Monday, 30 November 2015

Letter to the Vatican about The World Community for Christian Meditation (WCCM)

Cardinal Prefect
His Excellency William Joseph Levada
Palace of the Holy Office
Vatican City

London, 28 April 2011
His Excellence William Joseph Levada
We are writing to you with a question regarding the alarming spread of so called “Christian Meditation” promoted by The World Community for Christian Meditation (WCCM) and its director Fr Laurence Freeman, OSB.
We encountered the WCCM for the first time during the Lenten Talk at the Our Lady of Victories, London Parish in March 2011. During the series of talks run by Fr Freeman, Stefan Reynolds and Kim Nataraja introduced parishioners to the style of prayer closer to the Centering Prayer than Christian meditation itself.
In fact, Kim Nataraja when questioned how different it was from the centering prayer, admitted that quote “they are like brothers, very similar”. When we expressed our concern to the Parish priest, Monsignor James Curry, by letter – his response was very vague, suggesting we should attend more of those talks for a better understanding. He did invite us for a clarification talk but never responded to our proposal to meet. Hence, left in limbo, we raise our serious concerns.
The WCCM is very active in spreading the so-called “Christian Meditation” (please see attached the copy of Retreat Booklet for 2011) and enters now the domain of mental health. Quote “A seminar on meditation and mental health, drawing together speakers from different religious traditions and contemporary psychology will take place in London on 4 - 5 May 2011. This seminar will look at how the spiritual dimension and meditation in particular, can offer a new and stimulating perspective on this topic. There will be a range of presentations – talks, discussions and interactive workshops. Speakers and workshop leaders include: Fr Laurence Freeman OSB, Director of The World Community for Christian Meditation; Revd Christopher MacKenna, Director of St Marylebone Healing and Counselling Centre; Revd Carol Morrison, Curate with a special interest in mental health and Christian spirituality; Lama Yeshe Losal Rinpoche, Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism and Abbot of Samye Ling Monastery; Dr Norman Rosenthal, Psychiatrist, researcher, author and discoverer of seasonal affective disorder (SAD) syndrome; Don Boyle, Social Inclusion and Employment Co-ordinator of NHS Foundation Trust and others.”[1]
Fr Freeman has recently started a new initiative called Meditatio. Quote: “This is the outreach and sharing of the fruits of meditation with the wider world and with the problems and crises of our times. The three-year programme includes a series of seminars and workshops on the themes of Education, Business and Finance, Mental Health, the Environment, Inter-Religious Dialogue and Citizenship.”
All that is very alarming and confusing to many devout Catholics that are in search of God’s presence in daily life.
“The Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on some aspects of Christian Meditation” says: Christian prayer is not an exercise in (…) stillness and self-emptying, but a dialogue of love, one which “implies an attitude of conversion, a flight from 'self' to the 'You' of God”. It leads to an increasingly complete surrender to God's will, whereby we are invited to a deep, genuine solidarity with our brothers and sisters.”
While Fr Freeman (WCCM) tells us in his introduction that “Meditation is the way of self knowledge, prayer in silence, letting go. Prayer is not about getting benefits from God but becoming like god. Capacity of letting go everything, receiving, humbly and simply. Not to acquire but to let go. All forms of prayer converge in the hub of a wheel of prayer. In the center of prayer we enter into the prayer of Jesus (Christ prays in you).[2]
His constantly refers to John Cassian and Desert Fathers and Mothers as well as to the mysterious book “The Cloud of Unknowing” (the base for the Centering Prayer as thought by Father William Meninger, Thomas Keating and Basil Pennington). He constantly repeats “let go” and quotes Jesus saying “Be still know that I am God”). He proposes to meditate on the world “Maranatha” which is another wonder why specifically that word (even though it means “Lord Come”, why specifically that one should be used ?).
More importantly, as the Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on some aspects of Christian Meditation from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith states in paragraph 23: “Genuine Christian mysticism has nothing to do with technique: it is always a gift of God, and the one who benefits from it knows himself to be unworthy (cf St. Teresa of Jesus, Castillo Interior IV)”. St Teresa of Avila also tells us in The Interior Castle that more harm than good can from trying to stop the mind, but we should rather without any effort or noise, strive to cut down the rambling of the intellect – but not suspend either it or the mind; it is good to be aware that one is in God’s presence and of who God is when in prayer. Also, one can't use technique as a substitute for spiritual growth to suddenly arrive at "contemplation" or Unitio. One may "blank" one’s mind or use a mantra to somehow hypnotize oneself, but this will bring an empty calmness more akin to transcendental meditation than any true contemplation. Let us not forget what the Great Pope John Paul II reminded us that St Teresa opposed the books of her day which presented  contemplation as thinking about nothing or an assimilation into some vague divinity.
We would be so grateful for your reflection and guidance regarding the mentioned community and the type of prayer they are proposing.
With our prayers
Que le Dieu vous benisse

Ø  Vincent Gerard Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster, president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales
Archbishop’s House, Ambrosden Avenue, London SW1P 1QJ

[2] The talk was recorded, this is a transcript from the video recording that can be sent if requested.

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