Born in London, England in 1823 to an Anglican family, Augusta Theodosia Drane converted to Roman Catholicism in 1850 and shortly thereafter entered the Dominican Sisters of Stone, where she received the name Sister Francis Raphael. Since Drane was already an established author when she entered the congregation she continued to publish under her former name. She served as mistress of novices, mistress of studies and then prioress general. Sister Francis Raphael produced nineteen books of catechetics, history, biography, drama and poetry. Among her works are a two volume definitive biography of Saint Catherine of Siena and a biography of Saint Dominic. She died in 1894.
What the Soul Desires is from Drane’s collection of poems, Songs in the Night. In the poem the author expresses her frustration and sorrow about a fleeting mystical experience that never recurred. The poem was reprinted in The Oxford Book of Mystical Verse.
-by Augusta Theodosia Drane (1823–1894), aka Mother Francis Raphael, OP -Nicholson & Lee, eds. The Oxford Book of English Mystical Verse. 1917.
There Thou wilt show me what my soul desired; There Thou wilt give at once, O my Life, what Thou gavest me the other day! (St. John of the Cross. Spiritual Canticle, Stanza xxxviii)
“THERE is a rapture that my soul desires,
There is a something that I cannot name;
I know not after what my soul aspires,
Nor guess from whence the restless longing came;
But ever from my childhood have I felt it,
In all things beautiful and all things gay,
And ever has its gentle, unseen presence
Fallen, like a shadow-cloud, across my way
It is the melody of all sweet music,
In all fair forms it is the hidden grace;
In all I love, a something that escapes me,
Flies my pursuit, and ever veils its face.
I see it in the woodland’s summer beauty,
I hear it in the breathing of the air;
I stretch my hands to feel for it, and grasp it,
But ah! too well I know, it is not there.
In sunset-hours, when all the earth is golden,
And rosy clouds are hastening to the west,
I catch a waving gleam, and then ’tis vanished,
And the old longing once more fills my breast.
It is not pain, although the fire consumes me,
Bound up with memories of my happiest years;
It steals into my deepest joys—O mystery!
It mingles, too, with all my saddest tears.
Once, only once, there rose the heavy curtain,
The clouds rolled back, and for too brief a space
I drank in joy as from a living fountain,
And seemed to gaze upon it, face to face:
But of that day and hour who shall venture
With lips untouched by seraph’s fire to tell?
I saw Thee, O my Life! I heard, I touched Thee,—
Then o’er my soul once more the darkness fell.
The darkness fell, and all the glory vanished;
I strove to call it back, but all in vain:
O rapture! to have seen it for a moment!
O anguish! that it never came again!
That lightning-flash of joy that seemed eternal,
Was it indeed but wandering fancy’s dream?
Ah, surely no! that day the heavens opened,
And on my soul there fell a golden gleam.
O Thou, my Life, give me what then Thou gavest!
No angel vision do I ask to see,
I seek no ecstasy of mystic rapture,
Naught, naught, my Lord, my Life, but only Thee!
That golden gleam hath purged my sight, revealing,
In the fair ray reflected from above,
Thyself, beyond all sight, beyond all feeling,
The hidden Beauty, and the hidden Love.
As the hart panteth for the water-brooks,
And seeks the shades whence cooling fountains burst;
Even so for Thee, O Lord, my spirit fainteth,
Thyself alone hath power to quench its thirst.
Give me what then Thou gavest, for I seek it
No longer in Thy creatures, as of old,
I strive no more to grasp the empty shadow,
The secret of my life is found and told!”
“Perfect in purity of heart, perfect in compassion and love, perfect in obedience, perfect in conformity to the will of the Father, perfect in holiness — when we hear these words we can be understandably tempted to discouragement, thinking that perfection for us is impossible. And indeed, left to our own resources, it certainly is — just as impossible as it is for rich people to enter heaven, or for a man and a woman to remain faithful their whole lives in marriage. But with God, all things are possible, even our transformation.
John Paul II — and he himself may be among those recognized as a Doctor one day — in his prophetic interpretation of the events of the second half of the twentieth century and the beginning of the twenty-first, Novo Millennio Ineunte (NMI), points out that the Holy Spirit is again bringing to the forefront of the Church’s consciousness the conviction that these words of Jesus are indeed meant for every single one of us. He points out that the Jubilee of the year 2000 was simply the last phase of a period of preparation and renewal that had been going on for forty years, in order to equip the Church for the challenges of the new millennium.
Pope John Paul II speaks of three rediscoveries to which the Holy Spirit has led the Church beginning with the Second Vatican Council, which concluded in 1965. One of these rediscoveries is the rediscovery of the “universal call to holiness.”
All the Christian faithful, of whatever state or rank, are called to the fullness of the Christian life and to the perfection of charity. (NMI 30; cf. LG 40) John Paul further emphasizes that this call to the fullness of holiness is an essential part of being a Christian.
To ask catechumens: “Do you wish to receive Baptism?” means at the same time to ask them: “Do you wish to become holy?” It means to set before them the radical nature of the Sermon on the Mount: “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt. 5:48). . . . The time has come to re-propose wholeheartedly to everyone this high standard of ordinary Christian living: the whole life of the Christian community and of Christian families must lead in this direction. (NMI 30, 31)
Before we go much further in our examination of the spiritual journey, let’s take an initial look at what “holiness” really means. In the Book of Ephesians we read, “He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him” (Eph. 1:4).
To be holy is not primarily a matter of how many Rosaries we say or how much Christian activity we’re engaged in; it’s a matter of having our heart transformed into a heart of love. It is a matter of fulfilling the great commandments which sum up the whole law and the prophets: to love God and our neighbor, wholeheartedly. Or as Teresa of Avila puts it, holiness is a matter of bringing our wills into union with God’s will.
Thérèse of Lisieux expresses it very similarly: “Perfection consists in doing His will, in being what He wills us to be . . . who resists His grace in nothing.” As she said towards the very end of her life: “I do not desire to die more than to live; it is what He does that I love.”
John Paul II goes on to call the parishes of the third millennium to become schools of prayer and places where “training in holiness” is given.
Our Christian communities must become genuine “schools” of prayer, where the meeting with Christ is expressed not just in imploring help but also in thanksgiving, praise, adoration, contemplation, listening and ardent devotion, until the heart truly “falls in love.” . . . It would be wrong to think that ordinary Christians can be content with a shallow prayer that is unable to fill their whole life.” (NMI 33)
John Paul cites several reasons why this turn to holiness of life and depth in prayer is important. Besides the fact that it is quite simply part and parcel of the Gospel message, he points out that the supportive culture of “Christendom” has virtually disappeared and that Christian life today has to be lived deeply, or else it may not be possible to live it at all. He also points out that in the midst of this world-wide secularization process there is still a hunger for meaning, for spirituality, which is sometimes met by turning to non-Christian religions. It is especially important now for Christian believers to be able to respond to this hunger and “show to what depths the relationship with Christ can lead” (NMI 33, 40).
Recognizing how challenging this call is, John Paul makes clear that it will be difficult to respond adequately without availing ourselves of the wisdom of the mystical tradition of the Church — that body of writings and witness of life that focuses on the process of prayer and stages of growth in the spiritual life. He tells us why the mystical tradition is important and what we can expect it to provide for us.
This great mystical tradition . . . shows how prayer can progress, as a genuine dialogue of love, to the point of rendering the person wholly possessed by the divine Beloved, vibrating at the Spirit’s touch, resting filially within the Father’s heart. (NMI 33)
These are truly extraordinary words that John Paul uses here, words to which we will need to return in the course of this book. How is this extraordinary depth of union with the Trinity possible? It is indeed the answer to this question that the mystical tradition gives us and that this book will attempt to clearly communicate. John Paul makes clear that this depth of union isn’t just for a few unusual people (“mystics”) but is a call that every Christian receives from Christ Himself. “This is the lived experience of Christ’s promise: ‘He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him’ (Jn. 14:21).” (NMI 32)
Then John Paul summarizes some of the main wisdom taught by the mystical tradition about the spiritual journey, wisdom that we will pay close attention to in the course of this book.
It is a journey totally sustained by grace, which nonetheless demands an intense spiritual commitment and is no stranger to painful purifications (the “dark night”). But it leads, in various possible ways, to the ineffable joy experienced by the mystics as “nuptial union.” How can we forget here, among the many shining examples, the teachings of Saint John of the Cross and Saint Teresa of Avila? (NMI 32)
These four principles that John Paul identifies are basic to a proper understanding of the spiritual journey.
1. Union with God of this depth is totally unattainable by our own efforts; it is a gift that only God can give; we are totally dependent on His grace for progress in the spiritual life. Yet we know also that God is eager to give this grace and bring us to deep union.
2. Without Him, we can do nothing, but with Him all things are possible (cf. Jn. 14:45, Lk. 18:27, Phil. 4:13). Without God, successfully completing the journey is impossible, but with Him, in a sense, we are already there. He is truly both the Way and the destination; and our lives are right now, hidden with Christ, in God (Col. 3:3).
