For Your Discernment: Warnings On The Dangers Of Centering Prayer

What Have The Vatican, Recent Popes, Exorcists, and Saints Said About The Dangers Of Practicing Centering Prayer?

Please share with Courageous Priest any comments, concerns, or personal experience with “Centering Prayer.”  As always, please be charitable.

Taken From:  Sword Of Light And Truth Ministries.  

The Centering Prayer Movement is very popular in retreat centers and parish programs. However, after acloser look, many people have discovered it to be a Hindu type of prayer rather than Christian.

What does the Vatican document say about Centering Prayer?

The Vatican recently released adocument exposing the New Age and its dangers. It is called “Jesus Christ, the Bearer of the Water of Life: A Christian Reflection on the New Age.” This 62-page document describes New Age spirituality and how it differs from the Christian faith. It lists most New Age practices and beliefs.

It does not mention the term Centering Prayer anywhere in the document. It does, however, expose the four major beliefs or practices of Centering Prayer as being New Age. These are: mantras (sacred word), altered levels of consciousness, Transcendental Meditation (which is almost identical to Centering Prayer) and the belief in the True Self (Higher Self).

Fr. Thomas Keating, the founder of the Centering Prayer Movement, has written a number of books onCentering Prayer. Fr. Basil Pennington has also written many books on the subject. According to Fr. John D. Dreher’s article, “The Dangers of Centering Prayer”, Keating learned prayer techniques from Buddhists and Hindus in an effort to Christianize TM. According to the article, Keating had asked the monks, “Could we put the Christian tradition into a form that would be accessible to people…who have been instructed in an Eastern technique and might be inspired to return to their Christian roots if they knewthere was something similar in the Christian tradition” (Intimacy with God, p. 15) Frs. William Menniger and M. Basil Pennington took up the challenge, and Centering Prayer is the result. Centering prayer
originated in St. Joseph’s Abbey, a Trappist monastery in Spencer, Massachusetts. During the twenty years (1961 – 1981) when Keating was abbot, St. Joseph’s held dialogues with Buddhist and Hindu representatives, and a Zen master gave a week-long retreat to the monks. A former Trappist monk who had become a Transcendental Meditation teacher also gave a session to the monks.”

The Techniques Of Centering Prayer and Transcendental Meditation Are Very Similar.

CP is almost identical to TM. The only difference is that in CP the sacred word is usually love, peace, orJesus. In TM, the mantra or sacred word calls on a Hindu god. Both CP and TM use a 20 minute meditation. Both CP and TM use a mantra to erase all thoughts and feelings. Both CP and TM teach that in this meditation you pick up vibrations. Both CP and TM claim that this meditation will give you more peace and less tension. Both CP and TM teach you how to reach a mental void or altered level of consciousness. Both CP and TM have the common goal of finding your god-center. In the books written by Keating and Pennington, they both teach the reader to use a sacred word, or mantra to achieve mind emptying in order to go into pure consciousness (which is an altered state) to find the True Self. (New Agers believe the True Self, the human soul, is the same as God) Keating makes a similar statement in his book, Open Mind, Open Heart, p. 127, where he states, “God and our true Self are not separate. Though we are not God, God and our true Self are the same thing.” This statement represents the basic belief of all New Agers and is clearly contrary to the Christian faith! Our soul was created by God. It is not God Himself!

The techniques used in both Centering Prayer and in Transcendental Meditation, are used to empty the mind of all thoughts and feelings. Keating says in his book, Open Mind, Open Heart, p.97, “All thoughts pass if you wait long enough.” On p. 35, Keating says, “The method consists of letting go of every thought during the time of prayer, even the most devout thoughts. Since New Age beliefs are contrary to the Christian faith, the document states, “It is therefore necessary to accurately identify those elements which belong to the New Age Movement, and which CANNOT BE ACCEPTED by those who are faithful to Christ and His Church.” (#4)

What Did Pope JP II Say About Centering Prayer?

When Pope Benedict XVI wasCardinal Ratzinger, he wrote Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on Some Aspects of Christian Meditation. On p. 34, footnote 12, he writes “Pope John Paul II has pointed out to the whole Church theexample and 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 divinity. In a homily given on November 1, 1982, he said that the call of St. 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 aside Christ 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’ [(cf John 14:6).

What Did Pope Benedict XVI Say About Centering Prayer?

