Centering Prayer and the CDF, Part 4

charles_camino_-_nun_in_prayer_-_walters_371306
Nun in Prayer by Charles Camino (Wikimedia Commons). Christian prayer always stays close to Christ.

We have been examining the teaching of Fr. Thomas Keating and other Centering Prayer advocates, comparing them with Orationis formas (Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on Some Aspects of Christian Meditation). In parts 2 and 3 of this series, we looked at Centering Prayer’s relationship to pseudognosticism. Now we turn to the essence of Christian prayer.

Throughout this series, quotes from Church documents and the saints are in purple. Quotes from Centering Prayer advocates are in green.

“The meditation of the Christian in prayer seeks to grasp the depths of the divine in the salvific works of God in Christ, the Incarnate Word, and in the gift of his Spirit. These divine depths are always revealed to him through the human-earthly dimension.” (OF, no. 11)

What separates Christian prayer from eastern forms of meditation? Christian prayer uses the material world, especially human nature, as a starting point for pondering divine truth.

So, we see a mountain and we turn our minds to God’s majesty. We see a bird and we ponder freedom from attachments. We see an infant and we marvel at the Incarnation. Natural, every day sights and sounds move us to prayer and to closer union with God.

Jesus Himself reveals God to us “through the human-earthly dimension.” Since He did not come to save angels, but humans, He became one of us–forever! Jesus never ceases to be a man. We forever go to God through Him, in a human mode. We cannot and do not relate to God as either the angels (pure spirits) or the beasts (mere material creatures) do. We have a particular way of drawing near to God–the human way.

How does true Christian prayer differ then from erroneous prayer forms? Orationis formas continues:

“Similar methods of meditation, on the other hand, including those which have their starting-point in the words and deeds of Jesus, try as far as possible to put aside everything that is worldly, sense-perceptible or conceptually limited. It is thus an attempt to ascend to or immerse oneself in the sphere of the divine, which, as such, is neither terrestrial, sense-perceptible nor capable of conceptualization.” (ibid.)

Prayer becomes problematic when it strives to put aside everything that is earthly, including thought, imagination, and affections. Beginning with a “sacred word” or a passage of Scripture is not sufficient, if one then tries to move beyond thoughts, images, and concepts. One must continue to relate to God in a human mode until God Himself lifts one to something higher. And even then it is something one cannot prolong or replicate.

Footnote 12 of Orationis formas explains further:

“Pope John Paul II has pointed out to the whole Church the example and the doctrine of St. Teresa of Avila who in her life had to reject the temptation of certain methods which proposed a leaving aside of the humanity of Christ in favor of a vague self-immersion in the abyss of the divinity. In a homily given on November 1st, 1982, he said that the call of Teresa of Jesus advocating a prayer completely centered on Christ ‘is valid, even in our day, against some methods of prayer which are not inspired by the Gospel and which in practice tend to set Christ aside in preference for a mental void which makes no sense in Christianity. Any method of prayer is valid insofar as it is inspired by Christ and leads to Christ who is the Way, the Truth and the Life .'”

Christian prayer is centered on Christ. The Church teaches this concretely. The Christian meditates on Christ, talks to Christ, loves Christ in his prayer. He does not try to get beyond doing so. There is no getting beyond Jesus, because He is the Second Person of the Trinity! No one comes to the Father but by Him. 

A “mental void” is not Christian prayer.

Now, at this point, Centering Prayer advocates will protest, “We don’t seek to create a mental void! Centering Prayer is not about making the mind blank!”

Really? Then what do these words of Fr. Keating mean?

“The method consists in letting go of every kind of thought during prayer, even the most devout thoughts.”(Open Mind, Open Heart)

He defines “thought” to include

“a concept, a reflection, body sensation, emotion, image, memory, plan, noise from outside, a feeling of peace, or even a spiritual communication.”

