On September 6, the Episcopal Commission for the Doctrine of the Faith in Spain released a document entitled My Soul Thirsts for God, for the Living God: Doctrinal Orientations on Christian Prayer. It echoes the 1989 document from the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith (in Rome), On Some Aspects of Christian Meditation. Both documents speak eloquently about the foundations of Christian prayer, while also cautioning against Eastern meditation techniques. Over the next several columns, we’ll study My Soul Thirsts in detail. The English translation is curtesy of Veronica Salazar.
The document begins with a survey of the current climate regarding prayer in Spain. It could equally apply to the US or most western nations. Spain’s bishops write that the human heart is restless for God, but our culture “generates emptiness,” rather than fulfillment (no. 1). People are thus searching for spiritual fulfillment, which can lead to their taking up problematic practices.
“[M]any people—even those who grew up in a Christian environment—resort to meditation, prayer techniques and methods that have their origin in religious traditions outside Christianity and the rich spiritual heritage of the Church. In some cases, this is accompanied by the abandonment of the Catholic faith, even inadvertently. In other cases, people try to incorporate these methods as a ‘supplement’ of their faith to achieve a more intense experience of it. This assimilation is frequently done without proper discernment about its compatibility with the Christian faith, the anthropology that derives from it and with the Christian message of salvation” (no. 2).
The first thing we learn, then, is that when considering methods of prayer or meditation that originated outside the Judeo-Christian tradition, we must be cautious and discerning. These methods may not always be suitable for Catholics. Sometimes, practicing them might bring confusion regarding human nature and our need for salvation. Such practices have even led some to completely abandon the Christian faith.
The bishops of Spain note that we are living in a post-Christian culture. In Christian cultures, they say, teaching the faithful should be focused on theology and morality. But in a world that is no longer Christian, we have no commonly held faith to build upon. “[I]n this cultural context, in which so many live outside the faith, the fundamental challenge is to ‘show’ men the beauty of the face of God manifested in Christ Jesus so that they feel attracted to Him. If we want everyone to know and love Jesus Christ and, through Him, to have a personal encounter with God, the Church cannot be perceived only as a moral educator or defender of truths, but above all as a teacher of spirituality and the place where to have a profoundly human experience of the living God” (no. 5).
Many people who grew up nominally Christian have no knowledge of the vast spiritual tradition within their native faith. They mistakenly think that they know what Christianity has to offer, and that it is lacking. Popular fads, like the current fad of mindfulness that has swept through the West, seem to offer a spirituality that can satisfy their thirst.
How can we bring such people back to the faith? We must help them to encounter Jesus. By teaching them about the richness of Christian prayer and how it can lead to intimate union with God, we can direct their thirst toward the only One who can really satisfy them. The document then goes on to accomplish just that, as we will see in future columns.
For further exploration of topics discussed in this post, we recommend these books:
- A Catholic Guide to Mindfulness by Susan Brinkman using this link: https://amzn.to/34pvrJV
- Is Centering Prayer Catholic by Connie Rossini using this link: https://amzn.to/2Wq0ZMV
Image Credit:Angelica Kauffman [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons