, and then Auxiliary Bishop Julian Porteous of Sydney, Australia (Archbishop of Hobart, Tasmania), on the dangers associated with these practices. Also included are Br. Max's insights from his research and experience in Australia, and a case study of the worst case scenario that can result from these practices: demonic possession. The main content is segmented into Parts A-D that deal with yoga, tai chi, reiki, and the Age of Aquarius respectively. The Endnotes is sure to satisfy any reader's desire for further reading, followed by a much needed Glossary that provides the reader with a quick reference to the many new, unfamiliar, and bizarre terms that are rampant when reading about the New Age.

My desire to discover the truth about yoga, tai chi, and reiki complimented the thrust behind why Br. Max wrote his book; that is, to spread and increase awareness about these practices among Catholics and Christians alike. As he stated in the Preface, with his involvement in Christian adult education for twenty-five years, he became increasingly concerned that many Christians (priests, religious, and laity) were becoming practitioners of "energy practices," such as yoga, tai chi and reiki. To make matters worse, these New Age practices were performed in Catholic institutions. 

Drawing attention to another sad reality, Br. Max spotlighted how the release of Jesus Christ the Bearer of the Water of Life, A Christian reflection on the "New Age," in 2003, evoked little response from local Church leaders, which for some Catholics, such silence was interpreted as assent. In light of this, and due to the popularity of these three "energy systems," Br. Max decided to write a comprehensive critique of yoga, tai chi and reiki. It serves as a timely warning against these popular mainstream practices that claim to provide wellness, health and relaxation, but in fact are inextricably linked to Eastern philosophies that are incompatible with Christianity.

As for what Br. Max has written about yoga and reiki, you may want to read my two previous posts, Yoga, Tai Chi and Reiki: A Guide For Christians, and The Deception and Dangers of Reiki - A Counterfeit to Christian Healing

In Part B of his book, Br. Max has dedicated three separate chapters on tai chi: Just an Innocent Pastime, Taoist Philosophy, and To Chi or not to Chi. The remainder of this post includes selected information from these chapters, that in my view, was of particular importance: altered states of consciousness; warnings from Archbishop Julian Porteous of Hobart, Tasmania, on the dangers of these practiceswhat exactly is tai chi, where it came from and what it is based on; how some Christians have welcomed tai chi; the problem with tai chi; meditation in movement; how tai chi has entered and gained acceptance in predominantly Christian countries; some of the key points to consider in Br. Max's answer to, should Christians practice tai chi; and my concluding thoughts.

Altered States of Consciousness

A common thread running through these three "energy systems" are techniques that produce altered states of consciousness (ASC), which as Br. Max explains in the Prefaceare abnormal mental states created by a variety of techniques, which are "...[G]enerally characterized by a significant reduction of logical thought and passivity of will. (8) At the advanced level of ASC, practitioners can achieve occult powers and even supposed divinization. There are four main dangers that can result from ASCs: mental illness, demonic influence, spirit possession, and occult bondage.

Altered states of consciousness do not include mental states such as day-dreaming, sleeping and dreaming which are part of the natural cylce of human life. Nor should it be applied to genuine Christian or biblical mystical experiences such as visions, ecstasies or prophetic revelations, which occur not due to human techniques, but spontaneously and unbidden by the direct action of the Holy Spirit. As Br. Max notes, genuine mystical experiences result in, "...[A] world view and a morality in accord with biblical and Christian tradition; they generally help to build up the People of God in their faith, and recipients of such revelations glorify, not themselves or demonic spirits, but the one true God." (8)

At the heart of each belief system is the worship of an impersonal god, so vastly different from the personal God of Christianity, whose outstanding characteristic is loving mercy as revealed by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, Our Saviour and Redeemer.

The Foreword by Archbishop Julian Porteous of Hobart, Tasmania

Archbishop Julian Porteous affirms the clarity with which Br. Max alerts and informs readers to the dangers of yoga, tai chi and reiki, adding his own warning that engaging in these techniques will lead practitioners into a world that is inimical to the Christian faith.

