Would You Like Some Heterodoxy with You Discernment?

I attended a vocation discernment retreat this past weekend, sponsored by a local Serra Club, which was overall productive.  The second presentation for the weekend was on prayer, which was delivered by a Cenacle Sister (one of the many women’s religious orders the vatican is calling for renewal specifically for what she taught us).  Keep in mind, she is presenting a talk on prayer, which is a crucial component when discerning one’s vocation, to a large number of young people who will need to use what she presents as a vehicle in discerning his or her vocation; so my expectation for the presentation was high.  At minimum I was expecting some quotes from saints and and some references to the section of prayer from the Catechism of the Catholic Church.  The section on prayer is actually the most beautiful section and arguably the richest section of the entire Catechism.  But I doubt sister Cenacle knew this, for she appeared to be allergic the orthodoxy.

After the retreat was said and done, I was still bothered by what the Sister taught.  I was bothered to such a degree that I typed the following letter, and I am currently debating on whether or not I should send this to the local Serra Club (who sponsored the event) and possibly the vocations director for the archdiocese.  What do you think? Does the letter sound too harsh or too inflammatory?  I don’t want to sound like an uber conservative religious nut job but as a concerned member of the community.

To Whom It May Concern:

I recently attended the Life Awareness Retreat held at the
Holy Name Retreat House in Houston, TX. 
Overall the retreat was excellent.


I would like to raise your awareness to the content of one
of the speakers’ presentation.  I do not
recall her name, but she was one of the Cenacle Sisters who did the
presentation on prayer.  She began her
presentation by defining prayer as “anything that helps us connect with
God.”  This is a definition of prayer
that in my studies of Theology on both the undergraduate and graduate level I have
never encountered.  I am greatly bothered
by the Sister’s definition of prayer because her definition can be used to
justify nearly any bizarre act because one claims it bring him closer to God.  For instance, if I thought torturing puppies
brought me closer to God, than who is to tell me otherwise based upon the
definition of prayer provided by the Cenacle Sister?  To me it seems to run the danger of viewing the spiritual life in a relativistic manner.  Why the sister
did not use the classic definition of prayer given by St. Teresa of Avila,
which has been quoted by many Saints and Popes over the years – Prayer is the raising of the mind and heart
to God
– I do not know.


Also, the blue sheet she passed out titled “Forms of
Solitary Prayer” is riddled with theological inaccuracies.  First what she lists as forms are not forms
at all, some are expressions of prayer.  This is troublesome on one hand because it hinders the
development of a common catechetical vocabulary. For the form of prayer
(meaning what kind of prayer you are praying) all fall into four forms:
Petition, Contrition, Adoration, and Thanksgiving.  When I read her blue sheet, I do not see any
of the forms of prayer mentioned.  Which
saddens me because we had both Eucharistic Adoration and the Sacrament of
Reconciliation (which requires a prayer of contrition).  To quote G.K. Chester on the thanks: “Thanks
is the highest form of thought.”  A
thanks acknowledges that what you have received is a true and real gift.  Scripture time and time again reminds the reader
to give thanks to the Lord.  Again, why
she did not mention any of these forms of prayers that are in the Catholic
Tradition I do not know.


Several “forms” of prayer on her blue sheet are actually
rightly referred to as expressions. 
Expressions of prayer help us in determining how we go about praying one
of the forms.  The expressions of prayer
are Vocal, Meditation, and Contemplation. 
The Cenacle sister makes no direct mention to vocal prayer and barely
makes a passing reference to dialoging with God; yet, vocal prayer is the
foundation for all other forms of prayer. 
What she referred to as “contemplation” is actually called medication in
the Catholic tradition.  She makes no
mention of true contemplation as being a gift from God and something that
cannot be obtained by mere technique and practice.  Assuming one can obtain true contemplation by
means of techniques ignores the childlike faith and abandonment Christians are
called to have towards God.  By focusing
on technique, one runs the risk of turning a technique into a vain


The Sister mentions the Jesus prayer under the category of a
“Mantra.”  Calling the Jesus Prayer a
“mantra” does not to justice to the rich treasures this prayer contains, as the
value of the prayer is not found in the repetition, but in the love with which one
prays.  It is at the same time and an
acknowledgement of Jesus as Lord and Jesus as the Son of the Living God.  The second half of the prayer is an
acknowledgment that the person praying the simple short prayer is both a sinner
and is in need of God mercy.  It is a
reminder of where we stand in relation to God and God in relation to us.


There are at least two attempts to combine Eastern
spirituality from Buddhism to the Christian tradition.  One is with what she calls “Mantra.”  The second is what she refers to as Centering
Prayer.  These are attempts to
Christianize kinds of prayer that do not have scriptural or historical bases in
Christianity.  I also find this insulting
to those who practice Eastern spiritualties and religions as it is akin to a
Hindu trying to Hinduize the rosary or a Pagan trying to paganize the
Mass.  The Vatican has written a
reflection on the attempt to combine certain new-age/Eastern spiritualties with
the traditions of the Catholic faith. 
The document is titled “Jesus Christ the Bearer of the Water of Life,” and
it cautions against attempting to combine Eastern spiritualties with Christian
practice.  What Sister calls Centering
Prayer is exactly one of the forms of prayer the Vatican warns against.  Centering prayer is simply an attempt to
repackage and Christianize what is known as transcendental meditation (TM),
which has its roots in Hinduism.  TM seeks
to have a person, by means of repeating a mantra, descend into the center of
their being so as to clear one’s mind and move to a higher consciousness.  Sister defines centering prayer as a “spiral
down into the deepest center of ourselves.” 
Prayer is not a path inward but it is a ladder ascending to God.  Many well intentioned Christians have lost
their was by practicing centering prayer because it led them to think that they
and Christ are the same, it led them to depression and despair, and it has led
some to an the annihilation of the self and a belief that all reality is an illusion.  In short my experience with centering prayer
is that it is not the light that people claim it to be.


As mentioned before, I am bothered by the Sister’s
presentation and even more so when remembering the old adage of the Church “lex orandi; lex credendi.”  For to pray wrongly is to run to danger of
believing wrongly and to believe wrongly is to run the danger of living wrongly
which in turn can put another’s soul and salvation in jeopardy.