Anthony de Mello, S.J


I read Anthony de Mello, S.J.'s “Awareness” yesterday. It had been recommended to me, and I had seen positive reviews. I did not do much research before picking up the book, but assumed it was in line with Catholic orthodox teaching.

All I can say is that, as I am coming from a place of current suffering, it has really shaken me up. I have never had a book do that to me before. So, I looked here on Catholic Answers and found various posts about his writings. I now see why reading his book was a horrible experience. I wanted to post since there has not, on the forums, been much discussion in recent years about his writings, so I wanted to hopefully point out to others that they should seriously consider not reading this book. I learned, after the fact, that the Congregation for Doctrine of the Faith to issue a formal Notification about his writings some years ago:


For reading of suffering, I would suggest Pope John Paul II

And Fr Benedict Groeschel’s “Tears of God”.

Both are well recommended!!


What about the book disturbed you so much?


I think that the Congretation of the Doctrine of the Faith’s Notification that I linked to lays out the overall issues that I have. There is certainly a lot of material out there on the inconsistency of Fr. de Mello’s writings with Church doctrine, as well.

But, as one example, in Awareness, Fr. de Mello indicates that we must “awaken” and detach ourselves from all of our prior conditioning, people in our lives, material things, and even God, in order for us to be awake. He then advocates a selfish existence; one I interpret as being disconnected from morality. He also downplays any reason for living, and totally discounts life after death.


Yikes! Detachment from people in our lives, detachment from Gd, selfish existence, disconnection from morality, no reason for living, no life after death. Can such a book have been written by a priest? There must be some other context to all this.


Priests can make mistakes, teach errors, believe the wrong things.

This is why we have to know Church teachings, to test things and see if they conform.


If, as the Vatican page said, he didn’t present Jesus as being the Son of God, then he is sadly way off base and his soul needs prayers. I will pray for him.


He probably means detachment from our images of God. And our day to day living should not be based on some future reward or punishment but the Kingdom of love here and now.


Shakuhachi, have you read the man’s writings, or are you just making a guess/ hypothesis?

For the Vatican to warn against a writer in this day and age is serious business. I don’t think it’s a good idea for you to be so dismissive and say “Oh he probably just meant XYZ”.


I have not read that specific book but I have read others of his.
Do I need to read it before commenting?


Ok, I found a free copy. Give me a page reference of something “horrible”.


Are you suggesting that you are a better authority on whether or not this author is in line with church teaching than the CDF?


I am asking for evidence I can read for myself.

I will certainly admit that in the first few pages he sounds very arrogant.


I’m very familiar w the book. Read it dozens of times & listened to the audiobook almost daily for years. I don’t anymore because that was during a New Age phase I went through and now Im faithful Catholic

He doesn’t so much advocate selfishness as assert the inevitability and universality of selfishness. He says everyone is acting selfishly whether the guy who is sitting at home binge watching Netflix or guy volunteering to feed the poor. He says both guys are getting positive feelings out of those activities so both acting selfishly. He emphasizes that selfishness doesn’t necessarily mean bad. In fact he says often what is bad is acting against our own interests , example saying yes when we mean no to friend asking us out. Now we’re angry at ourselves for not being honest & angry w them for asking us. It’s a lose lose. My problem w all that is moral relativism- he is saying a guy sitting at home eating junk food is no more moral than a guy who is volunteering to feed the hungry.

He also doesn’t downplay reason for living but the opposite . In book says: “Everyone worries is there life after death. But you don’t have anyone asking is there life before death. And it’s precisely those who don’t know what to do w this life that are all bothered about what to do in another life” So clearly he wants people to live in this life. But yes he does discount life after death.

My main gripe is his undermining divinity of Jesus
“Jesus was so at home with sinners because he realized he wasn’t one bit better than them”
“The only difference between Jesus and those sinners is he was awake, they weren’t”

Obviously completely false given that Jesus is God made flesh , he was far more than merely an enlightened human


I don’t disagree with you. My issue was that there were a fair number of aspects of the book, that when put together, really did cause me to be very troubled. As some have noted, not being too attached to material things, and not allowing one’s self to be judged by others, are consistent with Christian and Catholic teaching. I don’t desire to debate with anyone about it; in fact, I have thrown away the book in favor or more orthodox reading.

I would note one more example of his advocation of complete detachment as the way to awaken and feel no loneliness. He provides a brief story of his sister asking how God could let his mother pass away (clearly his sister feeling grief and loss). de Mello’s response to his sister was that last year 1 million people died in China and you raised no question. It’s this sort of complete detachment from connections/attachments to people. He effectively says that if we are “awake,” we should have no feeling if one who is close to us dies. He does this with the “attachment” to God, as well.