Fr. Keating also says in response to a reader’s question:

“[Y]ou need not worry about experiencing what you may interpret  as a blank once in a while. If you notice you have a blank, that’s a thought; merely return to your sacred word.” (Open Mind, Open Heart)

Now, tell me, what is the meaning of “mental void,” if not “absence of thoughts or images?” “Turning away from thoughts” is just another way of saying “trying not to think about anything.” It sounds gentler. It’s not supposed to be violent. And Fr. Keating admits most people have trouble doing this, telling them not to worry about it too much. But a mental void is clearly the goal he has in mind (pun intended).

Christian prayer does not turn away from thoughts, images, and emotions. Christian prayer turns toward Christ.

The Christian turns away from thoughts about hobbies or plans for the day, in order that his mind may focus on Christ. Thought is not an evil. It is nothing to be ashamed of. It does in itself not keep one away from God. One does not turn away from all thoughts, only profane thoughts, in order to think sacred thoughts. Sacred thoughts lead one to God.

Christian prayer meditates on the truths of the Faith until God gives the gift of contemplation. Letting go of thoughts should be a response to God’s action in prayer, not a method the Christian performs on his own.

Next time, we’ll consider what Orationis formas says about eastern religions.

Earlier posts in this series:

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

 

 

Centering Prayer and the CDF, Part 3

Tiepolo,_Giambattista_-_Virtue_and_Nobility_putting_Ignorance_to_Flight_-_Google_Art_Project
Virtue and Nobility Putting Ignorance to Flight by Tiepolo (Wikimedia Commons).

We continue going through the document Orationis formas (On Some Aspects of Christian Meditation), comparing its cautions with the teaching of Fr. Thomas Keating, Contemplative Outreach, and other leaders of the Centering Prayer movement.

Let’s return to pseudognosticism, which we began discussing in Part 2. As in this whole series, quotes from Church documents and saints and Fathers are in purple. Quotes from Centering Prayer practitioners are in green.

Footnote no. 8 of Orationis formas explains:

“Pseudognosticism considered matter as something impure and degraded which enveloped the soul in an ignorance from which prayer had to free it, thereby raising it to true superior knowledge and so to a pure state…”

How do Centering Prayer advocates view matter?

Matter and spirit

Fr. Keating writes in The Mystery of Christ:

“By becoming a human being Christ annihilated the dichotomy between matter and spirit.  In the Person of the Divine-Human Being, a continuum between the divine and the human has been established.  Thus, God’s plan is not only to spiritualize the material universe, but to make matter itself divine.  This he has already done in the glorified humanity of his Son.  The grace bestowed on us by the Ascension of Jesus is the divinization of our humanity.  Our individuality is permeated by the Spirit of God through the grace of the Ascension and more specifically through the grace of Pentecost.  Thus we, in Christ, are also annihilating the dichotomy between matter and spirit.  Our life is a mysterious interpenetration of material experience, spiritual reality and the divine Presence.”

Typically, Fr. Keating’s words tangle truth and error.  Jesus united God and man in one Person. He united Spirit with flesh, Creator with creature. Through His Passion we are able to attain union with God as well. We will (and already do to some extent) “partake in the divine nature” (see 2 Pet 1:4).

But is it correct to say that “Christ annihilated the dichotomy between matter and spirit?” Fr. Keating, as we saw in an earlier post, believes that “contemplation resolves all dichotomies.” This is non-dualism. Non-dualism is not a Christian concept. Christianity believes in opposites: evil truly is the rejection of good, not just a word we use for things that make us uncomfortable. Jesus does not blend matter and spirit. He does not erase the difference between them. He was and is fully God and fully man, not a hybrid.

The idea that Jesus’ divinity and humanity were somehow blended together is actually an ancient heresy. As the Second Council of Constantinople decreed:

“We think that God the Word was united to the flesh, each of the two natures remaining what it is. This is why Christ is one, God and man; the same, consubstantial (homoousios) with the father as to the divinity and consubstantial with us as to the humanity.”

Neither the flesh nor the spirit is annihilated. Nor are they mixed. There is not, nor could there ever be, “a continuum between the divine and the human.” (More on that in a future post.)

