Blog Post

Spanish Bishops Warn Catholics About Mindfulness

The Commission for the Doctrine of the Faith for Spain’s Bishops Conference has issued a document warning Catholics that they risk abandoning the faith by using mindfulness and other methods of meditation that do not originate in Christianity.

The Tablet is reporting on the document, 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”) which warns the faithful that the popular use of mindfulness is incompatible with “Christian prayer practices.” They warn Catholics that they risk “effectively abandoning the faith” if they engage in it.

"Our pace of life, marked by activism, competitiveness and consumerism, generates emptiness, stress and anguish", said the Bishops Conference's Commission for Doctrine of the Faith. "In this situation, many people are resorting to methods of meditation and prayer that originate in religious traditions outside Christianity in response to a growing demand for emotional well-being. However, a spirituality understood as cultivation of one's interiority and self-discovery does not lead to God."

The bishops warn that techniques aimed at "self-control of personal emotions and sufferings" are often used "without proper discernment about their compatibility with the Christian message of salvation", and were not generally "open to the will of God".

Those using mindfulness methods "as a complement to the faith or to achieve a more intense experience of it," often "effectively abandoned the Catholic faith even without realizing it.”

This is because "the reduction of prayer to meditation turns this type of practice into a monologue that begins and ends in the subject itself. Eliminating the difference between the self and what is outside, between the sacred and the profane, between the divine and the created makes it impossible to distinguish the personal face of the Christian God. When divinity and the world are confused and there is no otherness, any type of prayer is useless".

The bishops’ statement is welcome guidance for Catholics, many of whom are unwittingly blending the same Buddhist meditation techniques used in the popular practice of mindfulness into their prayer lives.

In one case, which I mention in my book, A Catholic Guide to Mindfulness, our ministry received a letter from a distraught wife whose husband abandoned Catholic family prayer in the evenings for Body Scan Meditation, a Buddhist meditation technique used in the practice of mindfulness. Her husband claimed that Body Scan was “more relaxing” for him than the Rosary – a statement which reveals his lack of understanding about the nature of Christian prayer, which is all about dialogue with God, not with achieving the relaxation that eastern techniques are designed to provide.

In his book, Crossing the Threshold of Hope, St. John Paul warns about this naïve blending of Buddhism and Catholicism because these two religions have an essentially different way of perceiving the world. For this reason, he warns Christians who want to embrace certain ideas originating in the religious traditions of the Far East, to “know one’s own spiritual heritage well” before considering whether or not it should be lightly set aside.

A copy of the bishop's document (available in Spanish only) can be found here.

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