3. At the same time our effort is indispensable. Our effort is not sufficient to bring about such union, but it is necessary. The saints speak of disposing ourselves for union. The efforts we make help dispose us to receive the gifts of God. If we really value something we must be willing to focus on doing those things that will help us reach the goal. And yet without God’s grace we cannot even know what’s possible, or desire it, or have the strength to make any efforts towards it. It’s God’s grace that enables us to live the necessary “intense spiritual commitment.”
“You will seek the LORD your God and you will find him, if you search after him with all your heart and with all your soul” (Deut. 4:29).
4. As the Gospel tells us, it’s important to assess what’s required before undertaking a task (before starting to build a tower, or entering into a battle in war) if we want to successfully complete it. Much has to change in us in order to make us capable of deep union with God. The wounds of both original sin and our personal sins are deep and need to be healed and transformed in a process that has its necessarily painful moments. The pain of purification is called by John of the Cross the “dark night.” It is important not to be surprised by the painful moments of our transformation but to know that they’re a necessary and blessed part of the whole process.
“Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22).
And finally, we need to know that all the effort and pain is worth it! Infinitely worth it. The pain of the journey will appear in retrospect to have been light, compared to the weight of glory that we were being prepared for (see 2 Cor. 4:1618).
Deep union (the “nuptial union” or “spiritual marriage” or “transforming union”) is possible even in this life. Teresa of Avila tells us that there’s no reason that someone who reaches a basic stability in living a Catholic life (“mansion” three in her classification system) can’t proceed all the way to “spiritual marriage” in this life (“mansion” seven).
All of these principles will be explored in-depth in later chapters. Now we need to recognize the significance of the “rediscovery” of the universal call to holiness and determine our own response to the call.
We all probably know in some way that we’re called to holiness but perhaps struggle to respond.Feeling the challenge of the call and yet seeing the obstacles, it is easy to rationalize delaying or compromising and avoid a wholehearted and immediate response.
It is not uncommon, for example, to “pass the buck” to others whom we deem in a better position to respond wholeheartedly. Those of us who are Catholic lay people often look at our busy lives and sluggish hearts and suppose that priests and nuns are in a better position to respond to the call. After all, we may think to ourselves, that’s what we pay them for! We may think that when our kids are grown, or when we retire, or after a business crisis passes, or when we don’t have to care for ailing parents, or when we get a better job, or when we get married, or . . . that then we’ll be in a better position to respond.
Unfortunately, being a priest or nun doesn’t eliminate temptations to also “pass the buck.” With the reduction in numbers, it is understandably easy for priests and nuns to feel overwhelmed by their responsibilities and have such a busy pace of life that they might suppose that it’s the cloistered orders who are truly in a good position to respond wholeheartedly to the call to holiness.
But even in cloistered orders, it’s possible to rationalize and “pass the buck.” What with caring for guests, overseeing building renovations, attending monastic conferences, or making cheese, bread, or jams, it’s possible to suppose that it’s the hermit who really can respond wholeheartedly.
But even being a hermit doesn’t guarantee such a response. After all, hermits need to work out a rule of life, have meetings with superiors to review it, make sure their medical insurance is covering them properly, deal with internal and external distractions and temptations, and maybe even contribute to a newsletter for hermits!
What really holds us back from a wholehearted response to the call of Jesus, of Vatican II, of the repeated urgings of the Spirit, is not really the external circumstances of our lives, but the interior sluggishness of our hearts. We need to be clear that there will never be a better time or a better set of circumstances than now to respond wholeheartedly to the call to holiness. Who knows how much longer we’ll be alive on this earth? We don’t know how long we’ll live or what the future holds. Now is the acceptable time. The very things we think are obstacles are the very means God is giving us to draw us to depend more deeply on Him.
Or sometimes what holds us back from responding wholeheartedly in our present circumstances is believing that we don’t have to focus too much on that right now, because sooner or later any purification needed will be taken care of in purgatory. There are a few problems with this way of thinking.
It’s true that sometimes we don’t hit the goal we’re aiming at, and it’s good to have a backup. If we aim for heaven at the moment of our death, and indeed die in friendship with Christ but haven’t been transformed enough to be ready for the sight of God, purgatory is a wonderful blessing. But if we aim for purgatory and miss, there really isn’t a good backup available.
The source of all our unhappiness and misery is sin and its effects, and the sooner the purification of sin and its effects can take place in our life, the happier we will be and the better able to truly love others. Only then will we be able to enter into the purpose God has for our life. Truly, in this case, better sooner than later.
And finally, it’s important to realize that there is only one choice; either to undergo complete transformation and enter heaven, or be eternally separated from God in hell. There are only two ultimate destinations, and if we want to enter heaven we must be made ready for the sight of God. Holiness isn’t an “option.” There are only saints in heaven; total transformation is not an “option” for those interested in that sort of thing, but is essential for those who want to spend eternity with God.
Strive for peace with all men, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. (Heb. 12:14)
The whole purpose of our creation, the whole purpose of our redemption is so that we may be fully united with God in every aspect of our being. We exist for union; we were created for union; we were redeemed for eternal union. The sooner we’re transformed the happier and the more “fulfilled” we’ll be. The only way to the fulfillment of all desire is to undertake and complete the journey to God.
In the Old Testament it was clear that to actually see God in our untransformed human condition was to be destroyed.
Then Moses said, “Do let me see your glory!” He answered, “I will make all my beauty pass before you, and in your presence I will pronounce my name, “Lord”; I who show favors to whom I will, I who grant mercy to whom I will. But my face you cannot see, for no man sees me and still lives.” (Ex. 33:1820, NAB) We exist for union; we were created for union; we were redeemed for eternal union.
It is only Jesus who sees the face of the Father, and it is through Jesus that we can be made ready to share in His vision of the Father. It is through our union with Jesus, our contemplation of His “face,” that we are, little by little, transformed and made ready for the beatific vision, which is so much more than what we commonly understand as “seeing”; it is indeed a participation in the ecstatic knowing and loving of the Trinity, a participation in Love itself.
When Pope John Paul considered what was the most important legacy of the Jubilee year 2000 that should be carried forward into the new millennium, this is what he said: “But if we ask what is the core of the great legacy it leaves us, I would not hesitate to describe it as the contemplation of the face of Christ” (NMI 15).
Bernard of Clairvaux expands our vision of what it means to contemplate the face of Christ by pointing out that we “look upon the Son in the Father and the Father in the Son.” Bernard also wholeheartedly encourages us to undertake the journey.
Come then, follow, seek him; do not let that unapproachable brightness and glory hold you back from seeking him or make you despair of finding him. “If you can believe all things are possible to him who believes” (Mk. 9:22). “The Word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (Rom. 10:8). Believe, and you have found him. Believing is having found. The faithful know that Christ dwells in their hearts by faith (Eph. 3:17). What could be nearer? Therefore seek him confidently, seek him faithfully, “The Lord is good to the soul who seeks him” (Lam. 3:25). Seek him in your prayers, follow him in your actions, find him in faith. And, of course, this wholehearted seeking of the Lord, this contemplation of Christ, is a central part of the message of Scripture.
And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. (2 Cor. 3:18)
This Scripture text is a powerful summary of the process of transformation, which we will now begin to examine in some detail.”
John Paul II, Apostolic Letter at the Close of the Jubilee Year Novo Millennio Ineunte (January 6, 2001). Available from www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/apost_letters/index.htm. (hereafter cited in text as NMI)
The other two rediscoveries that John Paul II identifies are “the Church as communion” and “the charismatic dimension” of the Church.
Thérèse of Lisieux, Story of a Soul, trans. John Clarke, OCD (Washington, DC: ICS Publications, 1996), chap. 1, p. 14.
Thérèse of Lisieux, Story of a Soul, epilogue, p. 264.
Teresa uses the image of the soul as a grand castle with many concentric layers of mansions or grouping of rooms. She explains the spiritual journey in terms of moving from the outer rooms into the very center of the soul, where the Lord Himself is. The first mansion is the outermost mansion and the seventh mansion the innermost.
Bernard of Clairvaux, On the Song of Songs, vol. IV, sermon 76, no. 6, p. 114.
This may sound strange, I understand. But, for some reason, my ENTIRE LIFE, I have been asking myself the question every moment of every day, since I can remember, back into the single digits, “Am I ready?” I don’t know why I have asked myself this question. Even if it’s all not true, that is the definition of faith, it helped me lead a better life.
It doesn’t matter how rich we are, or how popular we are, or how powerful we are: we are all going to “kick the bucket” one day. Isn’t that a nice thought?
What we have to do is take some time to sit and meditate about taking our last breath. What do you want your wife to say about you? What do you want your kids to say about you? Once you’ve decided, “Okay, when I am taking my last breath this is what I want”, you can start living your life with your end goal in mind. You will start living in such a way that when the day of your death happens, the people who know you will say what you want them to say.
Death is the ultimate thing that takes control out of our hands. Even if we commit suicide, we cannot control what happens after we die. Not one of us had control over our own birth and not one of us has control of what happens after we die.
I have been to a lot of deathbeds throughout my priesthood, so I know what it is going to be like when you are dying. While you are lying there, the thing that is going to be most important to you is your relationships—the people that you loved and the people that in return loved you.
Then why don’t we live every day with that in mind?Make the decision to never let your wife or your kids go to bed or walk out the door without telling them first that you love them—life is just too short! It will change your family. It will change the world.
