Asking Catholics About Their Practices

Jerry Filteau of the The National Catholic Reporter reports on a recent statement by the Committee on Doctrine of the US Catholic Bishops characterizing Reiki as "superstition" and as "not compatible with either Christian teaching or scientific evidence." The document, titled "Guidelines for Evaluating Reiki as an Alternative Therapy," can be found here. Filteau reports that apparently no one was interviewed about Reiki practice, including Catholics who practice Reiki.

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Filteau’s article reminds me that in a seminar I’m teaching this semester at Fordham called "Pastoral Theology and Practice," we are using two primary texts that teach research in ministry. One is titled Ordinary Theology: Looking, Listening, and Learning in Theology, by Jeff Astley, and the other is Ethnography as a Pastoral Practice: An Introduction, by Mary Clark Moschella. Both texts reflect an important shift in practical and pastoral theologies over the last many years: toward the significance of asking "everyday" Christians about their practices and beliefs as a prologue to and condition for the generation of theological claims.

No one, of course, claims that ethnographic/sociological data on faith and practice simply determines "normative" theological claims, but something more subtle is being argued in this shift: that social science methods that attempt to map the spiritual landscape of practice, used critically, are congenial to theological work because all Christians in some way lead a "theological life" that bears some degree of authenticity, and one way to delve with care into what that authenticity might be is to practice social-scientific listening, or something like a spirituality of attention to practice.