What readers come to quickly understand is that these techniques not only rely on physical movements, but engage practitioners to enter into an altered state of consciousness. Archbishop Porteous warns readers that the engagement of the mind, which practitioners are led to believe is necessary to achieve any real benefit, is where the real danger lies. Although these practices are advertised as relaxation, fitness, and general health, what they really represent, is a Trojan horse for dangerous spiritual infiltration. As practitioners seek to know more about these techniques, they can unwittingly be exposed to demonic powers. Here is what Archbishop Porteous had to say about the danger of such demonic exposure:
They have ventured into a mysterious world lacking the sound guidance that Christianity offers. When one encounters preternatural powers the question does need to be posed: what is the origin and nature of these powers? If they are not from God revealed by Jesus Christ, then where do they come from? Venturing further into this exotic world can lead a person to embracing a belief in and a personal subjection to powers that do not come from the true God. Indeed, a person who follows these religious philosophies to their full extent can find themselves worshiping a false God. (2)
As to the deception by advocates of these practices, Archbishop Porteous warns readers that when they declare these practices to be non-religious, they do so only in an attempt to reassure "newbies" that they are not being duped into another religion. The truth of the matter is that yoga, tai chi and reiki, have a strong theological basis that is contrary to, and incompatible with Christianity. In fact each of these practices has a spiritual origin (demonic) which draw practitioners into their "religious" philosophies. As Archbishop Porteous points out, "They all offer an alternative understanding [a typical characteristic of New Age] of the make-up of the human person and they invite people to discover their view of the divine reality." (3)

What I found particularly helpful was the archbishop's inclusion of two Vatican documents, the Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on Some Aspects of Christian Meditationissued on October 15, 1989, on the Feast of Saint Teresa of Jesus by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, headed by then, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI), and Jesus Christ the Bearer of the Water of Life, A Christian reflection on the "New Age," issued in 2003 as a joint effort by the Pontifical Council For Culture and the Pontifical Council For Interreligious Dialogue. Both documents serve as key readings to further one's understanding and knowledge base of the New Age, and what constitutes authentic and genuine Christian meditation.

In the first document, the methods of meditation used by Eastern religions were compared with Catholic tradition of meditation. It warns of the dangers associated with embracing Eastern forms of meditation which may threaten the integrity of Christian prayer.

The second document contrasts New Age religiosity with Christian faith. It reveals the difference between the Christian faith in a personal God revealed through Jesus Christ with the impersonal energies proposed by various New Age spiritualities. Archbishop Porteous asks the question, "Is God a being with whom we have a relationship or something to be used or a force to be harnessed?" (4)

The archbishop goes on to say that Brother Max, "...[A]ddresses these questions by revealing clearly that what underpins these techniques is quite foreign to Christianity and damaging to the faith and possibly the life of the practitioner." (4) Here is how he concluded the Foreword:
This book is timely...With the widespread use of these practices and with many Catholics attracted to their use this book provides a very valuable service in warning of the dangers associated with embracing the underlying philosophies to these practices. (4)
For the Christian the spiritual life is an engagement with the Holy Spirit. This Spirit offers the pure water of saving grace. The Catholic tradition is rich in experience and teaching in the ways of the spiritual life. We have the example of the great mystics and a library of spiritual writings that offer wisdom, insight and sure guidance for anyone wishing to enter more deeply into the divine life offered through faith in Jesus Christ, who is the "bearer of the water of life." (5)
So what exactly is tai chi?

Tai chi is commonly marketed as a means to: reduce stress; improve physical and emotional health; self defence in the form of a martial art; and fostering spiritual development. It comprises of: gentle, balanced relaxation exercises; slow, rhythmic, abdominal breathing; and forms of meditation that includes focussing on one's breathing, visualizing one's movements, and visualizing the chi (the "natural energy" of the universe that permeates all things including the human body) within the body feeling the chi move. Chi is stored just below the navel, and it can give incredible strength in combat, and can be used to heal oneself and others.

When one thinks of tai chi, the image that probably comes to mind is similar to the photo published with this post, referred to as the "physically active" practice, but there is also the "physical passive" practice, known as "chi kung" (Qigong). In chi kung, one takes up a yoga-like posture, remaining completely still, while all the time breathing in a controlled and retarded way. Where the tai chi is "meditation in movement" (explained later in this post), chi kung is "meditation in stillness." With chi kung, the methods of meditation are similar to that of raja yoga and zen meditation, and whose purpose is the same as tai chi; that is, to empty the mind and achieve an altered stated of consciousness. The ultimate achievement in tai chi and chi kung is to become divine.

