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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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Raptures and Ecstasy

The Transverberation of St. Teresa by Bernini (Wikimedia Commons). In the late fifth mansions, union begins to overpower the body.

In the advanced stages of Teresa of Avila’s fifth mansions, the effects of infused contemplation overflow to the body. The soul experiences what are known as raptures and ecstasies. let’s look at both these phenomena more closely.

Not locutions or visions

First we should distinguish between raptures and ecstasies and what some authors call “extraordinary favors.” Raptures and ecstasies occur as union with God in prayer becomes so strong that it overpowers the body. They are thus normal for people in the late fifth and sixth mansion. Extraordinary favors are just that–they are gifts given to particular individuals as God chooses.

Locutions and visions are the two main types of extraordinary favors God grants. Teresa of Avila heard God’s voice and saw various types of visions as she progressed towards him. But not everyone does. St. Therese of Lisieux is famous for the lack of extraordinary phenomena in her life. She reached the heights of holiness without them. God led her by a darker way.

God can give locutions and visions to anyone he chooses, at any point in the spiritual life. They don’t indicate that a person is holy, nor do they of themselves make a person holy.

Raptures and ecstasies, on the other hand, are actually the prayer of union manifesting itself physically.

What is rapture like?

In rapture–which is synonymous with ecstasy for St. Teresa–the spiritual world becomes more real to the soul than the physical world. In this, the soul is advancing towards truth. The spiritual world is more real than the physical. The spiritual world has existed for eternity in God. The physical world is his creation. We normally see the world inside-out, as though the world of the senses is the real world. Saints see the truth.

God unites it [the soul] with Himself, in a way which none can understand save it and He, and even the soul itself does not understand this in such a way as to be able to speak of it afterwards, though it is not deprived of its interior senses; for it is not like one who suffers a swoon or a paroxysm so that it can understand nothing either within itself or without. The position, in this case, as I understand it, is that the soul has never before been so fully awake to the things of God or had such light or such knowledge of His Majesty. This may seem impossible; because, if the faculties are so completely absorbed that we might describe them as dead, and the senses are so as well, how can the soul be said to understand this secret? I cannot say, nor perhaps can any creature, but only the Creator Himself. (Interior Castle 6.4)

Teresa says that the soul in this state often sees vision (though the visions themselves are not the rapture).  Sometimes she sees these with the imagination, sometimes with the intellect. She says further:

For when He means to enrapture this soul, it loses its power of breathing, with the result that, although its other senses sometimes remain active a little longer, it cannot possibly speak. At other times it loses all its powers at once, and the hands and the body grow so cold that the body seems no longer to have a soul — sometimes it even seems doubtful if there is any breath in the body. This lasts only for a short time (I mean, only for a short period at any one time) because, when this profound suspension lifts a little, the body seems to come partly to itself again, and draws breath, though only to die once more, and, in doing so, to give fuller life to the soul. Complete ecstasy, therefore, does not last long. (Ibid.)

The effects of rapture

Even after life comes back to the body and the rapture is said to be over, the soul is effected for a day or more, with the will and understanding still overpowered, even though the body no longer is. It seems to be asleep to any affections but affection for God.

The lasting effect is an increased desire to do God’s will, come what may, and to suffer as much as possible for his glory. God protects the soul in a special way, so that no one, not even the demons, can harm it, as long as it stays free of sin.

False ecstasies

Here is Teresa’s humorous take on those who falsely think they are experiencing rapture:

Some women, because of prayers, vigils and severe penances, and also for other reasons, have poor health. When they experience any spiritual consolation, therefore, their physical nature is too much for them; and as soon as they feel any interior joy there comes over them a physical weakness and languor, and they fall into a sleep, which they call “spiritual”, and which is a little more marked than the condition that has been described. Thinking the one state to be the same as the other, they abandon themselves to this absorption; and the more they relax, the more complete becomes this absorption, because their physical nature continues to grow weaker. So they get it into their heads that it is arrobamiento, or rapture. But I call it abobamiento, foolishness; for they are doing nothing but wasting their time at it and ruining their health. (Interior Castle 4.3)

Practical as ever, Teresa says such people should eat more, get more rest, do less penance, and spend less time in prayer. They should focus on a more active life, so that the Devil does not delude them.

These are the first of the ways that God unites the soul closer to him in the sixth mansions. Next time we will look at touches and flights of spirit.

Connie Rossini


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Final thoughts on Teresa’s fifth mansions

Bodium Castle (photo by Tony Hammond, Flickr Creative Commons
Bodium Castle (photo by Tony Hammond, Flickr Creative Commons


Today we finish the discussion of the fifth mansions in Teresa of Avila’s Interior Castle.

