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Is Centering Prayer Catholic?


“What is Centering Prayer? What are its origins? Is it a form of New Age meditation, or a thoroughly Catholic prayer method that can lead to contemplation? Connie Rossini digs into the writings and public statements of Fr. Thomas Keating, one of Centering Prayer’s foremost proponents. She compares his words with the writings of St. Teresa of Avila on prayer, and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on New Age spirituality. Find out if Centering Prayer is a reliable method for union with God, or a counterfeit that Catholics should avoid.”


Is Centering Prayer Catholic? Fr. Thomas Keating Meets Teresa of Avila and the CDFA new book by Connie Rossini.

I changed the title and the cover, but it’s the same book I excerpted here a few weeks ago, except even better, based on feedback from readers and my editor.

Just $2.99 as an ebook on Amazon, soon (God willing) a $9.95 paperback as well.

Do you know anyone who is confused about how to pray? Need a gift for a priest? How about stocking your parish library or Adoration chapel?

As always, if you order 5 paperbacks directly from me, I’ll sign them all and send you a sixth free–with free shipping as well. This deal still stands for Trusting God with St. Therese and A Spiritual Growth Plan for Your Choleric Child as well. In fact, you can even mix and match among the paperbacks, as long as your free sixth copy is equal to or greater in value than the average of the five you pay for. And if that confuses you (as I admit it does me), just email me at crossini4774 at comcast dot net with your questions.

Also, I wanted to let you know that the ebook version of A Spiritual Growth Plan for Your Choleric Child is now available at several online retailers. Visit my Book Table for all the links.

Please pray for the success of this important work, and spread the word among your family, friends, and fellow Catholics. God reward you!

Connie Rossini

Note:  This post contains affiliate links. That means that if you buy my books through the links on my blog, I receive a small extra percentage for helping sell them to you.

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Contemplation aboard the Dawn Treader


After a long break, I am writing another post for my series “Finding God in Children’s Literature.” The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C. S. Lewis has been one of my favorite children’s books since I first read it in fourth grade. Recently I found myself pondering its profundity during Mass. Not the worst way to be distracted from the liturgy. Let me share what your kids can learn about the spiritual life by sailing along with King Caspian and his companions.

To understand Dawn Treader you must understand where it gets its name. C. S. Lewis loved to make references to the Psalms in his works. Here is the first part of Psalm 139 from the New American Bible:

LORD, you have probed me, you know me:

you know when I sit and stand;

you understand my thoughts from afar.

You sift through my travels and my rest;

with all my ways you are familiar.

Even before a word is on my tongue,

LORD, you know it all.

Behind and before you encircle me

and rest your hand upon me.

Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,

far too lofty for me to reach

Where can I go from your spirit?

From your presence, where can I flee?

If I ascend to the heavens, you are there;

if I lie down in Sheol, there you are.

If I take the wings of dawn

and dwell beyond the sea,

Even there your hand guides me,

your right hand holds me fast.

If I say, ‘Surely darkness shall hide me,

and night shall be my light’

Darkness is not dark for you,

and night shines as the day.

Darkness and light are but one.”

For a lengthy discussion about symbolism and analogy, challenge your kids to find as many themes from this psalm as they can in the novel.

Where is God?

Aslan does not appear as much in this novel as he does in some of the other Narnia books. However, he is always in the background. His reach is everywhere–even into a non-believing household in England. He appears on the Island of Voices after Lucy recites the spell. He speaks to her through the albatross. He is the Lamb that meets the children at the end of their trip.

The journey–obstensibly to find the lost lords–becomes a journey towards Aslan’s country, continuing even after the last lords have been found. We could say it shows a longing for the Beatific Vision. Can the soul reach union with God without dying? Reepicheep’s poem holds the answer:

Where sky and water meet,

Where the waves grow sweet,

Doubt not, Reepicheep,

To find all you seek,

There is the utter East.”

From meditation to contemplation

But if the journey ends in divine union, it begins with much more mundane things. In fact, it begins with an ugly painting in an extra bedroom. Here again we see God’s omnipotence. He is everywhere and can use anything to accomplish his purpose.

I like to see a more specific meaning in the painting too. Spiritual writers have long suggested using images (paintings, holy cards, icons, or statues) to help them to pray. Even Solomon’s temple was covered with pictures of the cherubim.

In Christian prayer, the soul must act. She [the soul] must do all within her power to think about and love God. She uses what is available. She meditates on creation or gazes at a holy picture. Or perhaps, like Lucy and Edmund at the beginning of the novel, she reminds herself of all the wonders God has done in the past. She repeats God’s promises of future joy. She talks about him whenever she can.