You should underline John 15:12 in your Bible, where Jesus commands us, “Love one another as I have loved you.” This is not an option. He also said, “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you” (Jn 15:9). Jesus told the people He loved that He loved them.
Why is it that men do not do that? Men are embarrassed. They are afraid. It makes them vulnerable. They think to be a man, you don’t go around telling the people you love that you love them; but Jesus told twelve men that He loved them. Then He told us to love others in the same way.
Let me give you a hint: you will never in your life regret that you told your wife and your kids and the people you love that you love them—never. You won’t be lying on your deathbed one day saying, “I can’t believe that I daily told my loved ones that I loved them. What is the matter with me?”
Now, how do you fall in love with someone? You know that you did not get to know your future wife by meeting her once and giving her forty five minutes to an hour once a week. You spent time with her. You got to know her. The same is true with our relationship with God. It might take you months—it might take you years—but you have to do it. You have to keep spending time with God until the answer to the question of whether or not you know God is unequivocally yes.
We need to know who our true Father is. There’s only one Father for everybody: God the Father! That guy you call your dad, he’s the instrument of fatherhood, but he’s not your true Father.
When we talk about our fathers—whether we had a good father, a bad father, a close and supportive father, or a distant and unsupportive father whom we did not know at all—it doesn’t matter as much because the reality is, we all have the same Father in heaven. It’s that Father Who will bring healing to us.
Husbands are called to love God primarily through their wives. Your wife is the sacrament of Christ to you. You are the sacrament of Christ to your wife. When she looks at you, she is supposed to see Jesus Christ. That is why Ephesians 5:22–24 is such a wonderful passage. It says, “Wives, be subject to your husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the Church, his body, and is himself its Savior. As the Church is subject to Christ, so let wives also be subject in everything to their husbands.” Many of us remember the translation that said that wives were to be “submissive to their husbands”. The problem is that many men just stop with their wives being “submissive”. The men love that part, which is why so many women go crazy.
I make this very explicit when I am preaching at a marriage ceremony. I start with the bride and I say, “Sweetheart, you read the Bible every day, don’t you?” At first I usually get a “Yes, Father”, and then I say kiddingly, “If you lie to a priest, you know, you go to hell.” Then she will usually quickly say, “Okay, no, Father.” Then I continue, “Well, there is a verse in Ephesians that says, ‘Wives, be submissive to your husbands, as to the Lord.’ ” And then I ask, “Do you think it means what it says?” And I always get an emphatic “No, Father!” Then I literally jump up and down and scream, “Yes, it means what it says!” When I say this, all the feminists in the crowd become very upset and say things like, “This is another reason I hate the Catholic Church.” And the bride thinks, “Why did we ever get this priest to marry us?” I love this!
Then, as anyone who knows me knows, I am an equal opportunity offender, so I turn to the groom, who usually likes all of this. Now it is time for the other shoe to fall. I then ask the groom, “You read the Bible every day, right?” He always responds, “No, Father.” Then I ask, “Well, do you know what it says in Ephesians after ‘Wives, be submissive to your husbands’?” The groom always shakes his head and says, “No.” Then I continue, “It says, ‘Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her.’ ” Then I ask, “Do you know what that means?” I then continue kiddingly, “Your life is over!” Then I tell them that every day they need to be more concerned about each other than they are about themselves! That is what marriage is about!
So you need to start to do at least one unselfish act for your wife every day. Surprise her. When was the last time you treated her the same way you did when you were still trying to get her to marry you?
Next, let us focus on your children, which I think is easier because they are a part of you. Do we allow our children to be themselves? Some people think that the best father you can be is a strong disciplinarian. Absolutely, I agree. But just as much as you discipline your children, you must also build them up.
Sometimes we are just harsh and we think this is what God wants, but that isn’t the way God is. God loves us. He gives away His life for us. And then He always tells us He loves us. Correct?
One of the roles that men have, given to them by God (see Gen 3:16; 1 Cor 11:3; Eph 5:23), is to be the spiritual leaders of their families. Now this is where I have called men “spiritual wimps” for many years. Many men have let their wives be the spiritual leaders of their families, but this is not the way God created it to be. Now this does not mean that you are the master of your wife and family; it means, like Jesus Christ, you are the servant leader of your family.
First off, this means that you lead by example. You must be a man of prayer. For it is only as a son who listens to his heavenly Father that you can bring the will of the Father to your family. You cannot be a good and true leader unless you are a true and good follower. You must daily spend committed time in prayer with God, then lead your family in prayer. Do you have daily committed time with your family in prayer? And no, grace before meals is not enough!
You need to be the spiritual leader by being a man of sacrifice. You exist to give your life away for others, like Jesus did. That means you give your life for your family first and foremost.
My good friend Danny Abramowicz loves to tell men at men’s conferences: “Men, your kids will always love their mother, but they want to become just like you!” If we are not holy ourselves, then our families will not be holy. It is that simple. God is going to speak to men, women, and children, but He is speaking especially to men to help us be His very image.
You are the sacrament of Fatherhood to your children just like St. Joseph was the sacrament of Fatherhood to Jesus. Just as God used St. Joseph to form Jesus Christ in His humanity, so too does He want to use you to form your children. So I would encourage you before you read any further to stop and ask St. Joseph for his intercession for you so you can grow in holiness.
The Lord God of the universe is calling all of us to be great men, men that are examples of Him and who use Him as our example. We are called to become another Christ in this world. Our goal is to bring others to Him.
Do it and you will live forever.”
Men are rediscovering the importance of the spiritual life. And Father Larry Richards is helping them do it. While some writers apply a one-size-fits-all approach to the Christian life, Father Richards draws on his many years of ministry and his own experience as a man to inspire other men as men.
In Be a Man!, he recounts his struggles to learn true manhood, as well as the inspiring stories of others he has served in his decades as a priest. He tells men how to focus on the right goal, how to live as a beloved son of God, of the need to acknowledge one’s faults and to live according to the Holy Spirit, to be a man of true love and of wisdom, to appreciate properly the differences between men and women, to pursue holiness, and to make a difference in the world. Not preachy but direct, Father Richards challenges men to be strong, without putting on a mask of false strength or machismo. He calls men to admit their weaknesses and limitations, while urging them to find strength in faith and genuine love to overcome their sins and faults.
Although a celibate priest, he minces no words when it comes to the place of sexuality–for the unmarried man as well as for the married man. He shows that true manliness is not opposed to love but thrives on it. Father Richards stresses that a relationship with Christ reveals the meaning of a man’s life and his identity as a man. He inspires men to become the true heroes they long to be–men of authentic courage, compassion and integrity. This is a highly readable book for men by a man who knows how to talk to men about the things that matter most.
“Father Larry talks straight to men in his own manly style. He pulls no spiritual punches–I don’t think he knows how to! He pokes, pushes, sometimes verbally slaps men into being God’s men, all with an obvious love for them and faith in their ability to persevere to heaven.” — Dr. Ray Guarendi, radio host and author
“Be a Man is a must-read for all men who are serious about strengthening their relationship with God. This exceptional book speaks clearly and directly, challenging men to live their faith with courage and conviction. Be a Man is a spiritual wake-up call that offers a refreshingly honest presentation of what it means to be a man of God. With a unique blend of humor, passion, and frankness that has become his trademark style, Fr. Larry Richards explores how a Christ-centered male spirituality fosters growth in holiness, and inspires men to become loving servants of their wives, families, and the Church.” — Deacon Harold Burke-Sivers, Aurem Cordis apostolate
In You, Lord my God,
I put my trust.
I trust in You;
do not let me be put to shame,
nor let my enemies triumph over me.
No one who hopes in You
will ever be put to shame,
but shame will come on those
who are treacherous without cause.
Show me Your ways, Lord,
teach me Your paths.
Guide me in Your truth and teach me,
for You are God my Savior,
and my hope is in You all day long.
Remember, Lord, Your great mercy and love,
for they are from of old.
Do not remember the sins of my youth
and my rebellious ways;
according to Your love remember me,
for you, Lord, are good.
-Psalm 25: 1-7
“Is it true that men generally don’t like to attend religious services and don’t get involved in church? Consider the evidence:
— Citing dismal statistics, researcher David Morrow’s book Why Men Hate Going to Church (Thomas Nelson, 2005) concludes that men “are the world’s largest unreached people group.”
— A 2011 Christian Century article, “Why Do Men Stay Away?” notes how men are “famously outnumbered” by women at worship and “often are not particularly happy about it” when they do attend.
— A Barna study published that same year found that over the preceding two decades church attendance had declined by six percentage points among men, that the percentage of men who had volunteered at church had suffered a similar statistical drop over the same period, and that an estimated 39 percent of all men could be considered “unchurched” — meaning that they haven’t attended a church event (outside of an event such as a wedding or funeral) in the previous six months.
— A December Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel article on men’s participation at church cited a statistic that 64 percent of parish life is comprised of women. The perception — or misperception rather — is that men are less involved in church than women.
The reality, however, is that there also is evidence of a resurgence in male involvement in church, at least as far as Catholic men in the United States are concerned. For the past two decades, a Catholic men’s movement has been steadily expanding in size and strength to the point where it is having a huge impact on male spirituality and involvement in Catholic communities. On both a national and local level, the Catholic men’s movement has come of age, as an increasing number of Catholic men are seriously embracing the faith and their roles as husbands and fathers in leading their families to Christ.
