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Maureen Ward wrote:
Hi guys,

Good afternoon!

I have been a life-long Catholic and have something that concerns me.

A couple of years ago I joined a Christian Meditation group founded by Benedictine monk John Main. It was this prayer group that brought my sister back to the Catholic Church after being away for thirty years. In fact it was my sister who told me about it. She is one of the most devout Catholics I know. To me it seems like a wonderful way to bring oneself closer to God and knowing His will for our lives. I always believed it was all good.

Yesterday, I was told by a holy Catholic friend of mine that it was evil and that, when we pray in the way recommended by John Main, we:

  • are opening ourselves to the devil
  • that people have become mentally ill by doing this, and
  • it is only a form of self-hypnosis.

I was absolutely stunned by what she said. I have always felt that contemplative prayer is a good thing. She said that Christian Meditation is not at all contemplative prayer.

  • How could something as evil as my friend claims it to be, be such a powerful instrument
    in bringing my sister back to the Church after so many years?

It makes no sense to me.

  • Could you please explain this to me?
  • Is there any truth in what she says?

Thanks, and God Bless.

Maureen Ward

  { How could John Main's Christian Meditation be so evil, yet bring my sister back to the Church? }

Mike replied:

Hi Maureen,

Although I'm not saying Wikipedia is the best authority for Catholic orthodoxy, if any of what is in this article is true, I would be very concerned.

You said:
It was this prayer group that brought my sister back to the Catholic Church after being away for thirty years. In fact it was my sister who told me about it. She is one of the most devout Catholics I know.

My test on evaluating various, so-called Catholic Christian prayer groups follows this pattern:

Are they:

  • loyal to the Holy Father and Church's Magisterium?
  • Do they believe in the Real Presence (the Eucharist)? and
  • Do they have a devotion to Our Blessed Mother?

If they don't, your sister's perception of what is devout, may be misplaced. What I see in the spirituality of Fr. John Mains is more new-age stuff, e.g. saying mantras.

I strongly recommend you stay away from this.

If you wish to meditate on something, meditate on the Gospels and on the Life of Jesus and Mary.
The best way to do this is by praying the Holy Rosary.

Too many times, new-age meditation centers on the self instead of our Salvation: Jesus.
When new-age meditation drains everything from our soul, it allows the devil to easily step in.

Talk to your local priest or pastor about starting a Rosary group at your local Church or get involved with others in praying the Rosary.

Hope this helps,

Mike

Eric replied:

Hi Maureen,

There is a place for meditative prayer in the Christian tradition, but one must avoid the practices that come from Eastern pagan religions.

Christian prayer involves a focus on God, filling oneself with God, not emptying oneself of everything as in the pagan practice, since emptying oneself can leave a void that hostile spiritual powers can fill.

Also, the Christian prays without reaching out and seeking spiritual experiences, which again can find hostile and deceptive spiritual powers. Remember, Scripture says even Satan can masquerade as an angel of light. God is God, and God is personal, and if he wishes us to have delightful, warm, fuzzy, spiritual experiences or mystical unions or what have you, it is by His sovereign will, and they cannot be approached in a formulaic manner. We must not treat God as a machine we manipulate to get what we want. Spiritual consolations, as they are called, are purely a grace from God.

Think of it this way: It's like the tree of knowledge of good and evil in the Garden of Eden.
God asked Adam and Eve not to touch it. They did, and they died. Had they not reached out their faithless hands and touched it, likely God would have plucked the fruit for them and handed it to them in his own time. So it is with mystical experiences.

There is a good radio program you should listen to, at least one particular call to it, and that is my call. The show is Catholic Answers Live.

I called in on show about Buddhism and Catholicism, with Anthony Clark on June 25, 2007.

Mike was able to get permission rights from Catholic Answers to quote the MP3 file they sent him.

I am the first caller. The guest addresses this question of meditation and Catholicism.

Web Administrator's note: For easy reading, at times I paraphrased very small portions of the talk.

Tim Staples, the host of Catholic Answers Live, for that show:

Our first caller is Eric calling from Burlington, Massachusetts. Eric!

Eric:

Hi Tim. Hi Anthony. How are you doing? Thanks for taking my call.

