An Alternative to Eastern Mysticism for Catholics

By Lenora Grimaud

Many Catholics have turned to Yoga and Transcendental Meditation for, what they believe to be, a more fulfilling and enlightening form of prayer than traditional Christian prayer. Both of these forms of meditation lead a person into an altered state of consciousness. Of course, alcohol, drugs, sex, exercise, hypnosis, jogging, fasting, breathing manipulation, and various forms of divination can also lead a person into an altered state of consciousness. An altered state of consciousness is not the criteria for authentic prayer.

I remember when I was young—the first time I tried drinking alcohol at a party with friends. I came home very inebriated. My father was waiting up for me. He said to me: “If you want to drink, there is no way I can stop you. You will find a way to drink no matter what I do. But, I want you to remember this.

When you are inebriated, (altered state of consciousness) you have so self control, or free will. You are at the mercy of your passions and the passions of others. You do things you would never do if you were in your right mind.” My father spoke from experience. Well, that was enough to make me want to refrain from drinking, (at that time in my life) and, I was not even aware that there were unfriendly spiritual forces that could take control of me, in addition to my lower passions and the passions of others.

There is only one state of altered consciousness that is truly safe, and that is the one that is the result of grace—contemplative prayer. There is no method or practice that one can use in order to enter into contemplative prayer. It is initiated by the Holy Spirit. Its purpose is union with God.

In this state, one is centered on God, alone—before, during, and after. It is a state of God consciousness. By God, I mean the one true God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The intention of the person is single-minded—to praise and worship God, to glorify God. The person desires union with God, motivated only by the love of God coming from the Holy Spirit.

Yoga and TM are intended for union with “no thing”—nothing. It is a state that is “self” conscious, not God conscious. It is self induced, and really a form of escape from ones self into a void—nothingness—especially for Christians. Its purpose is not to worship God, or to glorify God; but merely an attempt to transform ones self—self transcendence.

Christian spiritual masters, such as the Saints, tell us that there are some things we can do in order to dispose ourselves for this grace of contemplation—union with God. First, we need to turn away from sin—to be in a “state of grace.” We need to receive the Holy Spirit—the grace of Baptism and Confirmation. We need to develop an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ, acknowledging him as our Lord.

We need to acquire the virtues of obedience, humility, and the fear of the Lord—true devotion. We also need to abandon ourselves to the will of God—to have complete trust in God’s will and to desire it in all things. Lastly, we need to pray—to turn to the Lord in prayer, giving him our full attention. The rest is all up to God. If it is for our good, the Lord will grant us this grace.
The document, Jesus Christ the Bearer of the Water of Life, makes this suggestion: Helping people in their spiritual search by offering them proven techniques and experience of real prayer could open a dialogue with them which would reveal the riches of Christian tradition, and perhaps clarify a great deal about New Age in the process. (Pages 91-92).

With this in mind, I offer the words and experience of St. Jane De Chantal. She was a wife and mother who, after her husband’s death, became a religious. She lived at the turn of the Seventeenth Century. She was also a great mystic and spiritual director. Jane longed to find a way to both uncompromisingly abandon herself to her religious impulses while still caring for the needs of her children and her extended family.

Along with St. Francis De Sales, she founded a congregation for women who felt drawn to a life of religious commitment but who were not sufficiently young, robust, or free of family ties to enter one of the austere reformed women’s communities or were not attracted to the physical austerity of these houses or to the lukewarm religiosity of the older lax religious orders. They were women called to great intimacy with God who would realize a community of true charity among themselves. With graciousness, gentleness, and tender concern they were to lead each other to pure love of God.

Women who had completed the novitiate were to express their love of God to neighbor by making visits to the poor and infirm in the surrounding neighborhood. There was also provision made for a limited number of laywomen to come within the community for brief periods of refreshment and retreat.

As to their charism of prayer, Jane is quoted as saying: The great method of prayer is to have no method at all. When the Holy Spirit has taken possession of the person who prays, it does as it pleases without any more need for rules or methods. The soul must be in God’s hands like clay in the hands of a potter so that he might fashion all sorts of parts. Or the soul must be like soft wax to receive a seal’s impression, or like a blank tablet upon which the Holy Spirit can write the divine will.

If, going to prayer, one can become pure capacity for receiving the spirit of God, that will suffice for any method. Prayer must happen by grace not by artfulness. Go to prayer by faith, remain there in hope and go out only by charity which requires simply that one act and suffer. She also says: I have recognized that the almost universal attraction of the daughters of the Visitation is to a very simple practice of the presence of God effected by a total abandonment of themselves to Holy Providence.

St. Jane De Chantal has much more to say about prayer which would be of great interest to anyone that feels they are drawn to contemplation. Our Lord is very generous with his gifts and graces. He gives lavishly to those who have a great desire for holiness, to love God with their whole being, and want to serve him by loving others and building the kingdom of God on earth.
Contemplation enables them to do this. Otherwise, there really is no need for such an extraordinary grace. It would be wasted on us. Contemplation enables us to lay down our life, out of love, for others.

I would recommend for further reading, “Francis de Sales, Jane de Chantal Letters of Spiritual Direction” from THE CLASSICS OF WESTERN SPIRITUALITY.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the beautiful article on contempletive prayer.
God Bless you.