Many may recall the multi-denominational Promise Keepers movement of the mid-1990s that held large stadium events across the country. The Catholic men’s movement is not like that: It’s less flashy, more consistent, and growing.
“Promise Keepers conferences were designed to be spectacles,” writes John P. Bartkowski, sociology professor at the University of Texas at San Antonio in his book about the movement. “And the problem with a spectacle is it needs to be outdone by something more spectacular and more stimulating the next time around.”
My own diocese hosted its annual Catholic men’s conference during the second weekend of Lent. The first of these conferences, held 17 years ago, was attended by approximately 300 men. Over the past five years, the event has consistently drawn more than 500.
Chris Codden, director of the Office of Marriage and Family for the Diocese of St. Cloud, said that she’s seen a growth in the younger base among attendees.
“From the evaluations from the men, they want good solid Catholic speakers that challenge them and give them ‘meat and potatoes,’ not ‘fluff,’ ” said Codden.
Many other dioceses also sponsor annual Catholic men’s conferences. In 2002, there were just 16 Catholic men’s conferences. According to Dan Spencer, executive director for the National Fellowship of Catholic Men, there are now approximately 75 diocesan-sponsored Catholic men’s conferences each year.
“There have been six or seven new conferences just within the last eighteen months, in places such as Omaha and Des Moines,” said Spencer. New York is currently organizing a conference, he added.
Typically, men’s conferences feature a prominent priest or Catholic leader who provides one or two inspiring talks, the opportunity for the Sacrament of Reconciliation, prayer, and the celebration of Mass. They also often feature workshop or breakout sessions focused on topics of particular interest to men, or small-group sessions where men spend time with one another talking about issues that face them and their families.
What’s more startling, however, is what comes out of such conferences. Men often are inspired to meet more regularly to hold each other accountable and for support in living out their faith in daily life. As a result, thousands of men across the country remain active in local men’s groups that meet quite regularly.
Here I can speak from experience. Nearly 10 years ago, three other men and I began a morning men’s prayer and book-discussion group. Once a week, we gathered for prayer, support, dialogue, and accountability. I told the men at our first meeting that I had no intention of the group lasting forever. I said that we would work through a couple of books, and that would be it.
Yet here we are, 10 years later, having read and discussed countless books. We have expanded our group, and about a dozen of us continue to gather every Tuesday morning at a local restaurant. Over the years, more than 100 different men, including priests and seminarians, have participated. Some have driven more than 90 miles to see what we’re doing.
Not only that, but God has multiplied the effort. Some men who originally were part of our group have moved and started men’s groups elsewhere. At least four men have established separate weekly men’s groups within their own local parishes. We’ve also been told stories about the impact our gatherings have had on other restaurant patrons who have seen our group joined in prayer.
This phenomenon is being replicated across the country. Spencer said that parish-based groups have “exploded.” He cites that Milwaukee has approximately 130 men’s groups, Cincinnati has 75, and Kansas City has 60.
“Some are Bible-study groups, others are accountability groups, some study the weekly Sunday Scripture readings,” explained Spencer. “Some involve the Knights of Columbus. Others begin with a study or a book, while others create their own materials. Approximately 105 dioceses participate in the three-year ‘That Man is You’ program.”
The local efforts bear fruit for parishes and beyond. Some parish-based men’s groups have mentorship programs for boys in high schools. Others have started parish retreat-based programs like Christ Renews His Parish or Cursillo, weekend experiences of spiritual renewal that lead directly to the formation of ongoing small faith-sharing groups. The fruit of many of these efforts is that it motivates men to be more involved at all levels within the parish — in liturgical ministries, in religious education, in volunteerism, in charitable works, and much more. As examples, Spencer noted that men in Kansas City have been working on an anti-pornography initiative, and a group in Columbus, Ohio, recently participated in promoting Home Enthronement to the Sacred Heart.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that men’s participation in such groups strengthens their families and marriages, deepens their faith, and leads them to a greater participation in the sacraments. According to a Gallup Poll study of “That Man is You,” men entering the program tended to place in the bottom 25 percent of Gallup’s Spiritual Commitment Index, but finished the program in the top 25 percent.
Jesus Christ continues to call men — as he did the Twelve — to follow Him, and they are responding.
If we are to be conformed to Christ, then we need to conform ourselves “to the Gospel precept of fraternal love,” as the Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us (#2488). Christ and the apostles demonstrate properly ordered fraternal love among men. It stands in stark contrast to the disordered love that our contemporary culture tends to celebrate and model.
Just as men on the battlefield band together under the leadership of their general to protect freedom, so evangelical Catholic men are being arrayed in a spiritual formation as a band of spiritual brothers centered around Christ to do battle against the cultural forces set on destroying our families.
Make no mistake. We are on a battlefield, and the choice is stark. Either we are for Christ or we are against Him. There is no middle ground.
“There is a hunger,” Kevin O’Brien, former professional football player and co-founder of the Catholic men’s conference Men of Christ, told me. “Men feel an emptiness inside and want to see faith presented in a masculine modality. They want to be challenged. When faith is presented in its proper form, men are attracted to it.”
Many of our brethren have been seriously wounded through the bullets and the shrapnel that the culture is hurling at us. Men’s groups offer a tremendous opportunity to strengthen men in virtue. Iron sharpens iron, the saying goes. As men, we must avail ourselves frequently of the life-giving and grace-giving Sacraments the Church offers us. We must find ways to strengthen and embolden one another for the task ahead. The time is now. Are you spiritually ready?”
I find many people take the politically neutral, albeit incorrect and unthinking position, regardless of what the position is, as long as they don’t have to think or exert any effort forward : warm fuzzies. Not really thinking is always easier. Preferring “peace in our time” is nothing new; never solves anything. Our enemy is the prince of lies. Jer 6:14, 8:11. “What is Truth?”, Pilate retorted. Jn 18:38.
“So far in this series, we have discussed the nature of Yoga in general (1 of 5), and we have learned that it is rooted in hindu beliefs about gods and goddesses who want to influence us (2 of 5). Through further research we saw that a philosophic yoga suggests that the goal of the practice is union in a “higher reality” where distinctions among all things disappear, and even the individual is lost in nothingness (3 of 5). There are, of course, many, many different traditions and styles of yoga, but nearly all blur the distinction between physical exercise and spiritual excellence, making the postures or asanas the first step toward self-transcendence (4 of 5).
In this post, I will address the claim that yoga is not a religion and that it is compatible with any religion. After considering claims to the contrary, we will find that we can meaningfully assert that yoga is religious – especially because of important parallels it has with Catholicism. St. Paul advises us: “test everything; hold fast what is good, abstain from every form of evil” (1 Th 5:19, 21-22). Let us turn our minds to the truth, ask the Lord to bend our hearts according to His will, and explore yoga from a Catholic perspective.
“It’s not a religion, dude. It’s a way of life.”
We hear this claim about yoga all the time. It is meant to distance yoga from the negative connotations bound up with religion. If you get too caught up in religion, people commonly think, you will become narrow, doctrinaire, and maybe even violent. This is why many people like to say, “I am spiritual but not religious.” Within this context yoga is seen as an attractive alternative to formal religion while offering some kind of spiritual benefit. There are, however, compelling reasons to hold that yoga is religious though it may not be a religion.
Before explaining why yoga may be considered religious, it would be helpful to discuss why it is often thought not to be a religion. A basic definition of religion is this: religion consists in a belief about (a) a higher power or powers upon which we are dependent, and (b) that it is possible to enter into a sort of relationship with the power or powers. The relationship involves (c) an association of people, with (d) ritual acts that are specific to the group and (e) a way of regulating one’s life in order to maintain good relations with the higher power or powers. A child of ten could see that some of these elements do not apply to yoga. Most importantly, yoga does not embrace any belief that the individual is dependent upon some higher power. From the perspective of yoga, as we have seen in previous posts, gods and goddesses and a separate divinity are only illusions. There is no krishna or shiva; there isn’t even Jesus. Those persons may or may not be historical figures, but at most, they are only manifestations of a supreme reality that is above and beyond them. yoga does not inculcate love of Jesus or obedience to God. yoga does not lead practitioners to act morally upright so that they might get along with krishna, shiva, or Jesus. Instead, yoga aims at what one scholar calls “self-deification”: the postures and breath control are a means toward enlightenment, “the expansion of the self to the point that one’s body or self becomes coextensive with the entire universe.”
So yoga is non-religious, right? It is compatible with every religion or no religion at all, isn’t it? Sure, the historical root of yoga is hinduism, and yoga remains a powerful symbol for the culture of India, but in itself yoga is free from dogmatism, moralism, superstition, and all that religious jazz, wouldn’t you say?
Not so fast.
To compare the concepts of yoga and religion at a fundamental level, it will be useful to compare the meaning of the two words. The word “yoga” comes from the sanskrit yuj, which means, “to yoke together,” “union,” “to join, to bind.” What is the essence of religion? St. Thomas Aquinas explains the concept of religion by discussing the origin of the word: “religion may be derived from religare [to bind together], wherefore Augustine says: ‘May religion bind us to the one Almighty God.’” This analysis by one of the Catholic Church’s greatest theologians leads to an astonishing result. The essence of yoga and the essence of religion are exactly the same. yoga and religion both aim at joining the individual to divinity.
