In a year that has seen so many beloved friends, family and colleagues depart this world one great loss was the former Abbot of Ampleforth Abbey, Timothy Wright OSB. For some years I worked closely with Abbot Timothy at the Beda College in Rome and when we ran an exciting conference in 2014 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Pope St Paul VI's first encyclical, Ecclesiam Suam, he was an obvious choice for a speaker. In an extraordinary talk he surveyed the present state of Muslim-Catholic dialogue before introducing the powerful film Of Gods and Men, depicting the final days of the Tibhirine monastic martyrs of Algeria - many of whom he knew personally and of whom he spoke so movingly. My good friend, Prof Jose Nandhikkara CMI, editor of the Journal of Dharma in Bengaluru, http://www.dharmaramjournals.in/JournalOfDharma/Default.aspx has kindly agreed to publish the address in the latest issue of Journal of Dharma. I reproduce a short extract here as a tribute to Abbot Timothy with the kind permission of the community of Ampleforth Abbey and the English Benedictine Congregation. May Abbot Timothy, that great pilgrim for peace, rest in peace.
Paul VI: Ecclesiam Suam and Nostra
Aetate - Sowing the Seed
Pope Paul VI with his encyclical Ecclesiam
Suam made a dialogical turn in Catholic Church’s relations with the rest of
the world with the call for dialogue with religions, cultures and all people of
good will, promoting mutual fellowship and harmony of life. The term dialogue was used
seventy-seven times in the encyclical and two-thirds of the document was
devoted to its meaning and application. He wanted “to demonstrate with
increasing clarity how vital it is for the world, and how greatly desired by
the Catholic Church, that the two should meet together, and get to know and
love one another”
and suggested dialogue as the preferred and natural means for such an encounter
and living together in harmony.The encyclical speaks about dialogue
in four concentric circles, beginning with the whole human race in the
outermost circle and the members of the Catholic Church in the innermost
circle. The second circle consists of people who believe in God, including
Judaism, Islam and Afro-Asian religions.
Ecclesiam Suam shows a characteristic change of language towards Islam:
“worthy of our affection and respect… the adorers of God according to the
conception of monotheism, the Moslem religion especially, deserving of our
admiration for all that is true and good in their worship of God.”
from Ecclesiam SuamVatican II
made a paradigm shift in Catholic Church’s relations with the rest of the
world, especially with the followers of other religions, with the call for
dialogue with religions, cultures and all people of good will, promoting mutual
fellowship and harmony of life. Nostra
of Vatican II confirmed the positive attitude to Muslims:
Moslems, too, the Church looks with esteem. They adore one God, living and
enduring, merciful and all-powerful, Maker of heaven and earth and Speaker to
men. They strive to submit wholeheartedly even to His inscrutable decrees, just
as did Abraham with whom the Islamic faith is pleased to associate itself.
Though they do not acknowledge Jesus as God, they revere Him as a prophet. They
also honor Mary, His virgin mother; at times they call on her, too, with
devotion. In addition they await the Day of Judgment when God will give each man
his due after raising him up.
Significant here are the remarks of
Paul VI relating to ‘prayer’ and ‘worship’, repeated again saying that the
Muslims “enjoy special spiritual kinship with our faith,”
then elaborating this ‘spirituality’ by linking it to the moral order. “All
those who worship the one and only God are called to establish an order of
justice and of peace on earth.”
A couple of years later he takes another line, saying “we feel sure …. you join
in Our prayer to the Almighty, that he may grant all African believers the
desire for pardon and reconciliation so often commanded in the Gospels and the
This invitation to become one in prayer was a step forward from Nostra Aetate.
3. John Paul II: Fertilizing the
Seed so that it Grows into a Large Tree
St John Paul II developed this
teaching; changing the language and using his personal charisma. To the
Catholic Community of Ankara, Turkey he said on 29th November 1979:
As a result
of this faith in God the Creator and transcendent, one man finds himself at the
summit of creation. He was created, the Bible teaches, ‘in the image and
likeness of God (Gen 1:27); for the Koran, the sacred book of the Muslims,
although man is made of dust, “God breathed into him his spirit and endowed him
with hearing, sight and heart,” that is intelligence (Surah 32:8).