The soul is passive in the prayer of union, but she must not be passive in her spiritual life if she would maintain her closeness to God. Teresa has been using the analogy of a silkworm to describe the soul at this stage of the spiritual life. She writes:

It must always be understood that one has to strive to go forward in the service of our Lord and in self-knowledge. For if a person does no more than receive this favor and if, as though already securely in possession of something, she grows careless in her life and turns aside from the heavenly path, which consists of keeping the commandments, that which happens to the silkworm will happen to her. For it gives forth the seed that produces other silkworms, and itself dies forever. (V.3.1)

Obedience to God, Teresa insists, is the way to stay close to Him. No prayer method can accomplish this, no holding one’s breath, or altered state of consciousness. The life of prayer is inextricably tied to the life of virtue.

She even says that anyone who wants to attain to the prayer of union should pursue perfect alignment of his will with God’s. Through this means, union is available to all (V.3.3).  Moreover, such a soul disdains sickness, poverty, death, and every other form of suffering except two: separation from God or seeing him offended.

The best way of knowing how closely we have aligned our will with God’s is seeing how well we love our neighbor. God will repay this love with his own (V. 3.8).

Love proves itself in action

Here is a passage with advice for all of us, no matter where we are in the spiritual life:

Let’s try to understand ourselves even in little things, and pay no attention to any big plans that sometimes suddenly come to us during prayer in which it seems we will do wonders for our neighbor and even for just one soul so that it may be saved. If afterward our deeds are not in conformity with those plans, there will be no reason to believe that we will accomplish the plans. I say the same about humility and all the virtues. Great are the wiles of the devil: to make us think we have one virtue–when we don’t–he would circle hell a thousand times. (V.3.9)

Teresa’s spirituality is surprisingly practical. Serve a sister who is sick or in pain, she says, out of love for God. This is how we align our will with God’s. If we do not genuinely love our neighbor, our union is an illusion.

Avoid self-love

Teresa then urges her sisters to avoid near occasions of sin, for it is still very easy for the soul in the fifth mansions to fall. The soul is only at the courtship stage with God, not even yet betrothed to him.

We must continually beg God in prayer to preserve us from sin. We must also think often about our faults and weaknesses, so that the Devil cannot easily lead us towards self-love.

We must always strive to keep moving forward, to grow in our love.

Let’s close with these encouraging words:

How prepared this Lord is to grant us favors now just as He has granted them to others in the past. And in part He has even more need that we desire to receive them, for there are fewer now who care about His honor than there were then. (V.4.6)

May we all be among those few!

Connie Rossini

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More on the prayer of union


Since I have been studying and writing a lot about Centering prayer lately, I can’t help but compare it to the prayer of union, which occurs in the fifth mansions. I wrote about the prayer of union back in May, before my blogging break. Let’s look at it again.

1. Certitude

As I said last time, the most important sign Teresa of Avila gives that a soul has truly experienced union with God is certitude. Nothing and no one can shake her confidence that her experience was real. It is unforgettable, life-changing.

Let’s contrast this with counterfeit types of contemplation such as Centering Prayer.  Fr. Thomas Keating writes:

Let go of sensible and spiritual consolation. When you feel the love of God flowing into you, it is a kind of union, but it is a union of which you are aware. Therefore, it is not pure union, not full union.”(Open Heart, Open Mind, Ch. 7)

For Fr. Keating, one of the originators of Centering Prayer, the deepest union with God is completely hidden from the soul. For Teresa, the truer the union, the less one can ignore it or explain it away.

One might be tempted to ask how a practitioner of Centering Prayer can claim that it is a good preparation for true union, since he can never know if he has experienced union. Presumably, no one else who has ever practiced Centering Prayer can say for certain that he has reached union with God either. So how can we know that the method works?

2. Beyond understanding

However, this certitude of the soul’s does not mean she understands what is happening. She is like someone blind and deaf. She enjoys God, without being able to figure out exactly what’s happening. On this point, Teresa and Fr. Keating would agree. However, Teresa believes that understanding will come, just not until the seventh mansions.

3. Sustaining the prayer

In earlier stages of prayer, such as acquired recollection, Teresa instructs us to sometimes say a word of prayer to re-fan the flames of love when our recollection waivers. Centering Prayer advocates often point to this as evidence that their teaching is in accord with hers.

But Teresa says that the prayer of union is different. She says in part:

During the time that the union lasts the soul is left as though without its senses, for it has no power to think even if it wants to.” (Interior Castle 5.1.4)

No method can help the soul here. The union comes through God’s power alone, and is sustained by his power alone. The soul is powerless. Practicing Centering Prayer by returning to the “sacred word” one has chosen to repeat would be nearly impossible.

