Centering Prayer: Neither a Prayer nor Christian

Catholic Apologetics #6

Over the past three decades, thousands of Catholics have fallen into the commonly misunderstood New Age practice known as “Centering Prayer”. Centering Prayer is not a prayer and it is not even Christian. Originating with Abbot Thomas Keating in St. Joseph’s Abbey in Spencer, Massachusetts, centering prayer has spread across the country and attacked the faith of many good-hearted Catholics who unknowingly embrace a pagan practice. Authentic prayer and meditation stem from contact with God. Prayer does not center in one’s being, as advocates of centering prayer claim. On the contrary, prayer is a conversation with God from the center of our souls.

As stated in the Baltimore Catechism: “Prayer is the lifting up of our minds and hearts to God, to adore Him, to thank Him for His benefits, to ask His forgiveness, and to beg of Him all the graces we need whether for soul or body.”[i] To understand centering prayer, we must first understand what centering prayer is not. Centering prayer is not the raising of one’s mind and heart to God principally because the practice seeks for participants to look within themselves. Such practices should not be confused with meditation, contemplation, or even Lectio Divina. Similarly, centering prayer is not an examination of conscience where we look upon our faults through the lens of the Church and seek to remain in the state of sanctifying grace.

An article from the Contemplative Prayer Online Magazine which critiqued centering prayer states, “Typical of New Age meditative practice, [in centering prayer] the soul becomes the ‘center’, energy replaces grace, God actually becomes a pantheistic energy, and the unleashing of this ‘energy’ leads to chaos.”[ii] The article continues, “…And then, mysteriously, an evolution of consciousness.” Such statements are based entirely on the words of Fr. M. Basil Pennington from March 9, 2000, when he states, “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 energy…”

Both Keating and Pennington are advocates of centering prayer, which is a pagan practice that achieves hypnosis. As confirmed by a psychology professor interviewed in the article “The Danger of Centering Prayer” by Fr. John D. Dreher: “Your question is, is [centering prayer] hypnosis? Sure, it is.” Centering prayer is a technique where participants repeat a mantra, a word that is repeated over and over again in order to focus one’s will. In true prayer, participants will seek to develop inner peace only through the sanctification of mind, body, and soul, which is achieved by living in a state of grace. In meditation and contemplation, individuals reflect upon the lives of Jesus, Mary, the saints, or other holy things. Above all, we seek to remain in grace and grow in love of God. Centering prayer replaces God with energy.

Centering prayer is not Christian – period. Rather, centering prayer utilizes characteristics from Hinduism such as the medium of Transcendental Meditation (TM). Again, quoting from Fr. John D. Dreher’s article: “Fr. Pennigton 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 [false] gods.” Thus, praying centering prayer is praying to false gods! Fr. Dreher simply writes, “The rapid spread of centering prayer in the past decade into so many areas which are at the very heart of the Catholic faith is, I believe, part of the Devil’s strategy against the Church.”

Susan Beckworth, in “Centering Prayer and Enneagram are Pagan,” states the following as the characteristics of authentic meditation:

1) It is Christ-centered and Trinitarian.
2) It will acknowledge the cross of Christ and suffering.
3) It will encourage an awareness of sin, a turning away from it, and trust in God’s mercy.
4) It encourages a sacramental life, especially the Eucharist.
5) It encourages a disposition of obedience to Church teaching.
6) It is Marian.
7) It looks beyond this world to eternity.

Since centering prayer fails to meet any of the above criteria, Catholics should simply refuse to participate in centering prayer. In Some Aspects of Christian Meditation by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith led by then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the Vatican warned against certain practices that are common in centering prayer without using the actual term “centering prayer”.

Even if the “mantra” used in centering prayer sounds Christian, its focus is to draw the person within and see God as nothing more than energy. On the contrary, repetitive prayer like the Rosary or the Jesus Prayer used in many Eastern Churches are attempts to quiet our soul and empty all that is sinful and fill ourselves with Jesus Christ. Centering prayer is not contemplation or meditation like what is achieved by the Rosary or the Jesus Prayer. Centering prayer is simply pagan.

Another flaw in centering prayer is the promotion of universalism, the belief that all people have salvation. At Holy Spirit Monastery in Conyers, Georgia, a place where centering prayer is offered, Fr. James Behrens stated, “Salvation is a given… no one is left out… all the Bibles could be destroyed tomorrow, and it would not make a difference.”[iii] Again, this is blasphemy. And at the very root of centering prayer is the belief in universalism and modernist errors.

I appeal to all readers to not only reject centering prayer but also to discuss it with other Catholics and encourage all Catholics to abandon this practice if they have had the misfortune to fall into this modern error.

[i] Baltimore Catechism #3, Lesson 28, Q. 1099.

[ii] A Critique of M. Basil Pennington’s article, “Centering Prayer,” taken from The Contemplative Prayer Online Magazine.

[iii] The Centering Prayer Phenomenon Is “New Age”, by Susan Beckworth.


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