The Catechism enumerates the early heresies concerning Christ’s two natures:

“The first heresies denied not so much Christ’s divinity as his true humanity (Gnostic Docetism)…

“The Monophysites affirmed that the human nature had ceased to exist as such in Christ when the divine person of God’s Son assumed it…” (nos. 464 and 467)

And then the Catechism clinches it, bringing us back to Fr. Keating’s assertions and their opposition to the teaching of Orationis formas:

“Because ‘human nature was assumed, not absorbed’, in the mysterious union of the Incarnation, the Church was led over the course of centuries to confess the full reality of Christ’s human soul, with its operations of intellect and will, and of his human body. In parallel fashion, she had to recall on each occasion that Christ’s human nature belongs, as his own, to the divine person of the Son of God, who assumed it. Everything that Christ is and does in this nature derives from ‘one of the Trinity’. The Son of God therefore communicates to his humanity his own personal mode of existence in the Trinity. In his soul as in his body, Christ thus expresses humanly the divine ways of the Trinity:

“‘The Son of God. . . worked with human hands; he thought with a human mind. He acted with a human will, and with a human heart he loved. Born of the Virgin Mary, he has truly been made one of us, like to us in all things except sin.'” (CCC no. 470, quoting Gaudium et Spes)

The Incarnation does not “annihilate the dichotomy between matter and spirit.” Instead, it unites matter and spirit. It allows us to be united with God in our intellect, our will, and even our body. We are not fully human without our bodies–thus, the Resurrection of the Dead. We will not be ghosts in Heaven. Nor will we be angels.

Christ sanctified matter. He did not “set us free” from it. He freed us from sin’s hold over matter. Now we can think, love, eat, and drink in union with God and for His glory.

Pseudognostic knowledge

Does Centering Prayer teach that the human soul is “in an ignorance from which prayer had to free it, thereby raising it to true superior knowledge and so to a pure state?” Yes!

Reporting on an interfaith dialog the Trappist monks conducted with other Christians, Native Americans, Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, and others, Fr. Keating listed eight points of agreement among participants. Here is one of them:

“As long as the human condition is experienced as separate from Ultimate Reality, it is subject to ignorance and illusion, weakness and suffering.”

In other words, for Fr. Keating separation from God is an illusion born of ignorance. If only we would recognize our oneness with God, suffering would cease!

But this is not the Christian view. Although man could not even exist without God holding him in existence, God calls us to a much deeper union with Himself that sin prevents. Weakness and suffering are clues to reality. They teach us that something is terribly wrong. We suffer because man as a species rejected the true path to union with God, desiring to be “like God” while living in disobedience to Him. In this sense, separation from God is a reality. Recognizing this reality is fundamental to redemption. Christ came to solve this problem. It is no illusion!

Perhaps the most basic idea underlying Centering Prayer is that we need to have a new awakening, a new consciousness. In his book Open Mind, Open Heart, Fr. Keating defines transformation as:

“a restructuring of consciousness in which the divine reality is perceived to be present in oneself and in all that is.”

Of course, there is a sense in which God is present in oneself and all creation. But ignorance is not our most basic problem. Sin is. When we make overcoming ignorance the central problem of the spiritual life, we inhibit true transformation, in which God changes our actions and desires, in which He makes us holy.

Let me sum up what I’ve been saying by returning to Orationis formas, as it speaks of the the resurgence of pseudognosticism and another early heresy on prayer:

“Both of these forms of error continue to be a temptation for man the sinner. They incite him to try and overcome the distance separating creature from Creator, as though there ought not to be such a distance; to consider the way of Christ on earth, by which he wishes to lead us to the Father, as something now surpassed; to bring down to the level of natural psychology what has been regarded as pure grace, considering it instead as ‘superior knowledge’ or as ‘experience.’

“Such erroneous forms, having reappeared in history from time to time on the fringes of the Church’s prayer, seem once more to impress many Christians, appealing to them as a kind of remedy, be it psychological or spiritual, or as a quick way of finding God.” (OF, no. 10)

Can anyone still maintain that Orationis formas was not directed towards practices like Centering Prayer?

We will continue next time by examining more fully the purpose of Christian prayer as explained in this document.

Read Part 1 of this series here.
Read Part 2 of this series here.

