Catholic Meditation or Occult Meditation?
Catholic Meditation or Occult Meditation?
from The Cross and the Veil
A Critique of M. Basil Pennington's article, Centering Prayer, taken from The Contemplative Prayer Online Magazine.
The following quotes are taken from the above on-line magazine and illustrate the typical errors that have entered the Catholic contemplative tradition through various techniques derived, however innocently, from a mixture of Buddhist meditative practice (which ensures dissociation of the spirit from the body in order to achieved enlightenment) and kundalini yogic practice (which unleashes the occult magic of Kali, the destroyer goddess). This technique, known as Centering Prayer (CP), has been in vogue since the 1970's. Thomas Keating, a Cistercian priest, monk, and abbot in Colorado, is the founder of the Centering Prayer Movement. Father Pennington, another teacher of this technique, is called a "master of centering prayer" on the web site.
CP devotees claim it to be a revival of ancient meditative practice, referring to it as a new version of the practice of ejaculatory mental prayer wherein contemplatives practiced the presence of God by repeating simple sacred words or sentences such as "Jesus, I love you".
Far from simple or sacred, CP is a codified technique which constructs a psychological and spiritual state of awareness designed to unleash unconscious forces and which typically encourages a narcissistic turning-inward and pre-occupation with self awareness, consciousness-raising and the achieving of preternatural experiences.
Following are Father Pennington's statements. Parenthetical comments are mine or attributed:
"Centering Prayer is a simple method of prayer that sets up the ideal conditions to rest in quiet awareness of God's presence. This way of prayer is alluded to in many passages in the Old and New Testaments and probably dates from then."
(vague references citing legitimacy of technique from ancient origins is typical).
"The Greek Fathers referred to it as monologion, "one-word" prayer. The desert father, Abba Isaac taught a similar form of prayer to John Cassian who later wrote of it in France, transmitting it to Benedict of Nursia. Unfortunately, by the time of the 16th century, the prayer form largely went out of use in favor of more discursive modes of prayer."
("he (Cassian) is in fact regarded as the originator of what, since the Middle Ages, has been known as Semipelagianism...Preoccupied as he was with moral questions he exaggerated the role of free will by claiming that the initial steps to salvation were in the power of each individual, unaided by grace... Semipelagianism was finally condemned by the Council of Orange in 529." - taken from The Catholic Encyclopedia)
In the following quote taken from a new article posted to the web site, the bolded phrases are mine, and are typical buzz words revealing the New Age origins of "Centering Prayer":
"Love is God's Being" - by M. Basil Pennington, O.C.S.O. 03/09/00
"When we go to the center of our being and pass through that center into the very center of God we get in immediate touch with this divine creating energy. This is not a new idea. It is the common teaching of the Christian Fathers of the Greek tradition. When we dare with the full assent of love to unleash these energies within us not surprisingly he initial experience is of a flood of chaotic thoughts, memories, emotions and feelings. This is why wise spiritual Fathers and mothers counsel a gentle entering into this experience. Not too much too fast. But it is this release that allows all of this chaos within us with all its imprisoning stress to be brought into harmony so that not only their might be peace and harmony within but that the divine energy may have the freedom to forward the evolution of consciousness in us and through us, as a part of the whole, in the whole of the creation."
Typical of New Age meditative practice, the soul becomes the "center", energy replaces grace, God actually becomes a pantheistic energy, and the unleashing of this "energy" leads to chaos and then, mysteriously, an evolution of consciousness (refer to article on this web site on the dangers of unleashing occult power through kundalini yoga). Legitimacy of this occult technique is sought in pop-psychology, comparing it to seeking insight through bio-feedback or self-hypnosis.
The following excerpt from the web site details the technique-driven method of withdrawal and dissociation derived from Buddhic meditative practice, which posits ultimate withdrawal from all attachments and this "world of illusion" as the means of achieving oneness with and absorption into the primal void, as one's evolution of consciousness leads to the awakening of the "Self" as God:
As you sit comfortably with eyes closed: 1. Let yourself settle down. Let go of all the thoughts, tensions, and sensations you may feel and begin to rest in love of God who dwells within.
(In Catholic contemplative practice, we bring all of ourselves to God and enter into conversation or communion, bringing everything with us to lay at His Feet. All manner of worries, concerns and thoughts are stepping stones to sanctity as we enter into conversation about them with Him. "Letting go" in this particular technique does not simply involve a discipline of the will, which is a typical counsel in meditative practice, but a profound distortion of the use of the will to achieve a practiced dissociation from ourselves and a mentalization of prayer that can foster habitual disassociation, fantasies and ego flight.)
2. Effortlessly, take up a word, the symbol of your intention to surrender to God's presence, and let the word be gently present.
(Using any word to "conjure up" the divine opens one to self-hypnosis and the possibility of perseverating on the object of meditation, not on the contemplation of Our Lord or the meditation of the virtues or events of His Life.) An extreme example of the occult power of visualization and mentalization occurred several years ago. At one New Age workshop given by Robert Munroe where participants were trained to go out of their bodies while they slept, eager students were encouraged to first visualize placing all their distractions and cares into a trunk and then lock the trunk. This way they would be freed from earthly bonds. Unfortunately, a very beautiful woman also attending the workshop, (then located in a closed sleeping room nearby), reported that during repeated nightmarish attempts to go "out-of-body", she found herself being locked in a trunk and unable to get out.)
St. Theresa of Avila found herself at a time of increased spiritualism and all kinds of exaggerations of mysticism. Well aware of the tendency to get far off course, she insisted that meditation always be directed to and with Christ.
Lectio Divina, or DIVINE READING, is a tried and true way to union with Christ. As we read holy scripture, the Holy Spirit inspires us to pause and meditate on certain words or passages.