4. Attaining this union

How can we reach this high state of spirituality? Teresa notes that Carmelite nuns enter the cloister for just this purpose, to seek God in prayer and contemplation. Yet reaching union is not a sure thing. Why not?

Few of us dispose ourselves that the Lord may communicate it to us. In exterior matters we are proceeding well so that we will reach what is necessary; but in the practice of the virtues that are necessary for arriving at this point we need very, very much and cannot be careless in either small things or great.” (5.1.2)

Now, that doesn’t mean it’s hopeless. No matter how weak we are, she says, we just have to give him whatever we have. “He doesn’t make it impossible for anyone to buy his riches.” In this, she sounds remarkably like St. Therese. (Or, rather, Therese sounds like her.)

The more we give God, the more he will give himself to us. So if we want to attain union, we must withhold nothing from him.

This contrasts dramatically with Fr. Keating’s view that “Contemplation… is not so much a gift as a given. (Open Heart, Open Mind 120)”

5. Infused knowledge

Here is another striking difference with counterfeit types of contemplation. True union contains a great paradox. Even though the soul cannot think at all while united to God, she still learns things about God during union.

Teresa says that she learned through the prayer of union that God was “in all things by presence, power, and essence.” A poor spiritual director told her she was wrong, but she was so convinced that she consulted others. Learned men told her she was right. We must remember that Teresa had no theological training. She learned this truth directly from God, not even through meditating on the Scriptures. It was after experiencing union that she suddenly knew this.

So, even though the soul cannot think or ponder while in union, God still infuses her with knowledge as he desires.

In contrast, Fr. Keating insists on an ever-greater obscurity as one grows closer to God. He says that the mature Christian soul neither knows who or what God is nor desires to do so (Open Heart, Open Mind, 66).

There is much more to talk about in the fifth mansions. But I think we will leave the rest for next time.

Connie Rossini


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Centering Prayer’s errors about God



I recently decided to dig deeper into understanding Centering Prayer, so I could advise readers on it. I bought Fr. Thomas Keating’s book Open Mind, Open Heart and wrote a review that will appear at in September.

But one blog post was not enough. The errors in this book were so many and so serious, I decided it needed a more thorough response. So I am writing a quick ebook called Teresa of Avila Debunks Centering Prayer. It should be ready for publication in a couple of weeks. Here is an Excerpt, on Centering Prayer’s errors about God. It still needs to be edited, so please excuse anything my editor/husband would refer to as “infelicities.”

The first error concerns the distinction between God and man.

 Here is a key point of contrast between New Age and Christianity. So much New Age literature is shot through with the conviction that there is no divine being ‘out there’, or in any real way distinct from the rest of reality. From Jung’s time onwards there has been a stream of people professing belief in ‘the god within’. Our problem, in a New Age perspective, is our inability to recognise our own divinity, an inability which can be overcome with the help of guidance and the use of a whole variety of techniques for unlocking our hidden (divine) potential. The fundamental idea is that ‘God’ is deep within ourselves. We are gods, and we discover the unlimited power within us by peeling off layers of inauthenticity. The more this potential is recognised, the more it is realised, and in this sense the New Age has its own idea of theosis, becoming divine or, more precisely, recognising and accepting that we are divine.[1]

Perhaps the greatest error, and the one most widely known, is Keating’s blurring of the distinction between God and man. Accused of pantheism, he and other Centering Prayer advocates responded that they teach panentheism. What is panentheism? The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy notes that it is an attempt to find a middle ground between a theistic view that sees God as only transcendent, and a pantheistic view that sees God as only immanent. However, there is no fixed set of beliefs for panentheism.[2] Therefore, invoking the term cannot settle the question: what do Thomas Keating and his movement teach about who God is?

Here is just one quote among many from Keating’s book Open Mind, Open Heart that shows the problem:”God and our true Self are not separate. Though we are not God, God and our true Self are the same thing” (158).

Similarly, in a Youtube clip of a movie about Keating’s life, the abbot says:

The beginning of the spiritual journey is the realization that there is a Higher Power or God, or to make it as easy as possible for everybody, that there is an Other; Capital O. Second step: to try to become the Other; still a Capital O. And finally, the realization that there IS no Other; you and the Other are One. Always have been, always will be. You just think that you aren’t.”[3]

And in a frank online interview, Keating seems to be saying that the only thing holding him back from embracing a Hindu way of speaking about the divine is what Christianity “requires” him to say. In other words, he suspects that there is no real distinction between Buddhist, Hindu, and Catholic views, but only distinct traditions and ways of using words to talk about mystical realities.[4]

In orthodox Catholic teaching, even at the highest stages of union with God, the soul remains a distinct personality.

