CONTEMPLATIVE PRAYER AND "THE CLOUD"

by Conchitina Bernardo

On Saturday, January 16, 2021, Father William Meninger, O.C.S.O gave a talk to Contemplative Outreach Phil. (COP) via zoom. It was 9:00 PM here and  8:00 AM at St. Joseph’s Monastery in Spencer, MA, U.S.A. Fr. William Meninger, a Trappist monk together with his confreres, the late Fr. Thomas Keating, and Fr. Basil Pennington, started the Centering Prayer movement and brought contemplative prayer to the world outside the confines of a monastery or a convent. All three Trappist monks have come to the Philippines as early as in the late ‘80’s. Only Father Meninger is still with us.

Before the conference, there was friendly bantering between Fr. Meninger and Fr. Carl Arico, a co-founder of Contemplative Outreach Ltd. (COL), the organization based in the U.S. to which COP is affiliated. Fr. Carl learned Centering Prayer from Fr. Meninger in 1974 and until his retirement from COL a few years ago, was a member of the COL Board of Governors. Fr. Carl came to the Philippines in the ‘90’s to give us formation and retreat. So COP has a special place in his heart and vice-versa.

Dan Dobbins of Contemplative Outreach, Florida, and a good friend of Fr. Messenger, introduced our guest speaker. Dan was Fr. Meninger’s travelling companion every time Fr. Meninger would give talks about Centering Prayer all over the U.S. Dan recalled that one day after a particularly hectic week of giving talks, retreats and workshops, he marvelled at Father Meninger’s physical energy that did not seem to wane despite their punishing schedule. He asked Fr. Meninger how he managed to remain so energetic, and the answer he got from the travelling monk was: “Everything I do stems from Centering Prayer”.

The conference on Jan. 16 started with a beautiful prayer taken from the book, “The Cloud of Unknowing” an old spiritual classic believed to be written by a Carthusian monk in old English, in the 14th century.

"Oh God to whom all hearts lay open and unto whom desire is eloquent, and from whom no secret is hidden; purify the thoughts of my heart by the outpouring of your Spirit, that I may love you with a perfect love, and praise you as you deserve. Amen."

The book is one of the best guides in the journey to contemplative prayer and contemplation. One of the important teachings of “The Cloud” is that there are two basic ways of knowing God. One is by using one’s intellect, the other is by using one’s heart. Contemplative prayer of which centering prayer is the first step leading to it, disposes the heart to respond to God’s love. It is the work of love that stems from having a deep relationship with God. This prayer is more pleasing to God than any other prayer practice.

Father Meninger quoted “The Cloud“ as saying: “Gather all your love, like roses, into one word." Applying this advice to Centering Prayer, it refers to the sacred word that we use to signify our intention to consent to God’s presence and action within us. “When you love God with all your heart, and express it with your prayer word, it is God doing the praying. You love God from your heart. The Holy Spirit through you, loves God. It is God loving God.”

Through the prayer word, repeatedly spoken in love, you, the pray-er becomes a conduit. You open a vortex of love, a gentle swirl of that unconditional love between the Father, Son and Spirit. You are caught in it and can’t do anything but also love. The result manifests in the person becoming a “contemplative in action”, always in a posture of serving others, always radiating love as one lives her ordinary daily life. We are both Martha’s and Mary’s, waiting on God and sitting at His feet, listening to Him, while at the same time doing our duties in life to the best of our abilities.

One of Fr. William’s deep insights that he shared with us is the fact that we cannot fathom God with our limited minds. No one is capable of embracing the reality of who God really is. In doing centering prayer, we express our desire to love this God of mystery and wonder. He then honors our intention to consent to His presence and action within us, by healing and transforming us in the process. But it does not stop with our individual transformation. We have to share God’s love with the rest of the world. We must reach out and embrace our fellowmen. Fr. Meninger emphasized that “contemplatives are never, never, never just one thing,” thus the importance of being “contemplatives in action”.

There were 156 attendees in Father William’s conference, an international crowd coming from as far as South Africa, Ireland, Trinidad and the U.S. With his talk and the Q and A that followed the conference, we were enriched by his deep insights and profound explanation about “The Cloud of Unknowing”. It was as if the book became alive for us, speaking in a powerful but simple way, understandable to lay men and women like us.

It was a beautiful evening, one to be remembered and relished for a long, long time. It afforded us an opportunity to comprehend more clearly and reflect in the silence of our hearts what contemplative prayer and centering prayer are. We have been gifted by the God of Love with this prayer and we are truly grateful.

Thank you, Fr. William, for being an instrument of God by sharing your wisdom with us, and for teaching us how to love God, this God “unto whom desire is eloquent, and from whom no secret is hidden… that we may love Him with a perfect love, and praise Him as He deserves." (From “The Cloud of Unknowing”.)

