The school of contemplative prayer in the Catholic Church has long history. The first example that comes to mind is the life of the Blessed Virgin Mary, who achieved unmatched heights of prayer by virtue of her Immaculate Conception and singular proximity to Christ. Anyone who seeks to grow in prayer and the contemplative life should follow her. She’s the master instructor who always leads us to her Son. The Church Fathers and later saints, like Teresa of Avila, Francis de Sales, Catherine of Siena and Therese of Lisieux provide remarkable insights into the richness of the contemplative life. Pope Benedict’s The School of Prayer is an outstanding resource on the topic as well. Jacques Philippe’s Interior Freedom is also well-worth a read. Cardinal Robert Sarah is a modern-day mystic who provides readers of his books with a beautiful introduction to the school of monastic prayer and contemplation.
The point is that as Catholics, we already have reliable material from which to draw instruction on achieving peace and union with God through prayer. With that in mind, should parishes spend time promoting “Sacred Catholic Yoga”? Before we go any further, it should be noted that many Catholic leaders have cautioned the faithful not to practice yoga at all. But take a look at this advertisement from a local parish.
(For another solid resource on the yoga question, read this short article. Also, the instructor’s website is loaded with New Age language and God, the “Great Spirit” is referred to as “her”.) But beyond this example, which isn’t particularly interesting, as faddish yoga is boringly ubiquitous these days, what is troubling is that it is indicative of a wider and deeper spiritual impoverishment at the parish level when it comes to everyday Catholics and their awareness of the Church’s time-honored patrimony and heritage on prayer and the spiritual life. Sincere, well-meaning individuals are looking for “spirituality” but don’t know where to turn for answers. So “Catholic Yoga” crops up to fill the void. We’re looking outside our own house when we have plenty of better resources inside to tap into. The problem is they’ve been boxed up and stored in the attic, long forgotten.
Where does one find peace? Where and how does one encounter God? Well, the good news is that we don’t have to look far (or to other traditions) for reliable answers. The Church has provided the answers all along. All too often, we’re just not listening or, more likely, we’re not being told where to look. The answer is the Sacramental life of the Church. The answer is the contemplative life, and living a life of charity towards our neighbor.
Staying fit is a good goal, but there are better ways to achieve it. Go for a jog, or a brisk walk. Join a gym with a friend. Want to find peace that is lasting? Skip the fads and the so-called “Sacred Catholic Yoga” (there is no such thing). Find a confessional with the light on. Find an adoration chapel. Kneel in stillness and silence before the Eucharistic Lord. Pick up a copy of The Interior Castle and Introduction to the Devout Life…and pray.