According to Chinese medical theory, chi is transmitted throughout the body along a series of energy channels called "meridians." Apparently, there are fourteen such channels, where the chi radiates to every cell in the body. The most significant of these channels is just below the navel, and is commonly referred to as the "tan tien," which literally translates into "field of breath," or "sea of chi."

If any of this appears to be harmless, quite the opposite is true. Brother Max warns of the danger, "Proficiency in the ability to control the flow of chi provides the adept with a range of psychic gifts, the most prominent being superhuman powers of strength and ability to heal oneself and others." (75) It begs the question, where or from whom do these gifts come from. If it is not from God, then any achieved power, strength and ability to heal, is of demonic origin.

Some Christians have welcomed tai chi

Tai chi's entry into the mainstream culture has not limited itself to the secular world. Lured by claims that tai chi stimulates physical and mental well-being, many Christians have embraced tai chi, including religious Brothers and Sisters. The notion that tai chi movements assist with circulation and muscular toning, while in a state of relaxation, is the appeal presented in many clubs, gyms, and retirement homes.

Brother Max includes a few examples from his own personal encounters with Christians who practice tai chi, citing one in particular, a Catholic retreat centre in New South Wales (NSW). This retreat centre had a created a flyer, explaining tai chi while at the same time, promoting a local tai chi academy. He states that perhaps the interest in tai chi at Catholic spirituality centres might account for why so many religious Sisters have embraced it with great enthusiasm. He also reveals how many get duped into practicing tai chi; they become enthusiastic about it once they realize it is not a religion but a philosophy.

Citing another example of tai chi's infiltration into the Catholic community in NSW, Br. Max writes of one Catholic diocese, whose staff practiced tai chi as part of a "staff spirituality day," with the full backing of the Catholic Education Office. When Br. Max expressed his concerns, raising his objection on religious grounds, he soon discovered the level of ignorance and indifference among so many Catholics with regard to the New Age; he was politely informed that tai chi is completely neutral, and based on philosophy, and has nothing to do with religion. If this is true, what then is the problem with tai chi.

Brother Max's thesis on the problem with tai chi?

Tai chi is in fact based on Taoist philosophy, and not the religion of Taoism, developed some five hundred years after the philosophy, but what many fail to realize is that the Taoist philosophy is itself a system of religious beliefs. Here is Br. Max's thesis:
  1. Tai chi, imported from China, is inextricably linked with a system of religious beliefs called Taoist philosophy.
  2. The key beliefs of Taoist philosophy clash head-on with the beliefs of Christianity.
  3. Altering one's state of consciousness, a practice common to tai chi and chi kung, is highly dangerous spiritually. It can easily open one up to demonic influences and may result in occult powers, a number of which are specifically condemned in the Bible.
Meditation in Movement

The movement in tai chi is slow and quiet, harmonious, free-flowing and continuous, but it also engages the mind, seeking to create a balance between the mind and the body. The mind is engaged even before any physical movements, by "mindful breathing" which focusses the mind on slow, rhythmic, abdominal breathing.

During the actual exercises, the mind leads the movement by imaging it. Brother Max cites the example of a practitioner moving in such a manner as if rowing a boat. The mind visualizes the body in action of rowing a boat, and watches the body doing so. In this way, the mind and the body are brought "into harmony." In Taoist philosophy, this process is referred to as "emptying the mind," and once achieved, it is at this point of emptiness that the unconscious mind becomes receptive to the cosmic chi.

All this is in sharp contrast to what is proper to Christianity. For Catholics and Christians alike, the approach of emptying oneself in no way implies a disconnect with the true God of Israel. The emptying of oneself that God requires is a renunciation of personal selfishness, and not the renunciation of those created things that God has given us, and has placed among us for our earthly pilgrimage. Pope Emeritus Benedict XI, then Cardinal Ratzinger, clearly makes point understood in his Letter to The Bishops of the Catholic Church on Some Aspects of Christian Meditation:
On this topic St. Augustine is an excellent teacher: if you want to find God, he says, abandon the exterior world and re-enter into yourself. However, he continues, do not remain in yourself, but go beyond yourself because you are not God: He is deeper and greater than you. "I look for his substance in my soul and I do not find it; I have however meditated on the search for God and, reaching out to him, through created things, I have sought to know 'the invisible perfections of God' (Rom 1:20)." "To remain in oneself": this is the real danger. The great Doctor of the Church recommends concentrating on oneself, but also transcending the self which is not God, but only a creature. God is "deeper than my inmost being and higher than my greatest height." In fact God is in us and with us, but he transcends us in his mystery. (19)
How tai chi has entered and gained acceptance in predominantly Christian countries

