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Spiritual director recommended centering prayer: what should I do?

Dear Dan, I have recently sought the guidance of a Spiritual director which I would say was greatly influenced by your and Fr. John's suggestions. My concern is that my Spiritual Director has suggested Centering Prayer. I'd appreciate it if you can share your thoughts on that. Thanks.

First things first – I am greatly encouraged by your steps toward deepening your faith through spiritual direction! With respect to your question, we actually get a lot of questions like this. Because of the effects of the fall and the inherent differences and nuances that effect each person's ability to understand the other, communication is hard work. So, the key is to seek understanding by determining exactly what your spiritual director means by what they are saying or suggesting.

This matter is complicated when we approach the topic of prayer in general and is even more problematic in the area of “centering” prayer. Why is this? It is because there is no universally held definition of centering prayer. Different people mean different things when they use the term. The Church itself does not officially recognize “centering” prayer in any form. The good news, is that the time-tested prayer forms of the Church are clearly defined in part four of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. This makes things easier. When there is a misunderstanding regarding central matters of our faith, we can go to the source to clear things up.

So, the first step is to find out what your director means by the term “centering” prayer. They may simply be using it as a synonym for some traditional form of prayer. The issue becomes more problematic if your director is advocating a form of prayer or approach to prayer that the Church, in her wisdom, recognizes as problematic and leading to error, confusion, or even spiritual harm.

In the late 80s, recognizing the serious challenges with how some were developing and teaching ideas on prayer, then Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI) wrote a letter to all the Bishops regarding his concerns. As you might suspect, the challenges addressed were widespread and serious enough for the Prefect of Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to issue a very precise and authoritative warning. This letter was entitled, “A Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on Some Aspects of Christian Meditation.”

The bottom line is that if you 1) seek to understand what your director meant by what they said, and 2) seek to understand the time tested, true, spiritually safe, and efficacious forms of prayer that the Church in her wisdom recommends, you will be better able to navigate the situation safely.

No matter what, keep seeking to deepen your relationship with Him!

Seek Him – Find Him – Follow Him


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About Dan Burke

Dan is the President of the Avila Foundation, the parent organization of, the Avila Institute for Spiritual Formation, Divine Intimacy Radio and Divine Intimacy Radio - Resources Edition, Into the Deep Parish Programs, the Apostoli Viae (Apostles of the Way) Community, and the FireLight Student Leadership Formation Program, author of the award-winning book, Navigating the Interior Life - Spiritual Direction and the Journey to God, Finding God Through Meditation-St. Peter of Alcantara, 30 Days with Teresa of Avila, Into the Deep, Living the Mystery of Merciful Love: 30 Days with Thérèse of Lisieux, and his newest book The Contemplative Rosary with St. John Paul II and St. Teresa of Avila. Beyond his "contagious" love for Jesus and His Church, he is a grateful husband and father of four, the Executive Director of and writer for EWTN's National Catholic Register, a regular co-host on Register Radio, a writer and speaker who provides online spiritual formation and travels to share his conversion story and the great riches that the Church provides us through authentic Catholic spirituality. Dan has been featured on EWTN's Journey Home program and numerous radio programs.

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  • Susan

    In all charity, the answer doesn’t really answer the implied question…what is a positive, Christ-affirming understanding of centering prayer, and when do some practices of centering prayer go astray?

    Thank you for this site.

    • Dear Friend – I love your question! I will put together a post on it. There are positive, Christ-affirming aspects of some teachings on centering prayer…and there are issues depending on who is teaching the practice and the source material they use. Thank you for you charity. I have received a number of fairly uncharitable responses to the post and from those who obviously did not read the post or the letter from Cardinal Ratzinger. Your question, is a rational, positive one and more than worthy of consideration. Thanks for asking! (Have patience, it may take me a few weeks.)

      • LizEst

        Hi Dan,

        Perhaps you’ve already done this, but would you please also address the issue of yoga, et al? I notice that the Chicago Archdiocese Cathedral is offering classes on “Catholic Yoga” (whatever that is):

        Thank you Dan…God bless you!

  • Becky Ward

    Thanks Dan!!

    The letter by (now) Pope Benedict is most helpful in filling in the ‘blanks’ of this controversial issue………especially if one sincerely prays for guidance while reading it……..and asking for a good dose of humility can’t hurt either. 🙂

    As you say………MUCH depends on WHO is guiding, or doing the praying, and WHAT people mean when they say ‘centering prayer’.

    I am reminded of Hebrews 13:8-9a “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Do not be carried away by all sorts of strange teaching.”

    Will be watching for the follow-up on this one……….it IS a confusing issue as many people with good intentions simply don’t understand what the Church teaches, why it teaches what it does, nor the very real danger to souls who are mislead.

    God Bless!

    • Dear Becky – you are right – it is a tough issue because there are many good people involved and lots of good as well…

  • Guest

    Since I got myself a Spiritual Director, thanks to you, Dan and Fr. John I have found it helpful to ask for clarifications when some of the advice he gives me is not very clear-cut. That way, I am benefiting a lot. God bless you.

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