I encountered a Buddhist the other day and I set about in my mind that
I was going to evangelize him but then he when on and on and raved about how meditation has been a positive force in his life and how it had brought him peace and transformed his life and I noted wily to myself, "Now what do I do?" I asked him if he has ever considered giving all that up and becoming Catholic? So my question is:

    • How do we respond to that?

In a sense we have to provide something that is just as good and I believe we can but I believe we are not organized enough to do it. There is nothing out there or what is out there is considered subtext wrapped for good reasons

    • What do we do?
Anthony:

Thank-you Eric. That's a good question. And I spoke on this topic several times and I think that's the most common question I hear, next to the question:

    • Can I be Catholic and Buddhist?

Maybe something we can talk about later. Now first off, if you pay attention to Catholic retreat centers and similar institutions around the United States and certainly in Europe where I just was, you will discover that there is a growing popularity with in adopting Buddhist meditation into Christian practice and I would place a very high warning on that.

There's a big difference between Buddhist meditation and Christian, what we might call prayer or Lectio Divino meditation.

Buddhist meditation, it's purpose is what we would call a negative enlightenment. The ideal of Buddhist meditation is to empty the mind so that you allow yourself to become at one with whatever this greater goal is, to learn, to facilitate nirvana or extinction. That's the goal of Buddhist meditation, It's designed to call into question truth and reality.

It's a complicated answer but that's what it's designed to do.

Now for a Christian, what people will say is that Buddhist meditation will allow you to have a mystical Christian experience. This is very problematic. In fact, let me tell you the people who had very serious problems with using Eastern meditation as a tool for Christian mysticism.

Well, Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI, when he was Cardinal Ratzinger, the great Cardinal Jean Daniélou of the Second Vatican Council. So there are many, many great Church theologians who have noticed this trend. For a Christian, mysticism is a unity with, not a becoming one with, but a communion with God and it's not something that you make happen. You don't say to God,

    "I'll have a mystical experience now and I'll do it by doing these meditative practices."

Mysticism according to Daniélou and John Paul II and Ratzinger, or Pope Benedict XVI, is something that God decides. You pray, like St. John of the Cross or some of the other mystics in the Church. They, like St. Theresa, had mystic experiences because God basically wills that to happen. So for us, we are coming into communion with God but at the same time we are not trying to empty ourselves and we are not trying to force God to have a mystic experience. That's the fundamental difference. The goals are different and they are designed to achieve different ends.

Tim:
Very good, well Eric we'll have to move on to another caller but I'll ask a real quick question Anthony. You mentioned that problem with Catholics dabbling in Buddhist and Eastern mysticism and such and some would see that as OK. In fact, they will often point to Thomas Merton. We get that question a lot at Catholic Answers.
  • Did Thomas Merton go too far or not? but more importantly,
  • Can someone really be a Catholic Buddhist?

I think you have already answered the question in the negative but what about those who will use someone like Thomas Merton and go to Catholic retreat centers and do these sorts of things and they say,

    "Hey, this must be OK."
Anthony:

Hmmm. Well, I hate to be the nay sayer but as a Catholic, as a Christian, I feel compelled to be honest, intellectually and spiritually.

I think you cannot be a Buddhist and a Christian. And that's in fact what Ratzinger talks about — this as a sort of synchronism and while the Second Vatican Council the Church rejects nothing which is true and holy in other religions, it also says, and let me quote from the Second Vatican Council,

    "It proclaims the Church ever must proclaim Christ as the Way, the Truth, and the Light in whom men may find the fullness of religious life in who God has reconciled all things to Himself."

The Church insists that Christ is the Way and the Truth. Well, that said, there are books like the one I picked up in a Catholic bookstore called, "Buddha and Jesus conversations" by Karen Dunn and the book consists of a dialogue between Christ and Buddha and at the very end of the book, it's very curious. It has Jesus listening to the words of Buddha and Ms. Dunn in her dialogue has Buddha saying to Jesus,
    "You have seen through all the allusions and delusions as benefits the anointed of the most high."
and then Buddha says to Jesus,
    "You are Maitreya. ... "
which in Buddhism is the Buddha of the future,
    "go in peace to your appointed place."
This is a book by someone who calls herself a Buddhist Christian, a Buddhist Catholic actually. And then in the dialogue, suddenly Jesus finds in his left hand the perfect lotus, which is the sign of Buddhist enlightenment, in his right, the empty cup, which is the sign of begging.