 

 

 

Centering Prayer and the CDF, Part 2

 

Verastegui
Eduardo Verastegui prays with other Catholics during the dedication of the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadeloupe in Lacrosse, Wisconsin. (Photo by Dan Rossini, all rights reserved.) Christian prayer is always communal.

In Part 1, we saw that Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on Some Aspects of Christian Meditation (Orationis formas) addresses modern errors in prayer, regardless of their origin. Therefore, the criticisms in this document from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) can be applied to Centering Prayer, even assuming that Centering Prayer was not derived from eastern religions.

Secondly, we saw that Orationis formas defines prayer as “a personal, intimate and profound dialogue between man and God” (no. 3). Centering Prayer does not acknowledge an essential difference between God and man. It proposes no dialogue, only awareness. Therefore, by the standards of the CDF it is not Christian prayer.

Now let’s continue comparing the rest of the document to the teachings of Fr. Keating and other leaders in the Centering Prayer movement. As in this entire series, quotes from Church documents are highlighted in purple. Quotes from Centering Prayer advocates are highlighted in green.

Prayer belongs to the Church

Numbers 6 and 7 of Orationis formas speak of the connection between prayer and revelation, and even to the Church’s teaching authority. Here are some snippets:

“There exists, then, a strict relationship between Revelation and prayer…

The prayer of Jesus has been entrusted to the Church…

 The Christian, even when he is alone and prays in secret, is conscious that he always prays for the good of the Church in union with Christ, in the Holy Spirit and together with all the Saints.”

Now, Centering Prayer advocates would never simply state that the Church has no business regulating their method of prayer. Nor would they claim to be outside the communion of saints. So why do I quote from this passage?

Centering Prayer is connected with dissent from fundamental Church teachings. Part 1 showed how Fr. Keating teaches erroneous (and peculiar) doctrine regarding Original Sin, Baptism, and the Eucharist.

Here are some other examples:

Centering Prayer is taught and practiced by many who advocate for women’s ordination, such as “womanpriests” Suzanne Dunn, Ruth Lindstedt, and Jeanette Love. (Many other “womenpriests” say they teach about “contemplative prayer,” which I imagine is mostly a euphemism for Centering Prayer in this context).

Indifferentism is rampant in Centering Prayer teaching. Fr. Keating and his “disciple” David Frenette say openly that the differences between Christianity and Buddhism are largely culturally conditioned, rather than real disagreement. Interestingly, they don’t say this on the Contemplative Outreach website, which caters to Catholics.

Centering Prayer is also regularly taught alongside New Age practices such as the Enneagram or Yoga (see the Message from the President of Contemplative Outreach in this link).

When the leaders of the Centering Prayer movement promote a myriad of theological errors, can they really claim that they pray in communion with the Church?

Ancient, New Age errors

The CDF writes about the errors the early Church Fathers combated:

In combating the errors of pseudognosticism the Fathers affirmed that matter is created by God and as such is not evil.” (OF no. 8)

Centering Prayer has a gnostic element. The Fathers and saints teach that the created world falls short of God’s greatness. They teach that we cannot fully comprehend God with our intellect. But Centering Prayer goes well beyond this.

Fr. Thomas Keating misquotes Mark 8:34, writing in Open Mind, Open Heart:

“Unless you deny your inmost self and take up the cross, you cannot be my disciple.”

He adds the word inmost, then interprets it for the reader:

“Denial of our inmost self includes detachment from the habitual functioning of our intellect and will, which are our inmost faculties. This may require letting go of not only ordinary thoughts during prayer, but also of our most devout reflections and aspirations insofar as we treat them as necessary means for going to God.” (Open Mind, Open Heart, 20th Anniversary Edition, p. 13)

In other words, for Fr. Keating, we don’t need reflections in order to grow close to God. We don’t need aspirations. We don’t need to use our intellect or will or imagination–the very faculties that distinguish humans from brute beasts. This teaching is pseudognosticism.

A Christian view of humanity acknowledges that our thoughts, feelings, aspirations, and imaginings can only get us so far in the spiritual life. After that, we need a special help from God. That is, once we have exhausted what we can do with the natural human gifts God gave us when He created us, working with the help of ordinary grace, He gives us supernatural contemplation which we could never obtain in any other way.