What does St. Teresa of Avila say on this matter? Here is a section from the beginning of her classic work Interior Castle:

 As I see it, we shall never succeed in knowing ourselves unless we seek to know God: let us think of His greatness and then come back to our own baseness; by looking at His purity we shall see our foulness; by meditating upon His humility, we shall see how far we are from being humble.

There are two advantages in this. First, it is clear that anything white looks very much whiter against something black, just as the black looks blacker against the white. Secondly, if we turn from self towards God, our understanding and our will become nobler and readier to embrace all that is good: if we never rise above the slough of our own miseries we do ourselves a great disservice.[5]

Keating might respond that Teresa is in this passage using the word self to mean what he calls our false self. He never identifies our false self with God, only our true Self. Such a distinction is unknown to Teresa, however. To her, the self is one thing and God is something else, from the lowest depths to the heights of spirituality.

In another passage she speaks about entering into oneself, but very clearly distinguishes that self from God:

It is absurd to think that we can enter Heaven without first entering our own souls — without getting to know ourselves, and reflecting upon the wretchedness of our nature and what we owe to God, and continually imploring His mercy. The Lord Himself says: ‘No one will ascend to My Father, but by Me’ (I am not sure if those are the exact words, but I think they are) and ‘He that sees Me sees My Father.’ Well, if we never look at Him or think of what we owe Him, and of the death which He suffered for our sakes, I do not see how we can get to know Him or do good works in His service.[6]

We will return to this idea when we consider Centering Prayer’s errors concerning sin and redemption.

Connie Rossini

[1] Jesus Christ: Bearer of the Water of Life, 3.5.

[2] Accessed 7/10/15.

[3] You and the Other (with a Captila O),, accessed 7/10/15.

[4], Accessed 7/10/15.

[5] Interior Castle, translated by E. Allison Peers. First Mansions, Ch. 1.

[6] Interior Castle, Second Mansions.

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5th Mansions: the prayer of union

Statue of St. Teresa of Avila at Carmelite Monastery, Varroville, NSW, Australia. The prayer of union leaves the soul with desire only for God.

Souls generally remain in the fourth mansions of the Interior Castle for years. But for those who are raised beyond them, even greater intimacy with God lies ahead. Today we begin exploring  Teresa of Avila’s fifth mansions.

The prayer of union begins in the fifth mansions. How does it differ from the prayer of quiet? As I said last time, the prayer of quiet primarily involves the will. In the prayer of union, the intellect, the memory, and the imagination also share in contemplation.

The sign of true union

St. Teresa says true union always produces a sign of its authenticity. That sign is the soul’s certitude. She knows just as surely as if she had been speaking to Christ in the flesh that she has been in union with God. Even when spiritual directors or companions try to persuade her otherwise, she doesn’t believe them.

If you don’t have this certainty, Teresa says, you may have had some kind of authentic mystical experience, but it wasn’t union (Interior Castle V, 1:11).

Years later, the soul remembers the exact time and place of the union. Its impression never fades.

What is it like?

Teresa believes that most souls who are faithful in the fourth mansions will be brought at least to the threshold of the fifth. But there are many different types of union in the fifth mansions, and different souls will experience various types.

Teresa writes:

During this time of union, [the soul] neither sees, nor hears, nor understands, because the union is always short and seems to the soul even much shorter than it probably is.” (V, 1:9)

Later, in the seventh mansions, the soul will understand the union. Now it is struck deaf and dumb, not even thinking or imagining during the time of prayer, but just enjoying union with God.

Comparing the delights of union with mere earthly delights, she says, is like comparing something you feel in the marrow of your bones with material you feel with your skin.

Earlier, she says:

There is no need here to use any technique to suspend the mind since all the faculties are asleep in this state–and truly asleep–to the things of the world and to ourselves. As a matter of fact, during the time that the union lasts the soul is left as though without its senses, for it has no power to think even if it wants to. In loving, if it does love, it doesn’t understand how or what it is it loves or what it would want. In sum, it is like one who in every respect has died to the world so as to live more completely in God.” (V, 1:4)

The effects of union

She describes the soul as a silkworm. Before this union, the soul is like a fat, ugly worm. Afterwards, it is like a beautiful butterfly. It doesn’t even recognize itself. Its old self has died and it is completely made new.

This soul has a deep peace, deeper than any it has experienced before. At the same time, the soul suffers greatly at the sight of anyone offending God. This suffering does not affect its peace, yet it is deeper than any suffering it has experienced before, “for it seems that the pain breaks and grinds the soul into pieces” (V, 2:11).

“Almost each time [the soul experiences union] it gains new treasures” (V, 2:7). Detachment, desire to suffer for God and do penances, and contempt for the world all grow exponentially. Everything but God becomes a burden to it.

We’ll discuss some other aspects of the prayer of union next week.

Connie Rossini