One of the challenges, and opportunities, of Lent is giving us an opportunity to slow down amid a busy life. How can we do this? For thousands of years, Catholics have used meditation and contemplation. A new book looks at this Catholic tradition with a contemporary view. The Mindful Catholic, Finding God One Moment at a Time is written by Gregory Bottaro. Interestingly, Greg is a Steubenville grad and was a contemporary of our own Jason Carter.
In a YouTube video, Bottaro focuses on three things:
- The moment
- Catholic mindfulness
- God’s mercy
This might seem like normal meditation or psychological therapy. Yet, Bottaro grounds his book and his approach in the Scriptures and the writings of the Saints. He looks at various aspects of Catholic mindfulness. He gets practical by offering a series of exercises at the end of each chapter.
He starts with an awareness of our human body. This is important. We are incarnational beings. The instrument of our salvation was a human body. Bottaro proposes a series of exercises helping us become aware of our body. He adds a focus on breathing. Through these, he helps us become aware of the sensations that our body is experiencing. The key to this is to have our minds focused on a physical point and the present moment. This pulls our mind away from the problems, distractions, and temptations of the day.
Bottaro’s next step is to have us focus on our thoughts, especially our emotions. (Now, some of you reading this might be complaining that this sounds very much like pop psychology. Stick with me here. It gets Catholic shortly). The problem is that our thoughts are often not neutral. They often lead to negative judgments. This is especially the case in our thoughts about other people and about God. Bottaro’s key is a “spirituality of simplicity” and “mindful, non-judgmental detachment. He has us name the emotion. Then we can calmly control it rather than having the emotion control us. We can take the emotion and turn it over in prayer to God. This can form the basis of being aware of ourselves and our emotions. This is classic Ignatian spirituality. It also allows us to bring God into that particular situation that caused the emotion.
One final exercise is to consider the person who might have caused an emotional reaction in our life. This can be a positive or negative emotion. (Here’s your homework) At this point, the exercise is to take the person and the emotion and hand it over to God. When we do this, we also tell God that we wish nothing but good for that person. Thus, it becomes an exercise of mercy.
This cannot be done quickly. This takes time. At St. Monica, we have been trying to build silence and these pauses into our weekend liturgy. We have instructed lectors to wait a while before walking up to the podium for the next reading. We have asked the priests to pause at the end of the Gospel before saying “The Gospel of the Lord.” We have built silence into the beginning of the reception of communion.
This week, try one of the exercises mentioned above. Take 10 minutes for some mental “R and R.” Offer mercy to someone you know and love.
See what the Holy Spirit does next.