What else did Cardinal Ratzinger say about mind-emptying prayer? In the same document, CardinalRatzinger states, “With the present diffusion of Eastern methods of meditation in the Christian world andin ecclesial communities, we find ourselves faced with a pointed renewal of attempt, which is not free fromdangers and errors, to fuse Christian meditation with that which is non-Christian.” He goes on to say, “Still others do not hesitate to place that absolute without image or concepts, which is proper to Buddhist theory on the same level as the majesty of God revealed in Christ.” He says they abandon the Triune God, “in favor of an immersion in the indeterminate abyss of the divinity.” Then he says mixing Christian meditation with Eastern techniques can lead to syncretism (the mixing of religions).

Warnings From An Exorcist!

What warnings does Fr. Amorth, the Vatican exorcist give us on CP? Fr. Amorth, states that “Yoga, Zen, and TM are unacceptable to Christians. Often these apparently innocent practices can bring about hallucinations and schizophrenic conditions.” (Centering prayer and Transcendental Meditation are almost identical, so this warning would apply to both CP and TM).

What does the Catechism have to say about this type of prayer?

The Catechism of the CatholicChurch refers to mind-emptying prayer as “erroneous”. In section #2726, it describes “erroneous notions of prayer.” It then lists different types of prayer that fall into that category. It states, “Some people view prayer as a simply psychological activity, others as an effort of concentration to reach a mental void.”

What does St. Teresa of Avila say about contemplation?

She said that contemplation is a gift fromGod, and no technique can make it happen. She says it is usually given to people who have a deep prayer life and are practicing many virtues, although God can give it to anyone he chooses. She repeatedly insists that contemplation is divinely produced. She said that entering into the prayer of quiet or that of union whenever she wanted it “was out of the question.” She also said in her book, Interior Mansion, “For it to
be prayer at all, the mind must take a part in it.” Our Pope, when he was Cardinal, quotes St. Teresa in his booklet, Letter to Bishops of the Catholic Church on Some Aspects of Christian Meditation on p. 34. She said “the very care not to think about anything will arouse the mind a great deal”, and that the separation of the mystery of Christ from Christian meditation is always a form of ‘betrayal.’ St. Teresa advised her nuns to meditate or think about the Passion of Christ as a preparation for contemplation.

In Summary

In summary, the Vatican document on New Age, Pope Benedict XVI as Cardinal Ratzinger, Pope John Paul II, St. Teresa of Avila, the Catechism, and Fr. Amorth give warnings about mind-emptying prayer.  We must remember that prayer is a dialogue with God. A person wanting to reach contemplation begins with normal prayer, or they may remain silent with a loving gaze toward God. Then if God so chooses, he may take that person up into ecstasy or some supernatural state. Then and only then would their normal faculties (ability to think) be suspended! It would be a gift from God!

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28 comments to For Your Discernment: Warnings On The Dangers Of Centering Prayer

  • MARIA

    it is really dangerous some sisters were practicing in my Parish in Portugal and I made translations from your site and gave to the Parish Priest who later read and stopped such prayer in our parish, I noticed the
    word mantra in their hymn book and I took it and showed it to the priest and also a friend of mine got vibrations like na electric shock, Thanks so much for your elucidations I have sent to afriend of mine since there are lot of ladies from our Parish who are going for their retreats. I too went once with a friend and she at once saw that it was wrong what they were explaining and argued with them and explained to me and so I never went anymore. But these nuns are doing it in another parish and inviting people for their retreats. Thanks so much for all your explanations. God Bless

  • Deanna Johnston Clark

    I’ve been reading Lighthouse Trails for several years. They are a Bible effort in Montana that has a genuine gift for spotting new age fashions infesting all Christian denominations. I don’t, as an orthodox Christian, agree with everything. However, their research and uncompromising whistle blowing on this is admirable and I recommend them to everyone interested in this.

    My diocese has introduced a Labyrinth and other gatherings that shock me. I feel there is a path being offered that goes in exactly the wrong direction. Firstly, there are temptations to spiritual pride and curiosity that can ruin people. Second, of course, this stuff sells books, cds, celebrity tickets, etc. that put it all clearly in the elitist category for well to do people…like going 60 miles to Latin masses and other things.

    I’m horrified that the old faith I love expressed in Shakespeare, the very ambiance of the old religion, is being hogwashed with “spirituality” alien to the Incarnate Jesus Christ and to Torah Judaism alike.

  • From the Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on some aspects of Christian Meditation
    ( http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_19891015_meditazione-cristiana_en.html )

    In number 3, near the beginning the sentences in the current English read:

    “Thus Christian prayer is at the same time always authentically personal and communitarian. It flees from impersonal techniques or from concentrating on oneself, which can create a kind of rut, imprisoning the person praying in a spiritual privatism which is incapable of a free openness to the transcendental God.”