Brother Max answers this question, drawing from the Australian experience. He explains that originally, tai chi had to overcome two obstacles. The first was to gain acceptance for such a gentle, non-physical art in such a sporting nation. The second wast to gain acceptance in a country with a significant amount of Christians, many of whom would be inclined to look upon tai chi with suspicion, especially coming from pagan China.

These two obstacles did not discourage tai chi masters, who set out with determination and shrewdness to overcome them. An opportunity presented itself in the 1980s, when tai chi was marketed as a remedy to the increased levels of distress that many Australians were coping with.

Proponents of tai chi successfully marketed it to those with Christians who had a very limited, if any, understanding of Taoist philosophy. As Br. Max notes, "While presenting chi as intrinsic energy or life-force, not as a divine force, proponents and teachers often fail to mention the underlying philosophy that all created things are divine manifestations of chi and that the ultimate purpose of tai chi is to enable the practitioner to become divine." (81) Considering those who it was marketed to, such a deceptive presentation would fail to raise any concerns.

The fact remains that engaging in forms of meditation that induce altered states of consciousness is sufficient to create changes in one's belief system.

Is it appropriate for Christians practice tai chi?

Brother Max answers this question in chapter eight's, To Chi or Not To Chi. He first begins by asking the important question, "So is tai chi compatible with Christianity?" His reply, "My answer is a definite No." (99)

Christians who practice tai chi place themselves in serious spiritual danger. Those that know the truth about tai chi, clearly understand that its philosophy leads to the worship of a false god, resulting in the development of occult powers in the pursuit of becoming divine. Even if one attempted to distance oneself from the philosophy, the techniques involved with "meditation in movement" are so significant that they alter the practitioner's state of consciousness. An emptied mind coupled with a passive will exposes the practitioner to the danger of demonic influence, that in an advanced state of "enlightenment," could lead to demonic possession.

It is with this knowledge that Christians need to make a decision, either they are for Christ or against Him. Brother Max makes that decision crystal clear, citing Saint Paul Letter to the Corinthians, "You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons." (1 Corinthians 10:21)

I think this is an especially important reference to focus on because it really puts the practice of tai chi into perspective. What St. Paul wrote about in that scripture passage, idol worship, is disguised today in many forms, one of which is through the doorway of solutions to good health and a stress free life. Saint Paul's admonition to flea from the worship of idols is something that all Christians should pay heed to.

This is how Brother Max applied St. Paul's admonition to tai chi, prompting Christians to ask a very important question, "The tai chi-er who makes a total surrender of mind and heart to the cosmic chi is performing a personal act of worship to a non-existent idol which masks demonic powers, and in doing so, runs the serious danger of being in communion with demons. Should such a person be approaching the altar of the Lord?" (102)

Another aspect of tai chi that should alarm Christians to its dangers, is the potential for practitioners to obtain a variety of super-human powers that are demonic in their origin. Through the combination of mind altering techniques, and the worshipful surrender to false gods of chi, adepts have acquired super-human powers that defy rational explanation: feats of extraordinary physical and aggressive strength, seemingly miraculous healings, predicting the future, reading minds, astral projection, and communicating with the spirit world.

The practice of tai chi brings with it an altered state of consciousness that combined with idol worship induces communion with the demonic. It is at this communion with demons that supernatural powers are produced in the adept. Some may perceive such powers as identical to the Christian charismatic gifts of the Holy Spirit, but this is nothing but a attempt by Satan to counterfeit authentic Christian gifts, something that Satan is capable of doing. For anyone seeking to determine the source of any package of "gifts," one only look to the actual gifts and how they are used. As Br. Max states, if these gifts are used for channelling, then such gifts are contrary to biblical teaching and occultic. He goes on to further state that, "Suffice to say that if such extraordinary gifts are exercised by someone claiming either to be a god or on the path to divinity, then such gifts come not from the Spirit of God but from Satan." (104)