In the end, only God can draw a soul to himself. He must step in to do the work the soul cannot do. He reaches out, takes hold of the soul, and immerses her in his own life. Three children get a dunking, and only two of them like it.

At first, everything seems magical and beautiful (to Lucy and Edmund, anyway). But soon the ship meets with danger. There are dragons, storms, and temptations. The children are nearly sold into slavery. They encounter terrible darkness. And they eat a feast from the heavens.

Doesn’t this remind you of the spiritual life?

They persevere. The water becomes sweet. The sun now acts as another symbol of God. It grows bigger and brighter. The travelers no longer need much food or drink as they are bathed in its light. They drink only the sweet water which is like liquid sunlight. They are becoming detached from everything they left behind. Caspian almost abdicates because he does not want to go back to the life he lived before.

Now they can look at the sun without hurting their eyes. They are beginning to experience union with God. Reepicheep enters his coracle and sails to Aslan’s country.

Voyage of the Dawn Treader is an excellent resource for teaching your children about the spiritual life.

Connie Rossini

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Were you there at the crucifixion?

Brooklyn Museum - The Communion of the Apostles (La communion des apôtres) - James Tissot.jpg
The Communion of the Apostles by Tissot (Wikimedia Commons). In receiving the Eucharist, we are with Christ during His Passion.


At Mass on Sunday we sang the spiritual “Were you There?” It got me thinking.

How we long to have been with Jesus during His passion, death, and resurrection. How we would have loved to stand and support His mother at the foot of the Cross, to wipe His face with Veronica, to pray with Him in the Garden of Gethsemane. (Yes, I know that was in reverse order.)

Serendipitously, we sang this song at Communion time. And I suddenly realized that I was there!

I was there when people received Him casually. I was there when they mocked and despised Him. I was there when they closed their ears to the Gospel. I was there when they yelled, “Crucify Him!” And some of the time, I was the culprit.

When I received the Eucharist, I was with Him on Calvary. I kissed His beaten back. I helped Him carry His Cross. I pricked my finger on His crown of thorns. I heard Him say, “Behold, your mother.”

I was there when they crucified my Lord. This Holy Week, I was there.

Were you?

Connie Rossini

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Acquired recollection in the third mansions

Teresa of Avila by Gerard (Wikipedia). The final stage of ascetical prayer is acquired recollection.


The next stage of prayer that we have to talk about has been called by so many names that it is often hard to tell that various writers are talking about the same thing. Teresa of Avila calls it recollection. But she also calls the first stage of infused contemplation recollection. This adds to our confusion.

On my blog I will call this stage of prayer acquired recollection, as opposed to the infused recollection that is a pure gift of God. Other authors use the terms acquired contemplation, the prayer of simplicity, or the prayer of simple gaze.

In Interior Castle Teresa doesn’t speak much of prayer in the third mansions, except to say that souls at this stage “spend hours in recollection.” If we find prayer tedious, tend to avoid it, or cut it short, we are probably not firmly in the third mansions. People in the third mansions love to pray and would spend much of their day praying if they could. In fact, they begin to recollect themselves throughout the day as their duties allow them.

For more details on acquired recollection, we must turn to Way of Perfection. Teresa writes:

“But if we cultivate the habit, make the necessary effort and practice the exercises [of recollecting ourselves] for several days, the benefits will reveal themselves, and when we begin to pray we shall realize that the bees are coming to the hive and entering it to make the honey, and all without any effort of ours. For it is the Lord’s will that, in return for the time which their efforts have cost them, the soul and the will should be given this power over the senses. They will only have to make a sign to show that they wish to enter into recollection and the senses will obey and allow themselves to be recollected. Later they may come out again, but it is a great thing that they should ever have surrendered, for if they come out it is as captives and slaves and they do none of the harm that they might have done before.” (Peers translation, Ch. 28)

(Read more on recollecting ourselves here.)

Gazing silently at God

At first meditation is difficult. Then it becomes easier. Before long, we can just picture in our minds a scene from the Gospel and are moved to make acts of love. That is the affective prayer we spoke of last time.

Now, instead of being moved to speak to Jesus, we are moved to sit quietly in His presence. As Teresa says, this may last only a few seconds. Then we return to our image or reflection, until it occurs again. And if it doesn’t, we go back to affective prayer, or even discursive meditation if necessary. At times the recollection may last for several minutes. Or we may sit quietly for an hour, with just a glance now and then back at the image that first helped us recollect ourselves. Our prayer time flies by. It is sweet, and we try to make more time for prayer if our duties allow it, adding a second prayer time during the day or turning our gaze inward during our duties whenever we can.