    Here is my version translated from the Latin version (notice the capitalized word!):

    “Christian prayer, therefore is always at the same time truly personal and communitarian. It abhors techniques, which are impersonal or would have one’s own person as the CENTER, which begets a kind of automatism, by which the person praying becomes liable to a kind of spiritualism, closed in oneself and indisposed to the free opening to the transcendent God.”

    So, to say the Letter says nothing about centering prayer isn’t really the case, if you know what centering prayer is and what this document says about this “technique”.

    The Servant of God, Fr. John Hardon’s comments on the new age, centering prayer, Fr. Thomas Merton and Karl Rahner can be found here:

    http://www.therealpresence.org/archives/Heresies_Heretics.htm

    He is very helpful since many people mean by the term “centering prayer” something that is acceptable for us as Catholics. The notions behind the movement (originating with Merton) however, are foreign to Christianity.

  • Catherine

    Rafael,

    Could you please show where the Church teaches that CP is the highest form of prayer? In all my religious/spiritual reading, it is clearly stated that the Holy Mass is the highest form of prayer. Thanks and God bless!

    • Noel Hernandez

      The Holy Mass is the highest form of WORSHIP, not of prayer. Centering prayer or contemplation, is the highest form of prayer as mystics like St. Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross and others attest.

  • Rafael Ortiz

    First of all, the mind can’t never go blank. The mind is like an eye, it is always seeing something. Even when you are sleeping your mind is active. We calls it dreaming. When you pray centering prayer you center in the indwelling holy spirit. Your focus is him in you, not what you do. And he becomes the inner experience. The bible says wait on god. Do you wait active or inactive? The waiting is passive, yet it is a conscious action. Centering prayer is to contemplate god who resides in us. This is the highest form of prayer.

  • Patricia Cornell

    My experience is the same….don’t include Jesus in your prayer life…expect to get a guest you did not invite to ‘take His place’. We usually call that person the devil, satan, the evil one, the friendly spirit, etc.

    This world belongs to Him..include Him…or rue tye day!

    Patricia in St. Louis, MO

  • […] For Your Discernment: Warnings On The Dangers Of Centering Prayer […]

  • Isabelle DE Mers

    Why not look “cult” up in a catholic dictionary and find out what you write about is more flapping of your lips of what you are ignorant about.

  • Patricia Moor

    Let us be simple and sincere and pure in heart. It is not the method but the heart that God looks at. There are followers of St Teresa of Avila who are deceived by false mysticism, which usually creeeps in through pride and and self seeking, as there are charismatics and even maniac devotees of that most powerful and beautiful prayer the Rosary! The Jesus Prayer is itself a mantra – again a beautiful one! – but I have come across unbalanced people of nearly every hue possible! Humility and love and trust and obedience, will keep your heart safe whether you centre it on the immanent, loving presence of God hidden within your own heart, the infinite, unknowable, transcendant presence of beyond our reach or the mystery of God’s love circulating between the members of the Trinity and overflowing into the whole of creation, or on the endlessly helpful message of scripture If for whatever reason a person hasn’t understood all these beautiful gifts we have at our disposal, and God has not touched their heart through them then
    perhaps like several people I have met they may find some peace and light and growth in charity through a meditation group or a Quaker meeting or through something else. I would warn them, does it bring peace, does it help you to love, does it help you to avoid sin, are you becoming humbler, more able to love your enemy (or the person you like least!), are you becoming more cheerful and trusting when you are faced with suffering? are you becoming more grateful? The devil can find himself squashed out if our hearts are pure.But I guess even with the Cure of Ars he still tries!

  • Bill

    The problem is that OD and SSP X are nothing more than cults.

    • Tom Teague

      Opus Dei is not a ‘cult’, any more than the diocese of, say, Phoenix is a ‘cult’. It is an integral part of the Catholic Church, juridically a Personal Prelature. It is as much a part of the Church as any military ordinariate or, indeed, any diocese. If you do not accept this, you reject the Catholic Church and you need to get your ideas – and facts – straight.

  • Sam

    This article is very timely. My father and I were talking about this just over the past weekend. We’ve known the monks at St Joseph’s Abbey for years (including the late Fr Pennington). However, in light of what the Vatican has said about prayer, I myself do not practice Centering Prayer. Instead, if I do any contemplative prayer at all (which is hard with three kids under 5), I prefer the Jesus Prayer (Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner) which I know is 1) Biblically based, 2) Focused on Jesus instead of myself, and 3) grounded in Eastern Christian monastic tradition.

