By Father Kenneth Doyle
Catholic News Service
Q. My wife was recently at a gathering of her prayer group that meets every week. At the end of this particular meeting, a deacon spoke to the group and said something that has disturbed both of us. He said that when you practice yoga, you are communicating with the devil.
Neither of us practices yoga, but our daughter — who is in her 30s — does. She has even gone on yoga retreats. I always thought that yoga was just a form of meditation.
Should we be concerned, and is there any church teaching on the matter? (New Brunswick, New Jersey)
A. The issue is a bit complex and has been the subject of a fair amount of controversy. Classic yoga is a discipline that grew out of Hindu mysticism; it seeks enlightenment through a series of exercises designed to align the body, mind and spirit.
Simply because it has its origin outside the Christian tradition, this doesn’t necessarily mean that it conflicts with Catholic teaching.
The Vatican pointed this out in a 1989 document from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith called “Some Aspects of Christian Mediation,” stating: “Genuine practices of meditation that come from the Christian East and from the great non-Christian religions, which prove attractive to the man of today who is divided and disoriented, (can) constitute a suitable means of helping the person who prays to come before God with an interior peace” (No.28).
The bodily postures assumed during yoga as well as the breathing techniques are themselves morally neutral. (Catholic institutions — including Chicago’s Holy Name Cathedral — have at times sponsored classes in “Catholic yoga.”)
The real issue lies in what these techniques are designed to accomplish — what they are supposed to connect you to — and herein lies the difficulty with certain forms of yoga: They assume a basic pantheism, the goal being for the person to become “one with the divine.”
(A classic yoga mantra that the user is encouraged to repeat, is “So’ham” — which can be translated “I am the universal self.” That is a far cry from orthodox Christian theology, which holds that we humans are created beings and the triune God is not).
It is sometimes heard that Pope Francis, in a January 2015 homily, dismissed yoga, saying that such practices as yoga and Zen meditation cannot free people to open their hearts to the Lord; but to be fair, the pope said the same of church teaching and Catholic spirituality, noting that only the Holy Spirit can “move the heart” and make it “docile to the Lord.”
I have no idea what particular type of yoga your daughter is involved with, so the safest course might be for her to discuss this with a knowledgeable priest.
Q. I have been attending the same parish church for 25 years. My three children were baptized in this church, had their first reconciliation and first Communion there, and two of them were confirmed in this same parish church. I myself have taught Christian formation classes there for a number of years.
I have been married for 18 years, but a year ago my husband abandoned me and our children. Four months ago, I found out that he has been having an affair and has been living with the office manager of our parish.
Since then, I have not been able to return to this church without feeling deep shame. I have been searching for ways to move past this, but I find it difficult.
I know, too, that the sacrament of marriage is a serious matter, but how do I stay with a man who doesn’t want me and wants a divorce? I fear that I am letting down my God; I feel such pain no matter what parish I attend.
I feel lost, pray for guidance and seek some closure. Can you help me understand how the church looks upon my situation? (City of origin withheld)
A. First of all, you are not letting God down and have no need to feel guilt or shame. If your husband does not want to be married to you any longer and insists on a divorce, you have no choice but to let that happen.
(Have you tried making one last-ditch effort — telling him that you know what’s been going on but are prepared to forgive, that you are willing to go with him to a counselor to try to put your marriage back together?)
Sometimes a marriage can come apart even when one spouse is virtually without fault; the church recognizes this, and there is no need to keep beating yourself up.
As for which parish church to attend, I would guess that it’s going to be a long time before you’ll feel comfortable in your home parish, with all the memories that it holds. Why not continue to shop around for a different Catholic parish where you might feel more at peace?
And finally, your pastor deserves to know of your suspicions about his parish manager, so that he can make a judgment as to whether that person is a suitable representative of the parish.
Questions may be sent to Father Kenneth Doyle at email@example.com and 30 Columbia Circle Dr., Albany, New York 12203.