Richard S. Vosko

Musings on religion, art and architecture

7th Sunday Easter Homily: Yoga and Union With God


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 [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 [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 [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 [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


Author: Richard S. Vosko

Richard S. Vosko, Ph.D., Hon. AIA, is an internationally known sacred space planner. He is a presbyter in the Diocese of Albany who enjoys the classroom as much as the pulpit. On Sundays he presides at worship at St. Vincent de Paul Parish, Albany, NY. For more information on Vosko’s background, his projects, publications and speaking engagements please go to his website. For his homilies and occasional musings about religion, art and architecture go to his blog. Comments, questions and suggestions are always welcomed there.

4 thoughts on “7th Sunday Easter Homily: Yoga and Union With God

  1. At face value, the last several weeks of lessons about the current state of affairs in the church is depressing. I reminds me of the saying “2000 years ago Jesus came to point the way and we have spent 2000 years arguing about his finger”. We see a trend to reverse some of the gains of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council. We are reminded of the lost opportunities when we allow “Mother Church” to be led by nothing but celibate elderly men. We are reminded of the fear based, ignorant approach of the Church to other spiritual traditions. The homophobic, sexist , classist, rigid, fear based positions and stupid comments are frankly sad. Attempts to open dialogue in any meaningful way can feel as useful as rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. If that is where it ends, I would be angry at Fr.Vosko for reminding me of the things that I try to forget in order to stay comfortably Catholic. However, this courageous dialogue is not the end but the hopeful invitation.It allows me to consider the possibililties for re-forming the church. Discussing difficult issues must lead to the real possibility for empowerment. If not, it’s just plain depressing. Hope and despair must both be present for change and growth to occur. God is alive in the Church leaders and laity alike. I do not think it’s appropriate to presume to tell Fr. Vosko what to think, or to preach about. Certainly, almost anything “too progressive” invites the possibility for nastiness and criticism. But, for myself, I find hope in Jesus Christ’s courageous radical mission and, the reality of the tradition of the rise of great reformers at key moments of the turning of the tide. I would like to open the dialogue or at least the radical thinking, that each of us is called to be Stephan, St. Theresa, St. Terese, Romero, Day, Faustina, etc. The great sweeping reformers are rare but reformation is a personal response. How big or sweeping the reform is not at issue. I would love to hear a homily about the biblical and Catholic tradition of reformers and prophets.Who are they, what moves them, how did they learn to trust and listen and act? It’s easy to talk about their service to the poor and love of the lowly but we rarely hear about the reality of the guts it took to say and do much of what they did. There are many among us(if we have the guts to listen) and there are many more to be cultivated by grace. All of the reformers have been unpopular but steadfast in mission. We are all called to be reformers in whatever way we can. I would love to explore our faith tradition of courage with limited or no regard to personal cost. The church doesn’t canonize living people for a reason. Mother Church has only the illusion of power really. No mother can control the thoughts, beliefs, actions and direction of her “rebellious teens” and mother church is no different. She cannot ever cut us off from the love of God and our love for one another. She cannot punish the truth out of existence. Jesus called us to be one with him and since he never backed down from the truth we have a model for acting with courage in this particular time in the history of our beloved catholic faith.


  2. A subject near and dear to my heart, being a teacher of yoga and meditation for the past 15 years. Yoga is not simply a series of exercises designed to make you fit, or more limber, it’s a practice designed to reconnect all parts of us – body, mind, heart and spirit. The word yoga means to “join” or “yoke”or bring together. Meditation, whether it is sitting in stillness, or some other form has as it’s function strengthening our tolerance for being present in our lives, as they truly are (not as we imagine them to be). At times when students have asked me the difference between prayer and meditation, I told them that I believed that prayer was talking with God and meditation was listening.
    Thank you so much for this clarifying information in this homily. I’ve always felt that these practices were not mutually exclusive, but could deepen and enhance one another.


  3. I worry that the Vatican, in its zeal as a protector of faith and tradition, might discourage people from seeking out meditation and other forms of mindfulness.

    Is it fear that the Catholic who practices yoga, for example, might lose his/her faith? Become a hippie and start singing “Age of Aquarius”?

    If that were to happen, then it seems that person wasn’t firmly rooted in faith.

    My Catholic faith strengthens my soul, and I’d think some yoga and quiet meditation might help my body and mind, and bring a sense of calm in these otherwise rancorous modern times.


  4. Thank you for this thoughtful homily. This is one of those many topics where we find much confusion that is often followed by, perhaps preceded by as well, fear.

    I am reminded that we are both Catholic and catholic, big and small c. Katha holos – according to the whole, universal. In such, at least as I have come to understand our faith, this means bringing it through and not just rejecting.

    For a number of years I had a yoga practice and I do not believe that it ever harmed my spiritual life or soul. Yoga, as Judi so wonderfully describes, is not just exercise, but about yoking, joining.

    In the studio that I attended, in another part of the state, yoga was very much about service and community. Two very Catholic/catholic things.

    And of course it included the very thing you emphasize so beautifully… Union with God.


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