We continue with my serialisation of a letter originally written in 2005 mainly (though not completely and entirely) for New Age friends – who could not comprehend how I could leave my Findhorn-New Age past behind in favour of the Catholic Church.
The series is subtitled “A Still Hesitant Apologetics”, because in 2005 I was still a fairly liberal Catholic struggling with my New Age past. And I spoke with old friends in a more tentative, less committed way than I would today.
Some of my turns of expression in this old letter might trouble Traditional Catholics. Such concern would be entirely legitimate. Since Vatican II, we have witnessed the most appalling (ab)uses of language to water down and often utterly distort Catholic teaching.
Today – through His Mercy – I feel a horror of these abuses that I could not yet feel in 2005. Still I maintain that if I had tried to reach my old friends in 2005 with a very traditional approach, I would have failed miserably.
“Talking to the New Age” is an important task and how we do that wisely will take a great deal of pondering …
Last time in this series, I attempted to convey an interior experience that was essential to my conversion – the turning point in my whole life, in fact.
But I also indicated that this turning point had not happened in isolation. It happened at the very point where I had begun to discover the Church. This discovery included both the Mass and beginning to read Catholic literature.
I rejoin the 2005 material at the point where I begin speaking about a most unusual Catholic author …
I also turned to the ‘esoteric Catholic’ book that has had the greatest impact of any book of my life. This is Meditations on the Tarot, by a deceased, anonymous author. Written by a moral genius of the highest order, an elderly man with the most lucid of thinking, and the warmest of hearts, I cannot begin to do justice to this world-changing book. So I will not even try.
If you are at all interested in what I say, I urge you to find and read this book – perhaps very slowly in the mornings, or whenever you are at your freshest and sharpest.
And for the sake of more traditional friends who may be troubled by me recommending a book on the Tarot (though no fortune telling is anywhere involved) – I also want to say that the book was given a foreword by no less than Hans urs von Balthasar, one of most beloved modern theologians of Bl. John Paul II and nominated by him as a Cardinal – the highest office in the Catholic Church (of which there are no more than 150 in the world). In his foreword, von Balthasar writes of this book on the Tarot:
“A thinking, praying Christian of unmistakable purity reveals to us the symbols of Christian Hermeticism in its various levels of mysticism, gnosis and magic, taking in also … certain elements of astrology and alchemy [seeking] to lead meditatively into the deeper, all-embracing wisdom of the Catholic Mystery.”
In relating this, I want to raise the question to my holistic friends, whether it may not be the simple truth, that although people can and do meet Christ outside the Church, this does not mean … ipso facto … that the Church is there for nothing.
As for myself, I am convinced it was hardly a co-incidence that the profound life event I have related – coincided with the first time in my life I had ever bothered to look at Catholic literature seriously. And that I had bothered to attend a Catholic Mass with real interest. And received a blessing in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit that shot through my cells.
For me, it is now transparent that the Church is there for something, incarnated in an institution. Now it is my experience that New Agers, who often profess not to have religious beliefs, often very much have beliefs about Christ.
These often involve, for example, the belief that what the Church teaches of Jesus is wrong.
To illustrate, I offer Christ’s words to Peter from the Gospel:
“You are Peter (Petros) and upon this rock (petra) I shall build my church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it (Matthew xvi, 17-18).”
If I were to cite this to many New Age friends, I can guarantee that several beliefs would come back in response.
They might run as follows: “Oh, Jesus didn’t say that. He couldn’t have. That was stuck in later by Church authorities to bolster their political power.”
Well, my friend, if this is what you are thinking, whether you are right or whether you are wrong – you have a belief about Christ there – perhaps even a dogma, in the sense of a solemn and definitive belief.
Other New Age friends might say, “Well, maybe Jesus did say something like that. But the Rock is surely not an institution. It simply couldn’t be an institution. The Rock is surely a state of consciousness …” Again, I would hear that a belief, if not a dogma is in place.
It is a belief that I suspect has more to do with a horror of institutions and yes, their long, terrible history of cruelty and violence – rather than a penetrating insight into the mind of Christ.