Unfortunately, the web site here critiqued blends the New Age Centering Prayer with Lectio Divina, further confusing the issue and lending credence to occult techniques by combining them with the holy.
A Closer Look at Centering Prayer
The Centering Prayer Movement has become very popular in Catholic circles today.
People sign up for it in retreat centers, in workshops, and sometimes in their
own parish. These people believe it to be authentic Christian contemplative
prayer practiced by the saints. Is it really Christian contemplation?
In my research on the New Age which I did for the past ten years, I found that
it is not Christian contemplation and that this type of prayer is not
recommended by Pope John Paul II, Cardinal Ratzinger, The Catechism of the
Catholic Church, or St. Teresa of Avila. There have also been warnings from
Johnnette Benkovic on EWTN (Mother Angelica's Network). Johnnette has a program
called "Living His Life Abundantly", and has had a series on the New Age. She
has also written a book called, The New Age Counterfeit, and devotes one
chapter to the problems of Centering Prayer (CP). She identifies it as being
the same as Transcendental Meditation (TM) which is tied to Hinduism.
What is Centering Prayer?
Centering prayer, as taught by Fr. Basil Pennington and Fr. Thomas Keating, is a
method of prayer that is supposed to lead a person into contemplation. It is
supposed to be done for twenty minutes in the morning and twenty minutes in the
evening. The person chooses a sacred word. He tries to ignore all thoughts and
feelings, letting them go by as boats going down a stream. When the thoughts
keep coming back, the person returns to the sacred word. The goal is to keep
practicing until ALL THOUGHTS AND FEELINGS DISAPPEAR. Fr. Keating says in Open
Mind, Open Heart, "All thoughts pass if you wait long enough."1 A person then
reaches a state of pure consciousness or a mental void. The thinking process is
suspended. This technique is supposed to put them into direct contact with God.
The idea is to go to the center of your being to find the True Self. This
process is supposed to dismantle the False Self, which is supposedly the result
of the emotional baggage we carry.
Fr. Thomas Keating is a monk, priest, and abbot of St. Benedict's Monastery in
Snowmass, Col. and is the founder of the Centering Prayer movement. He has
written four books. Fr. Basil Pennington is a Trappist monk at St. Joseph's
Abbey in Spencer, Mass. He has written over thirty books, some of which are on
Centering Prayer. Some of the concepts in their books are similar to New Age
beliefs and practices.
What are New Age Beliefs?
New Agers borrow many of their beliefs from Hinduism. They believe that we are
all connected to an impersonal energy force, which is god, and we are part of
this god. This god-energy flows into each one of us; so we too are god. (This
is the heresy of pantheism, condemned by the Church at the First Vatican
Council). They think because we are god, we can create our own reality,
experience our own god-power. This awareness of our godselves is called
god-consciousness, super-consciousness, Christ-consciousness,
pure-consciousness, unity consciousness, or self-realization. To reach this
awareness, New Agers use mantras or yoga to go into altered levels of
consciousness to discover their own divinity. They look inside to find their
True Self or Higher Self ‹ to find wisdom and knowledge since the True Self or
Higher Self is god.
They address god as the Source, the Divine Energy, the Divine Love Energy, or
the Great Universal Intelligence. The goal of New Agers is to usher in a new
age of peace, harmony and unity. They hope that all mankind will come to "god
consciousness," which is the awareness that they are god. The complete
definition on the New Age by Fr. Mitch Pacwa is as follows: "The New Age
Movement is highly eclectic, borrowing ideas and practices from many sources.
Meditation techniques from Hinduism, Zen, Sufism, and Native American religions
are mixed with humanistic psychology, occultism, and modern physics."2 There is
a scripture in Col. 2:4-8, that warns us against this pitfall. It states, "I
tell you this so that no one may delude you with specious arguments . . . See
to it that no one deceives you through any empty philosophy that follows mere
human traditions, a philosophy based on cosmic powers rather than on Christ."
How do New Age Beliefs Compare to Centering Prayer?
In CP, people are taught to use a prayer word or sacred word to empty the mind.
(Fr. Keating says it is not a mantra; but if it is used to rid the mind of all
thoughts and feelings, then it does the same thing as a mantra). The goal is to
reach a mental void or pure consciousness in order to find God at the center.
Pure consciousness is an altered level of consciousness. This is exactly what
the Hindus and Buddhists do to reach god-consciousness or pure consciousness.
This is also similar to what actress Shirley MacLaine does to go into an
altered level of consciousness and discover her Divine Center or Higher Self,
which is her divinity.
What are the Similarities Between CP and TM?
Johnnette Benkovic has interviewed people on her show and in her book who have
done both CP and TM. They claim it is basically the same. The only difference
would be that in TM the mantras are names of Hindu gods, and in CP the sacred
word is usually Jesus, God, peace, or love. Fr. Finbarr Flanagan, who was
involved in both CP and TM says CP is TM in a Christian dress. He says Fr.
Pennington has endorsed TM ". . .without hesitation."3 Let's look at the
1) Both CP and TM use a 20-minute meditation.
2) Both CP and TM use a mantra to erase all thoughts and feelings.
3) Both CP and TM teach that in this meditation you pick up vibrations.
4) Both CP and TM claim that this meditation will give you more peace and less
5) Both CP and TM teach you how to reach a mental void or altered level of
6) Both CP and TM have the common goal of finding your god-center.
In regard to vibrations, Fr. Keating says, "As you go to a deeper level of
reality, you begin to pick up vibrations that were there all the time but not
perceived."4 Fr. Pennington also speaks of ". . . physical vibrations that are
helpful"5 (Vibrations are common TM, New Age language.) Using mantras and
reaching a mental void are also New Age, not Catholic. In fact, reaching a
mental void is described in the Catechism as an erroneous notion of prayer
When Does the One Who Prays Cross the Line into Hindu/Buddhist/New Age Prayer?
