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Exercise discernment before embracing ‘Feng Shui’ rituals—Jesuit priest

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Fr. Ari Dy urges Catholics to be discerning in the practice of "feng shui' rituals so as not to endanger their faith. (Raymond Sebastian)

MANDALUYONG City, Feb. 17, 2014—As part of a post-Chinese New Year celebration, Jesuit priest and Xavier School director Fr. Aristotle C. Dy discussed the basics of Feng Shui and taught Catholics how to practice it without jeopardizing their faith in a talk at the Santuario de San Jose Parish conference hall on Saturday. 

Feng Shui [literally, “wind-water”] is an ancient Chinese philosophical system of “harmonizing human existence with the surrounding environment”. 

Relatively unknown in the West until recently, it has gained popularity where overseas Chinese communities have a marked presence like the Philippines and other countries in Southeast Asia and North America. 

Interestingly, Feng Shui and other Chinese traditions have been more popular outside China than in the Mainland itself after the Communists systematically suppressed “all things old” during the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s. 

But Dy, who has advanced degree in Buddhist studies and has Chinese blood, reminded his audience to exercise discernment before embracing Feng Shui rituals. 

Many of these, he warned, “border on superstition”, and could potentially undermine a Christian’s faith in the Divine. 

Feng Shui enthusiasts believe among other things that constructing one’s house on an auspicious site, or placing one’s furniture in a certain location prescribed by a Feng Shui expert would bring them fortune and prosperity. 

Even Chinese burials often have to observe Feng Shui rules to “ensure that the departed will have a smooth journey ahead”. 

Dy criticized Filipino Christians who adopt Feng Shui practices without really knowing what they are about. 

Most of these people, stated Dy, are drawn to Feng Shui because of its novelty and exoticism, and because “others are doing it”, and “wala namang mawawala” (“there’s no harm anyway”). 

What is worse, many attribute the financial success of the Filipino Chinese to Feng Shui, and these people are doing it hoping that they would also be rich. 

But is there a way Catholics, particularly those of Chinese descent, do Feng Shui without endangering their relationship with the One All-Powerful God? 

The Jesuit enumerated key Feng Shui concepts compatible with or at least similar to those already present in Christian doctrine. 

He mentioned the Chinese custom of venerating the dead as being like the Catholic practice of “praying for the souls in purgatory”. 

Dy stated that if Feng Shui is about “harmony with nature”, Christians could see it as “integrity with Creation”. 

The Taoist “Qi”, although impersonal, and which the Chinese believe to be the “breath of life”, has a counterpart in Catholicism in the person of the Holy Spirit. 

The Chinese habit of carrying “good luck charms”, hanging chymes, and burning incense remind one of the Catholic traditions of wearing scapular and the St. Benedict’s medal, displaying the Holy Name, hanging a Rosary inside the car, lighting candles, and carrying a novena booklet in the wallet. 

While not endorsing it, Dy explained that if a particular Feng Shui ritual poses no problem to Christian teachings on a moral, theological, pastoral, and missionary level, he finds no reason why Catholics, especially Chinese Catholics, could not adopt it. 

He emphasized that from its inception, the Church has always respected the human process, pointing out that early Christians were the first to observe “inculturation”. 

The Evangelists had to write the New Testament in Koine Greek, the lingua franca of their time, to make the “Good News” understood by pagans when Jesus Christ’s mother tongue is Aramaic. 

During the Council of Jerusalem, the Apostle Paul made it easier for gentiles to enter the Church when he advised against the required circumcision. 

Since then, Gentiles could become Christians without converting first to Judaism. 

Christianity began as a Jewish sect, and the easiest way the Apostles and their followers gained adherents among non-Jews was to think and speak like them. 

As early as the 17th century, Jesuit missionary Matteo Ricci had adapted the Catholic faith to Chinese thinking. 

The Spanish friars in the Philippines, after mastering indigenous languages, often had to write in baybayin (native script) to teach catechism to indios (early Filipinos).  

But Dy added that while Catholics could safely believe in aspects of Feng Shui, particularly when it already goes down to the level of practical science, he stressed that all of these become redundant and unnecessary once they have a strong relationship with God. 

He asked, why consult a Feng Shui master before having your house built or your furniture arranged, when you could always have it blessed by a Catholic priest instead? 

Quoting Yeoh-Beng Mah, a Singaporean theologian, Dy said, “Many people are attracted to Feng Shui because it seems to work, and because it gives them a sense of personal control.” 

He added, “Humans want to control their own fate, life, and destiny… Every time this is practiced, it reenacts Adam and Eve’s fall in the Garden of Eden. It is motivated by the same sin: to become one’s own master rather than giving God the rightful place as the Master of our lives.” (Raymond A. Sebastián)

 

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