By placing the two Scriptures
alongside each other John Paul II was suggesting an equality of value arising
from the deep commitment of each community to their own revelation from the One
God. A bridge was built, mutual recognition raised and a step to sharing
spirituality had been taken. Many Muslims felt affirmed.
affirmation was offered to Muslim Leaders in Kenya. The Pope said on 7h
May 1980: "The Catholic Church realizes that the element of worship given
to the one, living, subsistent, merciful and almighty Creator of heaven and
earth is common to Islam and herself and that it is a great link uniting all
Christians and Muslims," adding that the “the honor attributed to Jesus
Christ and his Virgin Mother" strengthened the link and reveals a desire
for greater intimacy, derived not so much from doctrine but from sharing in the
experience of God through prayer, received as gift from the One God, the ‘life’
of the spirituality.
the language and experience of spirituality builds a relationship of ‘love’
with the One God, Creator, Guide, Merciful Forgiver and Host to Eternal Life in
Resurrection. This is the path for a journey into the holiness of God, a
holiness available respectively to each community, for both are walking in
faith side by side to the One God, using different modes of transport.
following year on 20 February 1981 in the Philippines Pope St John Paul II went
further suggesting that the two were travelling alongside each other:
Is it not
right to think that, in the Philippines, the Muslims and Christians are really
travelling on the same ship, for better or worse, and that in the storms that
sweep across the world the safety of each individual depends upon the effort
and cooperation of all? … We Christians, just like you [Muslims], seek the
basis and model of mercy in God himself, the God to whom your Book gives the
very beautiful name of ‘al-Rahman’, while the Bible calls him ‘al-Rahum,’ the
Within the framework of mercy both
see the necessity of prayer. The next day he laid the foundation for closer
relationship by focusing on the necessity of prayer:
adore the one God and associate themselves with Abraham, revering Christ and
honour Mary, professing esteem for moral living, prayer and fasting. …. What
seems to bring together and unite, … [is] the need for prayer as an expression
of man’s spirituality directed towards the Absolute.
Later that year to the Bishops of
North Africa on 23 November he said, “Not infrequently a grace of prayer and contemplation
is attached to life. For many Muslims the Church is the sister: they are happy
to see the holiness of the Church in their features."
on "Holiness in Christianity and Islam," he said 9 May 1985:
holiness comes from God, who is called ‘The Holy One’ in the sacred books of
the Jews, Christians and Muslims. Your Holy Koran calls God ‘Al Quddus’, as in
the verse: “He is God, besides whom there is no other, the Sovereign, the Holy,
the [source of] Peace” (Q 59:23). The prophet Hosea links God’s holiness with
his forgiving love for mankind, a love which surpasses our ability to
comprehend: ‘I am God, not man: I am the holy One in your midst and have no
wish to destroy” (Hosea 11:9).
In a second parallel he states: “Be
holy, even as your heavenly Father is holy” (Matthew 5:48) and compares it to
Qur’an 2:177, which the Pope summarizes:
calls you to uprightness, to conscientious devotion, to goodness and to virtue
which is described as believing in God, giving one’s wealth to the needy,
freeing captives, being constant in prayer, and keeping one’s word and being
patient in times of suffering, hardship and violence.
These paragraphs show a
dramatic shift. It is through spirituality that Catholics and Muslims can come
closer together. Their shared belief in the One Communicating God provides the
path to holiness, shared by Muslims and Christians: not a skill to be acquired,
but a gift to be accepted.
Ecclesiam Suam, Libreria Editrice
Vaticana, 1964, 3
(15 May 2014)
Jose Nandhikkara, CMI, “Vision and Mission of Dialogue
in the Vatican II: Investigations after Wittgenstein,” Revisiting Vatican II: 50 Years of Renewal, Vol. II, ed. Shaji
George Kochuthara, Bangalore: Dharmaram Publications, 2014, 322-334.
Vatican II, “Nostra
aetate, Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian
Religions,” 3 <http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_ councils/ ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_decl_19651028_nostra-aetate_en.html>
(16 February, 2014).
To the Faithful at the Angelus,17
To Representatives of Muslims in Turkey, 25 July 1967.
Address to Islamic Communities in Uganda, August 2nd 1969.
I am enjoying going through the proofs of the above on these long hot summer days. SCM-Canterbury are doing a wonderful job. Below is some of the first chapter for your interest. We hope to have it launched in the autumn.
seem to be in the midst of a mindfulness storm.