Tom Beaudoin

Hastings-on-Hudson, New York

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8 years 7 months ago
St. Athanasius quite often appeals to a sense of the faithful(I can't remember his exact Latin term for this at the moment) in his many writings against the Arian heresy(that Christ was a created creature). Some interested parties did research on Reiki, including interviews with practicioners, and came to the same conclusion as the Bishops. Also, not only retreat centers but hospitals were putting themselves at risk by promoting as an alternative medicine what has no proved basis in medicine, philosophy, or science. Not only that, but the National Association of Catholic Chaplains openly has promoted Reiki and the practicioners of such by publishing laudatory articles in their magazine "Vision" while basically denying any rebutal. So, how should "fads" be handled? How about those who follow fads who are in positions of power or authority in Church structures?
8 years 7 months ago
I do think expressions of popular religiosity deserve critical attention and study. Some expressions may prove to be theologically suspect or downright wrongheaded -- but the vibrancy, the vitality, the endurance, and yes, the popularity, of even those wrongheaded beliefs may have something to tell us, especially in terms of the forms of evangelization and outreach that might prove particularly effective. Without knowing much of anything about Reiki, I think perhaps its popularity points to the desire for healing that so many of us feel we need. While many Catholic churches offer healing Masses, they are not (in my experience, at least) widely publicized. Neither, really, are the healing prayer groups that meet at parishes. A better dissemination of information -- about both what is available to us, and a reiteration of why it is so very distinct from other purported approaches to healing -- would make a difference in the lives of many lay Catholics. We have to recognize that it is human nature to turn to what is most readily available -- and if we are not effectively and widely communicating what we believe and what we offer, we should look critically at how, and why, we are failing.
8 years 7 months ago
The term St. Athanasius uses is "regula fidei". My sense is he uses it as an argument against some un-orthodox ideas, theories, or practices. So, if for instance, you claim you are manipulating "divine energies" due to your being in touch with God due to esoteric discoveries and teachings, the "regula fidei" would be what the sense of the faithful would be about this. It is not an ethnographic study, but rather the sense of St. Athanasius and of his advisors (fellow theologians, priests, and bishops) about how the faithful immersed in scripture think about this idea. For instance, I suggested accupuncture to a person suffering from a muscle disease that modern medicine has be unable to help. The guy laughed at my suggestion! This is not the regula fidei but were most educated and informed faithful to laugh then I ought to take their reservations seriously!
8 years 7 months ago
Reiki is hardy a fad, but an ancient practice. I've worked as a hospice care provider over the years. Reiki, or it's sister practice Therapeutic Touch, was often the only effective means of pain management for many suffering from terminal illness, including bone cancer and end-stage AIDS. Our staff and volunteer practitioners, all of whom are Christian, grounded their treatment in the work of the Holy Spirit. Reiki and other healing therapies worked when medications were ineffective in managing the level of pain experienced by these indiviuals.
8 years 7 months ago
When the hierarchy asked the laity for advice on birth control, specifically the pill, the majority of the committee [led by US couple= Crowleys from Chicago] called for acceptence of the pill use.... Pope Paul ignored the majority and issued Humanae Vitae..Now the laity are calling for a study/end for mandatory celibacy for diocesan priests so that parishes are not closed/merged because of the growing priest shortage and we are ignored again.. Same reason is being given as was given on Humanae Vitae. = past Popes [all dead] were in favor of the status quo. Past Popes were in favor of usury, slavery. against religious freedom and democracy.. How long do they, [dead Popes] get to call the agenda after they pass on? Answer...looks like a hundred and twenty years..say hello to 2080 for HV repeal and 2120 for married priests???
8 years 7 months ago
Bishops act out by proclaiming directives. Reikki is just the current example. The more stressful things get, the more they proclaim. This is the Roman way of dealing with the pain of the world. Humanae Vitae came out right after Vatican II. Now look at all the things that are coming out in the US after the abuse scandal, priest shortages, and other real problems. We Americans struggle because we take all these proclamations way too literally. Our job as laity is to love our bishops by hearing them and honoring them, and then live our own lives according to the Gospel and Holy Wisdom that God has given us. If we can't follow the Bishops for some important reason, then we shouldn't worry about it. If we get too blatant, then we can go to confession. If it becomes a big issue, then we can do First Fridays or go on pilgrimages for indulgences, or whatever. Our faith gives us the tools to handle the problem! Nancy Pelosi might really benefit by going to Rome and earning the Pope's new penary indulgence.
8 years 7 months ago
Reiki is nonsense. So is astrology. So are Tarot cards, yoga and transcendental meditation. There is no Tooth Fairy, no Abominable Snowman and no witches. The bishops make themselves laughable when they deign to address such arrant nonsense in a tone that befits serious subjects. What's next? A pastoral letter on opening your umbrella indoors?
8 years 7 months ago
The bishops and others responsible for "Guidelines for Evaluating Reiki as an Alternative Therapy" should really get out more. It is scandalously "myopic" i.e. deficient in discernment. “He who knows not and knows not he knows not: he is a fool - shun him." If one is not into shunning, one might run not walk to the nearest exit.
8 years 7 months ago
The Bishops can say what they want and most of us will feel free to ignore them. When they realize this they may or may not learn to investigate before they speak. Eggy, go camping in a thunderstorm and open an umbrella in your tent and see what happens. If you think there are no witches you don't likely don't get out much - as I know a few. The tooth fairy will be coming to my house in a little less than a year, because I have a five year old and she is learning about money in school. I could care less about the existence of the Yeti, since I don't live in the Asian highlands. Yoga and TM do work, although Catholics must be careful to be spiritually aware so as not to confuse the practices with some of the implicit Eastern theology. One can pray the Rosary in Lotus if one finds the posture comfortable. As for Astrology, the church takes no position - although it used to endorse it (how sad it is that most people don't know their own history) and there is scriptural evidence that the Magi were in fact astrologers - there being no other reason for them to follow a conjunction in Aries to Palestine, which were associated in antiquity with eachother, for the birth of a scripturally promised messiah (people read eachother's stuff - and in Babylon, where much of the Torah was really written, there were likely copies available). Any objections to astrology due to its association with paganism show a lack of understanding of the true subject of paganism, which is human nature. To assume that pagan religion was the source of astrology is to get it exactly wrong. It is more likely that astrology was used to design pagan gods. In fact, it is a necessary belief unless you believe that there were such beings. As for Reiki, it works - although the fact that to turn on the ability requires a ritual would tend to scare the bishops.
8 years 7 months ago
I don’t mind banning Reiki, but if they start on banning: • Burying statues of St. Joseph to help with the sale of my house • Praying to St. Anthony so I can find my misplaced car keys • St. Christopher medals to keep me safe while driving . 9 First Fridays for whatever • My going to the latest appearance of the BVM on a taco shell, barnside, etc. and hoping that my silver rosary will turn to gold (I need the money) ---- then I WILL be upset!

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