An 82 Year Old Woman Blasts Me For Warning Against Centering Prayer

Last Thursday, while I was taking questions on the “Catholic Answers Live” radio program, a lady called in to ask my opinion on what’s commonly called “centering prayer” in some Catholic circles. I gave my opinion and, as you will hear in this clip, she did not like it, not one little bit.

I’m glad she called in, though, not just because I hope that maybe someday, upon further reflection, what I said about the dangers of centering prayer and how many of its practitioners are just factory-repping Hindu mysticism to gullible Catholics under the guise of “contemplative prayer” will sink in and lead to a change of heart for this woman. I am also glad she called because she’s not unlike many Catholics who dabble in this dangerous “spirituality,” opening the door to the serpent who wants so very, very much to find its way into and uncoil itself within as many unsuspecting souls as it can find.

The workshop on centering prayer which I (unwittingly) attended back in the mid-80s was loaded with rubbish about chakras and “awakening the dormant serpent within,” all under the carefully presented disguise of “Catholic contemplative prayer.” Check out the links below for more on that.

For those who wonder about what I say in this audio clip about “chakras,” the difference between centering prayer and authentic Catholic contemplative prayer, etc., you can see more about what I mean here, here, and especially here.


  1. Bobby Bambino

    We have by far the most profound and meaningful spirituality in the Catholic Church. I would challange anyone who thinks otherwise to read "Christian Perfection and Contemplation" by Father Garrigou-Lagrange.

  2. opey124

    It seemed to me that she used centering and contemplative as the same which it is not. I hope she takes your advice.One more thing, there has been warning, rightfully so, against these ways of "prayer" and I use quotes because it isn't really prayer in the sense of raising your heart and mind to God. The thing I want to add, or caution against is that when you delve into things of this, it also CAN (not always) create a perfect posture, or set up, for abuse. You do not want to give up your drivers seat, in other words.I hope others check out what you were alerting them to.

  3. Kindred Spirit

    You have done this woman a great act of charity by correcting her potentially dangerous error, and you will no doubt be helping many others by posting this. The truth of it all is that the battle is about the Faith, and the devil has deliberately wormed his way into the details. "Error begets error", and the only way to strengthen the Faith is to teach it wholly and truthfully: after all, it is not ours to change.

  4. Matt Korger

    Many "Catholic" hospitals and women religious perform this kind of … well witchcraft. Conjuring up "spiritual guides". The USCCB has forbidden its practice in any Catholic institute.

  5. bakerstreetrider

    Centering prayer is just weird. I don't see why a Catholic would prefer it over the time-tested methods of meditation and contemplation taught to us by the saints. And, I think you are correct–since it is based on Eastern religions it can open a Catholic up to the devil.

  6. Tito Edwards

    Patrick,I didn't listen to the audio, but if what you said was true I wholeheartedly agree.You are a fine witness to our beautiful Catholic faith.In Jesus, Mary, & Joseph,Tito

  7. James

    Thank you very much for sharing this. Again, I fall deeper in love with our Church that has developed so much theology, rules, and guidelines. I knew little to nothing about this and I can see how my own prayer has been poisoned by it, unknowingly; The techniques, I think, are more ubiquitous just than formalized Centering prayer. The easiest defense to this must be humility. Do not believe you've experienced God because we most definitely are not worthy of the gift. I imagine that if I ever did achieve true contemplation, there wouldn't be a shred of doubt in my mind. Reading the works of St. John and St. Theresa, I imagine would be helpful too.

  8. ecclesiaprimus

    Dear Patrick:I am so happy to see that someone, particularly you, gives his very much needed take on this so called centering prayer.Centering prayer is just but a mockery of real prayer, much less contemplation.We published in our blog similar oppinions, & I am here putting the link, if anyone would like to review. Sorry…but it is in Spanish. you again, & God bless you,Robert

  9. catholicsensibility

    I can't say Patrick, I found your example at all familiar as a Centering Prayer practice. I suppose a person can say she or he is a practitioner of this or that and give others the wrong impression. It's probably best to refer to the many published works of Abbot Keating or Fr Pennington and assess from there. Centering Prayer, as properly practiced, remains well within the Catholic mystical tradition, and solidly with Teresa of Avila or Juan de la Cruz. But not everyone is suited for every Catholic style of praying.Todd

  10. Chad Myers

    I listened to that episode and it seemed clear to me that the Patricks and this lady were talking about two completely different things. I think at two different points she said "Contemplative prayer" instead of "Centering prayer". I think both the Patricks and the caller were correct and were talking past each other.