In the beginning stages of CP, the one who prays is still ignoring thoughts as
they float by. If they are still thinking of Jesus or heavenly things, they are
still in Christian prayer. They cross the line when they get to the point where
they bypass all thoughts and feelings. In other words, there are no thoughts at
all. Fr. Thomas Keating says in his book, Open Mind, Open Heart, "As you go down
deeper, you may reach a place where the sacred word disappears altogether and
there are no thoughts. This is often experienced as a suspension of
consciousness, a space."6 When a person is able to do this, they have crossed
the line into Hindu/Buddhist/New Age prayer. HE IS NO LONGER PRACTICING
CHRISTIAN PRAYER. Fr. Keating wants his followers to let go of even devout
thoughts. He says, "The method consists of letting go of every thought during
the time of prayer, even the most devout thoughts."7 (In Christian prayer,
devout thoughts are important and desirable.) He also tells his followers to
let all feelings go. To do this, one would have to let go of any sentiments of
love toward Jesus, the Heavenly Father, or the Holy Spirit.
What Does Pope John Paul II Say About This Type of Prayer?
In Cardinal Ratzinger's booklet, Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on
Some Aspects of Christian Meditation, he quotes the Pope. On p. 34, footnote 12,
he writes "Pope John Paul II has pointed out to the whole Church the example 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 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" [(cf. John
14:6). See Homilia Abulae habita in honorem Sanctae Teresiae: AAS 75 (1983)
What Does St. Teresa of Avila Say About Contemplation?
Throughout their books, Fr. Keating and Fr. Pennington mention St. Teresa of
Avila, implying that she is an advocate of their prayer techniques. However,
after reading her books, I have found that her teachings on prayer are the
opposite of what Keating and Pennington are teaching. First of all, she says
that contemplation is a gift from God, 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"8 She also said in her book, Interior Mansion, "For it to
be prayer at all, the mind must take a part in it."9 Cardinal Ratzinger, in his
booklet, also quotes St. Teresa as saying "the very care not to think about
anything will arouse the mind to think a great deal", and that the separation
of the mystery of Christ from Christian meditation is always a form of
"betrayal"10 St. Teresa advised her nuns to meditate or think about the Passion
of Christ as a preparation for contemplation. The Catechism describes
contemplation as "a gaze of faith, fixed on Jesus" (#2715). The focus is Jesus
and the heart is involved.
What are the Warnings on Mind-Emptying Prayer from Cardinal Ratzinger?
Christians dabbling in Eastern religions in the 70s and 80s had become such a
problem that the Vatican had to respond. In 1989, Cardinal Ratzinger of the
Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, put out a document called "Letter
to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on Some Aspects of Christian Meditation."
The document states, "With the present diffusion of Eastern methods of
meditation in the Christian world and in ecclesial communities, we find
ourselves faced with a pointed renewal of attempt, which is not free from
dangers 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."11 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).
Is the Vatican II Statement Regarding Non-Christian Religions Misunderstood?
Yes. The documents of Vatican II state "the Catholic Church rejects nothing of
what is true and holy in non-Christian religions."12 The Council Fathers
however, were not recommending the practice of eastern prayer techniques. The
Hindu view of God is contrary to Christian belief. They do not worship a God
who is superior to them. They believe that they become god, like a raindrop
into an ocean.
What Does Fr. Keating Teach About Reaching "Pure Consciousness"?
In his book, Open Mind, Open Heart, Fr. Keating says, "As the Spirit gradually
takes more and more charge of your prayer, you may move into pure
consciousness, which is an intuition into your True Self."13 Then, again,
speaking of pure consciousness, he says "In that state, there is no
consciousness of self. When your ordinary faculties come back again, there may
be a sense of peaceful delight."14
What are Altered Levels of Consciousness and What are the Dangers?
Let us ask Maharashi Yogi, the guru who introduced TM to America. Fr. Finbarr
Flanagan writes in his article "TM's founder, the Maharashi Yogi, claims that
the regular practice of TM leads beyond the ordinary experience of waking,
sleeping, and dreaming to a fourth state of consciousness called "simple
awareness." Constant practice leads to cosmic consciousness, then
god-consciousness, and finally "unity consciousness."15 The fourth state in
other books is also referred to as pure-consciousness. People who have reached
these altered levels of consciousness (ALC's) describe them as a pleasant
trance-like state. Cardinal Ratzinger says, in regard to ALC's, that these can
be pleasant experiences only. He states, "Some physical exercises automatically
produce a feeling of quiet and relaxation, pleasing sensations, perhaps even
phenomena of light and warmth, which resemble spiritual well-being. To take
such feelings for the authentic consolations of the Holy Spirit would be a
totally erroneous way of conceiving the spiritual life. Giving them a symbolic
significance typical of the mystical experience, when the moral condition of
the person does not correspond to such experience, would represent a kind of
mental schizophrenia which could also lead to psychic disturbance and, at
times, to moral deviations."16
Clare Merkle, a former New Age healer and yoga practitioner, has been appearing
on EWTN network (Mother Angelica's network) on the program, "Living His Life
Abundantly" Now converted, it took her five years to be freed from the effects
on her involvement in New Age. She gives this warning: "When we open ourselves
up to foreign religious practices that have ties to the occult, we open
ourselves up to the demonic." (Hinduism and Buddhism have ties to the occult
because they tap into spiritual power that is not from the Holy Spirit.) On her
website, The Cross and the Veil, she exposes CP as New Age. (See crossveil.org.)
