Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Ste. Marie Parish in Manchester NH offering Centering Prayer

By clicking on the link provided, you will be taken to the page for Joseph House which is described thusly:

A Contemplative Retreat House279 Cartier StreetManchester, New Hampshire 03102
Voice: (603) 627-9493Fax: (603) 666-4732email: mailto:SRmaryanne@josephhouse.mv.com
A retreat center for contemplative prayer in the classical Christian tradition. Erected in 1905 as part of Ste. Marie Parish, it served originally as a residence for the Brothers and later for the Sisters who taught in the adjacent school. Destined for demolition in 1986, it was providentially spared and has been transformed into a charming, 21-room retreat center.

Joseph House offers regular retreats in Centering Prayer. Please read the following article for an explanation as to some of the problems presented by Centering Prayer:

Centering Prayer Meets the Vatican
It is God's choice, not ours whether we enter the sphere of the divine.

Part one
By Dan DeCelles
Contemplative prayer has a long and venerable history among the many forms of Christian prayer. Centering prayer, by contrast, is the new kid on the block. It claims to be a technique of prayer that helps a person enter quickly and almost effortlessly into contemplation. (See below for fuller descriptions of each.) According to its advocates, anyone, at any stage in the Christian life, can use centering prayer with spectacular results.

Abbot Thomas Keating, O.C., one of its main proponents, says, "To move into that realm is the greatest adventure ... a new world appears within and around us and the impossible becomes an everyday experience."

Last December the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of' the Faith warned about the dangers of blending Christian prayer and Eastern methods of meditation (e.g., Zen, Transcendental Meditation and yoga). Although Some Aspects of Christian Meditation does not single out any persons or schools of thought by name, many of its warnings apply to the centering- prayer literature, including the writings of Abbot Keating and his spiritual disciple Father Basil Pennington, O.C.S.O. Both have backgrounds in Eastern meditation methods and cite those experiences favorably as instructive for today's Christians.

Early in the document the author, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, describes how the church Fathers combated early "errors" that affected the way Christians thought about prayer. He says, "Such erroneous forms, having reappeared in history from time to time on the fingers of the church's prayer, seem once more [today] to impress many Christians, appealing to them as a kind of remedy, be it psychological or spiritual, or as a quick way of finding God."

Several elements of these ancient errors find expression in centering prayer. In part two of this article, we'll look at two of these: a mistaken understanding of "union with God" and an overemphasis on the experiential dimension of prayer. First,
though, I want to call attention to the phrase "a quick wav of finding God." This phrase indicates the most obvious problem centering prayer has.

When God bestows the gift of contemplative prayer, it is normally to more mature Christians. The word "normally" is important. God is sovereign and gives his graces as he chooses, but normally he reserves this gift for those who have made some progress fighting vice and growing in virtue and in the fruit of the Spirit. This usually takes time.
Centering prayer, on the other hand, promises any Christian at any stage access to contemplative prayer. The impression its promoters give is that a person only has to read a brief description of the method, find a quiet room and, after a few minutes of "centering," experience a deep, contemplative sense of God's presence.

The promise of quick results may help to explain the popularity of centering prayer, but it cannot be dismissed as a mere sales gimmick. It is a direct antidote to what its promoters regard as a problem afflicting modem Western culture. Says Abbot Keating, "To the objection that we might be introducing contemplative prayer (to people] too soon, my answer is that our contemporaries in the Western world have a special problem with discursive meditation because of the ingrained inclination to analyze things [which] has led to the repression of our intuitive faculties.... This conceptual hang up ... impedes the spontaneous movement from reflection ... into contemplative prayer." What's needed, he suggests, is a method like centering prayer, a "means of exposing people to the actual experience ... essential to get beyond the intellectual bias."

People looking for a quick way of finding God are likely to run into two temptations that have plagued Christians from the beginning: to take a negative view of the material world, and to think contemplation is something they can attain all by themselves.
First, let's look at the proper way a Christian values the material world. God chose to come to us through the material world. He chose to reveal himself to us in the spoken words of the prophets, in his sovereign interventions in human history, and, above all, in Jesus, his eternally begotten Son, made man in time and space. He chose to redeem us through the physical death and resurrection of this man. He chose not to take us out of this world after we are united to him in baptism, but to leave us in the world. God even chose the physical sufferings we endure on this earth as a way we can draw closer to him, following in the footsteps of his Son.