So in the end of this book which claims to be showing the similarities between Christ and Buddha, it has Buddha becoming the teacher of Christ and Christ, in a sense, becoming a Buddhist. There is a similar books as well.

No, it's kind of a naivete of what Buddhism really teaches to really say that there are the same religion.

Certainly there are similarities but certainly they are very, very different religions.

Web Administrator's notes:

During the show Anthony also mentioned that:

  • Buddhist don't believe in the soul, and
  • Buddhists view suffering as evil, not redemptive.

I found this page on the Catholic Answers web site:

Mike

Hope this helps!

Eric

Maureen replied:

Thanks so much Mike and Eric for being so prompt!

I really appreciate it.

I am sending my sister, Pat, a carbon copy of this e-mail.

Actually my sister and I are totally loyal to the Holy Father and Church's Magisterium. We do believe in the Real Presence and we do have a great devotion to our Blessed Mother. As a matter of fact, I belong to the Legion of Mary. This is a quotation from my sister Pat when I told her about a friend of mine saying that (CM) Christian Meditation was evil:

The funny thing is that when I started CM, I began to yearn for something deeper and I was lead back to my Catholic faith. This is the exact opposite of what your friend said — that it will lead you to the devil.

Now this prayer group includes different Christian denominations so in that respect they wouldn't always have the same regard for Mary and the Blessed Sacrament but we don't discuss things that we aren't unified about.

When we meditate, there is always a short talk first by John Main which is always in relation to Holy Scripture especially Saint Paul. The prayer session always begins with music from Taize and finishes with Taize, such as:

  • Laudate Omnis Genti (All praise to the nation)
  • Laudate Dominum, (Praise the Lord), or
  • Domine exaudi orationem meam, (Oh Lord, hear our prayer)

I know because we sing those songs in our choir and we always focus on God, definitely not on ourselves. The theme Be still and Know I am your God is always present. I know the mantra seems to be a big thing that people have a problem with and they recommend Maranatha but
I often say, Jesus I love you, or something like that, because I like to use the name of Jesus when I pray. After our meditation time we say the Lord's prayer together. This prayer time is totally focused on God.

When I say:

  • Maranatha or Come, Lord Jesus
  • Jesus, I love you
  • Jesus, Name above all Names, or
  • Jesus, have mercy on me a sinner

in the quietness of my heart, I don't know how that can be considered something that should be avoided. In fact, I spend all my time throughout the day repeating the name of Jesus when I am not engaged in conversation with someone else. It keeps my mind from wandering about stupid things and worries. In the Divine Mercy prayer we repeat:

"For the sake of His sorrowful Passion have mercy on us and on the whole world."

This is a beautiful repetitive prayer. Another one is the Jesus prayer,

"Lord Jesus Christ have Mercy on me a sinner."

  • If one were to meditate by repeating the Jesus prayer would that be considered a mantra and therefore to be avoided?

I am so confused by this.

The lady who told me meditation was evil said that those that do it have the audacity to want to be in contemplation with God immediately whereas the saints have strived for this union with God for years. I really felt she was saying to me that I had my nerve to meditate and try to be holy.
I know that meditation and contemplation are not the same thing, although I earlier inferred that they were. Saint Teresa of Avila says that contemplation is a gift from God. One cannot be in union with God unless He allows it. When I said contemplative prayer I only meant striving to know God.

Meditation is, in my words, My gift to God. I want to be still and know His will in my life. Anyway, I am still very confused by all of this but will try to figure it out.

In Jesus and Mary,

Maureen

Mike replied:

Hi Maureen,

I want to address the last portion of your last reply. I did read through a portion of the John Main Christian Meditation home page.

After reading the paragraph on the home page it appears that the John Main Prayer Association sees their type of meditation as becoming one as God, instead of the Catholic view of partaking in the Divine nature of God through the Eucharist.

  • The Catholic view: We are human, but can sacramentally partake in divine nature.
  • Their apparent view: Through mediation, you can become divine nature yourself.

They make no mention, at all, about the Eucharist. This is key to any understanding of true Christianity.

