It is a truism to say that converts to the faith are often more serious, zealous and committed to the Church than those who regard membership of it as their unquestioned birthright. That is why we need them: to constantly remind us of the mercy of God in founding a Church to provide us with the sacramental means to become holy and thus fit us for heaven.
I make these remarks having read a large book, Cor Jesu Sacratissimum (Angelico Press), by one such convert as I have just described: Roger Buck. Translated as “Most Sacred Heart of Jesus”, Buck’s title is a deliberate reference both to the apparitions of the Sacred Heart to St Margaret Mary Alacoque at her convent in Paray-le-Monial between 1673 and 1675 and to the once-popular Catholic devotion of consecrating one’s home to the Sacred Heart.
Buck’s book is subtitled “From Secularism and the New Age to Christendom Renewed”. For me, the first part of the book, which describes the author’s deep involvement in New Age spirituality for over two decades (including living at the world-famous Findhorn community in Scotland for three years), was the most interesting. He shows how New Age thinking has permeated our culture insidiously, not only from so-called therapies such as reiki, shiatsu, qigong and yoga, but also through widely used phrases, words and concepts such as “self-development”, “self-empowerment”, “channelling”, “astral planes” and “visualisations”.
As Buck observes, New Agers are generally “sensitive, idealistic souls who are frequently appalled by modern materialism”. But New Age spirituality, originating with Madame Blavatsky and continued by her disciples such as Gurdjieff and Krishnamurti, is a snare and a delusion, leading the devotee inward, towards “self-realisation”, rather than outward, in self-giving charity towards others. “I saw no saints at Findhorn like Maximilian Kolbe,” observes Buck tellingly.
The second part of the book, concerned with “Christendom and the Catholic mystery”, makes an eloquent plea for Catholics to understand the nature of the spiritual battle in which we are engaged and which he sees the Church (in the West at least) as gradually losing. Buck, as he describes in an eloquent passage, was converted to Christianity in 1997; he and his wife became Catholics in the year 2000. More than most he understands the wasteland of his spiritual life before he discovered the riches of the faith.
Now he urges his fellow Catholics to attend daily Mass if possible; to cultivate devotion to the Sacred Heart; to frequent Confession; to pray the Rosary and to undertake Eucharistic adoration. In other words, we need to make use of the Sacraments, the sacramentals and the devotions available to us, in order “to become”, in the phrase often used by St John Paul II, “who we are.”
Buck’s book is rambling and repetitive; it could easily have been cut by a third without losing anything. But it is a passionate and valuable testament to the need for sacramental grace, written by a man more equipped by his experiences to discern and sift the spirits and to warn against the alluring pitfalls of secular “spirituality” than most people.