That doesn’t seem to fit with Christian teaching. Even Jesus wept for his dead friend Lazarus, and that was even though Jesus knew that he would very soon raise Lazarus back to earthly life, and that in addition to that, Jesus knew that Lazarus would end up having eternal life in heaven with God. One would have expected Jesus to not have and express human grief. But he did.


Yes that example demonstrates his sort of extreme view of avoiding any kind of dependence on people. He does say its ok to depend on people for things like food, medicine, etc, but not to depend on people psychologically. Which is good in one sense (e.g. avoiding things like codependency) but not good for reasons you point out (e.g. can lead to people isolating themselves from family, friends, etc).

Now in fairness to him, he would probably cite to examples like Jesus telling disciples they have to be willing to leave their family and friends and join him. BUt I interpret those passages to mean that if we are in a situation where we have to choose between being obedient to Christ or to our family, we must choose Christ.

Yes that is probably another of his most problematic statements.

“So the delusion many of us have is that we won’t be happy unless we get this job, or that wife, or even God
(completely contradicted by Catholic doctrine and St Augstine saying our hearts are restless until they rest in God)

Also “if you think that unless you get God you’re not going to be happy, this God you’re thinking of has nothing to do with God”
(he is pushing a very Eastern/New Age version of God that is optional, not the Christian God I read Aquinas write about who revealed eternal truths to us and by following these truths is our only way to happiness since other ways like power/money/etc do not work as they are worldly)


Two further quotes from the book:

“Do you think you help people because you are in love with them?
Well, I 've got news for you. You are never in love with anyone. You’re
only in love with your prejudiced and hopeful idea of that person.
Take a minute to think about that: You are never in love with anyone,
you’re in love with your prejudiced idea of that person. Isn’t that how
you fall out of love? Your idea changes, doesn’t it? “How could you let
me down when I trusted you so much”? you say to someone. Did you
really trust them? You never trusted anyone. Come off it!”

"Think of someone you love very much, someone you’re close to,
someone who is precious to you, and say to that person in your mind,
“I’d rather have happiness than have you”. See what happens. “I’d
rather be happy than have you. If I had a choice, no question about
it, I’d choose happiness”. How many of you felt selfish when you said
this? Many, it seems. See how we’ve been brainwashed? See how
we’ve been brainwashed into thinking, “How could I be so selfish”?
But look at who’s being selfish. Imagine somebody saying to YOU,
“How could you be so selfish that you’d choose happiness over me”?
Would you not feel like responding, “Pardon me, but how could YOU
be so selfish that YOU would demand I choose you above my own

A woman once told me that when she was a child her Jesuit cousin
gave a retreat in the Jesuit church in Milwaukee. He opened each
conference with the words: “The test of love is sacrifice, and the
gauge of love is unselfishness”. That’s marvelous! I asked her,
“Would you want me to love you at the cost of my happiness”? “Yes”,
she answered. Isn’t that delightful? Wouldn’t that be wonderful? SHE
would love me at the cost of HER happiness and I would love her at
the cost of MY happiness, and so you’ve got two unhappy people, but

The issue is that de Mello presents love and happiness as being mutually exclusive - it’s either one or the other. I don’t think that is correct at all. And this logic further shows his apparent ability/willingness to completely detach himself from relationships. The Scriptures teach love for all people, for example. They don’t say that we should choose our own happiness over love.


I think when he uses “love” in those quotes he’s talking about society’s use of “love”, hence the “see how we’ve been brainwashed?”. I think he believes that real love isn’t mutually exclusive with happiness, but that society’s use of “love” isn’t real love. I think its more of him being a social critic of how “love” is thrown around. Elsewhere in book he said “that isn’t love - that’s drugs! that’s kicks! that’s addiction!” And he is correct that many people who say “I love you” today are actually saying “I am addicted to you”. Its an unhealthy dependence many times, where each person needs the other person more than they need God, for example.

Catholic teaching is in line with what Aquinas said - to love another is to will the good of another for the sake of the other, and for two people joined together in love of God (3 in the relationship). I doubt if even 5-10% of people saying “I love you” today have that perception of love. I think that is what Demello is getting at with that. I actually dont have big gripe with that part of book. Its more how he undermines God, divinity of Jesus, etc.


I am finding the book irritating because of his style, as if we are all stupid, asleep and he is one of the few not. Very condescending. So i am out of this conversation.

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