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Angels of the New Age Kind

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by Mary Drahos

Fifteen-year-old Tara carried a dog-eared angel book with her wherever she went. At home, school or alone in her room, she read and reread the pages of what had become a treasured possession. Family members observed Tara's intense interest in angels. Once Tara asked her mother whether she thought people became angels when they died.

Then Tara was suddenly killed in a car accident.

After her death, Tara's parents became avidly interested in the whole concept of angels. They believed that their daughter had indeed become an angel, the family's guardian angel. They opened an angel novelty shop in Los Angeles in her memory. It is called Tara's Angels.

A sad way for them to make sense of their daughter's death? Perhaps.

There is another gift shop in a vacation spot on the East Coast called On Angels' Wings. A friend of mine went in; she experienced an eerie sense of darkness as soon as she walked in. The heavy smell of incense was overpowering.

"I asked the proprietor, who was wearing a black headband, 'Where on earth did you get the name for your shop?' He moved closer, squinting. And he just riveted his eyes on mine, never blinking. It was kinda scary. Then he said slowly, 'Well, it came to me when I was in an altered state of consciousness."

Angels, angels, everywhere! Modern descriptions of these celestial beings are plentiful: "visions," "kind people in disguise," "balls of whirling energy," "thoughts," "vivid dreams," "lights," "rainbows," "animals" and even "invisible hands." No wonder Christians have difficulty distinguishing modern-day angels from the kind they find in Scripture! What in heaven's name is happening?

We have "feel-good" angels. The Los Angeles neighborhoods that were so badly ravaged in the 1992 riots now sport a very small touch of heaven. An intrepid artist, Jill D'Agnenica, leaves 12-inch plaster cherubs, painted magenta, in the most unlikely places--on street corners, atop trash piles, at bus stops, in parks and even in empty lots. Her goal is to distribute close to 5,000 angels throughout the blighted area. Why?

"The experience of seeing an angel," she says, "or even more important, when word gets out, the act of looking for an angel will remind each person of their place in the City of Angels."

In the media we see a growing New Age grassroots "revolution of the spirit." Angels are the "in" thing. Even Hillary Rodham Clinton wears a gold pin with angel's wings on days when she "needs help," according to Time magazine.

Movies and TV are becoming all "aflutter with winged spirits," says an entertainment writer, including "dogooding seraphim" and a "Super Angel." As for publishing's celestial explosion, there is even a thriller planned about "a renegade pack of angels."

All these "heavenly" profit-making ventures make earlier efforts at angelic public relations, such as the Angel Collectors Club of America, seem quaint. For many years, their members have collected angel dolls and ornaments. They give talks on angels to churches and retirement homes and have a newsletter appropriately called, "Halo, Everybody"!

New Age Angels

Is this newfound belief in angels a positive sign? Not necessarily: "For those who choke too easily on God and His rules, theologians observe, angels are the handy compromise, all fluff and meringue, kind, nonjudgmental. And they avail themselves to everyone, like aspirin," writes journalist Nancy Gibbs.

A large number of today's angel devotees and authors do not perceive angels in the same way Catholics do. We should not excuse excesses or eccentricities as touching "spiritual" or "angelic" phenomena.

Real angels always point the way to God. Angels are not a replacement of the transcendent God whom they adore joyfully, without ceasing. They serve Jesus Christ, the Redeemer of humanity, with complete willingness. They carry out the will of the Triune God in the power of the Holy Spirit. (This is the true test of any angel, no matter when or in what form that angel comes).

We must apply this criteria to any popular book we read on angels, to any documentary about them, and certainly to any talk shows. Do they ever mention the Christian God, or are the angels they present merely disembodied autonomous spirits? Whether through word or art, is there any allusion to Jesus or the Incarnation? Are angels presented as self-empowered or Spirit-empowered?

I often hear the objection: "That's too heavy. I happen to think it's wonderful that so many people say they believe in angels these days."

And that is precisely the problem. The New Age philosophy is enveloping and diminishing traditional Christian belief in angels.

