Saturday, August 27, 2011

New Age Movement and Thomas Merton and Centering Prayer

from Fr Hardon archives:
Fr. Hardon:
The question is here - Can you speak more about the New Age Movement?
The New Age Movement is about, I would say, forty years old, in the United States. It is an importation from Asia and especially from India. And what has happened is that certain Catholic leaders and writers have begun to bring out, what I would call, the non-Christian, oriental, mysticism. Non-Christian, oriental, mysticism. The New Age Movement, as they call it. There is no definite pattern. However, the New Agers, as they are also called, have become deeply influenced by those Christian writers who have adopted non-Christian philosophy into Christianity. And I think the leader of the New Age Movement, who has since died, was a Trappist Monk, Thomas Merton. The name sound familiar? Thomas Merton. I could talk for many hours about the New Age Movement. But concretely, it was Thomas Merton who, in the late forties, that would be over fifty (50) years ago, became a convert to the Catholic faith, and he published a widely circulating book called the Seven Storey Mountain. Thomas Merton, I do believe was never intellectually converted to Christianity. He became a Trappist Monk, became a priest and wrote many books. So his conversion is Seven Storey Mountain. He became very famous, mainly because of his writing. But also, because his ideas, it goes back already to the fifties and sixties. His ideas were very sympathetic with oriental thought. Well, Thomas Merton entered my life when my Jesuit Provincial Superior told me to go to this Trappist’s monastery, which was quite some distance. I was teaching theology and I was told to talk to Thomas Merton, which I did. Our relationship lasted about six months. Thomas Merton had organized a campaign for the movement of what we now call the New Age Movement - meditation. Oriental meditation. At the Monastery of Gethsemene, his Abbot Superior either changed his mind or never gave Merton permission in the first place to start his meditation center - at the monastery in Kentucky. Then his Abbot simply told Merton, you cannot build this meditation center. In the meantime, a great deal of money had been collected for this meditation center. Thomas Merton had left the United States and he died suddenly in Asia by giving lectures on Oriental Mysticism. Thomas Merton's writings, his New Age writings, have been published after his death and without his Abbot's permission. In fact, the manuscripts were given to a lay person who has been publishing his books ever since.
And having said that, I can now talk at great length about the New Age Movement. Basically, the New Age Movement is, I repeat, Oriental Meditation, Oriental Prayer, or Mysticism that has penetrated many Christian circles. There are communities that follow that pattern. For example, there are Religious communities of women that follow the New Age pattern in meditation and prayer. And all I can say is that those communities, which have adopted these New Age ideas are all - I mean this sincerely - in danger of dissolusion. At the root of the New Age Movement, is the denial of an infinite, personal God, who created the world. And consequently, once you say that than how much you use the name God, no matter how much you talk about prayer and meditation, that prayer and mediation is no longer to God, but either to the unknown forces in the world or to one's self. And, you know, all I can say is, that one reason the New Age Movement has so deeply infected, as I should say, the Western world is because the Western world, unlike the Oriental world, has become very materialistic. Preoccupied with things that you can touch, taste, feel, see, experience with your body. The Western world needs a reformation. It needs to discover that there is a real world that you cannot touch, taste, see with your bodily eyes, or hear with the bodily ears. The real world - God is very real, God is God, does not have a body or extension in space, or size or weight. There is the angelic world, which is, as we say purely spiritual. Each angel is an individual person. Each of us, we believe, has a spirit; our souls dwelling within us. We believe this spirit, our soul, continues living consciously after the body dies.
Sister: Excuse me Father. What is centering prayer? And what is its connection with the New Age Movement?
Fr. Hardon: Centering prayer is part of the New Age Movement. Centering prayer is very dangerous. There are communities, I will not identify which communities, where the Sisters are taught and trained to practice centering prayer.
Sister: Father, I have read in the newspaper that the contemplative Missionaries of Charity practice centering prayer.
Fr. Hardon: Sister?
Gentleman: She said, she has seen a photograph in the newspaper of some Missionaries of Charity…
Sister: Contemplative
Gentleman: Contemplative…practicing…
Sister: Father, the article was telling us that they were practicing centering prayer.
Gentleman: They were saying, the MC's, the contemplative…
Sister: In Calcutta, were using centering prayer.
Gentleman: In Calcutta, they were using centering prayer
Sister: It was published in Miami by a Carmelite community.
Fr. Hardon: All I can say is, any community that practices centering prayer will die out.
Sister: What?
Fr. Hardon:
I can talk for hours on centering prayer. The word of course, is attractive. Centering prayer - It all depends on what you mean by centering prayer. And of course, again there are different forms of centering prayer. Because as you know, in India, Hindus are not united. There was no united Hinduism or kinds of Hindu - well, you might say religions. So with centering prayer. The heart of centering prayer is communicating with the center of your being. Now that, as the words are used, sounds harmless. Remember we were talking about indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Could we say that for those who are in that state of God's grace that at the center of their being is the Holy Spirit? We can say that. That is not for those who practice centering prayer mean. At the center of one's being is the Absolute. The Absolute, who is the only real being that exists. In other words, we think that we are separate individuals. At the foundation of centering prayer, you don't believe it. The center of our being, the New Agers say, is the Absolute. The only real being, the center of our being, therefore is the Absolute. According to God you are cheating. Because the god of centering prayer, I repeat, the way the New Agers have brought it in, is the only being who exists. He is the absolute being. And he is the same absolute being, in every human being as we would call it. But, what we call an – person – they would say - is not a distinct reality. At the heart of centering prayer, there is no infinite God who created the world out of nothing. A layman wrote a book on Thomas Merton - remember I mentioned Thomas Merton may be the founder of the New Age Movement, certainly in the Western world. He wrote a book, spent several years writing the book analyzing Thomas Merton's thinking. And he said Thomas Merton never, never believed there was a God who was infinite. Never believed there was a God who was really distinct from the world that we say was created. Centering prayer is communication with the inner being who is the only real being who exists. If you think you are a distinct person, distinct from God, you do not understand centering prayer. And another - oh, I could talk for hours - who's been deeply affected by centering prayer. Although, he himself died before what we now call the New Age movement came into existence. That was the Jesuit, Karl Rahner. I've been a Jesuit now, as I told you – if the Lord keeps me on this earth until the first of September - I entered in 1936 - it will be 60 years. Karl Rahner’s thinking is also behind centering prayer, and Karl Rahner never, never was convinced that there is an infinite God. NEVER. In other words, centering prayer is addressing the Absolute, which is the only being who really exists. And having known the Contemplative Missionaries of Charity, from before they began. That's how I first met Mother Theresa. She wanted to start the Contemplative branch and I was in New York teaching. She came from, well, from Calcutta, I was in New York, I’ve got I'll tell you this. I got a phone call - Mother Theresa from Calcutta wanted me to call her back. Gee, from New York to Calcutta! That's a lot of money. But the number was 292-00l9. Strange number, but I figured I'd save money. I'd try to call that number. Sure enough, it was the Bronx, in New York. Well, at last I could come to talk to her in the Bronx. Our first meeting was five hours. I have known the Contemplative Missionaries of Charity. For seven years. I was teaching the Contemplatives one full day every week. So thank you for sharing that with me. But I have to say I am not surprised. I am disappointed, but I am not surprised. Thank you for saying that. I could talk about the New Age Movement for hours. It is not Christian. It is very dangerous. Well, keep this covered.   

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