Could there possibly be more important problems in the world today than if Catholics incorporate into their prayer life “Asian” practices like meditation and mindfulness?
Not, it seems, for the bishops of Spain, who this week dedicated a diatribe to the “incompatibility” of these widely-used centering techniques with “authentic Christian prayer”.
Driving the news
Last Monday the Spanish Bishops’ Conference released a long and windy “doctrinal note” entitled Mi alma tiene sed de Dios, del Dios vivo. Orientaciones doctrinales sobre la oración cristiana (“My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. Doctrinal orientations on Christian prayer”).
“The thirst of God accompanies each and every human being during its existence”, recognise the bishops in their text.
“However, today’s culture and society, characterised by a secularised mentality, hinder the cultivation of spirituality and everything that leads to the encounter with God”, they continue.
Lamenting such phenomena of the modern world as “competitiveness and consumerism”, the bishops lament that people too easily fall prey to “emptiness, stress, anguish [and] frustration”.
The stress leads people to look inward for “silence, serenity and inner peace”, the prelates add.
But problems arise when this search for peace gets confused with the search for “emotional well-being, personal balance, enjoyment of life or serenity to face setbacks”, say the bishops.
That’s because the search for oneself doesn’t always “lead to God”.
“Many people, even having grown up in a Christian environment, resort to techniques and methods of meditation and prayer that have their origin in religious traditions outside Christianity and the rich spiritual heritage of the Church”, the Spanish bishops warn.
That search could lead to the “effective abandonment of the Catholic faith”, they add.
Especially if people look to other religious traditions as a “complement to one’s faith to live that faith more intensely”, the bishops say.
Sometimes Catholics at prayer mix in another religious tradition “without proper discernment about its compatibility with the Christian faith, with the anthropology that derives from it and with the Christian message of salvation”, the prelates lament.
Why it matters
The “doctrinal note” of the Spanish Bishops’ Commission for the Doctrine of the Faith not only takes aim at those “certain approaches within the Church [that] have favoured the uncritical reception of methods of prayer and meditation foreign to the Christian faith”.
The note also takes a huge step backwards on the advances of the last fifty years in interfaith dialogue, warning that “the encounter of Christianity with other religions, especially Asian, has given rise to theologies of religious pluralism”.
“If, when the Incarnation is reduced to a symbol, the unique character of the Son is diluted, in these theologies the concrete face of the Christian God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, is blurred”, the Spanish bishops warn.
They add that this mindset – supposedly present in some alternative prayer techniques – “has direct consequences on some fundamental aspects of the life of the Church”.
“Not only in spirituality; let’s think, for example, in the danger that this entails for missionary activity, that that would become unnecessary if Christ were not the Revealer of the Father and the unique and universal Savior”.
A declaration that’s difficult to understand as anything other than a backsliding from the recognition in the Vatican II declaration Nostra aetate, which recognised the “profound religious sense” of non-Catholic faith traditions.