One can hardly deny that yoga has significant religious elements. A number of yoga communities, whether in studios and ashrams, are dedicated to connecting with a higher power. They do so through prescribed rituals led by a person who has a closer connection with the divine, that is, a guru or yoga instructor. yoga rituals include not only the physical postures and breathing techniques. They also include words and gestures that echo words and gestures found in religion. In the beginning and the end of Holy Mass, a priest says, “The Lord be with you.” The congregation responds, “And also with you.” Then the priest blesses the congregation with the sign of the Cross. Paralleling this structure, at the end of a typical yoga session class (and sometimes at the beginning), the yoga instructor says, “namaste.” And the students, “hands together at the heart charka, close the eyes, and bow the head,” responding, “namaste.” The sanskrit word literally, “I bow to you.” In the context of Yoga, it signifies “I bow to the divine in you” or, more accurately, “the divine in me greets the divine in you.” The purpose, we are told, is “to increase the flow of divine love.” A significant difference between the Catholic ritual and the yoga ritual is the understanding of the meaning of a blessing. For Catholics, a blessing comes from Christ who works through the priest. For yoginis, a yoga blessing is not imparted by the teacher; rather, it is initiated by the teacher and shared among all participants. The other is only a mirror of one’s own divinity that deserves honor.
Another religious element integral to yoga is the importance of sound and song. In the Christian religion, singing is an act of worship, as indicated in the adage attributed to St. Augustine, “To sing is to pray twice.” Pope Benedict XVI revealed the cosmological profundity of singing with his observation: “the culture of singing is also the culture of being … it is about vigilantly recognizing with the ‘ears of the heart’ the inner laws of the music of creation, the archetypes of music that the Creator built into his world and into men.” yoga parallels these religious impulses by suggesting that the divine can be reached through sound and song, but it also diverges from them for it lacks a divine person to sing about, one who could listen to the song of worshippers. Here we recall that mantra yoga is often combined with hatha and other types of yoga. yoga practitioners chant “OM,” which is to help awaken them to higher reality. OM is not a word so much as a prayer, a mantra that, when intoned correctly, sounds throughout the body to the depth of the soul. In this way, the mantras of yoga honor the divine and make it more fully realized in the life of the yogini. When a person chants “OM,” she attunes herself to the cosmic vibration and she can enter the state of trance, in which her individuality is transcended and merged with the Infinite divine self.
yogic ritual and chant point to the deepest intention of yoga: to honor and to find union with the divine. Thus far, yoga may be considered a sort of religion. What makes yoga distinct from other religions is how divinity is understood. Within most religions, the divine is a power or person or persons distinct from the self. Within yoga, however, the divine is not a being or a person outside of the self. The divine is identical with the self. Rebirth through brahman is not through a personal God; rather, it a rebirth of one’s mind so that you realize that you are divine, and the divine is everything. Through the yoga disciplines, the person is supposed to discover an ontological identity with everything. With this achieved, she loses her individuality and is dissolved into the divinity that she always was. Thus, yoga is far from being a stranger to the religious realm, for it inculcates a tendency toward self-worship.
Admittedly, there is an important way in which yoga is not a religion. Worship, as noted above, indicates a relationship between persons and/or powers. As long as a yogini is imperfect and has not mastered Yoga, she may still experience herself as a being distinct from others. In this case, she is capable of worshipping herself. But this does not hold in perfect yoga mastery. To help the practitioner obtain perfection, yoga instructor calmly suggests, “Some might get in touch with ganesh or krishna or shiva; others might call upon Jesus. Wherever your spirit leads is where you should go.” In other words, it doesn’t matter what you are praying or to whom you are praying, so long as you are doing yoga. The practice of yoga is primary and all relationships disappear. Even the self disappears. All that is left is the supreme reality, in which all is one. Thus, the perfect practice of yoga does not bring about the fullness of worship, for it is the absence of all relationships. This is why one of the classic studies of yoga insisted: “The method [of yoga] comprises a number of different techniques (physiological, mental, mystical), but they all have one characteristic in common–they are antisocial, or, indeed, antihuman.”
In light of our study, we can make some observations. The fool says that there is no God, but the devil wants to be equal to God. pantheistic yoga unites both of these trends, saying both (a) that there is no distinct personhood in God and (b) that the self is equal to the non-personal “divine” that encompasses the universe. If Yoga is a religion, its rituals incline practitioners to worship the self, which is both divine and created, both nothing and everything. This is the epitome of Satanic pride. But when Yoga moves beyond worship, it ends in the annihilation of the self. This is the epitome of nihilistic despair.
Many yoga practitioners evidently do not believe this. A number simply reject pantheism. Others reject theism. Still others do not think about God at all or do not realize the deepest meaning of yoga. From these various perspectives, people argue that yoga is not about honoring the divine anywhere. Its real purpose, they say, is self-improvement through the self-discipline of physical exercise. I will consider this claim in my next post.”
 For a more scholarly version of the assertion, see Theos Bernard, quoted in Paul G. Hackett, “Theos Beranard and the Early Days of Tantric Yoga in America,” Yoga in Practice, ed. David Gordon White (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2012), 355.
 Bl. John Henry Newman elaborates on this modern mindset: “Is not religion associated in your minds with gloom, melancholy, and weariness? … It is so; you cannot deny it. The very terms ‘religion,’ ‘devotion,’ ‘piety,’ ‘conscientiousness,’ ‘mortification,’ and the like, you find to be inexpressibly dull and cheerless.” John Henry Newman, Parochial and Plain Sermons vol. VII, no. 2: 17.
 See Morris Jastrow, The Study of Religion (New York, 1901), 170.
 David Gordon White, “Yoga, Brief History of an Idea,” Introduction to Yoga in Practice (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2012), 12, 8.
 I noted this in my second post. The quotation is from Mircea Eliade, Yoga: Immortality and Freedom, trans. Willard R. Trask (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1969), 4.
 Summa Theologiae II-II, q. 81, a. 1.
 See http://www.abc-of-yoga.com/yoga-dictionary.asp
 The actual quote from St. Augustine is the following: “For he that sings praises, not only praises, but praises with gladness: he that sings praise, not only sings, but also loves him of whom he sings. In praise, there is the speaking forth of one confessing; in singing, the affection also of one loving” (Commentary on Psalm 73, 1).
 Benedict XVI, Address in Paris at the CollÃ¨ge des Bernardins, 12 September 2008. http://chiesa.espresso.repubblica.it/articolo/206663?eng=y
 See post number four.
 See Mircea Eliade, Yoga: Immortality and Freedom, trans. Willard R. Trask (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1969), 126.
 Eliade, Yoga: Immortality and Freedom, 95.
 Ps 14:1, “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’”; Is 14:12-15, “I will ascend into heaven … I will be like the Most High.” For an analysis of Satan’s pride, see St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae I, q. 63, a. 3.
“In the first post we discussed “what is yoga?” In part two we learned about the polytheistic, hindu roots of yoga. And, in the third installment we saw that philosophic yoga teaches that the goal of yoga is union with a supreme reality, that is, it leads the practitioner to become dissolved into a “higher reality.” Once a person perfects her yoga practice, her individual self disappears, along with all distinctions among things.
In today’s post, I would like to show three things:
There are many traditions of yoga.
Practically all types of yoga practiced by Westerners are in the tradition of hatha yoga.
hatha yoga is the first step to the other traditions of yoga.
In other words, the yoga that the West knows best is only the first step on a spiritually dangerous and morally unacceptable path.
St. Paul advises us: “Do not quench the Spirit … but test everything; hold fast what is good, abstain from every form of evil” (1 Th 5:19, 21-22). Let us turn our minds to the truth, ask the Lord to bend our hearts according to His will, and explore yoga from a Catholic perspective.
To the newly-initiated, the varieties of yoga may be overwhelming. At first a person might think that yoga is yoga wherever you go. But she soon discovers that the yoga offered at the local gym may not be the same as the yoga offered in a boutique studio. She might even meet connoisseurs who claim to practice “real” or “traditional” yoga. Perhaps she comes across aficionados and their flow-charts to help a person make their way through this jungle. Perhaps she reads an internet article with the leading question, “Which type of yoga is tight for you?” The implication is that everyone can find at least one of the dozens of options that fits her lifestyle. But there is another possibility, namely, that no type of yoga is right for anyone.