It should not surprise us, then, that God wants the believer to approach him in and through the material world. "To grasp the depths of the divine," says Cardinal Ratzinger, the Christian meditates on the earthly life of Jesus. God reveals these depths "through the human-earthly dimension." When the Christian sees Jesus, he sees the Father (jn. 14:9); he grasps "the divine reality in the human figure of Jesus, his eternal divine dimension in its temporal form."
However, this sort of "human-earthly" meditation is considered a hindrance in centering prayer. "in centering prayer we go beyond thought and image, beyond the senses and the rational mind, to that center of our being where God is working a wonderful work," says Father Pennington "just sitting there, doing nothing. Not even thinking some worthwhile thoughts or making some good resolutions-just being." Abbot Keating goes further, "if you are aware of no thoughts, you will aware of something and that is a thought. If at that point you can lose the awareness that you are aware of no thoughts, you will move into pure consciousness.
Cardinal Ratzinger has reservations. He warns about methods which "try as far as possible to put aside everything that is worldly, sense perceptible, or conceptually limited." An approach of this sort to prayer may actually be "an attempt to ascend to or immerse oneself in the sphere of the divine, which as such is neither terrestrial, sense perceptible nor capable of conceptualization."

Besides the temptation to reject the material world in this approach there is another problem-indicated by Cardinal Ratzinger's use of the word "oneself" in the last quote-the temptation to ascend to God by one's own power or strength. In fact it is God's choice, not ours, whether we enter the sphere of the divine. "God is free to 'empty' us of all that holds us back .... to draw us completely into the Trinitarian life of his eternal love," but this gift is granted "not through our own efforts."

In the 16th century, Teresa of Avila noticed that as some Christians prayed they tried to stop thinking pre-mature, before God had given the grace of contemplation. In Interior Castle she said, "be careful not to check the movement of the mind ... and to remain there like a dolt." A century later, the church was confronted with a still more passive form of prayer in the teachings of Miguel de Molinos. It did not take long for "quietism" to be condemned.

Centering prayer's advocates occasionally remind their readers that contemplation is indeed a gift from God, but their clear and constant message is that God will give the gift. Every time. To everyone who uses the method. Their insistence that anyone can master the Centering-prayer technique and their virtual guarantee of success will lead many to a do-it- yourself approach to contemplative prayer. To be continued.

Centering Prayer
Rule 1: At the beginning of the prayer we take a minute or two to quiet down and then move in faith to God dwelling in our depths; and at the end of the prayer we take several minutes to come out, mentally praying the "Our Father" or some other prayer.

Rule 2: After resting for a bit in the center in faithful love, we take up a single, simple word that expresses this response and begin to let it repeat itself within.

Rule 3: Whenever in the course of the prayer we become aware of anything else, we simply gently return to the Presence by the use of the prayer word.
(Centering Prayer, by Basil Pennington, O.C.S.O., pg. 65)
Contemplative Prayer

[When Gods calls a person to contemplative prayer] the soul is no longer inclined to meditate by itself, to reason on the great truths of faith so as to arouse itself to acts of love of God. It receives "a supernatural recollection" which it could never acquire by its own efforts and "which does not depend on our own will." It is no longer the soul recollecting itself, it is God who recollects it and draws it toward the inner sanctuary. This is the beginning of contemptation, properly so called; it is infused since we cannot procure it for ourselves by our activity aided by grace.... In contemplation "the soul understands that the divine Master is teaching it without the sound of words." - - - Under this infused light "the soul is inflamed with love without comprehending flow it loves."

(Christian Perfection and Contemplation, by Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P., pp. 244-2.46, quotations are from various works of Teresa of Avila.)
New Heaven/New Earth, March 1990

This article may be found here: http://www.dotm.org/decelles-1.htm



Francis H. said...

For that prish to offer Centering Prayer is scary. Read this article about the dangers of Centering Prayer:

Colleen McCormick said...


Today at Joseph House we have many active prayer and ministry groups.
We have Celebration of the Holy Eucharist, Eucharistic Adoration, Lectio Divina, Intercessory Prayer, and Healing Prayer Ministry.

If you have not visited us lately, or never stopped in, I would encourage you to join us the first Sunday of each month beginning this December 4th, as we pray a Holy Hour of Reparation to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The Holy Hour starts at 7pm and no reservations are necessary. It would be a wonderful way to introduce or reintroduce yourself to the Joseph House prayer community.

Blessings in JMJ,
Colleen McCormick

Colleen McCormick said...

Would the original author consider removing the blog article since there is no centering prayer being offered at Joseph House/Ste. Marie Parish any longer? I am just hoping to avoid confusions. Sr. Mary Anne passed away in 2008, and with her passing passed the centering prayer movement at Joseph House. Many thanks and blessings in JMJ. Colleen McCormick, Joseph House Director

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