By Barb Arland-Fye
Father Carl Arico attended a retreat at a Trappist monastery in Massachusetts in 1975 that profoundly impacted his prayer life and ministry. One of the monks gave a brief talk on Centering Prayer which resonated with Fr. Arico and five of his brother priests on retreat with him.
Centering Prayer is described as a simple method of silent prayer based on the contemplative teachings of the early Church. The prayer takes its name from an observation by Thomas Merton, the famous Trappist monk and writer, who described contemplative prayer as prayer “centered entirely on the presence of God” (www.contemplativeoutreach.org).
On the drive home to New Jersey after that 1975 retreat, Fr. Arico and his five brother priests made a commitment to get together once a month to talk about their spiritual journey and to do Centering Prayer. The get-togethers “fulfilled an unspoken need to let God bathe our feet once in a while … to learn to let go and to be more open to the Spirit working in us and in our priesthood,” said Fr. Arico, who has been teaching Centering Prayer since 1978. He also serves as vice president of Contemplative Outreach Ltd., a spiritual network of individuals and small faith communities committed to living the contemplative dimension of the Gospel. Centering prayer is a centerpiece of that commitment.
From Sept. 30 to Oct. 2, Fr. Arico will lead a parish mission on prayer and the spiritual journey titled “A Taste of Silence” at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Bettendorf. He’s dedicating the mission in memory of Lourdes parishioner Judy Lindner, who died Sept. 18. The two became acquainted through a shared interest in Centering Prayer.
“She met Fr. Carl on a retreat where he was the leader,” said Judy’s husband, Jul. She’d also led the committee organizing the parish mission until her illness prevented her from doing so. “But she was grateful to know her parish mission would go on, and so am I,” Jul said.
Fr. Arico was supposed to lead the parish mission last November, but it had to be rescheduled. “Judy is the inspiration. She’s the one who worked hard with cooperation from her parish to make this happen,” he said.
When asked what he hopes participants take away from the parish mission, Fr. Arico identified three goals:
• That people who hear him preach at weekend Masses will be able to see prayer as a relationship with God.
• That parish mission participants will have a better appreciation for the presence and action of God not only in prayer, but in their lives. “We’ll talk about active prayer (aspiriations), Lectio Divina and Centering Prayer,” he said.
• That mission participants will participate in a six-week follow-up that includes watching videos by Father Thomas Keating to help deepen their understanding of Centering Prayer and prayer in general.
To Catholics who may be skeptical about Centering Prayer, or mistakenly think it is tied to New Age spirituality, Fr. Arico said: “If you read Part Four in the Catechism of the Catholic Church it will knock your socks off on the different levels of prayer. Some of the descriptions are absolutely spectacular. (The Catechism) sees the implication of prayer as relationship and the implication that we are called to enter into silence.”
Other Catholics worry about getting distracted in their attempts to be present to God during Centering Prayer. “We don’t call them distractions,” Fr. Arico said. Thoughts that come up are allowed to leave, without having to be examined. “You’re just sitting and consenting and giving God a chance to have some space.”
Fr. Arico practices Centering Prayer daily and said it has helped him to be more attentive to the present moment. “Prayer is a relationship with God. There needs to be a time to talk, to work things out together; a time to express affection, a time to be with the one you love.”
Parish mission details
What: A Taste of Silence parish mission
When: Sept. 30-Oct. 2.
Where: Our Lady of Lourdes Parish, Bettendorf
Details: The mission will be held on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday at 7 p.m. and will address prayer in daily life. Each evening ends with benediction. The sacrament of reconciliation will be available.
Two services also will be held during the day on Monday and Tuesday, beginning with Mass at 8 a.m. The same subject matter as the evening services will be covered.
Presenter Father Carl Arico will be available for private conferences of one-half hour each on Monday and Tuesday between 1-4 p.m. in the church rectory. Sign-up sheets will be available at the mission services.
Origins of Contemplative Outreach
Contemplative Outreach has its roots in the wish of three monks living at St. Joseph’s Abbey in Spencer, Mass., in the early 1970s. Inspired by Vatican II, the monks sought to develop a method of Christian contemplative prayer that was appealing and accessible to laypeople. Centering Prayer is one of the fruits of that effort by Fathers Thomas Keating, William Meninger and Basil Pennington.