She said that going into ALC's can be dangerous because they can lead to
out-of-the body experiences or hallucinations. She said some people cannot come
out of them. In Fr. Keating's book, Open Mind, Open Heart, p. 120, one of his
followers commented that he had a hard time coming out of an ALC during Mass
and could not concentrate. Fr. Keating told him, "That is a nice problem to
have." Fr. Amorth, who is the Vatican exorcist, says "Yoga, Zen, and TM are
unacceptable to Christians. Often these apparently innocent practices can bring
about hallucinations and schizophrenic conditions."17
Can Centering Prayer Lead to a Hindu View of God?
Yes, it can. For example, Fr. Keating studied the eastern religions, and wanted
to "devise an approach to Christian spirituality that would be comparable to
the methods of the East."18 However, somewhere in his studies, he appears to
have succumbed to the Hindu view of God. Throughout his book, Open Mind, Open
Heart, he refers to God as the Ultimate Mystery, the Ultimate Presence, and the
Source. (This is the way God is addressed by New Agers) Shirley MacLaine calls
God the Source and the Divine Energy in her book, Going Within. In Keating's
new book, Invitation to Love, he says "the divine energy in itself is infinite
potentiality and actuality."19 Fr. Pennington makes similar statements in his
book, True Self, False Self speaking of God as the Divine Love Energy in many
places. As Catholics, we believe in a personal God whom we call our Heavenly
Father. Keating also says, "When you sit down for prayer, your whole psyche
gathers itself and melts into God."20 (Melting into god is Hindu /Buddhist/New
Age belief.) Catholic dogma refutes this pantheistic concept. "In the Mass, it
is said that we are partakers of His divinity. Yet this must not be conceived
in the pantheistic sense of the transition of the soul into the Divinity. The
infinite distance between Creator and the created remains." (Fundamentals of
Catholic Dogma, Ludwig Ott, p. 256)
What Other Statements do Keating and Pennington Make that Reflect New Age
In his book, Open Mind, Open Heart, p. 37, Fr. Keating recommends yoga and
jogging for relaxation. The truth is that yoga (the type that includes
meditations) is a form of Hinduism, and is the most common way that New Agers
enter into ALC's. In fact, Webster's Dictionary Library gives this definition:
"Yoga is a system of Hindu philosophy, strict spiritual discipline, practiced
to gain control over the forces of one's own being to gain OCCULT POWERS, but
chiefly to attain union with the Deity or the Universal Spirit."
In Keating's book, Invitation to Love, p 125 he speaks of "Energy Centers,"
common New Age language. New Agers believe that the body has seven energy
centers called Chakras. Fr. Pennington refers to energies flowing up and down
the spinal system in his book, Awake in the Spirit, p.97. Actress Shirley
MacLaine makes a similar statement in her book, Going Within, p.64. She also
describes the energy in the spinal column when she sits with her back straight.
Benkovic says, "Hinduism teaches at the base of the spine is a triangle which
lies in the "Kundalini Shakti" (Serpent Power). It is usually dormant, but when
it is awakened, it travels up the spine to the top of the head, passing through
six psychic centers called "charkas. "As it passes through a chakra, one
receives psychic experiences and powers. When it reaches the top chakra,
supposedly, the power to perform miracles and liberation is realized."21
Ralph Rath says in his book, Mantras, "In a forward to the book, Kundalini
Energy and Christian Spirituality by Philip St. Romain, Keating calls kundalini
"an enormous energy for good" and does not point out that uncontrolled kundalini
can kill or drive a person mad or that some cults use kundalini in a extremely
debased way."22 He does not show discernment here, since all spiritual power
comes from the Holy Spirit or the Evil One.
Keating and Pennington have also enthusiastically endorsed the book, Meditations
on the Tarot, a Journey into Christian Hermeticism, on the jacket cover. (The
tarot is a form of divination, which is forbidden in Deut. 18.) Ac-cording to
Fr. Finbarr Flanagan, "Meditations on the Tarot is a mix of occult,
theosophical, alchemical, esoteric, astrological and reincarnational ideas
stirred together with Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and Sufism in a manner
reminiscent of the works of C.G. Jung."23
Is the Goal of CP to Find the True Self?
Yes. All through their books, Keating and Pennington talk about finding the True
Self, finding out who we really are. What exactly is the True Self? Fr. Keating
states, "God and our true Self are not separate. Though we are not God, God and
our true Self are the same thing."24 Since the True Self is described by them as
the human soul, how can it be the same as God Almighty? The soul is created by
God. Fr. Pennington presents the same idea in his book, Awake in the Spirit,
where he speaks of our "process of deification" on p. 81. The concept of the
True Self originates in Hinduism. According to Benkovic, the Hindus believe the
following: "The self is none other than Braham or god . . . The true self is
God. The "I" which I consider myself to be is in reality the not-self. This
"not-self" is caught in a world of illusion, ignorance and bondage. You must
lose your personal ego-consciousness into god. You must say I am Braham.'25
MacLaine presents the same idea in her book Going Within, p.83, calling it the
Higher Self. She also claims that the soul is God. Therefore, the Hindus,
MacLaine and Keating all claim that the True Self (human soul) is god. As
Catholics and Christians, we know that there is no truth in this statement. We
know that the soul is created by God, is inferior to God and is tainted with
sin. We know it will come before God on Judgment Day.
Did the Vatican Release a Document on the New Age?
