A new book by Catholic author Connie Rossini dispels some of the most common arguments used to defend centering prayer by comparing it to the teachings of the great mystical doctor of the Church, St. Teresa of Avila.
In her book, Is Centering Prayer Catholic: Fr. Thomas Keating Meets St. Teresa of Avila and the CDF, Rossini lays out some of the fundamental differences between what Keating teaches and what the Church has said about the nature of Christian prayer and the Catholic contemplative tradition.
For example, in Chapter Five, The Nature of Contemplation, Rossini looks at Fr. Keating’s statement that “Contemplation is a fundamental constituent of human nature and hence available to every human being.”
She correctly cites this statement as being “a serious error” because it makes contemplation into a merely human action like thinking or loving.
Keating also says that Christian contemplation and Buddhist meditation are “essentially the same thing” and that “contemplative prayer is not so much a gift as a given.”
“Contrast this with the Catechism,” Rossini writes. “’Contemplative prayer is the simplest expression of the mystery of prayer. It is a gift, a grace; it can be accepted only in humility and poverty’.” (No. 2713)
To compare Christian contemplation to Buddhist or any other form of eastern meditation is also erroneous because meditation in the east is about achieving an altered state of consciousness and has nothing to do with dialoguing with God in prayer, which is the intent of Christian prayer.
St. Teresa of Avila also clearly states in her writings that infused contemplation is a gift that we cannot achieve on our own but only receive as a free gift of God should He choose to give it.
In Chapter Ten, Signs of Prayer Growth, Rossini looks at Keating’s claims that the primary sign of prayer growth is emotional stability. This is far different from what St. Teresa teaches when she points out that advancing prayer is always accompanied by growth in love and virtue.
Although advocates of Centering Prayer frequently argue that their method of prayer has nothing to do with blanking the mind, the movement’s own literature says the exact opposite. In fact, as Rossini points out, Keating repeatedly stresses throughout his book, Open Mind, Open Heart, that centering prayer “consists in letting go of every kind of every kind of thought during prayer, even the most devout thoughts” (pg. 21).
Proponents also like to claim that St. Teresa of Avila espoused this concept but the saint’s writings say just the opposite. “Taking it upon oneself to stop and suspend thought is what I mean should not be done; nor should we cease to work with the intellect . . .”
This book is concise (just 121 pages), expertly sourced, and to the point without being hostile or judgmental of those who choose to practice Centering Prayer. Instead, it merely presents Church teaching on prayer and lets the reader make up his or her own mind.
Rossini is the author of Trusting God with St. Therese and A Spiritual Growth Plan for your Choleric Child. She also blogs at Contemplative Homeschool and writes for The Prairie Catholic and Spiritual Direction.com.