Easter 7C – May 16, 2010 – Yoga & Union with God
Today’s Biblical Texts
The Hindu god Maharishi Patanjali is considered to be the Father of Yoga. 1  One of Patanjali’s sutras (or rules) describes sin as an obstacle to one’s ultimate union with God. It suggests that rather than spending energy feeling guilty about human imperfections a person could consider sin as an opportunity to turn back to God. Our own commandments tell us to stop doing whatever separates us from one another and from God. Prayer and meditation can help. According to Patanjali one way to reach oneness with God is to practice yoga.
There is one problem, however. Catholics have been led to believe that the Vatican absolutely opposes any “new age” methods of centering prayer like yoga. Two Vatican Pontifical Councils have issued a Christian Reflection about New Age spirituality. 2  Although that Reflection discourages what it calls self-serving spiritual practices there does not seem to be any specific prohibition against yoga. [Read also the two Presentation Papers]
Today’s scriptures offer us the chance to focus on establishing union with God and others. The obvious question is how do we go about doing so? Is faith enough? We all have that. How about charitable works? Yes, sometimes. Saying the rosary? Hmm. Can’t find your beads? How about sitting still for 30 minutes each day? Yah, right. We could follow the example of Stephen in the first reading. He testified that he saw Christ and God united in heaven; but then he was martyred. Nah, not your style.
So how does someone become one with God much less united with one another? The gospel reading is known as the priestly prayer of Jesus Christ. Knowing his life was about to end we hear Jesus, at a final supper, thanking God for the gift of the believers who followed him. The first part deals with us here on earth. Just what is expected of us as we strive for perfection in our own lives and those of others? We are called to work for unity. The second part points us to our destiny. Ultimately everything we do in the name of Christ here on earth positions us to be united with God forever. 3  Living to become one with God is our goal.
Can new age spirituality be so harmful to Christians who are focussed on Christ? One of the aspirations of new age religions is to connect with the cosmos and tap into the power of nature through meditation. In doing so a person senses a oneness with creation and everything and everyone in it. The second reading this morning refers to Christ as the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end. Our religion teaches that before the universe began Christ existed with the Creator God and the Holy Spirit. To find ways to connect with this Cosmic Christ is a healthy and holy practice.
It seems that the Pontifical Councils are concerned that new age religions emulate the values of a modern culture based on freedom, self reliance and relativism; that the practices are too self serving and can diminish the focus on Christ as the center of our lives. That Reflection admits that the widespread attraction to pre-Christian or Eastern religions does present a challenge to Catholicism today. It encourages Christians to stay the course and be faithful to the teachings and spiritual practices of the Church.
Fair enough. Whatever can make us more cognizant of each other’s rights, whatever can alert us to care for the planet, whatever can induce a respect for diversity is bound to bring us closer to God. We Catholics are known to be a Christo-centric sacrament of unity. 4  We cannot dismiss the strength of this common bond. We cooperate with one another in education and works of social justice. In our liturgies, we absorb God’s Word and share the Eucharistic meal for nourishment. That’s why it is such a joy to welcome our young sisters and brothers to this banquet this weekend ….
Our Christian Tradition holds many things in common with other religions. The desire to be one with God is one of those ideals and is bound to make us better human beings. Spiritual disciplines that help us focus on Christ and our place in God’s universe and, at the same time, bring us peace of mind and body, are good for us.
1. Swami Prabhavananda and Isherwood, Christopher, Trans. How to Know God: The Yoga Aphorisms of Patanjali (Hollywood CA: Vedanta, 2008)
2. Jesus Christ the Bearer of the Water of Life: A Christian Reflection on the “New Age” The Pontifical Council for Culture & The Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue.
3. Fuller, Reginald H. Preaching the Lectionary: The Word of God for the Church Today (The Liturgical Press, 1984 Revised Edition), p. 439-440.
4. Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, No. 26