Yes. The Vatican recently released the document called "Jesus Christ, the Bearer
of the Water of Life: A Christian Reflection on the New Age." It specifically
identifies the following as New Age: Zen Buddhism, Hinduism, Yoga, Enneagram,
Wicca, the Higher Self, the True Self, ALC's, the "god within," and TM
(Transcendental Meditation). Many of these beliefs or practices have made their
way into retreat centers, workshops, or parish programs. Good Catholics attend
these events trusting them to be good Catholic programs. However, the Vatican
document states that these new age beliefs and practices cannot be accepted by
those who are faithful to Christ and his Church. The document also named some
of the writers who had the most influence on New Agers. They were Carl Jung,
Teilhard de Chardin, and Thomas Merton.
Does Fr. Keating Misquote some Important Scriptures?
Yes. Keating quotes Jesus as saying in Mark 8:34, "Unless you deny your inmost
self and take up the cross, you cannot be my disciple." He adds a word (inmost)
that is not there. Then he says, on p.15 of Open Mind, Open Heart, "Denial of
our inmost self includes detachment from the habitual functioning of our
intellect and will, which are our inmost faculties." The meaning of this
scripture is to carry our crosses and deny ourselves. It has nothing to do with
Keating also adds two new sentences to Luke 10:20 in Invitation to Love, p. 129.
He quotes Jesus as saying, "Do not get excited about that kind of success.
Anybody can work miracles with a little psychic energy and the divine
assistance. What you should rejoice over is that your names are written in
heaven." These first two sentences do not exist; and Jesus would never suggest
the use of psychic energy.
Does Fr. Keating Give a Strange Definition of the Eucharist?
Yes. In Open Mind, Open Heart, he says, on p.128, "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. It is the
manifestation of the Divine in and through the Christian community. We receive
the Eucharist in order to become the Eucharist." As we know, the Eucharist in
not composed of all of the elements of the universe. The New Agers believe that
all is one and all is god. In our Catholic faith, the Eucharist is the body,
blood, soul and divinity of our Lord, Jesus Christ, and the greatest of the
sacraments. We need to reflect on Hebrews 13:9, "Do not be carried away by all
kinds of strange teaching."
1) Christian prayer always involves the mind and the heart. Even in preparation
for contemplation, St. Teresa of Avila advises people to meditate or "think
about" the Sorrowful mysteries.
2) Mind-emptying techniques are not Christian prayer, but rather practices of
Hindus, Zen Buddhists, and New Agers. The Pope says this type of prayer "makes
no sense in Christianity."
3) There are dangers involved in going into altered levels of consciousness.
4) The True Self is not God. The human soul is inferior to God. It is separate
from God because it is stained with sin, and it is created by God himself.
5) Involvement in the occult practices listed in Deuteronomy 18 is grave sin.
6) Hinduism, Zen Buddhism and New Age do not mix with Catholicism. These ancient
religions contain grave error, and their beliefs are contrary to the Catholic
In closing, I would like to say that I would not recommend books written by Fr.
Thomas Keating or Fr. Basil Pennington. They have demonstrated a lack of
discernment, and therefore are not reliable sources of information for
spiritual growth. Also, some readers are unaware that they are being exposed to
Hinduism through these books. I agree with the Pope when he said this type of
prayer "makes no sense in Christianity." As Christians, we are not to practice
non-Christian religions or mix them in with ours (syncretism). When we practice
syncretism, the line between truth and error becomes blurred. The pleasant
experiences that result from these techniques can gradually start to replace
the sacraments, and a person can lose sight of God as Creator and Savior.
The Lord loves the Hindus, Buddhists, Jews, Muslims, and all people. However, he
wants us, as Christians, to look for opportunities to bring them to the True
Faith. If we want to "center," we can center our lives on Jesus Christ. If we
want to pray, we can think about him during our prayer time. We can meditate on
the Passion, practice virtues, and ask him to take us up into authentic
contemplation one day if he so desires. We can remind others that Jesus is the
Way, the Truth, and the Life.
1 Thomas Keating, Open Mind, Open Heart, (Amity, N.Y.: Amity House, 1986), p.97.
2 Mitch Pacwa, Catholics and the New Age, (Ann Arbor, MI: Servants Publication,
1992) p. 14.
3 Finbarr Flanagan, "Centering Prayer: Transcendental Meditation for the
Christian Market: (Faith and Renewal, May/June, 1991) p. 2., quoting from Basil
Pennington, Daily We Touch Him, (Garden City, N.Y. : Doubleday, 1977, p.68.
4 Ibid., p. 2, quoting from Thomas Keating, Finding Grace at the Center, (Mass:
St. Bede's Publications, 1978, p.20.
5 Ibid.,p. 2 quoting from Basil Pennington, Centering Prayer, (Garden City,
N.Y.:Doubleday Image Books) p.234.
6 Thomas Keating, Open Mind, Open Heart, p.114.
7 Ibid., p. 35.
8 Johnnette Benkovic, The New Age Counterfeit, p. 23-24, quoting from The Life
from the Collected Works of St. Teresa, Vol. 1, Washington Province of
Discalced Carmelites, p.1976.
9 Peter Thomas Rohrbach, Conversation with Christ, by St. Teresa of Avila
(Rockford, IL: Tan Publishing Co.) p.78, quoting St. Teresa of Avila, Interior
Mansion, P. I. i.
10 Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on
Some Aspects of Christian Meditation, Oct. 15, 1989 (Text from English version
published by St. Paul Books and Media, 50 St. Paul's Ave., Boston, MA 02130)
11 Ibid., p. 16.
12 Austin P. Flannery, Editor, Documents of Vatican II, "Declaration on the
Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions" (Grand Rapids, Michigan:
William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1980) p.737.
13 Thomas Keating, Open Mind, Open Heart, p. 51.
14 Ibid., p. 73-74.
15 Finbarr Flanagan, "Centering Prayer: Transcendental Meditation for the
Christian Market", p. 2.
16 Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on
Some Aspects of Meditation, p. 28-29.
