Help for finding extraordinary calm in extraordinary — or ordinary — times

Review by Nancy Piccione

Years ago, in a column here, I told the story I love about St. Charles Borromeo, the 16th-century saint and archbishop.

The story goes that he was playing cards with two priest friends. Someone near them asked what they would do if they knew the end of the world were to happen within an hour.

One priest said, “I would run to Church to be with our Lord.” The other priest said, “I would call upon the name of the Lord.”

St. Charles Borromeo said, “I would finish this game of cards.”

A few years ago, thinking of that was a nice reminder that if one’s life is well-ordered, whatever we are doing at the moment can be the right thing.

But thinking of that story during our extraordinary times is another thing.

SERENITY DESPITE DISTRACTIONS

Right now we see our world not ending, perhaps, but changing in dramatic and enduring ways.

It is normal and even healthy to have genuine worries and concerns about what the coronavirus means for our families, our health care system and our world in the coming weeks and months.

But at the same time, we all would do well to pray (on repeat) the Serenity Prayer: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

How do we achieve — or renew — that serenity? Many saints and other holy people struggled with distractions (think St. Therese of Lisieux) or “wandering of the mind” (St. Teresa of Avila), so those of us who do so as well are in good company.

We are fortunate that in our Catholic faith offers so many opportunities to reflect on beautiful things, from mysteries of the rosary to Scripture to holy art. But what is a way to improve our attention to the present moment so we can focus on those?

THE MINDFUL CATHOLIC”

A new book, “The Mindful Catholic: Finding God One Moment at a Time,” (and a companion children’s picture book) uses evidence-based research to improve mindfulness and attention for the reader, from a Catholic perspective.

“The Mindful Catholic,” written by Dr. Gregory Bottaro, a clinical psychologist and director of the Catholic Psych Institute, is a helpful resource that demonstrates how mindfulness practiced from a Catholic perspective can be spiritually and psychologically fruitful. That is especially helpful in these unprecedented times.

Surely I am not the only person whose mind wanders during a rosary, Mass, or another prayer. Rather than getting frustrated with this wandering or “autopilot” mode, “The Mindful Catholic” allows for awareness of this, and offers tips to practice mindfulness.

“(M)indfulness does not mean turning off the thoughts in your mind, but using them as a door to greater awareness of yourself,” writes Bottaro.

This quote shows one of the ways that Catholic mindfulness is vastly different from Eastern-based forms of meditation. The latter often instructs people to “empty” their minds. As Catholics, “we want to fill our minds with reality,” says Bottaro.

Practicing mindfulness is what actually changes a person’s brain, so the book offers exercises at the end of each chapter for readers to use to exercises and meditations.

“HELP ME BE HERE WITH YOU”

Surely I am not the only person whose mind wanders during a rosary, Mass, or another prayer. Rather than getting frustrated with this wandering or “autopilot” mode, “The Mindful Catholic” allows for awareness of this, and offers tips to practice mindfulness.

Dr. Bottaro explains often that acceptance is key to encountering mindfulness — not fighting against our thoughts but having curiosity, and gently turning our thoughts back to what we intend, such as our prayer.

One phrase Dr. Bottaro repeats often and encourages readers to adopt, is “Ever-present God, here with me now, help me to be here with you.”

“The Mindful Catholic” includes two appendices — one an exploration of how mindfulness is eminently consistent with our Catholic faith, and a Novena of Surrender to the Will of God.

The companion book for children is called “Sitting Like a Saint: Catholic Mindfulness with Kids,” and Bottaro and his wife Linda — also a psychologist — co-authored this work. The book explores mindfulness to help kids to be calm even in the midst of chaos.

NANCY PICCIONE edited The Catholic Post’s Book Page for eight years and is now a member of its book review team. A member of St. Jude Parish in Peoria, she blogs at ReadingCatholic.com.

 

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