For those interested in listening to Fr. William’s talk, it is available in the COP uTube channel. The link is below.

https://youtu.be/NGDB1Go0RYQ

JOURNEY TO TRANSFORMATION AND ONENESS

By Chita G. Castillo

Every second Saturday of the month COP offers a special event for its members. To kick off 2021, on Saturday, January 9, COP invited Fr. Jett Villarin, S.J. for a spiritual talk followed by a contemplative Mass. The title of the talk was “Road to Transformation and Oneness: What to bring for the Journey'', which piqued curiosity and engendered excitement among the COP membership, so much so, that they attended in full force. Two hundred twenty six members were present at the zoom event, among them the USA centering prayer online coordinators - Joanne Warner, steward for SPIRITUS online course and Cecile Betit, steward for LUX-DIVINA online course.

Father Villarin’s talk brought out two summary points of reflection:

  • Transformation (desire to be moved) : What in my life needs conversion? How free am I?

  • Oneness (desire to connect) What helps me to find my center? What deeper connections do I need to make?

Using scientific terminology, being a scientist as well as an educator and an administrator, Fr. Jett explained how this can be achieved in our everyday lives.

In the context of the world-change challenging our lives today, we were asked to pray for the freedom that comes with transformation, as well as for the wonder that contemplatives find in building community. He described contemplation as “the still point in this moment of eternity.”

At the end of the talk, Fr. Jett led us in saying a prayer for this time of pandemic. “Lord of life, Help us to listen to what you're telling us these days... Give us faith to see you with us now, in this boat being tossed by the waves... Please give us enough light to keep us going… Our old plans are shot, our dreams disrupted. Bring your dreams then closer to ours...Help us to be brave.”

ADVENT RECOLLECTION WITH FATHER CARL ARICO

by Conchitina Bernardo

On December 12, 2020 at 9:00 PM Philippine time and 8:00 AM Eastern, United States, Father Carl Arico came to the Philippines thru a zoom conference to give COP an Advent recollection. It was entitled, “Let There Be Peace on Earth and Let it Begin with Me.” Father Carl Arico is a founding member of Contemplative Outreach, Ltd., founded in 1984. Its objective is to foster the process of transformation in Christ through the practice of Centering Prayer. One hundred thirty seven participants came to that Advent recollection. The evening ended close to midnight, which included an interaction with Father Carl. There was a Q and A portion with questions coming from the participants starting with the Philippines, and also guests from Canada, the United States, Italy, United Kingdom, Dominican Republic, Brazil and South America.

There was thanksgiving and much affection in our hearts for Father Carl Arico who had come to the Philippines and spoken to the budding Contemplative Outreach Philippines, some 20 years ago, for formation and retreat. His reflections have always been thought provoking and are full of wisdom.

In his presentation, Fr. Carl used the beautiful painting by Rembrandt, entitled “The return of the Prodigal Son", as a segue to his teaching about Compassion. The points that he brought up were moving and compelling.

Chita Gallaga Castillo, member of the San Antonio Centering Prayer Group (CPG) shared this:

“Jesus asks us to be compassionate towards others in the same way that God shows us compassion, this, referring to the father and mother of the returning prodigal son. Then Father Carl quoted Henri Nouwen, an author of many spiritual books. “Each time we touch that sacred emptiness of non-demanding love, heaven and earth tremble and there is great rejoicing among the angels of God. It is the place where there is nothing left to lose, where your love has no strings attached and where spiritual strength is found.’”

For Charit Montalban, presenter in centering prayer workshops and CPG head of Our Lady of Fatima church in Parañaque, kept this prayer in her heart: “Lord teach me how to “grieve” and not run away from the pain, to “forgive” without guarantee, to be “generous” without expectations. Open my eyes to see that “there is nothing to lose” when I follow You.” Thank you, Lord, for the gift of Centering Prayer, which I know will lead me to that “sacred emptiness of non-demanding love” – Your brand of love!”

Indeed, it is when you are truly grateful that you find that kind of peace that surpasses understanding. A recollection like what we had with Fr. Carl provides us with valuable pointers as we journey in life. Like Father Carl said, “Let it begin with me.”

(We take this opportunity to thank our tech team - Len Hizon, Cris Rosenthal, Faye Corcuera and Sam Leuterio for the flawless handling of the technical requirements that evening. Lending valuable support were advisers Tess Colayco, Billie Trinidad and Terly Chikiamco.)

"An Advent Day of Prayer with Fr. Carl Arico", watch video here.

“30 YEARS OF CONSENTING TO GOD’S PRESENCE AND ACTION”

by Chita G. Castillo

Contemplative Outreach Philippines turned 30 years on November 25, 2020. A birthday fit for a celebration. A Zoom contemplative mass was planned as a commemoration for the occasion. The fete was entitled:

“30 years of Consenting to God’s Presence and Action”

The celebration consisted of

1. A Mass with a contemplative talk given by Fr. Robert Manansala, OFM.
2. A video recounting the past 30 years. This was full of sharing and photographs reminiscing on the following:

o How COP began;
o Growth of CPLD groups
o Countless workshops and retreats

After the video time was made available for questions, answers and sharing.