17 Gabriele Amorth, An Exorcist Tells His Story, (San Francisco, CA.: Ignatius
18 Chris Noble, "Christian Contemplation and Centering Prayer", Homiletic and
Pastoral Review, March 1994, p. 25, quoting, "Contemplative Prayer", U. S.
Catholic, March, 1989, p.10.
19 Thomas Keating, Invitation to Love, (NewYork, NY: The Continuum Publishing
Co., 2002) p.102.
20 Thomas Keating, Open Mind, Open Heart, p.49.
21 Johnnette Benkovic, The New Age Counterfeit, p.11.
22 Ralph Rath, Mantras, (South Bend, IN: Peter Publications, 1993) p. 25.
23 Finbarr Flanagan, "Centering Prayer: Transcendental Meditation for the
Christian Market", p. 5.
24 Thomas Keating, Open Mind, Open Heart, p. 127.
25 Johnnette Benkovic, The New Age Counterfeit, p. 10-11.
Mrs. Margaret A. Feaster is a housewife and mother of three children. She and
her husband live in Lilburn, Ga. She is on the leadership committee for the
Catholic Charismatic Renewal in Atlanta, and is in formation for the Discalced
Carmelite Secular Order. She belongs to a Rosary Cenacle, and heads up the
parish telephone prayer line. She is also a writer for her parish newsletter.
This is her first article for HPR.
© Ignatius Press
The Danger of Centering Prayer Published by Catholic Answers.
In the mid-seventies, Trappist Abbot Thomas Keating 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 knew there was something similar in the
Christian tradition?"' (Intimacy with God, 15). Frs. William Menniger and M.
Basil Pennington took up the challenge, and centering prayer is the result. In
a few short years it has spread all over the world.
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
Many people assume centering prayer is compatible with Catholic tradition, but
in fact the techniques of centering prayer are neither Christian nor prayer.
They are at the level of human faculties and as such are an operation of man,
not of God. The deception and dangers can be grave.
Centering prayer differs from Christian prayer in that the intent of the
technique is to bring the practitioner to the center of his own being. There he
is, supposedly, to experience the presence of the God who indwells him.
Christian prayer, on the contrary, centers upon God in a relational way, as
someone apart from oneself. The Christian knows a God who is personal, yet who,
as Creator, infinitely transcends his creature. God is wholly other than man. It
is also crucial to Christian prayer that God engages man's whole being in
response, not just his interior life. In the view of centering prayer, the
immanence of God somehow makes the transcendence of God available to human
techniques and experience.
Centering prayer is essentially a form of self-hypnosis. It makes use of a
"mantra," a word repeated over and over to focus the mind while striving by
one's will to go deep within oneself. The effects are a hypnotic-like state:
concentration upon one thing, disengagement from other stimuli, a high degree
of openness to suggestion, a psychological and physiological condition that
externally resembles sleep but in which consciousness is interiorized and the
mind subject to suggestion. After reading a published description of centering
prayer, a psychology professor said, "Your question is, is this hypnosis? Sure
it is." He said the state can be verified physiologically by the drop in blood
pressure, respiratory rate, lactic acid level in the blood, and the galvanic
conductivity of the skin. Abbot Keating relates that, when they began doing the
centering prayer workshops in the guest house, some of the monks and guests
"complained that it was spooky seeing people walking around the guest house
like 'zombies."' They recognized the symptoms but could not diagnose the
In order to see clearly that centering prayer departs from Catholic tradition,
let us review the differences between Christian spirituality and that of
Eastern religions. These differences flow, above all, from their concepts of
God, of man, and of their relationship. In light of this contrast, we should be
able to see more clearly from which of these centering prayer draws its approach
In Catholic teaching, all men are creatures, called out of nothingness to know
God. All men are also sinners, cut off from God and destined to death. A
Christian is one whose life has been reconstituted in Christ. He is no longer
in the place and stance of a sinner, that is, apart from God, acting as if he
were the ultimate source, measure, and goal of his own behavior. He is in
Christ. Henceforth, his life is supposed to originate in Christ and to be
directed to God the Father. I say "supposed to" for it is a possibility that
must be acted upon. It is not automatic. The grace of baptism must be
incarnated in obedience, and, even after baptism, the Christian can choose to
conform to Christ or to his fallen nature, that is, to sin.
Eastern religions, in contrast, lack revelation of God as a personal Creator who
radically transcends his creatures. Though possessing many praiseworthy
elements, they nonetheless seek God as if he were part of the universe, rather
than its Creator. This is because they are monistic, seeing all reality as one.
Thus, God is a dimension, though hidden, of the same reality of which man is a
part. The goal therefore is to peel away the exterior world to get to the
spiritual reality beneath it. God is conceived of as an impersonal state of
being. In contrast, for Christians, God is the Real, and the whole of the
universe exists by God's free choice; creation is a second, contingent
reality-and, in Christian thought, did not need to exist. Moreover, this
contingent universe is the result of a God who is vastly more than mere being;
he is a loving Father.
These differing conceptions of God issue in different approaches to God. In the
East, human means are necessarily relied upon to come to God. The goal is not
to seek God as an Other, but to achieve an altered state of consciousness.
Where a Christian seeks dialogue and interaction with God and, with his help,
the "restoration of all things in Christ," by a certain "participation in the
divine nature" (2 Peter 4:4), the East seeks God in the self and seeks escape
from the distractions of the outer world. The "experience of God" is
essentially achieved by psychological and physiological technique rather than
The confusion of technique over encounter arises from a misunderstanding of the
indwelling of God. The fact that God indwells us does not mean that we can
capture him by techniques. Nor does it mean that we are identical with him in
our deepest self. Rather, God indwells us by grace which does not blend human
and divine natures. On the contrary, it perfects and empowers our limited human
faculties, so that we can relate to him. We can no more manipulate this
indwelling of grace by psychological techniques than we can manipulate our
Analogously, children do not come to know the parents who gave them existence by
going dead inside themselves or back to the moment of their conception, They
come to know their parents by interaction with them. As children use the
faculties given them at conception to grow and become like their parents, so we
use the faculties given us by the indwelling Spirit to interact with God and to
put on Jesus Christ. As children speak to their parents, so we speak to God by
the power of the Holy Spirit who indwells us.
