Meditation is often associated with Eastern religions, as it is a key spiritual practice in religions such as Buddhism and Hinduism. But does that mean that meditation is something that Catholics should avoid?
No! In fact, meditation (or contemplative prayer) is a crucial part of Catholic spirituality. However, Christian meditation is very different than the meditation practices of other religions, so it’s important to know what Christian meditation is – and what it isn’t.
Recently on St. Joseph’s Workshop, Fr. Matthew Spencer, OSJ explained the importance of meditation in the Christian life, and how Christian meditation differs from the meditation practices of other religions. He said:
“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people say, ‘I don’t have time to pray, Father. I don’t have time to meditate. I’m too busy.’ And I believe that you’re a busy person. I’m quite sure that so many people are overwhelmed with all of their responsibilities that it can be difficult to find time, to make time, for the Lord.
But let me put this a different way. You don’t have time not to pray. You need to pray in your life, because if you’re not praying then your life is going to suffer. If you’re not in relationship with the Lord, you’re going to be in big trouble.
That relationship with the Lord is fundamental, and if you don’t have an authentic relationship and time with Jesus, learning at His feet and conforming your life to His life, then trust me that you are going to become so overwhelmed that it will become worse than you could imagine, because Jesus isn’t in there to help you out with it.
This brings me to a particular way of spending time with the Lord that I hear a lot of people say they just don’t have time for. And that is meditation. This has become such a hot-button topic in our own times, because people look to it as some kind of mystical experience where they do it because they want to have some kind of transformational, transcendental experience every day, and they want to have a zen-like attitude.
None of this is Christian, in the sense that this is not the point of meditation for Christians. St. Teresa of Avila said that if you’re sinning it’s because you’re not meditating enough. That is to say, if you’re meditating enough you will never sin anymore because you’ll be so focused on the Lord, you’ll be so focused on His plan for you, that it won’t even cross your mind to fall into sin.
See, Christian meditation is about making time and silence for the Lord, and understanding better what that relationship is all about. And it can take a lot of forms in a Christian way. Ignatian spirituality uses a very imaginative form of meditation, where we look to Scripture and put ourselves in those scriptural scenes, and use the gift of imagination and visual cues that we can hold in our mind to help us learn from Jesus and learn what He wants. There are different forms of meditation that will be different depending on what tradition in Christianity you come from.
Now, here’s the thing. Part of entering into communion with Jesus is also eliminating noise in your life. Recently, I’ve been reading Cardinal Sarah’s book The Power of Silence: Against the Dictatorship of Noise. I love that ‘against the dictatorship of noise’ because it is true that to hear God’s voice means to eliminate noise in our lives, and distractions in our lives.
I think that’s why St. Teresa of Avila would often say that it is so necessary to meditate. It is so necessary to spend time with Jesus, because when we do that we are eliminating those noise factors in our life, those distractions. Your own wandering mind, the noise of technology, the noise of entertainment and media, and the distractions can permeate so much of our life that we lose focus on the Lord.
If people understood what Christian meditation was about they would realize that we’re not doing this so that we will maybe find some peace this way, or because it works for some people, or because maybe this will help me to become the person I want to be.
It’s not an option to be in relationship with Jesus. It’s not an option to enter into dialogue and enter into communion with Our Lord. It’s a necessary part of our lives as Catholics – to make time in prayer and yes, even meditation.
So be careful when people tell you how to meditate. If people tell you that it’s just about clearing your mind, and finding that place where you’re just by yourself and there’s nobody else and nothing there to distract you – then it’s just a mental exercise to get you that quiet that you seek throughout the day. But if Jesus is not present in that moment, you’re going to have problems.
Because Jesus needs to enter into that silence in your heart, He needs to enter into your heart in those moments to help you respond, to help you follow Him. When you meditate in the Christian tradition, what you are doing is coming closer to Jesus. You’re coming closer to Our Lord and you’re learning from Him at His feet.
Don’t sell yourself short and say you don’t have time for prayer, you don’t have time for meditation, you don’t have time to enter into this deep communion with Jesus. You don’t have time not to do it! You need to make time to enter into that deep relationship with Our Lord, and that happens with authentic communion with Jesus, that is only found when we eliminate the noise from our life and listen to those words from Jesus.”
Listen to the full reflection below:
St. Joseph’s Workshop with Father Matthew Spencer airs weekdays from 9:00 – 10:00 a.m. Pacific.