One final point that I will include from Br. Max's answer to whether or not Christians should practice tai chi, spotlights the false claim made by some Christians involved in tai chi, that they neither accept the Taoist philosophy nor perform any mind altering techniques. As Br. Max states, any tai chi master would deplore such a hollowed-out version of the art. According to such claims, a person would not be performing tai chi, but a graceful from of callisthenics. Brother Max goes on to explain that, if one performs these "graceful callisthenics," not part of a tai chi class or watching a tai chi video, then it would appear there is no spiritual danger. On the other hand, if one is participating as a member of a tai chi class, then one can be influenced unconsciously by the occult power emanating from the teacher or others in the class. (107)

My concluding thoughts

Since my initial post on Yoga, Tai Chi and Reiki: A Guide For Christians, in February'2014, I have had the opportunity to discuss the dangers of these New Age and occult practices with a few individuals. From these exchanges, there were a few that listened attentively, some politely rebuked me, while others simply did not take it seriously. 

It seems that most of those who I have communicated with, fall into the skeptic category. Why are they so skeptical. I can not say for certain, but I suspect there a few reasons:
  1. The message is simply discarded because of the messenger.
  2. Due to some actually being practitioners of these "energy systems," the claims that I have proposed, in their view, do not match the reality of their experiences.
  3. The mention of the spiritual battle, the demonic or Satan, is considered by some, the talk of fanatics.
  4. Most if not all, have neither experienced the dangers themselves; nor have they ever seen or know of anyone else who has; therefore, my claims are non-sense.
  5. They personalize the issue in other ways; some women derived a perceived "positive experience" with their girlfriends at yoga classes, and so the mention of ASCs and the demonic was completely preposterous.
Although Satan successfully convinces many that he does not exist, the reality is, he does exist. Those that don't believe in the devil, don't believe in the Gospel. 

Perhaps it would be most fitting to mention Giotto di Bondone's fresco, depicting the expulsion of the devils from Arezzo, by the Franciscan Friar Brother Sylvester. He was sent by St. Francis of Assisi to rid the town from these unseen enemies who had besieged Arezzo, causing discord and division amongst the townspeople. Saint Francis' instructions were simple and clear, "Go up to the town gate," he said, "and in the name of almighty God command the devils in virtue of obedience to go away immediately." (St. Bonaventure's Major Life of St. Francis, Chapter VI, No.9.) Brother Sylvester did what he was told. The devils were immediately expelled, and all arguments, resentment, anger and hatred ceased; peace was restored.

May we never be so foolish or prideful to think that demonic influence has nothing to do with the New Age and occult practices.

May we repeat the well known prayer, etched in the St. Benedict Medal, as our renewed fidelity to Christ, and our renouncement of Satan, "Crux sacra sit mihi lux! Nunquam draco sit mihi dux!" The English translation, "May the holy cross always be my light! May the dragon never be my guide!"

Thursday, March 31, 2016

The Hour of Great Mercy

Divine Mercy image that includes St. Pope John Paul II and Sister Faustina
The Divine Mercy Image, Saints Pope John Paul II and Faustina Kowalska

With the Divine Mercy Novena well underway, and millions of Catholics around the world seeking to receive the plenary indulgence on April 3, this year's date for Divine Mercy Sunday, I thought it fitting to publish today's post on the Hour of Great Mercy.