This is what the Catholic tradition means by the term "sanctifying grace."
Sanctifying grace is the grace of union with God. By it, we are given a share
in the very holiness of God. Sanctifying grace is God's communication of
himself to man. As such, it cannot be experienced by human faculties. However,
Sanctifying grace gives us the "faculties" to relate to God. By it, we are
given a new and additional "divine nature" and are made "sons and daughters" of
God. With childlike simplicity, we can say "our Father." By incarnating this
grace through acts of obedience to God (what the Church calls "actual graces")
we are progressively converted from our sinful nature and "put on Jesus
Christ," participating in the life of Jesus Christ as members of his Body. In
the religion of Christ, the Incarnate Lord, there is no disengagement from the
external, but rather a dedication of one's life and the world to God. The goal
is not merely a deep inner peace but a sanctification of body, mind, and
heart-indeed, of the whole world.
Centering prayer claims for itself the experience of God, while setting aside
external realities and overcoming the "otherness" of God. It takes these
characteristics not from Christian tradition but from Hinduism, through the
medium of Transcendental Meditation. TM is Hinduism adapted by Maharishi Mahesh
Yogi, a Hindu guru, for use in a Western cultural setting. Fr. Pennington, one
of the authors of centering prayer and an ardent supporter of TM, says, "Mahesh
Yogi, employing the terminology of the ancient Vedic tradition, speaks of this
[practice of TM] 'to plunge into deep, deep rest for fifteen or twenty minutes
twice a day' as experiencing the Absolute. The Christian knows by faith that
this Absolute is our God of love, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, who dwells in
us. When he goes to his deepest self, he finds in himself an image and
participation of God, and he finds God himself."
Fr. Pennington approves a Christian's participation in TM, despite the fact that
the introductory ceremony to TM, the Puja, involves worship of a dead Hindu guru
and that the mantras given those being initiated are in fact the names of Hindu
gods. For a Christian knowingly to participate in TM is a violation of the
Second Commandment against false worship.
What is to be said of this claim? Archimandrite Sophrony of Mount Athos and an
authority in Orthodox spirituality, speaks from his own personal story. He was
for years involved in Eastern religions, before he returned to the Orthodox
faith of his youth. I quote him at length, for he speaks with clarity and
"In advising against being carried away by artificial practices such as
Transcendental Meditation I am but repeating the age-old message of the
Church.... The way of the Fathers requires firm faith and long patience,
whereas our contemporaries want to seize every spiritual gift, including even
direct contemplation of the Absolute God, by force and speedily, and will often
draw a parallel between prayer in the Name of Jesus and yoga or Transcendental
Meditation and the like. I must stress the danger of such errors.... He is
deluded who endeavors to divest himself mentally of all that is transitory and
relative in order to cross some invisible threshold, to realize his eternal
origin, his identity with the Source of all that exists, in order to return and
merge with him, the nameless transpersonal Absolute. Such exercises have enabled
many to rise to suprarational contemplation of being, to experience a certain
mystical trepidation, to know the state of silence of mind, when mind goes
beyond the boundaries of time and space. In such like states man may feel the
peacefulness of being withdrawn from the continually changing phenomena of the
visible world, may even have a certain experience of eternity. But the God of
Truth, the Living God, is not in all this.
"It is man's own beauty, created in the image of God, that is contemplated and
seen as divinity, whereas he himself still continues within the confines of his
creatureliness. This is a vastly important concern. The tragedy of the matter
lies in the fact that man sees a mirage which, in his longing for eternal life,
he mistakes for a genuine oasis. This impersonal form of ascetics leads finally
to an assertion of the divine principle in the very nature of man. Man is then
drawn to the idea of self-deification-the cause of the original Fall. The man
who is blinded by the imaginary majesty of what he contemplates has in fact set
his foot on the path to self-destruction. He has discarded the revelation of a
personal God.... The movement into the depths of his own being is nothing else
but attraction towards the non-being from which we were called by the will of
the Creator" (His Life is Mine, 115-116).
In short, true prayer goes to God from the center of one's being, not in the
center of one's being. In authentic contemplation, our faculties are brought to
God, not disengaged as they are in TM. Christianity seeks to redeem and restore
man and the world in Christ. To seek escape from rather than to redeem the
world is to set oneself against the mission of Christ. That is why even the
Jesus Prayer and the rosary (often cited as Christian "mantras") are deeply
charged with basic Christian theological content; they are used to relate in an
interactive and personal way to the Lord and to the Virgin Mary. For a similar
reason, Catholic spiritual writers consistently insist a person must have a
moral life and spiritual maturity before entering upon a life dedicated to
contemplation. A person who seeks contemplation must first steep his mind in
the word of God, conform his behavior to the moral law, submit his body to the
spirit by asceticism, subjugate his will in humility to the will of God, and
take on a heart given over to the love of God and neighbor. These means are
incarnational and redemptive.
