By Dan Burke, SpiritualDirection.com. Re-posted by permission.
Has the Vatican ever addressed the topic of Centering Prayer or the teachings commonly held by those who advocate or practice Centering Prayer?
Yes, the approach to prayer commonly referred to “Centering Prayer” has been formally and specifically addressed by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (we provide the text of this important document below). Here’s a little background that might be helpful.
In a kind of spiritual awakening during the 70s and 80s there were a growing number of well-intentioned Catholics who began to explore the integration of non-Christian Eastern prayer practices and traditional forms of Catholic prayer. There were sufficient concerns about the outcomes of this effort to prompt a response by the Vatican through then Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI), who issued the letter below to all of the Bishops of the Catholic Church warning of the potential errors in this area.
One only needs a cursory understanding of the history and teachings of Centering Prayer to understand that it is clearly dealt with in this document. As well it is important to note that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has not condemned or suppressed the Centering Prayer movement here or elsewhere. It simply proposes corrections, reforms, and redirection to ensure that those inspired to seek Christ through prayer do so in keeping with the time-tested and faithful traditions and inspirations of Christ and his Church.
Just to be sure that I am being charitable regarding this topic, I don’t condemn honest people seeking to deepen their prayer life through those who have popularized the method. All Catholics who care about their faith will constantly seek to improve their relationships with God and will thereby constantly find themselves correcting their spiritual trajectory. This gentle but specific treatment asks all of us to evaluate the practices and trajectory of our prayer lives to ensure we are pursuing God in a manner that pleases him and is thereby in keeping with Church teaching on the subject.
Regardless of where you stand on the issue, if you are a serious Catholic seeking an authentic and profound relationship with Christ in prayer, this document is a must read.
LETTER TO THE BISHOPS OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH ON SOME ASPECTS OF CHRISTIAN MEDITATION
Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, October 15, 1989
1. Many Christians today have a keen desire to learn how to experience a deeper and authentic prayer life despite the not inconsiderable difficulties which modern culture places in the way of the need for silence, recollection and meditation. The interest which in recent years has been awakened also among some Christians by forms of meditation associated with some eastern religions and their particular methods of prayer is a significant sign of this need for spiritual recollection and a deep contact with the divine mystery. Nevertheless, faced with this phenomenon, many feel the need for sure criteria of a doctrinal and pastoral character which might allow them to instruct others in prayer, in its numerous manifestations, while remaining faithful to the truth revealed in Jesus, by means of the genuine Tradition of the Church. This present letter seeks to reply to this urgent need, so that in the various particular Churches the many different forms of prayer, including new ones, may never lose their correct personal and communitarian nature.
These indications are addressed in the first place to the Bishops, to be considered in that spirit of pastoral solicitude for the Churches entrusted to them, so that the entire people of God–priests, religious and laity–may again be called to pray, with renewed vigor, to the Father through the Spirit of Christ our Lord.