Sunday, January 3, 2010

Do you believe in Karma?

Dear Rev. Know it all,
Does the Catholic Church  recognize the idea of Karma? By Karma, I mean only  "what goes around comes around" - not the idea of reincarnation. I think it does. Jesus said in the garden of Gethsemane "...those who live by the sword die by the sword." Also, the idea of "cosmic" justice is central to the idea of the final judgment.  What do you think?
Best as always,
Vishnu Vorheer

Dear Vishnu,
I think you have a point. Sort of.  Jesus says very clearly that we get what we give. At the beginning of the 7th chapter of the Gospel of Matthew Jesus says that “We should give and we will receive full measure, flowing down into the folds of our clothing, because the measure with which we measure will be measured back to us.” That does sound a lot like Karma.
We convict ourselves of sin every time we say the Our Father, “Forgive us as we forgive....”  AS not if, not when, but AS!!!   If I forgive but don’t forget, I am, in effect, asking God to forgive what I do, but not to forget it completely.  If I pretend to forgive, but hold bitterness in my heart, I am asking God to hold on to His righteous anger. The Our Father is a very dangerous prayer. Perhaps an examination of conscience would be appropriate before saying it. Instead, most people just rush through it, never thinking that they are asking God to treat them in exactly the same way that they treat the people they are angry with. 
Anger and bitterness are funny things. We cling to resentments as if they were treasure. We simmer and stew enjoying our well deserved anger at some imagined slight or offense. The idiot in traffic, the person who failed to invite us to some event or other, the boor who cut in line in front of us. When I cut in line or zip in and out of traffic I have perfectly good reasons for doing so and the poor unwashed mobs will just have to understand that I am a very important person with important things to do. They, however, get no such privileges from me.
Most of the time we are angry, the people at whom we are furious haven’t a clue that we are angry with them. When someone is rude to me, it would do me well to realize that I am probably unimportant to him in the same way that the people to whom I am rude are unimportant to me. Why waste the energy it takes to be angry with someone who doesn’t even know I exist. The clown that took my parking space couldn’t care less about me, but I am going to waste the next day or two ranting about the insensitivity of the offender? Guess what! You’re right! He’s insensitive. And further, he doesn’t even know how angry you are. In fact the only person hurt by your anger is you, and perhaps the people who live with you and have to put up with your ranting. The person at whom your avalanche of unhappiness is aimed doesn’t know or care that you are angry. They probably are unaware of your existence and they probably were unaware that it was your parking space, your turn in line or your whatever. There was no elaborate plot to defraud you of what was rightly yours.
My point is this: Your anger probably doesn’t hurt anyone but you. So, in a case like this, one doesn’t have to wait to come back as a marmoset. Your sin hits you in the face moments after you commit it. People often come to me in confession and tell me how badly people treat them. To which I say, “ So you don’t have any sins?” That usually stops them cold. Then I say, “So I guess your confessing the sin of anger.” Silence on the other side of the confessional screen. They were there looking for moral support. It never occurred to them that the offence committed against them might have been innocent stupidity, whereas what they are doing rises to the level of moral evil.
Get used to it. This law of returns, as I’ve heard it called, is found in Matthew 7. It is as unbreakable as the law of gravity. If you wonder why the world is so unkind to you while others have all the luck, just look in the mirror. There is no such thing as luck. There’s just grace and truth. The world will never change its attitude toward you . The only thing you can change is your attitude to the world and the people in it.
What some people call Karma, we Catholics call temporal punishment due to sin.  It isn’t enough to be saved, We need to be redeemed, that is to be restored to the position offered us by God when he first created us. We need to be made worthy to be His adopted sons and daughters. We undo the damage cause by our self centeredness by prayer and acts of generosity. Life in this world is a kind of school in which we learn to become the children of God. Some of us play hooky and never come to class at all. If that’s what we do, well we will most certainly flunk. The only job left for us will be shoveling coal in a very hot place. But if some of us are goof-offs and don’t pay attention, though still show up for class, we may have to stay after school and finish our lessons. We Catholics call this Purgatory. The Bible calls it Judgment. 
Some religions say we just keep coming back until we get it right. The Letter to the Hebrews says that it is appointed for man to die once, then the judgment. (Heb.9:27) I sure hope the Hindus are wrong. Once is enough for me. All of us will face judgment. Some will be condemned for having refused God’s love. Those who accepted it, though imperfectly will continue to grow in it until, as St. Paul says, we are “like Him.” Judgment/Purgatory is the process by which those who are not perfected in this world arrive at the fullness of God’s plan for them.
Let me finish with this. I am always telling you about people I’ve known who have died and lived to tell about, you know, the tunnel, the light, the whole shtick.  I’ve heard quite a few of them say that they experience all the pain they’ve caused. Imagine all the people you’ve hurt. You weren’t just hurting them. You were hurting yourself. Think about that as you stand in line a “Toys 'R' Expensive” and as you try to beat out someone for the last parking spot at “Whopper Shopper World of Gizmos.” And remember to make your words soft and tender, because someday you will most assuredly have to eat them. 
Yours Truly,
Rev. Know-it-all


  1. OUch! Guess it wouldn't hurt me to run into a priest like you in the confessional periodically. Welcome to the Catholic Blogger Directory. I'd like to invite you to join us for Sunday Snippets--A Catholic Carnival, a place where a bunch of Catholic bloggers share their weekly best with each other. This week's edition is at

  2. I think we all have a sense that God will punish those who have done wrong, especially those who we are not able to punish here on earth, such as criminals who get away with it or die before trial, etc. It seems to be part of justice. Thanks so much for this. It was a great post.