The book often claimed as a precedent for centering prayer is The Cloud of
Unknowing, by an unknown fourteenth-century English author. But the claim is in
vain, for The Cloud of Unknowing clearly repudiates the emphasis given in
centering prayer to techniques: "I am trying to make clear with words what
experience teaches more convincingly, that techniques and methods are
ultimately useless for awakening contemplative love." The Cloud must be seen in
its historic context. Though its emphasis is on the "negative way," we must
remember that it presupposes its reader is well grounded in the "positive way"
to God by means of the word of God, creation, and sacramental means. When this
prerequisite is met, a book like this can help prayer to go beyond creatures to
the Uncreated God. But to see The Cloud as pointing us to technique (as
centering prayer does) is profoundly to misread the text.
Some of those who promote centering prayer employ questionable practices. For
example, I first experienced centering prayer during a retreat whose announced
topic and method had nothing to do with it. Without explanation, the director
conducted us into centering prayer. At first I followed the instructions, but,
not liking the feel of it, I made the decision to ignore the instructions. The
retreat master, even by secular standards, acted unethically in not giving us
an understanding and choice in the matter.
Nor is this uncommon. I know of an incident where several thousand people
attending a charismatic conference were brought into centering prayer, again
without explanation or choice. This incident was particularly objectionable,
because the priest who was leading the session did not even bother with a
Christian "mantra" but used an explicit hypnotic technique (e.g., "Imagine you
are on an elevator. You begin going down, down inside yourself. The
twenty-first floor, the twentieth floor," etc.). In many Catholic schools,
teachers and officials have made centering prayer part of religious exercises
without parental notice, understanding, or choice. Equally questionable is the
setting aside of traditional safeguards. Centering prayer is often offered to
large groups, where there is no way of knowing the psychological and spiritual
problems some people may have. And this can be very dangerous indeed, leading
to any of the following: (1) The delusion that one has found and pleased God,
when in fact he has not. God is not part of the universe. The attempt to reach
God by human technique is not only futile, but objectively sinful. (2) A
self-absorption which forgets that life in the Triune God is relationships and
that we have been inserted into these relationships through Christ. People who
come out of this type of prayer often express it as coming into a freedom they
did not know that they had lost. (3) The danger of opening oneself to evil
spirits. Such techniques can bring people in touch with the spiritual realm.
But the spiritual realm includes not only God but human and angelic spirits. A
person with a problem in a moral or psychological area can open himself to some
degree of demonic influence.
A mother wrote to ask me for advice: "In the Catholic school in [name of town],
Sister has been using this [centering prayer and use of the Jesus Prayer] in
the religion classes. My ten-year-old daughter took to it right away. This was
about two-and-a-half years ago. The things she shared with me that Jesus had
told her didn't appear to me to be imagination. They made her feel very close
to Jesus. About six weeks ago, Kristy started having difficulty going to sleep.
She didn't want to stay in her own room and would lie there afraid to close her
eyes, until I would let her go into her sister's room and sleep with her.
Finally she confided in me that she would see something scary if she closed her
eyes. A few days ago, she confided that it laughed. Kristy had used the
centering prayer on her own at bedtime for some time before this fear started."
What happened to Kristy? The laughter is very characteristic of evil spirits. It
would have taken personal contact and prayerful discernment to know for sure.
From the description, I would suspect an evil spirit is harassing her. I would
doubt that it has any serious hold on her, unless there was immoral behavior or
a special vulnerability in her psychological state. I suspect that her use of
centering prayer opened her to evil spirits and such harassments.
The past several decades have seen an explosion of groups and movements involved
in spiritual and psychic pursuits. Some of these no doubt are of God; some
clearly are not. The New Age Movement, which is actually as ancient as the
Eastern religions from which it draws its resources, has shown a phenomenal
growth. A materialistic civilization is trying to find what it threw away. I
believe that the interest is more than a sociological phenomenon and that it is
part of a conflict of the Kingdom of God and the kingdom of darkness.
I see the springing up of so many spiritual and psychic movements as part of the
rebellion of man and evil spirits against God. The totalitarian movements of the
twentieth century managed to capture the major sectors of society, and what
destruction they brought on the world! But they fell short of total possession
of man. In his interior life, man remained free. Nazism and Communism had some
success in penetrating the interior life of man by persuasion, by socioeconomic
pressures, and even by the violence of brainwashing.
But the vulnerability of man today to manipulation is today much greater than it
was even a half-century ago. The moral order and faith in God have drastically
declined. Man's technology and managerial abilities have increased. Tyranny has
better tools to dominate others and, more and more, a ripe situation in which to
do so. The restraining influences on the work of evil spirits are being stripped
away: loss of moral standards, break-up of family life, uprootedness, merely
functional relationships, emptiness of meaning. In this context, what centering
prayer does, at a minimum, is make respectable the false spiritualities that are
rushing in to fill the spiritual void.
My hypothesis is that it is Satan's strategy, in all these things, to strip away
the physiological and psychological forces that, in our fallen state, are a
fail-safe protection for the human spirit. (This is a possible interpretation
of Paul's words in 2 Thessalonians 2:6-10 about the lawless one and the force
that restrains him.) Thus, he can hope to capture the spirit of man worldwide
and establish a kingdom of darkness.
The Catholic Church is the major obstacle to the Devil's plan-and the Lord of it
the only hope of mankind. Hence the Church has been the special target of today,
as indeed it has been since Pentecost. The rapid spread of centering prayer in
the past decade into so many areas which are at the very heart of Catholic
faith is, I believe, part of the Devil's strategy against the Church.
Yet none of this has escaped God's hand. As I see it, he has given us the modern
world's problems right in the very heart of the Church, so that, when we get our
own house in order, we will be in very good shape to bring the gospel to every
nation. No Christian can read the Great Commission and fail to have hope for
the future. "All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me. Therefore
go and make disciples of all nations. And behold I am with you always" (Matt.
This Rock, Vol. 8, No. 11, November 1997. Published by Catholic Answers.
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