  11. Chris

    When I was very young, I did a course on transendental meditation. The instructions for how to do centering prayer are exactly the same. The only difference is the repeated word used to focus the mind. It is not a prayer at all. Just a meditation technique.The best form of meditation & prayer for a Catholic is the daily rosary. Praying while meditation on the Holy Mysteries is more relaxing and brings grace.Centering prayer gives nothing to God. It is totally 'self centered.

  12. Jon

    A quick comment re:Chad Meyer's comment. The lady who called in did mention, after Patrick's description of his experience with centering prayer, that she thought he must have had a very "bad leader" and couldn't relate to what he was describing at all. She never actually went into the details as to what her prayer group was doing. What's more, when she called in, she called it "center prayer", I think more than once, and didn't even seem familiar with the term "centering prayer". It almost seemed like she had never heard the term but, for whatever reason, identified what she heard on a previous program with what she was doing at church. She even stumbled trying to pronounce "center prayer". She also seemed familiar, at least in name, with some of the great contemplative Saints. I think Chad is onto something here. I don't think she is talking about centering prayer at all. I can't know for sure, but this is how I heard the call. If I'm right, then the Patricks were, from her perspective, trying to dissuade her from what is likely a solid and orthodox Catholic prayer group. Oops!

  13. Snerticus

    Patrick, that woman was a contradiction unto herself. Did you notice she praised P.C. at first and said she wanted to head his fan club, and at the end she then said that she very loudly complained that he always makes people feel like "bimbos"? She had that contradictory attitude the whole time while she was on the phone, at first being sensible or at the very least "nice" and then at the end being very hard headed and set in her ways, not giving anyone but herself the benefit of the doubt. She was extremely unwilling to listen to anyone else's opinion on her prayer life, even though she explicitly asked for both of your opinions. I have run into this before myself with people that practice centering prayer or friends who support them.The one thing I have to bring up is that not all centering prayer is taught the way you experienced it. There are some groups who strip as much of the eastern influence as they can from their technique when teaching it to others; and one can only presume that they do recognize it and wish to keep it out of their spirituality. Many people, perhaps maybe even your caller, do not have much eastern influence in their practice of centering prayer. I'm guessing that woman did not have – or at least notice – any eastern influence in her technique. But of course that is the danger – that everyone 'think' that it is purely Catholic when it is not. It neither resembles the spirituality of St. Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross, etc… yet those practicing it claim that's exactly where it comes from. If only they would read their works, they would learn Catholic contemplation is a completely different type of spirituality, one dependent on God alone. One that can not be achieved merely by human effort.That said, I don't want to dismiss centering prayer because even with a drop of eastern influence, it has the potential to create dangerous consequences in the soul, especially if you don't know your faith well to begin with.One thing I had learned from reading Teresa of Avila and watching Mother Angelica over the years, was that only God can initiate contemplation. In itself, it's unlearnable. Therefore there is no way to 'teach' contemplation as a goal. One can only learn to quietly pray and meditate and then let God do His own work in you. And from my own limited experience with contemplation, I find that right on the mark. I can only help God achieve His goal in me, but I cannot bring contemplation upon myself. I'm glad you brought this up, though, because after listening to the podcast, I really wanted to write to you and tell you that you did a good job, but unfortunately as with your woman friend who would denounce the Pope's opinion on Medjugorje if he decided it was not authentic, this woman seems just as determined to dismiss Catholic teaching for something otherwise.You were right to caution against centering prayer, but with those who prefer the 'tickling of ears' to solid Catholic doctrine, your warning will only fall on deaf ears. One can only hope and pray that those who practice it and feel that their faith is enhanced have unconsciously taken all of the eastern/new age influences out of their own experience and rely totally on God's graces. They, as do us all, need the rest of us to pray for them.