    As for Bill’s comments about Opus Dei being approved by the Vatican and being an alleged mistake, look at the fruits of Opus Dei. They have provided countless men and women (most of them laity) the path to sanctity through the ordinary things of everyday life in the secular world. Isn’t that what Vatican II was supposed to be about: the universal call to sanctity for all, including laymen and women? What is controversial about that?

    As for the Society of St Pius X being potentially reconciled with the Church, isn’t that what we are all supposed to pray for? True Catholics should rejoice at this.

  • Bill

    Lori,

    Your basic premise is incorrect. Just because the Vatican approves something doesn’t mean that it isn’t wrong. The Vatican at the very least didn’t condemn the excesses of the Inquisition. The Vatican has approved Opus Dei which was a terrible mistake and is on the brink of approving the Society of St. Pius X. Much of this is in the eyes of the beholder.

  • TG

    Good to see people are being warned about this. I myself don’t have to worry. I can never empty my mind and get so easily distracted just saying the rosary and regular prayers.

  • Lori

    Bill,
    You are talking about the Charismatic renewal which began in 1967 and which the Vatican has vigorously approved of. Do your home work and read the Acts of the Apostles. Centering prayer and Charismatic prayer are two completely different types of prayer. One is led by the Holy Spirit and the other, well…The gift of tongues is from God, a prayer language given to those in the upper room and given to us now. There are Charismatic groups all over the world and Patti Mansfield was invited to the Vatican and given accolades by JPII. Get informed brother!!

  • H Yim

    Thank you very much! please do not stop to raise your concern. Catholic church need you.

  • Bill

    Funny how some things recycle. This movement is reminiscent of the Pentecostal movement in the late 60’s and early 70’s where we had Catholic groups speaking in tongues.

  • I have always felt that centering prayer could be a dangerous thing. One time at a prayer meeting that I attended for quite some time one of the men wanted us to try doing it and as one person was so interested, the whole thing just didn’t feel right so I quit going to that group shortly after and have never been sorry. That particular person was always searching for something more. Thank you for the information, I will send it on.

  • JMJ

    Thank you for being a good shepherd.

  • my uncle was a monk st the monastery our lady of the holy spirit in conyers ga. they thought me this drive in the 1970’s i became suspicious because i went to places i did not belong……i eventually found the missionaries of charity, or should i say God led me. these monks used to be like the carthusians , now they embrace i’m o.k. you’re o.k…mother Teresa is the real deal carl

  • Thanks for this. I’ve tried to share similar info to the Secular Discalced Carmelite priest-editor of our Washington Province monthly magazine who advocated Centering Prayer in a recent issue,and never heard back from him. I just can’t fathom why Teresa of Avila isn’t MORE than enough for us- and safer too! 🙁
    I don’t like our members getting misled… Please send a prayer up for us.
    Peace, Maggie K.

  • Patricia

    In our diocesan newspaper for the Diocese of Camden, N.J., the Question Corner with Father Kenneth Doyle asked about Catholics practicing yoga. Father defined yoga as studied seriously under a swami would run contrary to Christian beliefs. He went on to say that plenty of people today use yoga simply to tone the limbs and soothe the stress of life, as a methodolgy not theology, to attain inner quiet. He mentioned the l989 letter to Catholic bishops from the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith entitled “On Some Aspects of Christian Meditation.”

    In that letter, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI) suggested, with regard to techniques of Eastern spirituality, that Catholics could “take from them what is useful so long as the Chrisitan conception of prayer, its logic and requirements are never obscured.” He also noted: “Some use Eastern Methods solely as a psycho-physical preparation for a truly Christian contemplation.” In isolation from the rest of the letter, these statements would seem to give credibility to the use of some forms of yoga.

    On the following page, our local Catholic Hospital, Our Lady of Lourdes, in Camden, N.J. advertises their Lourdes Wellness Center, which is expanding their yoga program. This is a Ministry of the Franciscan Sisters of Allegany, N.Y. who staff the hospital. This yoga is called Rise and Shine Yoga and Yoga for Special Needs. Many other types of eastern practices, such as Tai Chi, are offered. Reiki was supposed to have been stopped by the Bishop a few years ago.

    With the statements of then Cardinal Ratzinger seeming to give the okay for some forms of yoga, what are we to believe about yoga strictly for methodology and not for theology, as Father Doyle commented above.

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  • I do not have experience with centering prayer, but I did practice something like transcendental meditation and other New Age practices when I went through a period of wanting to be spiritual without having a relationship with Jesus, because I had some grudges against him, like the death of my youngest sister. I can confirm that New Age is very dangerous spiritually, and the way that I would characterize it is that it focuses our attention on “me, myself, and I,” rather than on the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

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