The difference between a mantra and repeating the Chaplet of Divine Mercy or the Rosary, is that the Catholic acknowledges a difference between themselves and God.

Christian Meditation according to John Main doesn't appear to make that distinction. We pray to God. They appear to pray to acknowledge God within them through their mantra. Because there is no mention of the Eucharist in their material, God and Self become one. In my opinion, this is just another false Christ, that Jesus and St. Paul warned us about.

Your short devotional utterances are great!

  • Why?

Because they acknowledge the Savior Jesus Christ.

Mike

Richard replied:

Hi, Mike —

Thanks for sharing your dialogue with me.

There have been various efforts to put Eastern-style meditation forms into God's service as part of Catholic Christian prayer, and John Main's Christian Meditation is one.

If I understand him right, he steers clear of the erroneous thinking that would blur the distinction between God and His human creatures. Rather, man is a creature and God is the ground of our being, the One who gives us existence. He wanted believers to sense this constant gift from God through meditation and to always be aware of it.

My opinion so far is that John Main's approach is perhaps the best of the various Christian meditation movements. (e.g., Centering prayer, Christian Zen, the writings of Anthony DeMello, etc.) I can't really say with confidence that he did or didn't run into errors here or there in his writings, because I've only read one of his books. My impression, though, is that he was too optimistic in seeing similarities between Eastern meditation and the prayer forms of Church Fathers such as St. John Cassian.

Fortunately, the Church gave some guidance in 1989 about the Christian principles that the Church considers in evaluating any form of Christian meditation, in this document from the (CDF),
the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. That is the Vatican department Cardinal Ratzinger headed before he was elected Pope:

The document addresses positive aspects of meditation methods and also various points where Eastern-style meditation:

  • can be a mere psychological technique rather than be a true prayer, or
  • may even be in conflict with authentic Christian prayer — for example, if meditation brings our attention to withdraw within the self, rather than seek union with God through Jesus Christ.

We should consider how a spiritual approach relates to the doctrine of the Incarnation.

  • Are there possible errors from seeking to let go of images of God?

Our Lord has been revealed as the image of the Father, so if a meditation approach takes a
too-negative attitude toward images, it may lead us to neglect God revealed in Jesus, the incarnate Word, the Way, Truth, and Life.

  • Does an Eastern meditation approach come with thinking that disparages the material world?

If so, it could lead us to disregard the goodness of creation, including the dignity of the human body; and also the role of the Sacraments as means of encountering God and His grace.

I don't have any knowledge on whether John Main's method ever fell into any of these errors,
but I did want to indicate the sort of issues involved in discerning the value and trustworthiness
of various forms of meditation.

Maureen knows Main's thinking better than we do. I'm sure, so she can take some time to consider the ideas in the CDF document and thus have a stronger basis for discernment.

Let us entrust ourselves always to the Sacred Heart of Jesus!

— RC

Mike replied:

Hi Richard,

Thanks for the two cents.

I'm open to correction, but I've always considered stuff like:

  • Centering prayer
  • Christian Zen, and
  • the writings of Anthony DeMello

way off bounds from what the Magisterium would allow or wish for practicing Catholics to get involved in.

I think that was the point you were trying to make.

Mike

Richard replied:

Hi Mike,

The CDF went so far as to issue an explicit warning about the writings of Anthony DeMello, so there is definitely some erroneous aspect to his works!

— RC

Maureen replied:

Hi Mike, Eric, and Richard —

Well, there is only one Truth of course. Jesus founded the Church and appointed Saint Peter as the first pope:

Thou art Peter and upon this rock I will build my Church. (Matthew 16:18)

As successors to Peter, every pope has been handed the keys directly from Jesus Himself, and startling enough, most Christian denominations fail to recognize this fact. I don't get it because Jesus' Words seem pretty obvious to me.

  • If they believed Jesus words to Peter, wouldn't they belong to the Roman Catholic Church?

In view of this, I guess it is starting to make sense that a Christian Meditation prayer group is not necessarily a good thing, although I guess it could be, depending on the leader of the group, since so many Christians don't believe in the teachings of Christ which is kind of contradictory to say the least.

  • How can you be a Christian and not believe what He says?

