Criteria for Making a Judgement About Whether a Particular Way of Praying is Christian
Let’s briefly recap our extended discourse on Christian prayer by first noting 7 things that Christian prayer isn’t:
- A psychological technique to manipulate consciousness.
- Babbling empty words, mindlessly reciting formulas, or superstitiously collecting behaviors to win God’s favor.
- A way of treating the Creator as a tool, or an instrument for our worldly desires – see prosperity Gospel.
- A means of achieving our political desires.
- It isn’t individualistic and purely dependent upon subjective notions of God – though there is a subjective dimension.
- It can’t be reduced to a posture, a method of recollection, or a facade of holiness (i.e. looking prayerful in front of others).
- A way of avoiding the demands of justice, the moral law, and charity.
And now the 7 necessary criteria for Christian Prayer:
- It is an act of communion with Jesus Christ. Christ is the way, truth, and life of Christian prayer.
- It is an act of communion with the Mystical Body of Christ, i.e., the one, holy, Catholic, and apostolic Church.
- It is is primarily dependent upon Christian faith, hope, and love, rather than a method. (This is the case even when methods are used such as Rosary, Lectio, or merely focusing on a holy word or phrase such as in a centering prayer. And use of method in Christian Prayer is always subordinated to and dependent upon Christian faith, hope, and love).
- It demands conformity to the demands of justice, the moral law, and charity.
- It is sacrifical and leads to Divine Worship, its highest moment being the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
- It looks to the Word of God in Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition as the means of salvation and sanctification.
- It is always penitential, i.e. it leads to metanoia or conversion, and seeks all the ordinary means of reconciliation with the Father that are provided by the Divine Economy.
Any proposal for prayer (or meditation for that matter) that doesn’t meet the criteria above is not fully Christian prayer as understood by the one, holy, Catholic, and apostolic, Church.
Determining if prayer proposals are New Age, Buddhistic, or even Protestant, depends upon analyzing whether these criteria are present or not. If they are not present it presents an opportunity for evangelization and catechesis. If they are present, rejoice! This is Christian prayer.
As Christians we possess a gift that we received from the Mystical Body of Christ: faith. We received faith through hearing and this faith leads to the saving confession that Jesus is Lord. We believe in the heart and confess with the mouth a faith that is ecclesial and always animated by the principle of communion even though prayer takes place in a human subject.
A further way to test our prayer, as a means of self-examination is to ask: is my present way of praying leading to deeper Christian faith, hope, and love? Does it seek to deepen these gifts? Is it leading me to a more faithful observation of the commandments, and the greatest commandment, or less?
In this way we can make a judgement about whether in our own practice, or in the way we teach prayer, something is missing. Because of the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, it can easily happen that our practice of prayer backslides in this way. We can easily become reliant on things that are either accidental to Christian prayer, or things that must be subordinated to the theological virtues.
Perhaps this is where much of the concern has been place over certain Centering Prayer proposals. There is a concern that ecclesial faith, hope, and love have become subordinated to method or technique, which we know in the end is another form of idolatry and leads away from true worship.
In the next section of this essay we will see if the definition of Centering Prayer given on the Contemplative Outreach website meets these criteria.