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In March of 2009, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a document declaring the practice of Reiki (pronounced RAY kee) incompatible with Christian teaching and scientific evidence and therefore inappropriate for Catholic institutions to promote or support. Scandalously, many churches, Catholic hospitals, and retreat centers continue to offer Reiki as a “healing practice” despite the Bishops’ clear condemnation. It is important to understand what Reiki is and why it is so dangerous to the practice of authentic Catholicism.

Reiki originated in Japan in the late 1800s and was brought to the West in 1937. So what is Reiki? Reiki is comprised of two words, “Rei” which means “God’s wisdom” and “Ki” which means “life force energy”. It is a practice of stress reduction and relaxation that is said to promote healing. The technique is to minister by “laying on hands” and is based upon the idea that an unseen “life force energy” flows through us and is what controls our physical and spiritual health.   It is interesting to note that the techniques for laying on hands are taught by Reiki Masters but the Reiki itself, the healing force, is said to be passed from teacher to student via an “attunement” which opens up a well of life force energy. People who have experienced attunement report undergoing such life altering changes as having their third eye opened, increased psychic abilities, releasing of negative feelings and energy and, oddly, a change in food preferences. Other people claim to feel absolutely nothing. It seems to be a hit and miss kind of thing.

Like many New Age practices Reiki is merely a hijacked Eastern philosophy with Pantheistic roots, some elements of Christian doctrine and a dash of self-deification.    In using the familiar concepts and terminology of legitimate religious traditions, the Reiki master makes people of faith comfortable with a practice that defies logic and is at a cross purpose with the practice of Christianity. This life force of which they speak can be likened to the Christian doctrine of the soul. While we, as Christians have never claimed scientific evidence to prove the existence of our souls, it is a matter of faith. We do not believe that the soul is moveable from one to another, nor is it a healing force. Our doctrine calls for healing of a soul through confession, prayer, spiritual direction, reception of the Blessed Sacrament, and the like. The soul itself does not heal. Rather it enables us to seek the healing grace provided by God through the sacraments.   The knowledge that an unseen energy flows thorough all living things and is connected directly to the quality of health has been part of the wisdom of many cultures since ancient times.   The existence of this “life force energy” has been verified by recent scientific experiments, and medical doctors are considering the role it plays in the functioning of the immune system and the healing process.

Since the “energy force” is unseen, it would really not be verifiable by any reputable medical practitioner, thereby making that statement a falsehood.   Any role by an unverifiable force in the body could play in healing would be a figment of the patient’s imagination, or the power of self-delusion.

Ki is the life force. It is also called the vital life force or universal life force. This is non-physical energy that animates all living things. As long as something is alive, it has life force circulating thought it and surrounding it; when it dies, the life force departs. This, again, tries to liken the Ki with the Christian concept of a soul but fails in that, as we know, all life comes from God. The life of grace that is our soul will not die but will experience everlasting life. What kind of everlasting life is up to the person in question.

Reiki masters claim that Reiki is not a religion or even spiritual, rather it’s the use of the body’s own force to heal. Since there is no scientific method of qualifying this and there is an entire culture built around Reiki, it is hard to see how it can be anything but a spiritual practice. Certainly the laying on of hands, a key component of the healing, speaks to many healing rituals in many faith traditions.

There are even five principles that Reiki followers are supposed to adhere to: (1) Just for today, I will not be angry; (2) Just for today, I will not worry; (3) Just for today, I will be grateful; (4) Just for today, I will do my work honestly; and (5) Just for today, I will be kind to every living thing.

Rather kindergartenesque as far as creeds go, but it certainly expresses a spiritual ideology.

It is particularly strange and somewhat horrifying that Reiki is practiced in Catholic institutions all over the country. When meaningless and incongruous acts are performed within the context of a real religious service or ritual it is superstition. To add superstition to a Catholic retreat truly is exposing the attendees to sin. It also exposes them to forces that may try to use this spurious laying on of hands to thwart the will of God and cause serious spiritual harm.

When confronted, many Catholics who practice Reiki or receive the “treatments” claim that it can be Christianized and invocations to the Holy Spirit and such accompany the healing ritual. This justification simply does not hold up. There is no need to take a non-Catholic spiritual practice and try to force it to be something it isn’t. Our faith provides all that we need in terms of spirituality. Things that are good, true, and beautiful have no need for extra Christianization since the author of all that is good and true and beautiful clearly provided them. Things that are not good, true, and beautiful have no place in Catholic circles. It is for this reason that it is incumbent upon all faithful Catholics to be aware that there is no place for New Age practices of any kind in our worship, rituals, practices, or prayers. If something is added in the name of “spirituality” or “enlightenment,” be sure to question why Catholics need to import from other sources when our faith was given to us by the Source of all truth.

Catholicism is by itself a whole and complete worship with no need of spurious addends. When the faithful are well-educated and well aware of what is consistent with our faith and what is not, their radar should be well-tuned to weed out superstition and heresy.   The Catholic Church has taken the extraordinary step of banning the practice of Reiki from all of its hospitals, clinics and medical facilities.    Some members of USCCB feel that there was a concern on some level that this type of new age philosophy of life, as spirituality is lacking,” and, that “there is not medical proof that Reiki promotes healing.”  And that the Christian tradition holds “all healing comes from God who chooses intermediaries – doctors and nurses – to carry it out.”

What does this mean for Reiki Practitioners? Reiki’s popularity is continuing to grow at an increasing rate (thus gaining the attention of the Catholic Church) and has found a dedicated and loyal group of adherents. Although the Catholic Church is both a powerful RELIGIOUS and MEDICAL entity, their beliefs do not necessarily need to impinge upon the health considerations of other Christians and the general public. If a practitioner wishes to continue to using Reiki, it should be totally their own prerogative.  Undoubted the new ruling was based upon the Catholic Church’s deep caring and concern for their congregation. We respect and acknowledge their decision. But the Catholic Church has had its own ups and downs, and as influential as they may be as a religious entity, each person should be able to have their own personal opinion on the matter of alternative health matters and follow their own beliefs, consulting with their own personal physician.

Does this hurt the practice of Reiki? As long as it remains an effective source of “alternative” healing and relief, Reiki should remain a viable adjunct to traditional healing. Is it for everyone? That is only for each individual to choose for themselves. Many healing modalities have appeared and disappeared; many religious groups have either supported or condemned a number of health treatments. Opinions have changed, rulings have come and gone. Perhaps the Catholic Church will change its belief structure, perhaps not. In the end, the longevity and acceptance of any treatment will ultimately lie within its own merits. Spirituality is intensely personal. Perhaps the best action for the practitioner is to simply accept and respect the rights of others to choose their own path, and then, to go and follow their own.

“According to a 2007 report from the National Institutes of Health, 1.2 million Americans have had Reiki treatments. That’s a 12% increase from 2002, should Reiki decrease stress pathways or reduce physiological responses to stressful situations, it could be a useful adjunct to traditional medicine and have significant and economic benefits.”

 Kathy Kiefer


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