Since the goal of this post is not to sell yoga but to explain it, it may be useful to distinguish between traditions of yoga and styles of yoga. A yoga tradition is like a branch on a tree; a style is like a leaf on the branch. The major classic traditions of yoga are these:
raja yoga, the yoga of mind control: the “original” yoga, focused on disciplining the mind in pursuit of union with the absolute.
karma yoga, the yoga of action: liberation from the law of karma and reincarnation through good works performed with complete detachment.
bahkti yoga, the yoga of devotion: offers nine means of maintaining a connection with the divine; often practitioners worship a guru as an embodiment of the divine.
jnana yoga, the yoga of hidden knowledge: a discipleship period with a guru prepares a person to engage hindu-yoga literature directly.
tantra yoga, the yoga of dynamism: instead of classic Yoga’s insistence on self-denial, the dominant form suggests salvation through the practice of sexual yoga.
kundalini yoga, the yoga of awareness: aims to unlock the “goddess energy” of the root chakra, seen as a serpent coiled around the base of the spine. It is called the “master”, the “mother”, and the “bestower” of yoga.
mantra yoga, the yoga of sound: uses sounds and songs, especially “OM”, in order to help the mind find union with universal divine. It is typically combined with other kinds of yoga.
hatha yoga, the yoga of opposing forces: focuses on physical postures and breathing techniques.
It is important to note that these varieties generally are not opposed to each other. In fact, many people employ more than one form of yoga at the same time. Nevertheless, one tradition of yoga has gained dominance in the West and, subsequently, wherever the West has had cultural influence. It is the tradition of hatha yoga.
There is a smorgasbord of styles that shape the basic techniques of hatha yoga. In this realm one finds ancient-sounding names, such as vinyasa and kriya yoga. Then there are styles named after famous founders including bikram or iyengar. “gentle” yoga caters to the elderly and injured, “hot”, “rocket”, and “power” yogas appeal to business types, and laughter yoga is touted as a cure for sad sacks.
What is the essence of hatha yoga? What do all the various styles have in common? The etymology of the word gives us a clue. In sanskrit, ha — tha means “sun – moon”, such that hatha yoga denotes the union of two opposite forces, something accomplished only by personal effort. The union of opposing forces occurs on different levels: on one level, physical postures unite with conscious breath; on another level, one’s body unites with one’s mind; on an even deeper level, the mind unites with the absolute. These levels of union are intelligible in light of the fact that hatha yoga aims at “self-realization” by building on the taja structure, often uniting it with mantra and other types of yoga.
Experts tells us that hatha yoga is the “foundation” for the other traditions of yoga, the first step along the path of the truest yoga. What is the first step of hatha yoga? The asanas, the physical postures. How do physical postures do this? By means of bodily postures and breathing techniques, the body is tensed and relaxed, the mind is emptied, and then follows meditations with pantheistic or polytheistic content: “melt into the ground,” “become one with the universe,” “awaken the goddess within,” etc. A disciple of the yoga master patanjali explains the meaning of the asanas:
Posture becomes perfect when the effort to attain it disappears, so that there are no more movements in the body. In the same way, its perfection is achieved when the mind is transformed into infinity.
In other words, through yoga postures a person begins by being hyper-conscious about her body as she tries to perfect her positioning. But if she perfects her posture, she gains control over her limbs, her breathing, her organs, her entire body as a complete whole. Then she is able to suppress all natural efforts of the body and to lose all conscious awareness of the body. This exercise is meant to facilitate, even make real, a union, a bond, a yoking with the infinite consciousness. The deeper union is supposed to take place during the feeling of expansion that occurs in deep relaxation. Because yoga postures calm the emotions, they help to empty the mind. The practitioner is easily led to assume that her physical experience also involves a spiritual experience.
A summary evaluation of the effects of hatha yoga is as follows. yoga postures often have physically beneficial effects, but we should not be fooled: feelings of quiet and relaxation, pleasant sensations, perhaps even phenomena of light and warmth, and even deeper insights into reality are not the same as deep union with God, nor are they signs of spiritual progress.
If a person calls upon gods during the practice of yoga, as in performing postures in the presence of hindu statues or in chanting mantras to a god or goddess, then she has practiced idolatry and her spiritual condition is worse than when she began. If a person accepts a philosophy that denies the distinctions between body and mind, gain and loss, good and evil, God and the self, then she has embraced falsehood and her spiritual condition is worse than when she began. If she believes that yoga is not dangerous or thinks that it is simply exercise, then her misunderstanding indicates that there is room for improvement. Probably her heart longs for deep spirituality.
The saints teach us the path to true holiness.From them we learn that the evidence of a deep spiritual life necessarily includes the love of God and neighbor, a regular prayer life, fidelity to the commandments, a real and abiding faith in the saving power of Christ, and obedience to the voice of God speaking through the Church. Without these, union with God is little more than a passing breath of hot air.
 For a helpful and accurate summary of the interconnecting branches of Yoga, see: http://theyogaposter.com/.
 See David Gordon White, “Yoga, Brief History of an Idea,” Introduction to Yoga in Practice (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2012), 16. “Without a doubt, hatha yoga both synthesizes and internalizes many of the elements of the earlier yoga systems.”
 The classic text Hatha Yoga Pradipika by Swami Svatmarama begins with this dedication: “Reverence to Shiva, the Lord of Yoga, who taught Prvati hatha wisdom as the first step to the pinnacle of raja yoga.” Following this tradition, see B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on Yoga (London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd, 1966), 23.
 Swami Svatmarama, Hatha Yoga Pradipika, verse 17: “Asanas are spoken of first, being the first stage of hatha yoga.”
 Quoted in Mircea Eliade, Yoga: Immortality and Freedom, trans. Willard R. Trask (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1969), 53.
“In the first post we discussed “What is yoga?” In the second post, we learned about the hindu roots of yoga. We found that there are certain hindu gods that have been understood to play a role in teaching and promoting yoga. We looked at shiva, vishnu, and shakti, and ganesh. The post concluded by noting four different positions on how to understand the gods of yoga:
The gods don’t exist; they are mere fables.
The gods do exist; they are good and can be helpful to us.
The gods do exist; they are evil and can harm us.
The gods do exist, but only as personifications or manifestations of the divine, Supreme Reality.
Here we will discuss claim number 4, since this is the understanding adopted by the general yoga tradition that continues even in our day. St. John tells us that we should not believe every spirit, but test them to see if they are from God (cf. 1 John 4:1). It’s going to be an enlightening experience, so set your intention and come join us as we explore yoga from a Catholic perspective.
The ancient philosopher Aristotle famously said that the human is a being who desires to know. Wonder is not merely a Western attitude, he asserted: it is a human impulse. It is natural to us. In this light, it is perfectly reasonable to ask about the nature of yoga. The thing is, when I talk with practitioners about it and try to figure out its deeper meaning, I often receive messages like this one:
The most important thing is to practice yoga. We can discuss the theory for hours and hours. But it’s best to practice and then decide. Change your clothes, open your mind, and fix your attention while performing the postures and pranayama.
The more I investigate yoga, the more I realize that this advice is not simply saying, “Try it and see if you like it.” It reveals the essence of the yoga. It is saying that experience is more important than understanding, practice is more important than prudence. In other words, the mind of yoga is: “never mind.” Let’s see what this means and why it matters.
One of the central problems of an essential philosophy common in India concerns the relation between illusion, temporality, and human suffering.The goal of all Indian philosophies and techniques, especially yoga, is liberation from these. Liberation entails, not merely relief from physical suffering such as a sore back, but emancipation from the suffering that comes from existing in this world. You can transcend the suffering that comes from karma, the law of universal causality, which condemns man to transmigrate through the cosmos.Through yoga, it is said, you can enter absolute reality, beyond the cosmic illusion, mirage, or unreality known as maya. No longer will you be imprisoned in becoming. You would be united with pure being, the absolute, known under different names: brahman (the unconditioned, immortal, transcendent); atman (ultimate self); nirvana.
Recall that yoga means “union” or “to bind together.” In a previous post, I asked, what does yoga bind us to? A preliminary answer was supplied: to the hindu gods, who teach yoga techniques. Another answer, however, is as follows. yoga is meant to bind a person to ultimate reality.The system of yoga teaches the individual how to be yoked or indissolubly united to that universal absolute (brahman) and to become undifferentiated from it.
Isn’t this a contradiction? Does yoga unite us to hindu gods or to the absolute?
Here we should distinguish between two forms of hinduism, namely:
i) A popular level of Hinduism and
ii) A higher level of philosophical and religious Hinduism.
According to the popular level, believed in by the masses for the most part, the world is populated by tens of thousands (or is it millions?) of gods and goddesses, myriads of genies, demons, and evil spirits. Those spiritual beings are propitiated and can be manipulated with sacrifices along with yoga practices and disciplines. In this respect, hinduism bears features that are common in most other pagan religions, including those of Greece and Rome. If it accepts Jesus, it is because it sees Him as one god among many.
According to the higher level, the spirit beings are illusions. Instead of renouncing the gods, this philosophy redefines them. They are considered different aspects of the one supreme absolute, which some hindus refer to as “god.” This brahman or god – it must be emphasized – is not God in the Judeo-Christian sense. It has no personality. It is not the One Creator, distinct from the universe, Who created humans in order to have a personal relationship with them. It is not the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It is not Jesus Christ, God Incarnate. Or rather, according to this point of view, it is Jesus and it isn’t – at the same time. It is as much Jesus as it is vishnu, because both are representations or instantiations of the supreme reality, the impersonal absolute existence, of which each human is a part, that permeates everything.