Real angels help us grow spiritually. The media often portray modern-day angels as ethereal, all-forgiving images of light. This often produces a kind of "discount spirituality," whose adherents feel free to pick and choose from Judeo-Christian beliefs. The Ten Commandments and the cross are conveniently forgotten. People are invited to get in touch with their "inner angel," to seek "angel psychotherapists" or to view themselves as "angels in training" who are growing their own wings.

Some people simply dismiss all this as a spiritual fad. Others consider the "Angelic New Age" a distressing amalgamation of faith facts, self-help lingo, Eastern spirituality and even the occult.

In truth, the New Age "angel awareness" can be both a sham as well as a sign of hope. It may be nothing more than a self-indulgent search for something novel . . . but this awareness may also signify true spiritual hunger.

In that case, modern-day angels can be of value in our skeptical and jaded world. They can point the way to the only spiritual treasure that lasts for eternity --Jesus, the pearl of great price. This is exactly where real angels lead. All the more reason we should not be intimidated by the New Age "angel pushers," or so confused that we do not share the truth of our faith in real angels.

Wrote Cardinal John Henry Newman: "Let us beware lest we make the contemplation of [angels] a mere feeling, and a sort of luxury of the imagination.... Many a man can write and talk beautifully about them, who is not at all better or nearer heaven for all his excellent words."

New Age Ideas

The New Age philosophy is difficult to pin down, but we must nevertheless try to understand it. Author Russell Chandler says that "The [New Age] goal is to redefine spirituality . . . to change our culture's dominant world view--which is still Christian, more or less."

"The term 'New Age' is a reference to a particular time in the near future when mankind will presumably enter into an era of spiritual enlightenment characterized by the collective realization of the god-consciousness within each person," writes a Christian scholar, Mary Ann Lind. "The universal release of such spiritual power will then usher in a 'new age."'

There are four basic elements to New Age thought and philosophy, according to Father Mitchell Pacwa, S.J., foremost Catholic authority on the New Age movement.

1. Monism. Everything in the universe is one. This includes all forms of life--material things and even angels. "There is no difference between us and the air, us and the rocks, and so on," says Father Pacwa.

2. Everything is God. God is in everything. God is everything. This is pantheism, the belief that everything is in the one divine nature. "We are God, the lights are God, the chair I sit in is God," elaborates Father Pacwa.

3. We need to be enlightened through humanistic psychology. We must be made aware of our oneness and spiritual power. This is where many Catholics veer off course with things like the enneagram, a system of numerology intended to make a person perfect, better and whole by understanding personality types. "The way it is taught," says Father Pacwa, "people try to save themselves instead of depending on the grace of Christ. People go from enneagrams to Eastern meditation to get out of their 'personality types."'

4. Expect a New Age to dawn. It will rise "out of the ashes of the Western world view" (cosmic evolutionary optimism). They wish to displace Christianity with a great "collective unconsciousness," where all "archetypes" dwell (that's what New Agers perceive angels to be).

New Agers see angels as "doorways" into the spirit world. A New Age mystic named Andrew Ramer writes his travels with an "angel" through many reincarnated lives, "the two of us working to bridge the physical and spiritual worlds." His angel comments: "We angels cannot enter your world unless you open a window or a doorway for us."

New Age angelologists develop that opening through a host of techniques that are intended to help people connect with a personal angel. Besides the usual angel workshops--attended by a surprising number of professionals and religious folk-- there are angelic oracles, spiritual specialists, divination tools, angel cards (like horoscopes), karma cleansing and much more.

We can discern New Age angels by applying Jesus's classic test, "By their fruits you shall know them." The kingdom of darkness is always in opposition, camouflaging its intentions. Evil spirits are sent in the guise of good angels.

A typical New Age view is that "Our angels tell us the future is now," we read in a New Age book authored by Alma Daniel, Timothy Wyllie and Andrew Ramer. "Talking with our angels, connecting with the divinity within us, elevates our personal awareness, which in turn improves our lives and circumstances."