Jesus is drawing us. We hear Him calling. We are eager to remove every barrier that keeps us from Him.

Pere Marie Eugene notes that there are two elements to acquired recollection: “the gaze fixed on its object, and the calm or silence that this produces.” He explains further about the soul:

“It will be aware of the object of its gaze, giving little attention to the peace it brings; or, it will give itself up to peaceful and sweet repose, giving to the object only the attention necessary to prolong the impression and renew it. ” (I Want to See God, ch. 9)

Don’t force the soul

When we begin to experience this, it’s imperative that we give ourselves up to it. We should never force ourselves to meditate or to speak! On the other hand, we should not try to unnaturally prolong acquired recollection. We should not force the soul one way or another, but let God lead us where He may. Teresa says in the fourth mansions:

“God gave us our faculties to work with, and everything will have its due reward; there is no reason, then, for trying to cast a spell over them — they must be allowed to perform their office until God gives them a better one.” (Ch. 3)

We may also find this phenomena occurring during vocal prayers. For example, while praying the Rosary, we may find ourselves drawn to a simpler meditation on each mystery, offering simple prayers in the heart at the same time our lips say the Hail Mary. We may picture just one image, using no reasoning at all. Then we are gradually led to this same stillness, and we set our beads aside to gaze at God.

In acquired recollection, the soul is still doing much of the work. But now and then something deeper, and more mysterious happens–the beginning of infused contemplation. We will save that discussion for the fourth mansions, after we talk about growth in virtue in the third mansions.

Connie Rossini

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Prayer in the third mansions

Il Penseroso by Thomas Cole. Simplified mental prayer is typical of the third mansions.


We’re going to start discussing the third mansions from St. Teresa of Avila’s Interior Castle with the most exciting part–prayer. In the third mansions, prayer begins simplifying, as the soul prepares herself to receive infused contemplation.

Now, when I say prayer begins simplifying in the third mansions, that doesn’t mean that a stark line lies between one mansion and another. We don’t one day say, “I’m going to take one step forward and leave second mansions behind forever, entering the third.” More likely, we peer through the doorway, thinking, “Those rooms look interesting.” Then we look over our shoulder and say, “But I’m comfortable here.” We might go through the door, make a small circle, and go back out. We might lean against the door frame, with one foot on each side.

My point is that our prayer might start simplifying long before we leave second mansions completely behind. But when it is habitually simpler–and accompanied by growth in virtue–we can assume we have moved on to a new stage.

Affective prayer

There are really two types of simplified prayer in the Purgative Way. The first is usually called affective prayer, and the second has many names, including acquired recollection and the prayer of simplicity.

Jordan Aumann, O.P. writes in Spiritual Theology

“Affective prayer may be defined as a type of prayer in which the operations of the will predominate over discursus of the intellect. There is no specific difference between affective prayer and meditation, as there is between meditation and contemplation; it is merely a simplified meditation in which love predominates. For this reason the transition to affective prayer is usually gradual and more or less easy, although this will vary with individuals.” (Ch. 12)

Let me try to put that in simpler language. Discursive prayer is another name for meditation, which points out again how different the Christian concept of meditation is from eastern-influenced meditation. Discursive describes applying our reasoning powers to prayer. It is related to the word discourse. So, as we discussed in the second mansions, in Christian meditation we take a text, usually Sacred Scripture, and we think about it. Aumann writes, “As soon as we cease to reason, we cease to meditate.”

Meditation is not an end in itself. It is not meant to be an intellectual exercise. It is meant to lead us to affective prayer. Affective prayer is the prayer of the heart (will), while meditation is the prayer of the mind (intellect). Again Aumann says, “The most important element in meditation is the act of love aroused in the will on the presentation of some supernatural truth by the intellect.”

Carmelite forms of meditation tend to focus less on reasoning than the prayer of St. Ignatius does. Teresa of Avila writes,

“For mental prayer in my opinion is nothing else than an intimate sharing between friends; it means taking time frequently to be alone with him who we know loves us. The important thing is not to think much but to love much and so do that which best stirs you to love. Love is not great delight but desire to please God in everything.” (Fourth Mansions, Ch. 2)

That is why in the Carmelite-recommended meditation methods the conversation with Christ is the climax and should be the longest part of our prayer time.

When a person has practiced meditation for some time (although this can also happen with beginners) he tends to move quickly from the mind to the will. Instead of spending a long time reasoning, he is drawn toward speaking to Christ. This is exactly as it should be.

We should not try to force ourselves into affective prayer, but neither should we turn away from it when it comes.