There is nothing ambiguous at all about Jesus' words. I have decided I won't be going back to the meditation group.

Even though I am having a hard time following the dialogue between you guys. < ;-) > I find it very interesting and much food for thought. I am coming to the conclusion that Christian in regards to praying doesn't necessarily mean Jesus which I used to think it did.

Thanks for your help. I have a couple more questions which I will be asking in the next few days.
I belong to the best prayer group in the world anyway.

The Legion of Mary combines prayer with the spiritual works of Mercy.

Thank you all and God Bless!

Maureen

Kay Reilly of Catholic Culture replied:

Dear Mike:

Indeed, you have good cause to be concerned.  I had my friend look into this, and she notes that John Main is a heretic and a New Ager.  She went to Amazon and looked inside one of his books:

John Main: Essential Writings

As you know Catholic Culture has been providing Catholic Internet users with qualified reviews of Catholic web sites since 1996. Here is our review of World Community for Christian Meditation:

For each site we show its strengthens and weaknesses. At the bottom of our review for this
web site are some great article:

Hope this helps,

God Bless you!

Kay Reilly from Catholic Culture

Richard replied:

Hi, Mike and Maureen —

I looked at the book's content on Amazon, as Kay indicated.

Sad to say, I do think there are some problems about the passage from Main that she quoted.
He down plays the significance of religious doctrine, treating it as merely something that we believe, rather than as Truth that God reveals to us.

From John Main: Essential Writings (Modern Spiritual Masters Series)

Chapter 5: Embracing the Word — middle of Page 168:

I recently took part in a huge Catholic conference at the Anaheim Conference Center in southern California. It was an extraordinary experience in many ways. There were about eighteen thousand people participating, all, it seemed to me, seriously interested in deepening the Christian dimension of their lives.

They were responding, I suppose, in a typically Catholic way. Each evening I would get little notes under my door saying "the Sacred Heart invites you to drinks in room 1222, " or "the Little Flower will have a happy hour tomorrow evening.' Yet I was deeply moved by the last group I spoke to which consisted of about 8000 people. We all meditated together, and their openness to become so silent was really inspiring.

My time there made me feel that the great problem we face today is one of commitment. For the Christian this often seems to be a question of committing oneself to certain beliefs or the behavior based on those beliefs. Much of our religious response is indeed based primarily upon our beliefs. But I have come to feel that what we "believe' is not really that important. Belief is like the tip of the iceberg. What matters is faith. For the Christian this means our deep commitment to Christ to the point of self-transcendence, at the very bedrock of our being.

When I was studying eucharistic theology the key word was "transubstantiation." Since then all sorts of words, including "transfinalization," have been proposed by theologians as more suitable for portraying what it means. Words define beliefs. Words change. And so beliefs change. Beliefs are certainly secondary to faith, which does not change. This is our faith — meaning our transcendental commitment — to Jesus Christ. The task of life is to make contact with this faith, to reach what is essential by going beyond everything that is peripheral. The clear message of the New Testament is that Jesus Christ is essential and that what he communicates to us is his essence — his own being.

Main is trying to communicate an authentic truth that St. Paul taught:

That faith and love are more important than knowledge.

but he seems to be influenced by a philosophical tendency of the time, to downplay the notion of unchangeable doctrine. Some philosophers spoke as if the intellect of man, even man redeemed in Christ, were utterly incapable of receiving divine reality, as if every statement of doctrine had to be treated as only provisional. This comes from an exaggerated notion of what humility is. These philosophers spoke as if God himself could not communicate divine realities to man in a reliable way.

This is a form of doubt about divine revelation. Historically, this doubt is part of the heretical system which the Church calls Modernism. Popes around 1890-1910 fought it vigorously, but it regained some influence after 1950, and was widespread in the 1960s and 1970s when Main was writing. I wouldn't go so far as to call Main a heretic, but he does express some erroneous ideas here.

Regards —

— RC

Maureen replied:

Hello everybody,

I am extremely interested in everything you are saying. Even though I am not making any comments please keep me in the loop. I am just trying to grasp it all.

I am also pleased that Catholic Culture rated the Christian Meditation site. Catholic Culture is such an excellent guide when It comes to knowing where to go and where not to go.

Thanks so much,

Maureen

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