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There has been much reaction to articles we had concerning alternative healing, and what is and is not "new age."

There are some tough calls!

In general, there's nothing wrong with alternative healing -- which often means more reliance on what God created than on the synthetic chemicals of man. How could that be so in error (more natural methods)?

The problem is that some of those who gravitate toward unorthodox healing and nutrition drift toward offbeat methods that begin to incorporate the occult, and that's clearly dangerous. Here is a list of what one Catholic website considers "new age." Others would say it goes too far.

Take yoga.

As viewers point out, there is "yoga" that is simply a method of exercise or relaxation -- purely physical (often advertised even at parishes) -- and as such perhaps beneficial. There is also yoga that's a bodily discipline tied to Eastern mysticism. One former practitioner, now an active Christian, claims the goal of all yoga "is to obtain oneness with the universe. That's also known as the process of enlightenment, or union with Brahman (Hinduism's highest god). The word 'yoga' means 'union' or 'to yoke.'"

It is here where the problems start. We want to be careful about what we're "yoked" to. One commonly used word in yoga, we are told, is "namaste," which means, "I bow to the god within you." Meanwhile, points out this former instructor, the mantra sound "aum" or "om" chanted in many yoga classes is meant "to bring students into a trance so they can join with the universal mind." And the "salute to the sun" posture -- used at the beginning of most classes -- pays homage, is this instructor's claim, to the Hindu sun god.

We are not familiar enough to comment at length but wonder if perhaps we can come up with a system of improved flexibility, weight loss, reduced stress, and improved circulation that is a bit more spiritually neutral. (Once one touches the esoteric, it can be a slippery slope.)

There is homeopathy, by which tiny amounts of substances that cause physical effects similar to those caused by a disease or ailment are taken to mitigate or cure the illness. There may well be a natural aspect to it. And benefits? Recently we met a woman who was suffering miserably from toxic-metal poisoning that had swelled her entire face. No doctor had been able to handle it. She went to a Christian biologist who incorporates natural methods with some homeopathy and it appears the woman has been fully healed (calling it a Godsend).

By the fruits we will know. The one thing to keep in mind is that in analyzing fruits, we must look at the long-term ones.

In presenting the opposing view, a priest named Father James Manjackal says, "Many people write and ask me, 'What is wrong with homeopathy? Can a Christian use it? Is it connected with New Age and esoteric, etcetera? I must say that I have not made a deep study on this subject. But I have seen the bad effects of it on Christians and their spiritual lives.

"Many who have problems in their prayer lives, like lack of concentration, distractions, feelings of tiredness, yawning during prayer, pains all over the body during prayers especially when they call upon the Name of Jesus, bad imaginations especially immoral ones during Christian meditation, etcetera -- have admitted that they were having homeopathy treatments, and when I have asked them to stop it, they were able to pray well. Recently a man came and told me that he is not able to pray in tongues although he was in the charismatic renewal and prayer groups for a long time. He was taking homeo-medicines for insomnia. When I asked  him to stop the medicines and to take normal scholastic medicines, he was able to sleep and was able to pray in tongues. One religious sister in Slovenia told me that she was asked by the doctor who gave her homeo-medicines for the cure of her cancer to stop having Holy Communion for the better effect of the medicines.

"Many people in Germany, Austria and France told me that the homeopathy doctors, while giving medicines, advise them not make the sign of the Cross or call the Name of Jesus before taking homeo-medicines, as  normal Christians do everything with a sign of the Crass or a small prayer. Why this exception to homeopathy? Perhaps the Sign of the Cross or the Name of Jesus may bombard the power or energy in the homeo-medicines! I have a testimony to share with you. Thirteen years before a Catholic homeopathy doctor asked me to bless his homeo-clinic. Gladly I went to his clinic and blessed the clinic with the normal prayers from the Roman ritual and sprinkled the Holy Water all over as he requested. After a few days he came and told me, Father James, after your blessing and sprinkling of the Holy Water over my clinic and medicines, I had to throw away all the medicines as they lost the 'potency.'"

Sometimes, in claiming something is bad, we can go too quick too far. Often, we tend to one extreme or another. 

Or is it cut and dry?

Is there a gray area?

Is chiropractic okay -- as long as it stays with straightening out bones (the spine), and doesn't wander into psychic healing?

The same questions arise about acupuncture: there are those who say it is rooted in an occult force, those who say it saved them.

It all started with a Vatican document on the New Age some years back that lumped various such methods all under the umbrella of practices with links to the New Age, without specifying why.

One man wrote to say he was "preparing for the diaconate. The 'sessions' were held at a diocesan center. One day we all participated in tai chi [a martial arts technique that incorporates Eastern mysticism]... six hours of it!  The tiny little 'nun' sat on a tiny little chair and rang a tiny little bell and gave her instructions. We had to grab a ball of 'energy' and release it in front of us. Then we had to flap our arms like a bird while rocking back and forth on the ball of each foot. There were many more such procedures, but thank God I can't remember them all. It was ridiculous. This was for entry to a Roman Catholic vocation!"

Adds Terry Vanderheyden, a doctor of "naturopathic medicine" and homeopath in Barry's Bay, Ontario, "There is a tendency among conservative faithful (as I consider myself)) Catholics to go overboard, seeing the devil in everything. Please keep in mind that although John Paul II was of course anti-New Age, he was pro-homeopathy. It is a known fact that his homeopath was Francesco Eugenio Negro, son of Antonio Negro, who was the homeopathic physician of Pope Paul VI. Furthermore, Pius XII's closest confidant was his physician, also a homeopath. In fact most the popes favored homeopathy from the early 1800s and several were awarded Order of St. Gregory for their work in homeopathy.

"Keep in mind that it is a simplistic interpretation of the Vatican's document to think it proscribes everything mentioned. Obviously if your doctor tells you to stop eating red meat he is not treading New Age waters. Nor is meditation the purview of New Agers alone. I meditate on the Rosary daily. Of course meditation is not New Age. The unfortunate reality is the Vatican document should have gone further. It stated, 'advertising associated with...' [various such techniques], which is not real clear. Nonetheless the fact that popes have ascribed to homeopathy can't mean they consider the practice to be a New Age one."

Opined Pattye Pece of Long Island, "In response to your lead article 2/23/12, on the New Age movement, I know nuns or other Catholics, too, who are immersed in most of the techniques and categories you cite. I have often wondered if I was too orthodox, conservative, or old-fashioned, which is how a person may feel when in the presence of these 'enlightened ones.'

"I would like to suggest that anything, whether it be techniques, foods, medicines, books, exercises, etcetera, if they lead a person further from the truth of who they truly are before God -- sinful people in need of redemption -- then it is not from, or of, God. The barometer for me is this: am I loving God and my neighbor more or am I loving myself and my new path to enlightenment more? Am I more interested in getting rich, or am I lightening my material goods and ambitions so I can help those who are poor? 

"Jesus is the true compass -- the Way -- the only Way. He is the only Truth. He is the only Life. So if I am finding my way through something else, then it is not Him. If I am finding out some kind of truth through other sources, then it is not Him. If I am finding life through some other means, then it is not Him. He is the only Way, Truth, Life."

[resources: books on healing and spiritual warfare]

[see also: music as healing]

[Retreat in Austin, Texas: prophecy, family healing, spiritual warfare and Nebraska]

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