For my part, I recall that in taking up a whip against the moneylenders in the Temple, Christ was defending an institution. And that his entire teaching involved not in ditching the Hebrew religion, but transforming it.
In his book Soulution, William Bloom asserts his belief that ‘Holism recognises and deepens the essence of all religious traditions, perceiving what is best and most useful.’
All I can say is, that is not my experience.
I came to the depth of religion, not through pruning back to what I decided ‘was best and most useful’, but by participating fully in ways that run contrary to what Soulution advises.
I do not believe I could have ever found the depth of the Christianity, if I had followed William.
I think that “Holists” need to be very careful in asserting such beliefs. I might have made such an assertion myself in my Cambridge days. But the fact is, I had never practiced a religion before. Nor as far as I know, has William.
Therefore I, at least, had no experience of religion with which to compare my ‘Holism’ to. Now I do, and for me, the experience, within a religion is infinitely richer than the experience outside it …
Now, my journey with the Church began with my being baptised as an Anglican. Like many who may read this letter, at that point, I couldn’t imagine the idea of being Catholic. I felt privileged indeed to be baptised by a wise and loving Anglican priest (who had also studied Rudolf Steiner in depth). Later he also baptised Kim and married us in his church. For what this priest gave to us, we shall be forever grateful.
After this, we left the work in Cambridge, and moved to Switzerland. The impetus behind this move lay in the fact that my daughter Mary, had relocated there with her mother. This outer geographical relocation was also critical to my inner journey to Catholicism.
In Switzerland, I encountered a very remarkable priest. He had read the anonymous author of Meditations on the Tarot. He had even visited Findhorn. Against massed internal resistance – for I still had reserve about Catholicism – I felt an inner voice urging me to ask this priest to initiate me into the Roman Church. He arranged with his bishop to confirm both Kim and myself, and began to instruct us in Catholicism.
Our initiation involved receiving the Sacrament of Confession, and a striking visit to the home of the Swiss saint, Brother Klaus. At the culmination of a very rich journey, the priest confirmed us on Easter night, 2000. Tears are forming in my eyes as I write. I was utterly unprepared for the joy that I felt being received into the Catholic faith.
Later our daughter Mary was baptised by the same priest. My heart rises in my throat. Words cannot describe the sense of the miraculous, that accompanies these events orchestrated by Grace through a Catholic priest in Switzerland, to whom Kim, Mary and myself shall be forever indebted …
Yes, I know how many will say the mysterious, sacred joy of my conversion, is nothing other than a psychological crutch of assuming a collective identity to bolster the weakness of my individual one.
“Your joy was the joy of joining a tribe, because you are an emotional cripple,” is what many will think.
To this I would observe that the Catholic (and Eastern Orthodox) Churches have maintained for nearly two thousand years, that the heart of the Christianity is not a belief system imparted in Sunday sermons, but seven sacred channels – the Seven Sacraments – by which Christ imparts Himself to the Christian. Kim and I had just received the Sacrament of Confirmation, and, as far as I can see, the mysterious joy was to do with receiving Christ.
According to the teaching of the Catholic Church, the ‘source and summit’ of the Christian life, is the Sacrament of Sacraments, the Eucharist, or the Communion with Christ, through the transubstantiated bread and wine.
Needless to say, this Sacrament has become a key focus of my path. Kim and I go to Mass as often as we can. Ideally I would like to go daily. I also receive regularly the Sacrament of Penance – meaning kneeling in heartfelt confession and receiving Christ, not in the bread and wine, but in the absolution transmitted via the priest.
My experience of these Sacraments is very rich. It is very, very hard to do justice in words to it. But, even for hours afterwards, I feel this palpable sense of something in me that is still and wholesome – in the most beautiful sense of that world. Frequently on receiving the Sacraments, I also have key inspirations and insights. In fact, I believe the quality in the Sacraments is the same quality of incarnate sacred human-ness that I experienced for the first time, that night in September 1997.
For myself, I am clear the result of receiving these Sacraments week in, week out or more … is a healing and a cleansing, leading ever deeper into humanness. Holy Communion is Holy Communion, by which Christ calls us ever more deeply into a wholesome, incarnate and human condition.
To be Continued …
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