From the perspective of the higher, more subtle hindu thought, yoga’s role is to help the practitioner to be dissolved into this “higher reality.” B.K.S. Iyengar, the renowned yoga practitioner and theorist, explains it this way: “Dualities like gain and loss, victory and defeat, fame and shame, body and mind, mind and soul vanish through mastery of the asanas [yoga postures].” This is the doctrine of monism. It claims that there are no distinctions among things, that all is one and every difference is a harmful illusion, holding a person back from perfection. Once a person masters yoga, “He is then free from birth and death, from pain and sorrow and becomes immortal. He has no self-identity as he lives experiencing the fullness of the Universal Soul.” This is supreme ego-centrism under the guise of self-realization. “I am Brahman!” the yoga practitioner can exult; “I am GOD; I am ALL!” But they should equally declare, “I am NO ONE. I am ILLUSION.”
People often claim they’ve “found themselves” through yoga. What an irony. If they looked deeper, yoga would tell them that they’ve found nothing.
In my next post, I will explore how hatha yoga, the physical postures and breathing techniques, is meant to help a person achieve union with the absolute – and what that means for the soul.
 See Mircea Eliade, Yoga: Immortality and Freedom, trans. Willard R. Trask (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1969), xvi-xx.
 B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on Yoga (London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd, 1966), 42.
 Iyengar, 48.
“In the previous post on yoga, we explored studies that showed a couple of important facts:
· Consistent practice of yoga is correlated with a diminishment of Christian belief.
· Practitioners typically begin yoga for physical reasons but stick with it for spiritual reasons.
We concluded with a basic definition of yoga: yoga is both a comprehensive system of human culture–physical, moral, and psychological–and it acts as a doorway on to the gently sloping paths that gradually lead up to yoga proper, that is, the spirituality of yoga rooted in hinduism.
In this post we will take a look at the hindu foundations of yoga in light of the gods found therein. St. John tells us that we should not believe every spirit, but test them to see if they are from God (cf 1 John 4:1). It’s going to be an enlightening experience, so set your intention and come join us as we explore yoga from a Catholic perspective.
Part II – The gods of yoga
I’m not much of an exercise person. The practice of pumping iron or toning my body with a machine has never excited me: it seemed meaningless at best and slightly narcissistic at worst. This is one of the reasons why yoga appealed to me. It seemed to be exercise with a real meaning. What I didn’t expect was what that meaning actually is.
The word “yoga” comes from the Sanskrit yuj, which indicates “to yoke together,” “union,” “to join, to bind.” Someone who practices yoga as a way of life is called a yogin or a yogi. Because yoga indicates binding, we must ask: what does yoga bind us to?
My jaw almost hit the floor when I found the answer.
To learn about yoga, at first I avoided classes and went to a local bookstore. I wasn’t ready to squeeze into yoga pants. The first paperback I purchased, chosen almost at random, was full of helpful photos of postures along with explanations and commentary. It explained what yoga “yokes” or “binds” us to: Hindu divinity or divinities. “Awaken the goddess within,” it suggested. Frightening for me as a Christian and as a male. It also invited me to consider ganesh, the “loveable” elephant-headed god, along with his friends who populate India’s pantheon. That sounds pagan, I thought. So I set the book aside and looked elsewhere. To my dismay, I discovered in a local Yoga studio something that confirmed the book’s approach: a little bronze statue of a Hindu god, presiding over the people within. It was too much even for this California boy.
Was my experience typical?
Clearly not every book on yoga promotes hindu gods, and not every yoga class has pagan statuary. But many do. The classical yoga tradition argues that all Yoga should associate with the gods of India. In order to understand why this is the case, we must uncover the hindu roots of yoga.
For Westerners who like everything, including religion, neat and tidy, boxed up and labeled, sitting on a shelf ready for inspection from a discerning customer, hinduism poses difficulties. “What we think of as one religion,” one writer notes, “is a multifarious collection of sects, traditions, beliefs, and practices that evolved from the Vedas, the world’s oldest sacred texts, and took shape across the vast Indian subcontinent over the course of many centuries.” There is real difficulty in pinning down a precise doctrine of universal hindu belief because “hinduism has no central authority, no founding figure, no historical starting point, no single creed or canonical doctrine, and many holy books rather than one.” Because of this, hinduism has been called “the world’s largest disorganized religion.” Nevertheless, hindus have generally recognized six principle schools that represent authentic developments of the Vedic scriptures. yoga is one of them.
yoga, along with the religious beliefs and practices sheltered under the large umbrella called “hindu,” honors many gods. “hinduism is a perfect polytheism,” says a highly-respected scholar. In a real sense, this can also apply to yoga. The gods are the ultimate gurus of yoga.
shiva has prominence among the gods of yoga. He is the “patron” of all yoga practitioners: “He is the deity of yogins par excellence and is often depicted as a yogin.” Around his neck is a serpent, symbolizing his power over death; on his forehead is a third eye, through which he gains mystical vision and knowledge. His drumbeat is said to create the OM which reverberates in the heart and throughout the universe. In some depictions shiva assumes the lotus posture in deep meditation. In other cases shiva juggles fire while he dances with one foot in the air, indicating release from “earthly bondage.”
Some traditions include shiva in a hindu triad or trinity of gods, with brahman as the “creator”, vishnu as the “sustainer” or “preserver.” shiva is said to be “the destroyer,” the one who annihilates the illusions of the ego and therefore gains liberation into ultimate reality:
While of course many hindu deities are associated with different paths of yoga and meditation, in shiva the art of meditation takes its most absolute form. In meditation, not only mind is stopped, everything is dropped.
vishnu is another important god for yoga; he is said to preserve and maintain the cosmic order dharma. Like shiva, he is depicted with blue skin and four arms and is accompanied by serpents. It is said that vishnu was incarnate nine times, the last two being the most significant: as krishna and buddha. Here I will focus on krishna.
The bhagavad-gita, part of an ancient hindu religious epic, portrays krishna as the perfect yoga guru to his disciple, the human hero arjuna. Chapter 6 of the gita contains material that would be familiar to many modern yoga practitioners. krishna defines yoga negatively as “renunciation” of illusion and positively as “yoking oneself to the supreme consciousness” (6:2). For him, a yogin is one “established in self-realization” (6:8). Through elevating himself through his own mind (6:5), a yoga practitioner attains the abode of krishna, perfect happiness, “by cessation of material existence” (6:15). The means to acquire this is by practicing control of the body, mind, and activity with specific postures and meditation techniques (6:11-18).
The yoga goddesses should not be neglected in our account. Here we can turn to the chief goddess, shakti or durga, known under different aspects. shakti is seen as the divine force that destroys evil and restores balance: she “represents the cosmic energy of destruction of the ego, which stands in the way of spiritual growth and ultimate liberation.” In some instances, shakti assumes the role of parvati, the energy and consort of shiva; in other instances, the role of lakshmi, the energy and consort of vishnu. The most fearsome role shakti plays is as kali, the “dark mother” goddess, who, standing naked, wears a garland of skulls around her neck and a belt of heads around her waist, wielding a bloody sword and clutching a severed head. It is not uncommon for yoga teachers to recommend tapping into this feminine-divine source of empowerment. Here is one account:
“Ellen is a medical student, and thinks of herself as a rational person who doesn’t go in for mystical experiences. But one day as she closed her eyes and relaxed in savasana, Ellen felt a powerful maternal energy around her and “saw” the hindu goddess durga, whose picture graced the yoga studio’s back wall. For a moment, the many-armed goddess’s face lingered in front of her, looking alive and full of compassionate love. Then the image disappeared–though the sweet, strong energy stayed with Ellen for hours.
Later Ellen asked Sally what the experience might mean. Sally replied: “Just sit in meditation and ask the durga energy to be with you. Then notice how you feel.” This is what Sally calls “deity yoga,” which she claims “isn’t specific to the Hindu tradition.” She says it could be practiced by anyone interested in yoga, even Christians.”
Is Sally right?
What are we to make of the pantheon of yoga gods?
It seems to me that there are four basic positions:
1. The gods and goddesses do not actually exist. They are only metaphors, imaginative fables meant to inspire the yoga practitioner. Some people may believe this, but I think it is insufficient and reductive; it does not adequately explain the cultural and experiential data available.
2. They do exist and are benevolent: they may be invoked in order to obtain energy, power, good fortune, etc. This is the position of a number of simple hindu believers.
3. They do exist but are evil, and should not be invoked. This is the position of traditional Christianity (and perhaps Islam and Judaism). “I am the Lord your God, you shall have no other gods before Me. You shall not make for yourself a graven image; you shall not bow down to them or serve them” (Exodus 20:2-5).
4. They do exist, but not in the way one might imagine. They are all manifestations of the one supreme being, the all-encompassing reality, which one could call “God.” This is the position of the more developed understanding of hinduism, an understanding that has been adopted by yoga.
In our next post we will explore the last position: that the gods exist, not in themselves, but as manifestations, personifications, or realizations of the divinity.”
 Mircea Eliade, Yoga: Immortality and Freedom, trans. Willard R. Trask (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1969), 4.
 Philip Goldberg, American Veda (New York: Three Rivers Press, 2010), 3.
 See Georg Feuerstein, The Yoga Tradition: Its History, Literature, Philosophy and Practice, 3rd Ed. (Chino Valley, AZ: Hohm Press, 2008), 72-78.
 Jean Varenne, Yoga and the Hindu Tradition, trans. Derek Coltman (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1976), 26.