By contrast, good angels know that only through Jesus is our salvation assured and our perfection in God possible when our earthly life ends. Angels work diligently, leading us to an ever closer union with Our Lord and Savior.

New Age Angels Come in Disguise

Many New Agers say that their angelic informants tell them that, through the ages, people have had a very false impression of fallen angels. Lucifer, for example, "has been identified in our mind as the devil, instead of an aspect of God dedicated to our growth by helping us strengthen our spiritual muscles," we are told. He is the "Light Bearer" who teaches about the necessity of life's dark side.

This reminds us of the words of St. Paul, "Even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. It comes as no surprise that his ministers disguise themselves as ministers of the justice of God. But their end will correspond to their deeds" (2 Cor 11:14-15).

Satan and the other fallen angels are very smooth con artists. Satan can assume an air of sanctity and act as though his were the noblest of motives-- a real gentleman, as Shakespeare put it.

Discerning New Age Spirituality

Former Catholics more easily succumb to ritualistic or occult practices because Catholicism is steeped in ritual action. For example, Catholics bless themselves with holy water, are blessed with the monstrance at Benediction, and often have their homes, rosaries and medals blessed by a priest. All are a sign of our united belief in Christ and in His Church.

Think about it. When a Catholic is shopping around for a little gift, wouldn't a pastel- layered, pyramid-shaped candle with a tag reading, "Rainbow Blessings," likely catch the eye? Would the "cute" promise of a lucky charm and a message capsule inside (which, it turns out, is a prayer that "the angel of happiness" shower joy and celebration) bring a smile?

Neither are the trappings of "nature worship" always easily recognized as evil. Wicca has been whitewashed in the media lately, so much so that some very unlikely people could get sucked in. The prime public-relations ploy is to say that witches have only an earth religion and do not believe in Satan. Their chants and rituals, they insist, are only their way of praying, of helping them to create "sacred space." But to whom do they pray?

New Age philosophy holds that we are already perfect and we are already gods, but we remain unaware of our immense power. We must be enlightened bit by bit, weaned away from our "archaic" Judeo-Christian beliefs. If this seems extreme, think of how many Far Eastern meditation techniques have gained wide acceptance, even by many in the Church. This is one area where we need the wisdom of the angels to use meditation as a tool for humbly deepening our faith in an all-loving and omnipotent God--not displacing Him.

Many Christians have been so deluded by religious soft-sell that later admonitions fall on deaf ears. So it might be wise to consider these precautions when the lure of New Age philosophy seems attractive.

1. Be aware! False Christs have always been around (see Mt 24:23-27). Astrology and reincarnation are false (see Heb 9).

2. All religions are not equal. Beware of any teaching that equates Jesus Christ with Buddha, Mohammed or any other great teacher or prophet. (He is so much more. He is the very Son of the living God.)

3. Be discriminating in your reading. Never agree to follow blindly the spiritual dictates of a popular author or book. Do not be so impressed with a book's popularity that, if it contains definite contradictions to faith, you remain silent. Any self- improvement of a spiritual nature must agree with basic Catholic belief.

4. Ask your guardian angel to pray to God for greater discernment for you. Become well-grounded in Scripture and Church teaching. "This is the best protection against the New Age Movement for yourself, and it's a good way to learn what to evangelize to other people," says Father Pacwa.

Mary Drahos lives with her family in Medfield, Maine. This is adapted from her new book, "Angels of God, Our Guardians Dear," Charis Books, P.O. Box 8617, Ann Arbor, MI 48107 (c) Mary Drahos, 1995. Used with permission.

This article appeared in the September 1995 issue of "New Covenant" magazine. To subscribe write Our Sunday Visitor, Inc., 200 Noll Plaza, Huntington, IN 46750-9957 or call 1-800-348-2440. Published monthly at a charge of $18.00 per year.


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Further Reading:

Refutation of the New Age Movement

Holy Spirit Watch