Aumann gives many more pieces of practical advice, which I will paraphrase here:

  • we need material to feed the mind before the will is moved (a book, a picture, an image in the mind)
  • we shouldn’t run from one movement of the will to another
  • we should gently return to meditation when the affections have run their course
  • we shouldn’t confuse affective prayer with infused contemplation
  • we shouldn’t get lazy with meditation
  • we should keep our focus on God, not the sweetness of our prayer

I think that is sufficient for one post. I’ll write about acquired contemplation next week.

Connie Rossini

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Prayer in the second mansions

An old woman practicing mental prayer.
An Old Woman Praying by Maes (Wikimedia Commons).


Reading Interior Castle by St. Teresa of Avila, we might find ourselves surprised. The Church has proclaimed Teresa a Doctor of Prayer, but the first part of her master work on the subject barely mentions prayer! If prayer is so vital to the spiritual life, why hasn’t she said more about it? How can we grow into the later stages if she doesn’t tell us what to do in the early ones?

The first thing we need to get clear is that for Teresa prayer and virtue grow together, no matter where we are in the seven mansions. Some people think that everyone can be contemplatives, regardless of their lifestyle. This is one of the basic problems with Centering Prayer, as we discussed a few months ago.

Real growth in virtue takes commitment to prayer

Others have the opposite problem. They think that if they are living a moral life, that’s all they need. Not committed to prayer, they think they are nonetheless spiritually advanced, so they see no reason to start praying more faithfully. This is a danger of the second mansions.

I grew up in a family where we prayed together daily and went to charismatic prayer meetings. My parents prayed daily. But I didn’t really form a habit of mental prayer.

On the other hand, I always strove to live a good life and thought myself pretty successful. So why did I really need to pray more? In young adulthood I did pray several times a week–much more than the once a month or so of the person in the first mansions. But I was unable to commit to daily prayer.

I had to be convinced of the necessity of prayer before I’d make the effort. If this is where you find yourself, please read Why should you pray?

All that the beginner in prayer has to do — and you must not forget this, for it is very important — is to labor and be resolute and prepare himself with all possible diligence to bring his will into conformity with the will of God. As I shall say later, you may be quite sure that this comprises the very greatest perfection which can be attained on the spiritual road.” (Interior Castle, Second Mansions)

This is one reason why Teresa does not talk about methods of prayer in these stages. She does not want us to think that methods are the ends. To recap, the beginner who wants to advance in prayer must do two things:

  • be determined to persevere, come what may
  • strive to do God’s will as much as possible

But this leaves us in a quandary. How can we persevere in prayer when we barely know how to pray? Does she mean we should just resolutely say the Rosary?

Meditating on Sacred Scripture

Here we must make a distinction. Although God can take someone who only prays vocal prayer and make him a contemplative, we shouldn’t stick to vocal prayers out of laziness or ignorance. There is a better way to pray for those who want to advance quickly, and most of us can practice it. Teresa writes about it in her earlier works: Christian meditation.

As I’ve pointed out many times, Christian meditation is almost completely different from eastern (Hindu/Buddhist) forms of meditation. Since they have different ends, they also use different means.

Why do the saints and most Catholic teachers on prayer prefer meditation to other forms of prayer?

Mediation on Sacred Scripture makes us intimate with Christ’s character. We want to know Him and love Him so that we can serve Him. Sacred Scripture informs our minds. It moves our hearts. When we learn about Jesus, we want to follow Him more closely!

Meditation is not Bible study. We don’t just want to learn facts, study the historical meaning of the text, or look at maps and commentaries. We want to encounter Jesus Christ. Elsewhere Teresa says:

The soul’s profit, then, consists not in thinking much, but in loving much.” (Teresa of Avila, Book of Foundations v.)

A simple method

There are many ways to meditate on Sacred Scripture, but they are not that different from one another. Here is “a simple method” proposed by Fr. Peter Thomas Rorhback in Conversation with Christ:

  1. Prepare by focusing your mind and heart on Christ, setting aside distractions.
  2. Select material to meditate on, preferably a short passage from the Gospels.
  3. Consider the who, what, and why of the passage, and what does it mean to me?
  4. Converse with Jesus about your reading.
  5. Conclude with thanksgiving and resolutions.

Here is an alternate (and more detailed) method of Christian meditation from an earlier post. Notice how similar they are.

How long should you pray? Beginners at mental prayer should aim for fifteen minutes daily. Anything less is giving God too little of your time. Try to gradually extend the time to thirty minutes.

And don’t worry! When you reach the third mansions, you will want to pray more than you have time for. It will be the most precious part of your day.

Connie Rossini

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