I came home I immediately sensed that there was something
wrong," Gloria told me. "Then I noticed that the Sto. Niño
gone from the family altar and the Mother of Perpetual Help picture
was gone from the wall. When I asked where they were my daughter-in-law
told me that she had burned them because the Bible forbids us to worship
graven images. When I heard this I felt that I had been stabbed through
the heart and that Our Lord and Our Lady had been insulted. I felt
so angry with my daughter-in-law and her 'Born Again' talk that I
could not even look at her for days." During my time as parish
priest I heard many stories like that of Gloria. Stories of deep hurt
and division within families in the name of religion. They were stories
of wounds inflicted by those who believed that they were right.
At present there is a great proliferation of religious movements outside
and within the catholic church. There are many fundamentalist or conservative
groups on the one hand and many very liberal New Age type groups on
the other. Within the Church we have a range of groups from Christian
and Zen meditation groups, to Bible sharing and study groups, to Charismatics
and Opus Dei. The words of Jesus, "take care not to be deceived
because many will come using my name and saying 'I am He'" are
as valid in their application now as they were in the time of Jesus.
How can we know which are genuine and which are phony, which are from
God and which are from the adversary? Unfortunately, they do not divide
that way. Good and bad are not stacked clearly on either side. I think
we must always approach any religious movement with respect. There
is always something admirable in the fundamentalist who will stand
for what they believe in, and die for it - and unfortunately, even
kill for it - if necessary. There is always something admirable in
a spiritual search even if it takes people into areas that to you
seem weird or incredible.
A genuine search today will lack dogmatism. While having it's own
conviction it will be open and respectful of the views of others.
Any group that considers all outside the group as damned is immediately
It will be rooted in the Bible, especially in the words and sayings
of Jesus. It will go to the Bible as a book of encounter with God,
as a source of knowledge about God and his way of acting in the world
that will open our eyes to his action in today's world. It will not
use the Bible as a source of ammunition or quotes to hurl at protagonists.
It will be in reverent dialogue with Church authority. Many of the
new movements are led by lay people. They should have the courage
to enter into meaningful dialogue with Church authority and not to
circumvent it by presenting faits accomplis. A healthy movement will
be interested in promoting rather than halting the message of the
Second Vatican Council. Some characteristics of this would be ecumenism,
lay involvement, decentralization, subsidiarity and listening, especially
to the poor.
In a healthy group there will be less emphasis on an interventionist
God "out there" and more emphasis on the God who is journeying
with us in the joys and sorrows of life. It will be a God who is with
us, rather than a God who comes to save us.
A healthy group will not use threat or fear. If it teaches a loving
God, there will be no place for fear.
An overemphasis on money also rings a warning bell.
Participation in any group will inevitably be answering one's ego
needs. If there is awareness of this there is possibility of growth
and transcendence. If, however, the power, prestige and possession
needs of the leadership and the members are being answered through
the group and this is not humbly acknowledged, the whole thing becomes
Healthy movements will be concerned with deepening inner spiritual
values rather than imposing religious practices. Organizing crowds
to "say prayers" or make vigils is not necessarily getting
people to pray.
A group that puts a lot of emphasis on visions and extraordinary phenomena,
on miracles, healing and on God's blessing being manifested through
wealth and success are to be considered suspect.
Another unhealthy sign is an overemphasis on numerical growth. Big
numbers and even extraordinary signs are not assurances that God is
on one's side.
A healthy group will give a lot of importance to silence. Silence
is the place where truth and wisdom are found. According to Pope John
Paul II in pastores dabo vobis, "Silence is the atmosphere necessary
to perceive God's presence and to allow ourselves to be won over by
him." One can be talking and acting and be inconsistent. But
one cannot continue to be silent and continue to be dishonest within
True prayer is open prayer. It is prayer that is willing to accept
God's truth and act according to it. True prayer is generally self-cleansing.
It will bring us from a prayer that starts from fear and obligation
to a prayer that brings us into a deeper and more honest relationship
with ourselves, others and with God.