We do not prepare for the greater gifts by rejecting the lesser gifts. We prepare for the greater gifts by making good use of the gifts we already have.

The CDF addresses this question more fully later:

“The meditation of the Christian in prayer seeks to grasp the depths of the divine in the salvific works of God in Christ, the Incarnate Word, and in the gift of his Spirit. These divine depths are always revealed to him through the human-earthly dimension. Similar methods of meditation, on the other hand, including those which have their starting-point in the words and deeds of Jesus, try as far as possible to put aside everything that is worldly, sense-perceptible or conceptually limited. It is thus an attempt to ascend to or immerse oneself in the sphere of the divine, which, as such, is neither terrestrial, sense-perceptible nor capable of conceptualization.” (OF no. 11)

These “similar methods” are among the erroneous ones the CDF is cautioning us against. They try to set aside everything earthly and sense-perceptible out of a mistaken idea that this will lead to immersion in what is beyond our senses–the Divine, or God. This exactly describes the teaching of Fr. Keating and his colleagues.

Next time, we’ll look at further errors in prayer addressed by the CDF.

Centering Prayer and the CDF, Part 1

Budda_Siakiamuni
Buddha Siakianuni (photo by Boryzo, Wikimedia Commons). Is Centering Prayer inspired by eastern religions?

In 1989, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) issued Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on Some Aspects of Christian Meditation. Cardinal Ratzinger, later Pope Benedict XVI, signed the document. The Latin title is Orationis formas (OF). Its purpose:

“[M]any 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.” (OF no. 1)

It goes on to detail several problems found in modern prayer methods.

Some Aspects of Christian Meditation does not mention any problematic practices by name. Instead, it gives general principles by which the bishops are to help reform prayer movements to bring them into line with the faith.

Contemplative Outreach, the official promoter of Centering Prayer, claims that the document was not addressing Centering Prayer. In this series, which will span several posts, we will examine many points made by the CDF and compare them to statements made by Contemplative Outreach, Fr. Thomas Keating, or other prominent Centering Prayer practitioners. Since these posts will be loaded with quotes, I have decided to color code them to help distinguish which document is being cited. Quotes from the CDF appear below in purple. Quotes from Contemplative Outreach and Fr. Keating, et. al., appear in green.

Non-Christian meditation

Orationis formas begins by addressing the influence of non-Christian religions on new prayer methods:

“The ever more frequent contact with other religions and with their different styles and methods of prayer has, in recent decades, led many of the faithful to ask themselves what value non-Christian forms of meditation might have for Christians… Observing that in recent times many traditional methods of meditation, especially Christian ones, have fallen into disuse, they wonder whether it might not now be possible, by a new training in prayer, to enrich our heritage by incorporating what has until now been foreign to it.” (OF no.2)

Response from the Contemplative Outreach FAQs page:

“Cardinal Ratzinger’s ‘Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on Some Aspects of Christian Meditation’, written in 1989, was not directed to Centering Prayer, which is the traditional form of Christian prayer, but rather at those forms of meditative practices that actually incorporate the methods of Eastern meditations such as Zen and the use of the Hindu mantras. The letter is chiefly concerned with the integration of such techniques into the Christian faith.” (My emphasis)

Is this characterization correct? Orationis formas never uses the word “mantra.” The first footnote in the document does mention Hinduism and Zen, however, in this way:

“The expression ‘eastern methods’ is used to refer to methods which are inspired by Hinduism and Buddhism, such as ‘Zen,’ ‘Transcendental Meditation’ or ‘Yoga.’ Thus it indicates methods of meditation of the non-Christian Far East which today are not infrequently adopted by some Christians also in their meditation.” (My emphasis)

Now, I would say that the phrase “methods inspired by” eastern religions is not as restrictive as “forms of meditative practices that actually incorporate the methods of Eastern meditations…” This interpretation can be refuted, but the footnote goes on to say:

“The orientation of the principles and methods contained in this present document is intended to serve as a reference point not just for this problem, but also, in a more general way, for the different forms of prayer practiced nowadays in ecclesial organizations, particularly in associations, movements and groups.”

