Centering Prayer:
Catholic Meditation or Occult Meditation?

Centering Prayer
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

 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.


 End Notes


 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

 Press), 1999.


 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

 and techniques.


 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

 by encounter.


 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.

 Subscriptions: P.O. Box 17490, San Diego, CA 92177, 888-291-8000. Web:


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