The Hour of Great Mercy is privileged time, an opportunity to receive Jesus' mercy anew, everyday at 3:00pm, the hour of His death on the Cross. This privilege was established by Jesus in the late 1930's through His chosen vessel, Sister Faustina, a young Polish Catholic nun who published a diary several hundred pages long documenting all that Jesus communicated to her. Here is what Jesus stated regarding the Hour of Great Mercy:
At three o'clock, implore My mercy, especially for sinners; and, if only for a brief moment, immerse yourself in My Passion, particularly in My abandonment at the moment of agony. This is the hour of great mercy ... In this hour I will refuse nothing to the soul that makes a request of Me in virtue of My Passion. (Diary 1320).
Jesus also requested that at the Hour of Great Mercy, we implore His mercy upon the whole world. With all the problems in the world today, we do not need much convincing of the necessity of His mercy: the Christian persecution and genocide in the Middle East, and other acts of terror and violence by Muslims in the name of Islam, abortion, contraception, death penalty, euthanasia and assisted suicide, pornography/pornovision; alcohol and other drug addictions; human exploitation and trafficking, the indoctrination of children with sexual immorality from inappropriate education curriculums, and the list goes on. Here is what Jesus instructed Sister Faustina regarding His mercy upon the whole world:
As often as you hear the clock strike the third hour immerse yourself completely in My mercy, adoring and glorifying it, invoke it's omnipotence for the whole world, and particularly for poor sinners, for at that moment mercy was opened wide for every soul. In this hour you can obtain everything for yourself and for others for the asking; it was the hour of grace for the whole world - mercy triumphed over justice. (Diary 1572)
Whatever problems may exist in our lives, we must never give into despair, depression, fear, disheartenment or discouragement of any kind, because available everyday to each one of us is Jesus' mercy. Below is a note of hope and encouragement from Saint Pope John Paul II on Jesus' Divine Mercy, from his homily on the canonization of Sister Mary Faustina Kowalska, Sunday, April 30, 2000:
Each person is precious in God's eyes; Christ gave his life for each one; to everyone the Father gives his Spirit and offers intimacy. (6)
This consoling message is addressed above all to those who, afflicted by a particularly harsh trial or crushed by the weight of the sins they committed, have lost all confidence in life and are tempted to give in to despair. To them the gentle face of Christ is offered; those rays from his heart touch them and shine upon them, warm them, show them the way and fill them with hope. How many souls have been consoled by the prayer "Jesus, I trust in you", which Providence intimated through Sr Faustina! This simple act of abandonment to Jesus dispels the thickest clouds and lets a ray of light penetrate every life. Jezu,ufam tobie. (7)
Jesus did not dictate what the exact wording of prayer should be at 3:00pm, but He did provide some recommendations:
Try your best to make the Stations of the Cross in this hour, provided that your duties permit it; and if you are not able to make the Stations of the Cross, then at least step into the chapel for a moment and adore, in the Most Blessed Sacrament. My Heart, which is full of mercy: and should you be unable to step into chapel, immerse yourself in prayer there where you happen to be, if only for a very brief instant. (Diary 1572)
What is to be understood about prayer at the Hour of Great Mercy is that it should meet these specific conditions: that it be said at 3:00 pm to honour the moment of Jesus’ agony on the Cross; it should be addressed to Jesus directly, and not to God the Father, the Blessed Mother or Saint Faustina (not that we can not beg for mercy together with Mary standing beneath the Cross and together with Saint Faustina) because as Jesus stated, "I will refuse nothing to the soul that makes a request of Me..." (Diary 1320); and in its entreaties, the prayer should refer to the values and merits of His sorrowful passion. 

To clarify further, our prayer should be in the form of the following expression: "Through the merits of Your sorrowful Passion, we ask You, Lord..." It is important to note that our prayer should not include the intercession of the Blessed Mother or Saint Faustina because saying such a prayer we would refer to the values and merits of the Mother of God or saints. This is contrary to what Jesus wants; that is, we are to refer to the merits of His Passion. Our prayer intentions during the Hour of Great Mercy should be according with the will of God, which pertains to all prayers. The prayer itself should be trustful, and it should also be combined with deeds of mercy toward our neighbour, which is a fundamental condition for practicing true devotion to the Divine Mercy.

It is also important to understand the Hour of Great Mercy is a separate form of devotion to the Divine Mercy, in which Jesus associated a specific promise with it, and how it should be practicedSome may not understand this, and assume that other prayers from the Divine Mercy Devotion, such as the chaplet, should be recited at this Hour of Great Mercy. This was never the instruction of Jesus. Although the chaplet to the Divine Mercy can be recited afterwards, it should not be "the" prayer you recite at the Hour of Great Mercy. The reason being is that the chaplet is directed to God the Father (Eternal father, I offer you…), and the prayer at the Hour of Great Mercy is to be addressed to Jesus directly.

Taking time out at 3:00pm each day, no matter where you are, what you are doing, or who you are with, always affords you an opportunity to not only receive His great mercy, but to have a closer relationship with Jesus. It is a time to meditate upon His mercy revealed in His passion, and to implore His mercy upon the whole world, yourself, and those you mention in prayer.