  14. helgothjb

    I had a conversion when I was in College and it peaked, so to speak, at the Trappist Monastery in Snowmass, CO. They are big proponents of Centering Prayer there and I learned it from Fr. Keating himself. At the time, I thought it was contemplative prayer. I now know better. However, I do not believe that it is dangerous, unless it is mixed with other new age or eastern spirituality. It is actually a way to prepare for prayer. I think God used it in my life to quiet my soul from all the noise and confusion so I could hear him. People need to know that real prayer holds so much more for them than the peace of a quieted mind and a relaxed state.

  15. M. G. Hysell

    Obviously, Mr Madrid, your understanding of Centering Prayer is convoluted.Lying, by the way, is still a sin.Matthew G. Hysell, M.A., M.Th.

  16. Patrick Madrid

    Matthew, if you have a point to make, make it. I don't care much about cryptic insinuations.And if you care to publicly accuse me of "lying," you had better make your case with specific examples and some kind of demonstration that you know what is in my heart. If you can't do that, and we both know that you can't, then you had best make your points without the ad hominem potshots.Calumny and rash judgment, by the way, are still sins.

  17. bobjo1958

    Patrick, I have been thinking all night about the fact that you never mentioned in your conversation with the 82 yr old lady – that you have actually gone to Snowmass – and conversed directly with Fr. Keating – to learn the real truth of Centering Prayer. At least I don't remember you saying that. Just reading people's books or comments on it and relying on your 1980's experience with a leader and a group that was not authentically Fr Keating's Centering Prayer isn't enough. Others are right – Centering Prayer is NOT Contemplation – but it is a means to open your self up to it-if God wants to give it to you. Thank you for listening.Yes there are groups that have made Centering Prayer New Age – just as Satan distorts other good things even in a slight degree for his own use and others confusion.Please, Patrick talk in person with Fr Keating and experience a Centering Prayer session with him as my husband and I have.

  18. Patrick Madrid

    Hmm, BobJo. I am wondering if you really mean to suggest that unless someone travels to meet with Father Keating in person he or she cannot have an opinion on centering prayer. Do you really mean to say that? Because, if so, then anyone who likes centering prayer and thinks it is helpful should disregard his positive opinion until and unless he makes the journey to sit down with the priest and have a chat about it.

  19. cphilpoirier

    Mr. Madrid:Forgive a late foray into the discussion – I knew the late Fr. Pennington and learned this technique from him. I've never considered it dangerous, but I can see now that it might be – too much of a short-circuit even if you don't thrown in the Kundalini stuff, which to be fair I have never seen presented as any part of the technique. I've dropped it entirely in favor of lectio divina based on the Office.Fr. Basil was a pretty gentle and soft-spoken guy, but in my experience he had no patience for those who tried to mix-and-match techniques from Eastern religions with Christian prayer. One participant I remember at a retreat in Kalamazoo described his own ritual, which as I recall invoked the Virgin as well as Avalokiteshvara/Kannon; the guy seemed to think he was a one-man key to all religions. Fr. Basil came down on him like a ton of bricks, telling him that he was an obstacle to interreligious understanding and that the only way to approach other religions was after you had first understood your own in all its depth. Just another perspective on the man.Thanks for all you do,Phil

  20. jim

    I am a member of the congregation at the Mission San Diego. I was shocked this past week to see centering prayer offered in our parish bulletin. I immediately contacted our Pastor Msgr Richard Duncanson and informed him of the problem and he is checking with Bishop Robert to see if there is a Church opinion on the matter. Q1 does the Vatican have an opinion on centering prayer? Q2 have any other Bishops or Cardinals published memos or official opinions on the matter? I feel very strongly about nipping this in the bud before anyone gets hurt by it. I am so glad I was tuned in when I heard the radio show on this topic, it scared me then and I am glad I am fully armed to fight against it quickly in my own church. Thank You!

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