Until very recently comparatively
few people, apart from a few dedicated practitioners, had heard of this form of
meditation. Yet today there seem very few areas of healthcare, psychological
intervention, education or even business and commerce that have not in some way
been touched by what has been termed ‘the mindfulness revolution’. Why this
should be so is anyone’s guess but the trend, especially in the older Western
democracies, for formal religious belonging to be replaced by looser forms of
spiritual expression, as traced by sociologists of religion such as Linda
Woodhead and Paul Heelas, seems by now well documented and well entrenched (see
inter alia Heelas and Woodhead 2004;
Bullivant 2013). That this is related to the coming era of ‘mindfulness’ is no
When the molecular biologist
Jon Kabat-Zinn first developed his mindfulness courses at the University of
Massachusetts in the late 1970s he was not so concerned with the metaphysical
implications of what were originally Buddhist meditation practices as their
clinical and medical efficacy. This novel notion of giving mindfulness
meditation a sound clinical and experimental basis is what proved the essential
catalyst for the subsequent explosion of mindfulness (See Boyce 2011, pp. xii‒xiii).
Thirty years later the clinical evidence for the efficacy of these methods in
treating illnesses as diverse as depression, cancer and eating disorders is
overwhelming (even though latterly there is the inevitable counter-movement
expressing the ‘dangers’ inherent in mindfulness). This, alongside courses such
as Kabat-Zinn’s own Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction programme (MBSR) ‒ the
eight week forerunner for many of the later mindfulness courses - and the
Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) developed at Oxford by Professor
Mark Williams and colleagues, have contributed to the success of mindfulness as
we know it today.
himself defines mindfulness as ‘paying attention in a particular way: on
purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgementally’ (Kabat-Zinn 1994, p. 4).
This ‘bare’ definition is supplemented by many practitioners with wider values
drawing upon something closer to traditional Buddhist notions of mindfulness.
Thus Chozen Bays (2011) suggests that it is ‘deliberately paying attention,
being fully aware of what is happening both inside yourself – in your body,
heart and mind – and outside yourself in the environment... it is awareness
without judgement or criticism’ (Boyce 2011, p. 3). She goes further to state
that ‘when we are mindful, we are not comparing or judging. We are simply
witnessing the many sensations, thoughts and emotions that come up as we engage
in the ordinary activities of daily life.’ We could continue multiplying these
varying definitions yet, following Mace, what becomes clear when we analyse
these contemporary understandings of mindfulness is that there seem to be two
directions in current usage (see Mace 2008). First, the desire, as Mace himself
puts it, to concentrate on the ‘bare attention’ - to observe, Buddha-like, the
passing show of sensations, thoughts and emotion with no sticky entanglement.
As neuro-biologists and scientists have become interested in the subject this ‘pure
bare mindfulness’ (difficult as it is to isolate) has become the main source of
their study. On the other hand, writers such as Chozen Bays above or Shapiro
(2006) link the practice with wider connotations of ‘heartfulness’, compassion
and the general teleological development of character.
these debates may sound I think they go right to the heart of the subject we
shall be considering in the present volume: ‘How far, if at all, can
mindfulness be accommodated into an established religious practice such as
Christianity?’ And I think the answer will be (in typical philosophical
fashion) – ‘it depends what sort of mindfulness you are talking about’. Let me
Mace makes the
point that Kabat-Zinn’s original 1990s formulation of the basic notion of
mindfulness as commonly used today has ‘something of the spirit of the US
Founding Fathers’ in that he wanted ‘to make mindfulness available without any
requirement to accept or reject particular religious beliefs’ (Mace 2008, p.
59). And there can be no doubt that this agnostic method assuming no adherence
to any particular religious belief system (as expounded by Kabat-Zinn et al) has clearly filled a hole in the
collective psyche that was left when the box ‘no religion’ was ticked in
numerous surveys, censuses and questionnaires (see Bullivant 2013).
outlook of the Buddha himself – he always advised his followers not to trust
his teachings but to test them and scrape them (like a goldsmith) to see if
they were counterfeit – adds to their ability to fit into the prevailing zeitgeist of sceptical humanism within
which we find ourselves. As Mace puts it, ‘part of the genius of Buddhism has
been to link aspects of spiritual attainment with psychological changes that
can be expressed in cognitive terms. This has made it appealing to people in
the West who are respectful of reason, and who believe in human potential, but
distrust deist religions’ (Mace 2008, p. 161).
So faced with the
question, ‘How far, if at all, can mindfulness be accommodated into an
established religious practice such as Christianity?’ as well as asking
ourselves what concept of mindfulness we are applying we also need to ask
ourselves a more fundamental question – what concept of religion are we
applying to ourselves? Indeed, a similar question might arise for any
practitioner of mindfulness whether they considered themselves a Muslim, Jew or
Sikh as they came to terms with the implications of the practice for their own