Christian meditation is not the same as "mindfulness"

Photo credit: Heiligenkreuz Abbey (New Liturgical Movement)
In the approach to the Sacred Triduum, I was glad to come across this article by this article by Fr Ed Broom: Ten Ways to Meditate on Christ’s Passion because it struck me as very helpful for people who have a sincere desire to follow Christ more devoutly but are unsure about "methods of prayer" or whether some special esoteric technique might be required to be a more devoted follower of Christ.

Father Broom lists ten simple practices which will probably already be familiar to most good Catholics, and gives some simple and practical advice on how to use them to good effect.

Unfortunately, the word "meditation" itself can be unhelpful. It is associated nowadays with "mindfulness" and the need to have an expert of some sort to teach you how to acquire the right technique. It is also generally accepted that mindfulness is not for everyone, whereas prayer is most definitely for everyone. As St Alphonsus says, "for adults prayer is necessary as a means of salvation." (See his sermon On the efficacy and necessity of prayer.)

The NHS website has an article on mindfulness seen simply as focussing on the present moment, but the practice of mindfulness is derived from the Buddhist practice of sati which the NHS, in common with many secular proponents of mindfulness, fails to mention. (What is also not mentioned is that the Buddhist practice presupposes the keeping of moral precepts as an essential preparation for mindfulness.) Some popular writers have attempted to incorporate into Christian practice other forms of Eastern meditation such as the use of a mantra. It can seem similar to some types of Christian prayer such as the Rosary or the Jesus prayer, to repeat a mantra, but the distinctive aspect of Christian prayer is that it is relational - it involves communion with a personal God. For an extensive treatment of this, see the letter of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to Bishops in 1989 On Some Aspects of Christian Meditation. If that is too extensive, we can just remember the safe definition of St John Damascene which is used in the Penny Catechism: "Prayer is the raising of the mind and heart to God."

Some time ago, I wrote a post on The practice of mental prayer which I hope will still be useful as a simple and practical guide to the practice of Christian meditative prayer. I also wrote a Catholic Dilemma on Meditation for the Catholic Herald. Mental Prayer is simple and for everyone. Simple is not the same as easy; we need to be disciplined in finding time in the day, in setting aside a determined amount of that time, in focussing our minds and hearts, and in doing our best to free ourselves from distraction. But none of these things is complicated, none of them requires a degree or an expert, though a good confessor should be able to give appropriate advice when needed.

If you want to love Jesus Christ more, and to be more closely united to Him in prayer, there could be no better time to give a little extra to our Lord, than the Easter Triduum when we celebrate solemnly His institution of the Holy Eucharist, His redeeming sacrifice and His glorious resurrection. Let us pray for one another in these coming days.

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