In other words, the CDF is concerned with any forms of prayer that exhibit certain problematic elements, even those that may have not been consciously inspired by non-Christian religions.

So, on this point, Centering Prayer is not off the hook. In looking at Orationis formas we need to examine whether the Centering Prayer method contains problematic elements, rather than ask what the origin of those elements is.

Even so, I find this sentence from OF no. 2 interesting, given the many discussions I have had with Centering Prayer practitioners:

“Other Christians, caught up in the movement towards openness and exchanges between various religions and cultures, are of the opinion that their prayer has much to gain from these [eastern] methods.”

Repeatedly, Centering Prayer practitioners refer to the teaching of Vatican II’s Nostra Aetate  that  the “Catholic Church rejects nothing that is true and holy in these [foreign] religions.” They also accuse me and others who reject Centering Prayer of “fearing” the eastern influence found in Centering Prayer. In fact, I hear words similar to these frequently, “Christian prayer has much to gain from eastern religions.”

So here the Contemplative Outreach FAQs contradict the arguments of many Centering Prayer advocates.

Now let us move on to the actual cautions of the CDF document and see how they apply to Centering Prayer.

It’s personal

What is prayer? The CDF states:

“For this reason, [prayer] is defined, properly speaking, as a personal, intimate and profound dialogue between man and God. It expresses therefore the communion of redeemed creatures with the intimate life of the Persons of the Trinity. This communion, based on Baptism and the Eucharist, source and summit of the life of the Church, implies an attitude of conversion, a flight from ‘self’ to the ‘You’ of God.”(OF no. 3)

Centering Prayer rejects the idea of “a flight from ‘self’ to the ‘You’ of God.” Here are a two examples that demonstrate the error.

Fr. Keating writes:

“God and our true Self are not separate. Though we are not God, God and our true Self are the same thing” (Open Mind, Open Heart, 2oth Anniversary edition, p. 158).

In this YouTube video he makes the point even clearer, saying that “You and the Other [meaning God] are one, always have been…”

How can you fly from yourself to God if you are already one with God?

The communion Fr. Keating proposes is not based on Baptism and the Eucharist. If we have always been one with God, what difference do the sacraments make? For Fr. Keating, the significant difference is one of consciousness, for he says that through Baptism:

“our sense of separation from God and from others is destroyed.” (ibid. 159)

Notice, it is not a real separation from God that Baptism overcomes, in Fr. Keating’s view, just “our sense” of it. In other words, our communion with God is not based on Baptism.

What about the Eucharist? Fr. Keating writes:

“The Eucharist is the celebration of life: the coming together of all the material elements of the cosmos, their emergence to consciousness in human persons and the transformation of human consciousness into Divine consciousness…” (Open Mind, Open Heart, p. 128)

Frankly, I’m not sure what Fr. Keating is talking about here, but we see again the emphasis on a change of consciousness, rather than moral conversion.

Where there are no separate people there can be no dialog. It’s no surprise, therefore, that no communication takes place in Centering Prayer. Without words, concepts, ideas, or images, how does one speak to God? While turning away from inspirations and feelings, and making no use of Sacred Scripture or the truths of the faith, how does one listen to God? No speaking and no listening means no dialog.

Now, it’s true that communication between God and the soul can take place at a level beyond words, concepts, and feelings in infused contemplation. Nevertheless, if there is no exchange on some level, there is no dialog. Awareness is not dialog, especially when that awareness is not about someone who is essentially other than oneself.

Christian prayer involves (at least) two persons. Jesus is a Person, God the Son. Christian prayer goes to God through Him, although it often addresses the First or Third Person of the Holy Trinity. Prayer is addressed from a person to a separate Person (or the other way around; God also communicates with the soul during prayer).

Without a “personal, intimate, and profound dialog,” the CDF says there is no Christian prayer. Therefore, Centering Prayer is not Christian prayer, whatever else it may be.

We will continue next week with Part 2 of this series.

Centering Prayer: What the Vatican has to say about it

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

I. Introduction

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.