Should we embrace the new "Age of Aquarius" or the new "Millenium of Mercy"?
Saint Faustina vs. the New Age Movement
Dr. Robert Stackpole Answers Your Questions On Divine Mercy
By Dr. Robert Stackpole, STD (Nov 28, 2007)
Many of you may be aware of the latest religious fad sweeping the western world. It is called the "New Age" movement. Actually, there is very little that is "new" about it. It often combines a revival of ancient "pantheism" (in other words, the belief that everything is God, or is the "body" of God) with a revival of interest in the occult (for example, in astrology, the enneagram, or witchcraft) and a passionate and radical environmentalism.
Much of it is a throwback to ancient paganism. Thus, it might be more accurate to call it not "the New Age" movement, but mostly "the Old Relapse" movement!
In any case, following on from last week's discussion of St. Faustina's praises of the merciful Creator, I thought our readers might like to know how this new religious movement compares with the spirituality of St. Faustina. What would she say to the New Agers of today?
In St. Faustina's Diary, she makes it clear that there is one transcendent God who is distinct from all of nature and who brought the natural world into being as an act of absolute gratuity — in other words, as a completely free gift of His love. Faustina taught that the infinite God did not need to create the world. He is absolutely perfect in Himself — in His beauty and wisdom, power and might, love and happiness. Indeed, He is perfect in the love that is eternally shared among the Three Persons of the Blessed Trinity.
Given that God has this infinitely perfect happiness and love within His own nature, He needs nothing at all beyond it for Himself. If He chose to create a world, therefore, it could only be an act of selfless generosity toward His creatures. In other words, He must have brought creatures into being and hold them in being at every moment, not to increase His own happiness and perfection (which need no increase), but for the happiness of His creatures themselves. He does so in order that they might share, in a creaturely way, in the love and blessedness that He enjoys from all eternity.
Saint Faustina tells us that this is one way in which all creatures glorify the mercy of God: by being the object of the Creator's infinite, selfless generosity. She writes in her Diary, entry 1741 and 423:
O God, who [is] happiness in Your very self and [has] no need of creatures to make You happy, because Yourself You are the fullness of love, yet out of your fathomless mercy you call creatures into being, and grant them a share in Your eternal happiness and in Your life, that divine and indwelling life in which You live, One God in Three Persons. ...
Although I understand that, being God, He is happy in Himself and has absolutely no need of any creature, still, His goodness compels Him to give Himself to the creature, and with a generosity that is beyond understanding. Rejoice, all you creatures, for you are closer to God in His infinite mercy than a baby to its mother's heart.
Saint Faustina's teaching here is actually a very important one for our times. Many of you probably have heard of the teachings of the New Age (lapsed Catholic) writer named Matthew Fox. Fox and his followers fashioned their own version of New Age spirituality called "Creation Spirituality." They complained that traditional Catholic teaching made God, the Creator, seem aloof from His creatures, too distant from them. But God is not radically distinct from the world. Rather, according to Fox, God is so closely and intimately related to the world that the natural world is God's own body. He is the soul of the universe, so to speak, and the world is the body that He fashioned for Himself. All creatures are so close to Him that they are actually part of Him!
At first glance, this teaching may sound appealing. It seems to bring God and the natural world closer together (and therefore leads people to support environmentalism, too, since we wouldn't want to pollute and destroy the divine body of God!). But a closer look reveals a serious flaw in this viewpoint. For if the whole natural world is really the body that God fashioned for Himself, then He must have created it not out of selfless generosity for creatures, but out of self-interest. Because He needed to make a body for Himself, He needed to complete Himself in that way (like a snail that makes a shell for itself). If so, then God does not really love His creatures with merciful, selfless, generous love; rather, He just loves Himself. If He loves us at all, it is only out of "enlightened self-interest," because, in loving us, He is thereby loving His own body and fulfilling His own needs.
Saint Faustina's "Creation Spirituality" — which actually mirrors the teachings of St. Thomas Aquinas and the Catechism in this respect — is actually much wiser. It's the perfect antidote to the New Age movement. God's love is not "need-love" but "gift-love": it is precisely because God needs nothing at all for Himself, and is infinitely perfect and happy in Himself, that everything He does for creatures can only be a selfless gift of love for them. All that God does for creatures, including bringing them into being in the first place, is an expression of His merciful, generous, compassionate love for them.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains this in-depth when it tells us that God created all things that they might reflect his glory:
Scripture and Tradition never cease to teach and celebrate this fundamental truth: "The world was made for the glory of God." St. Bonaventure explains that God created all things "not to increase his glory, but to show it forth and to communicate it," for God has no other reason for creating than His love and goodness: "Creatures came into existence when the key of love opened his hand." The First Vatican Council explains:
This one, true God, of his own goodness and "almighty power," not for increasing his own beatitude, nor for attaining his perfection, but in order to manifest this perfection through the benefits which he bestows on creatures, with absolute freedom of counsel and from the beginning of time, made out of nothing both orders of creatures, the spiritual and the corporeal ... (293)
To put it another way, a God who is not "other" than you cannot love you with selfless generosity: not if you are part of His very "self" to begin with! Besides, if you and I are all part of God, included in God's infinite being somehow, then what becomes of the need to repent of our sins and the need for forgiveness and sanctifying grace? How could a part of God's divine body "sin" against God anyway. It doesn't make any sense!
Do you see how the New Age movement fits neatly into the morally lax, no regrets, "I'm OK; You're OK" culture in which we live? This is light years away from the teachings of Jesus Christ and all the promises of mercy and grace that he gave to us through St. Faustina.
Finally, we do not need to become pantheists, or New Agers, to learn respect and care for the environment. As we saw in our last installment in this series, all created things reflect the beauty, wisdom, and even the mercy of God, according to St. Faustina. As such, they are all precious to God, and ultimately belong to God, and therefore they ought to be precious to us. According to the Bible, we are not absolute owners and masters of the natural world, but merely its stewards (Gen 2:15). And one day we must give an account of that stewardship the Master Himself (Lk 12:42-48).
Robert Stackpole, STD, is the director of the John Paul II Institute of Divine Mercy. Got a question? E-mail him at questions@ thedivinemercy.org.