 Feuerstein, The Yoga Tradition, 84.
 http://www.sanatansociety.org/hindu_gods_and_goddesses/shiva.htm#.UvpGMLQkgf8 For a retelling of the Shiva legend, see Sadhguru, “Yoga Originated from Shiva,” The Times of India 19 March, 2009. http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2009-03-19/vintage-wisdom/28031005_1_shiva-yoga-intimacy
 Feuerstein, The Yoga Tradition, 87.
 Sally Kempton, “Oh My Goddess,” Yoga Journal Online. http://www.yogajournal.com/wisdom/1980 See also “Goddess, Where Art Thou?” http://www.yogajournal.com/wisdom/2617
“Yoga is hands-down — toes-up — one of the most popular forms of exercise in the world, including the United States. It is also controversial, eliciting strong reactions from enthusiasts and denouncers alike. Among Christians, perhaps the most commonly-heard question is, “Can I practice yoga?” or, said with a different emphasis, “I can practice yoga, right?” With a nod to modern practicality, in order to do justice to the question as well as to the questioner, we ought to consider a number of different issues.
This series is meant to address these issues head on, beginning with the nature of yoga and ending with a discussion of how Christians can exercise their souls and pray with their bodies. St. John tells us that we should not believe every spirit, but to test them to see if they are from God (1 John 4:1). It’s going to be an enlightening experience, so set your intention and come join us as we explore yoga from a Catholic perspective.
I – What is Yoga?
There is something funny about yoga. It is one of those things that can prompt double-speak, as I have found over and over again. Here is a typical conversation:
“So, Father, what do you think about yoga?” Someone will ask.
“Well, I have some misgivings about it,” I’ll say.
“But what’s wrong with yoga,” they will press. “It’s just exercise.”
“Then why not try Pilates?” I reply.
“I wanted something more holistic, something that focuses on body and soul. I like yoga because it’s spiritual too.”
“Then it’s more than physical exercise.”
To get beyond this impasse in the Tibetan peaks and valleys of conversation, let’s begin by analyzing a portrait of the typical yoga practitioner. A 2012 Yoga in America study shows that 20.4 million Americans practice yoga. This was an increase of 29% since 2008. In addition, 44.4 percent of Americans could identify as “aspirational yogis”–folks interested in trying yoga. Among these millions, the most common yoga enthusiast is a youngish, upper-middle class woman. Yoga is a thriving industry: practitioners spend ten to twenty billion dollars a year on yoga classes and products, including equipment, clothing, vacations, and media.
In and around the popularity of yoga stretches and twists, a vocal portion of the population nevertheless regards yoga as a way to become spiritually bent out of shape. Questions and misgivings arise, and people begin to wonder: what is this thing that some of my friends practice and so many celebrities preach – what is this thing called yoga?
At first glance, yoga is simply a great form of exercise. The top five reasons for starting yoga are: to improve flexibility, to aid general conditioning, to further stress relief, to improve overall health, and to promote physical fitness. Doctors and practitioners both agree that, when practiced moderately, yoga can strengthen a person, help her lose weight, and give her more energy. It is also often associated with positive emotional well-being: because yoga calms the body, it often soothes the feelings. Adding on to the individual benefits, there are often attractive cultural aspects of yoga: it helps people meet beautiful people, so that they can become more beautiful themselves; it is often convenient; at a base level, it doesn’t hurt the wallet.
Yoga, however, is more than a physical exercise with social benefits.
One indication of yoga’s spiritual nature is the way it affects practitioners over time. The International Journal of Yoga published the results of a national survey in Australia. Physical postures (asana) comprised about 60% of the yoga they practiced; 40% was relaxation (savasana), breathing techniques (pranayama), meditation, and instruction. The survey showed very significant results: although most respondents commonly began yoga for reasons of physical health, they usually continued it for reasons of spirituality. In addition, the more people practiced yoga, the more likely they were to decrease their adherence to Christianity and the more likely they were to adhere to non-religious spirituality and Buddhism.
In other words, whatever their intentions may have been, many people experience yoga as a gateway to a spirituality disconnected from Christ.
Doing justice to the complete nature of yoga, therefore, requires a more well-rounded definition: “A comprehensive system of human culture, physical, moral, and [psychological], and acting as a doorway on to the gently sloping paths that gradually lead up to yoga proper,” that is, the spirituality of yoga founded in Hinduism.
Its aim is to control the body and the various forms of vital energy, with a view of overcoming physical impediments standing in the way of other, spiritual, forms of Yoga. Its object is to ensure a perfect balance between the organic functions. Its ultimate goal and true end is to prepare man for the acquisition of that repose of spirit necessary for the realization of the “Supreme”, or for “experiencing the Divine.”
Yoga’s religious and spiritual end is often forgotten or denied in a Western context; most people see it simply as a physical form of exercise. Such a simplification is unwarranted and dangerous. As we will see, reducing yoga to a mere beautifying technique frequently creates ugly effects.”
 For the following statistics, see http://blogs.yogajournal.com/yogabuzz/2012/12/new-study-find-more-than-20-million-yogis-in-u-s.html. And http://www.statisticbrain.com/yoga-statistics/
 The majority of today’s yoga practitioners (62.8 percent) fall within the age range of 18-44. Women compose 82.2 % of the cohort. 68% of all yoga practitioners make more than $75,000 a year.
 Penman, Cohen, Stivens, and Jackson, “Yoga in Australia: Results of a National Survey.” Int J Yoga. 2012 Jul-Dec; 5(2): 92—101. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3410203/ The typical Australian yoga practitioner of yoga is comparable to the American parallel: typically a 41 years old, tertiary educated, employed, health-conscious female (85% female).
 J.-M. Déchanet, Christian Yoga (New York: Harper, 1960), 31.
I have met joyless Catholics. I keep meeting them. They seem the most obsessed with rules, regulations, compliance, and everyone else’s lack thereof. They scare me the most of all the Catholics I meet.
“Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation ‘Evangelii Gaudium’ has produced significant reaction and commentary, both positive and negative. Many in the media have focused on the social, political, and economic implications of the document. Sadly, most commentators have looked past the obvious: the second word of the text and the title: joy. “The joy of the Gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus” (EG 1).
Joy is such a central aspect of our faith. Unless we are filled with joy, we have no message of Christ to bring to the world. The accounts of the martyrs throughout history are full of descriptions of them going to their deaths with great rejoicing and full of joy. Joy reorients us away from our self-focused lives and onto what is really important. Mother Teresa used the acronym JOY as an aid to remind us of the proper ordering of the importance of things: Jesus, Others, You.
Joy is thus an important aspect of living out our faith, but as St. Thomas Aquinas notes, joy is not a virtue in itself. Referencing St. Paul’s Letter to the Galatians, St. Thomas comments that joy is “an act, or effect, of charity” and thus is one of the Fruits of the Holy Spirit (Summa Theologica II-II, q.28, a.4). Joy proceeds from and is caused by love. One could even say that joy is the external expression in our lives of our love for Jesus Christ. Our joy is what others see and experience through our attitude and actions. Pope Francis notes that “joy always endures” even if parts of our “lives seem like Lent without Easter” (EG 6). Our joy depends not upon the external circumstances of our life, but only upon our love of Christ.”
Happy New Year!
Summa Catechetica, "Neque enim quaero intelligere ut credam, sed credo ut intelligam." – St Anselm, "Let your religion be less of a theory, and more of a love affair." -G.K. Chesterton, "I want a laity, not arrogant, not rash in speech, not disputatious, but men and women who know their religion, who enter into it, who know just where they stand, who know what they hold and what they do not, and who know their creed so well that they can give an account of it."- Bl John Henry Newman, Cong. Orat., "Encounter, not confrontation; attraction, not promotion; dialogue, not debate." -cf Pope Francis, “You will not see anyone who is really striving after his advancement who is not given to spiritual reading. And as to him who neglects it, the fact will soon be observed by his progress.” -St Athanasius, "To convert someone, go and take them by the hand and guide them." -St Thomas Aquinas, OP. 1 saint ruins ALL the cynicism in Hell & on Earth. “When we pray we talk to God; when we read God talks to us…All spiritual growth comes from reading and reflection.” -St Isidore of Seville, “Also in some meditations today I earnestly asked our Lord to watch over my compositions that they might do me no harm through the enmity or imprudence of any man or my own; that He would have them as His own and employ or not employ them as He should see fit. And this I believe is heard.” -GM Hopkins, SJ, "Only God knows the good that can come about by reading one good Catholic book." — St. John Bosco, "Why don't you try explaining it to them?" – cf St Peter Canisius, SJ, Doctor of the Church, Doctor of the Catechism, "Already I was coming to appreciate that often apologetics consists of offering theological eye glasses of varying prescriptions to an inquirer. Only one prescription will give him clear sight; all the others will give him at best indistinct sight. What you want him to see—some particular truth of the Faith—will remain fuzzy to him until you come across theological eye glasses that precisely compensate for his particular defect of vision." -Karl Keating, "The more perfectly we know God, the more perfectly we love Him." -St Thomas Aquinas, OP, ST, I-II,67,6 ad 3, “But always when I was without a book, my soul would at once become disturbed, and my thoughts wandered." —St. Teresa of Avila