This is the first in a series of teachings and reflections offered by the moderator of spiritual formation for the Jefferson City diocese.
Like so many faithful souls around the world, I am a practitioner of the simple, yet profound method of Centering Prayer.
Centering Prayer bonds members of a community together in a life changing way.
This deep silent prayer awakens a hunger in our hearts and the Holy Spirit sparks to flame a fire that is already burning within us and the community.
By the grace of God, I was introduced to this simple method of prayer in 1989, while on a visit to St. Benedict’s Trappist Monastery in Snowmass, Colorado.
From the moment I walked onto the grounds of the Monastery, I was transfixed by many things, but most of all by the profound sense of Divine Presence.
If you had told me that day that 10 years later, I would move to this monastery and live as a monk, I would have not believed you.
I was also very attracted to the spirit of the monks I observed, and in short order, Abbot Thomas Keating of the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance (also known as “Trappists”) (1923 –2018) became a very important mentor in my life, just as he was for thousands of others.
Fr. Thomas taught that Centering Prayer quiets our minds and body and prepare us to receive the incomparable gift of contemplative prayer.
St. Teresa of Avila, a Doctor of the Church, quoted in The Catechism of the Catholic Church (2709), says: “Contemplative prayer in my opinion is nothing else than a close sharing between friends; taking time frequently to be alone with Him who we know loves us.”
This gift is grace, which can only be received in humility and poverty, is a covenantal relationship established by God within our hearts, a communion in which the Holy Trinity conforms man and woman ... the image of God, to his likeness.
Fr. Thomas was a wisdom figure, but he was not a particularly scholarly figure, nor did he write in a methodical, academic way.
As a matter of fact, he did not write too much at all. Rather, he spoke and others would write down what he said.
He was quite similar to St. Paul. His sentences go on and on and touch on many different subjects.
Fr. Thomas will often lead one deep into the forest of mystery, but he never leaves you there.
“TK,” as he was affectionally known, spent his life teaching about the treasure found in the Christian Contemplative Heritage.
As was so often said, it was not so much what he said, but who he was that attracted others to listen.
Thomas was authentic. He had been a monk for 70 years when he died, and he spoke with authority.
He spent the second half of his long life presenting the entire Christian Spiritual Journey, which he himself had lived, in a most systematic way, drawing on teachings from modern psychology and philosophy, as well as contemporary insights from many branches of both physical and social science.
However, he told me in private conversation that he had not taught anything original, but rather, he was drawing from many sources and fitting it all together.
He often said, “If I have said anything useful, it has been the work of the Holy Spirit.”
I am absolutely thrilled that Centering Prayer practitioners from all over Missouri are preparing to participate in The Living Flame Program, gathering in community, as well as with individuals in their home.
The title is taken from another Doctor of the Church, St. John of the Cross.
The seven-part program, which begins in October of this year, will dive deep into all of these pieces that Fr. Thomas, the meek and humble Servant of God, drew on.
Aspirants will want to have some practice of Centering Prayer and will have read his book Open Mind Open Heart.
The illumination, the anointing, which takes place in the Inner Room, allows the Divine Physician to heal us and to bring us more and more into the Divine Presence.
It turns out that all of the pieces do fit together.
The mystery is immense, the questions are many, and the answer to all of them is the Triune God and the experience of His love found in deep and silent prayer.
If you would like to know more about this program in Central Missouri, please visit the Contemplative Outreach of Central Missouri website (cocemo.org) or call 573-864-1097, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Fr. Flatley is pastor of Immaculate Conception Parish in Jefferson City.