Dear Father Angelo,
I greet you with affection.
I am writing to ask you a question that came to my mind after talking to an acquaintance who follows an oriental philosophy/ religion, I am not sure whether Buddhism or Hinduism.
I clear immediately the field from easy misunderstandings: I do not intend to confuse the Catholic Christian faith with other philosophies or religions, nor I intend to fall into a cheap and erroneous indifference of the type “all religions are the same” or similar.
Just as serenely and firmly, however, I can affirm that I live with the greatest respect for all men who are not Catholics and that I recognize the importance of religious freedom, God forbid!
This acquaintance went on a trip to India and had several meditative experiences. I know she spends a lot of time meditating and reciting mantras or something similar to our prayers. She told me about what she felt diving into the sacred river and, in her words, I noticed great emotional participation. Not only. I had the impression that she actually had a very profound experience on that occasion and that, in some way, it was a “spiritual” experience. Can you call it that? I don’t want to be misunderstood. I mean that for her that experience was truly spiritual. Now I ask myself: given that the Christian faith is the way that leads to God, Truth and Life, how are all these other “spiritual” experiences to be considered? Are they just psychological conditioning? Are they deceptions? Or, always recognizing the uniqueness of our faith, can we think that men and women of good will in search of God can, in different and imperfect ways, still experience the divine? I myself have been to India and I have seen in many people a great, admirable spirituality.
Can we say that those who are not Christians but who live their creed in a very deep and intense way (for example the various kinds of Eastern monks) somehow live and feel the closeness of God, or can God be encountered only in the Christian faith?
I know that, in our faith, God is known in his fullness and entirety, but I wonder if men and women of other religions can get close to God or can in some way experience the divine.
Certainly we need to make some distinctions, because there are many religions (from Hinduism to Islam, from Judaism to paganism, etc.), but I wonder if the sincere attempts to search for God by many followers of other religions could bring them closer to the True God or not.
When non-Christians speak of intense spiritual experiences, are they deceiving themselves or have they approached God though without fully understanding him?
If God were a fire, is it possible that believers of other religions, even if imperfectly, could feel his heat?
Thanks for the time and patience.
A prayer for you.
1. Saint Augustine in the Confessions recalls his personal experience of wandering looking for God outside of himself, while God was inside: “Far, indeed, was I wandering away from You, being even shut out from the very husks of the swine. (…).
When I sought after You, my God — to You I confess it, who had mercy on me when I had not yet confessed, — sought after You not according to the understanding of the mind, in which You desired that I should excel the beasts, but according to the sense of the flesh! You were more inward to me than my most inward part; and higher than my highest (interior intimo meo et superior summo meo)” (Confessions, III, 6, 11).
2. The desire to know God in all times and places has manifested itself more intensely in some people than in others.
Someone said that the mystical vein will always remain as alive as the poetic or philosophical one.
Always and everywhere there have been poets, philosophers.
Always and everywhere there will also be mystics, people who have had a particular experience of immersion in God.
3. We are not surprised by this statement because from Divine Revelation we know that man is created in the image of God.
There is a natural desire for God in man.
To this we must add that God tirelessly acts in the hearts of men to draw them to himself.
In the Prologue of the Gospel of John we read about Jesus Christ: “The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world” (Jn 1,9).
And He “wills everyone to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim 2: 4).
4. This is why it cannot be excluded a priori that some people who do not know Jesus Christ may have profound experiences of God.
We know with certainty that grace is not linked to the Sacraments.
And we know with equal certainty that God wants all men to be saved, that is holy.
John Paul II in Redemptoris missio recalled that “In Christ, God calls all peoples to himself and he wishes to share with them the fullness of his revelation and love. He does not fail to make himself present in many ways, not only to individuals but also to entire peoples through their spiritual riches, of which their religions are the main and essential expression, even when they contain “gaps, insufficiencies and errors.””(RM 55).
5. Before him, the Second Vatican Council had said that “The Catholic Church rejects nothing that is true and holy in these religions.
She regards with sincere reverence those ways of conduct and of life, those precepts and teachings which, though differing in many aspects from the ones she holds and sets forth, nonetheless often reflect a ray of that Truth which enlightens all men.”(Nostra aetate, 2).
6. Therefore, although divine life (grace) is given in the Church in an ordinary and superabundant way because of the Christian faith which is divinely inspired and because of the Sacraments, God certainly gives particular graces of sanctification even to those who do not belong materially to the Church and without their fault do not know Christ as the only Savior of man.
7. So that there can be real spiritual and mystical experiences even in non-Christians.
Such experiences are always a gift of Jesus Christ, even if they do not know it or do not recognize it.
8. However, as with the spiritual and mystical experiences that occur among Christians, discernment is necessary because they can come from Above or from the pit (“Satan masquerades as an angel of light”, 2 Cor 11:14) or they can be the result of illusion or psychic fragility or even a mixture of these last two factors, so it is necessary to affirm this also for all those who are subject to such experiences outside of Christianity.
Especially since that – it must be remembered – in other religions, together with elements of truth and holiness there are also “gaps, insufficiencies and errors ” (Redemptoris Missio 55).
I wish you a profound experience of life in Christ “for in him dwells the whole fullness of the deity” (Col 2,9) and ” in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col 2: 3).
I assure you of my prayers for this intention and I bless you.
Translated by Chiara P.