The Zoom meeting was attended by 130 participants, both in the Philippines and abroad, among whom were:

1. Founding member Fr Carl Arico and other members of the board of CO in the US like Pat Johnson, Mary Jane Yates and Maru L. de Guevarra.
2. The Dominican Republic coordinators, Vicky Acra and Rosa Assis
3. Online centering prayer List moderators, Cecile Betit and Joanne Warner.
4. Lita Salinas and Grace Padilla, founding members of COP.

It was with great joy that the COP members found themselves face to face online with friends and others whom they had not seen for some time. A happy moment to remember and hold in our hearts.

“Centering Prayer is an anticipation of the Eternal Now! You try to do away with everything except God! You can’t do away with God even if you wanted to. You place yourself in a face to face situation; you are living on earth the life that the saints live in heaven, but they don’t have the problem of distractions. It is the prayer of heaven. The closest you are going to come in this world to God! Can’t get any closer while you are alive in this world and still immersed in the manifestations God had placed you in. …”

Fr. William Meninger

“There is a time for everything…” (Eccleciastes 3)

by Billie Trinidad

"…a time to weep and a time to
laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance…"

And most of all… a time to be grateful; to become more aware of a sacramental universe.

Everything speaks of God to me. The presence of God is now more palpable.

A realization that our tiny churches and cathedrals can not hold our loving God.

He is everywhere, too big for this. And most importantly, He is in our hearts,

in my heart. Life as I know it, no longer holds…it is now a time to let go.

Let us welcome our new Reality…our Divine Reality.

XMAS PARTY 2020

by Conchitina Bernardo

It was totally new, totally different and totally gratifying. The COP Christmas Fellowship had its first celebration by zoom on December 16, at 9:30 AM. It had never happened before, this type of fellowship via the air waves, either on a computer, a smart phone or iPad . They were all there, the COP members, Centering Prayer Group Heads, members of the Circle of Service whose tech team managed the event. Present too were the two ladies credited for bringing Centering Prayer to the Philippines - Lita Salinas in Manila, and Grace Padilla in far away United States.

Our Masses have an added facet that involves moments of quiet and contemplation right after the Consecration, and after Communion. Moments of quiet are observed for spiritual reflection. Very often though, it is just to relish and savor the silence.

Father Orly Sapuay of the Missionaries of La Sallete and COP spiritual adviser, gave a homily that resonated with those who practice Centering prayer. Father Orly is familiar with the prayer . He mentioned “Welcoming Prayer" as a practice that helps us to deal with stressful events in our life . (To know more about this prayer, you can go to uTube and go to Contemplative Outreach Ltd. for its explanation.) Father Orly stressed that faith in God in all moments of life, be they good or bad, are meant for us “to grow towards love, union, salvation, or enlightenment. The movement is from Order to Disorder and ultimately, to Reorder.”

Then Lita Salinas imparted valuable seeds of wisdom and advice. From the very start of COP, when she was its first Adviser, Lita’s gift of speech and insights drawn from her lived experience of a contemplative life has always been treasured by COP members . Her thought-provoking and inspiring talks are gems that help us walk our life’s journey from day to day. In her Christmas message to us, Lita challenged all of us to stand up from our comfortable place of meditation, to become contemplatives in action. She told us to ignore the “murmurations” (internal commentaries) of events and distractions around us, and to focus on what we have consented to do – surrender to the will of the Father in every event of our lives, from the most mundane to the most important challenges that we face.

Fun time was the breaking of the attendees into virtual groups - 5 to a group to answer 2 questions posed by the organizer. The purpose was to allow the members from different centering prayer groups to interact with each other and promote better fellowship as a community. In one group there was a member who was based in the United States. Participants of the same prayer groups who had not seen each other, reconnected with the warmest greetings, happy to see each other again. In one group, two cousins, one living in Isabela and another in Manila, finally got to say “hello!”

An added bonus was a the raffle using a virtual tómbola wheel! Five happy members left the meeting with prizes. Fellowships like this have a way of bonding us. So are the COP events and activities like formation talks, workshops, retreats and social get-togethers. For information regarding COP events, you may go to the COP Facebook page.

Christmas Video for the Monks

Upon the invitation of the Cistercian monks at St. Benedict’s Monastery in Snowmass, Colorado, COP along with other centering prayer groups worldwide greeted the community by zoom. Wearing red outfits, the COP group led by Len Hizon, gave their happiest smiles to the monks and greeted them with much mirth, joy and the best of the Christmas season. You can watch the short video here.

RECOMMITMENT 2020

By Tess Colayco

On March 7, 2020, just before the lockdown due to the pandemic, COP had it’s Annual Recommitment Day. It started at 9:00 AM with holy Mass at the Blessed Sacrament chapel in Don Bosco parish, presided by Fr. Greg Bicomong, parish priest. It was a contemplative Mass with two periods of centering prayer, each lasting 10 minutes, after the Gospel and Communion. After the Mass, we had the traditional practice of “Taking a Stand” as taught to us by the late Fr. Basil Pennington. Essentially we pronounce before a priest our desire for a particular “virtue” or spiritual disposition that we want to develop or live deeper in our life. Individually we approach the priest and declare our ”stand”, then he blesses us with holy oil.

After the Mass, we proceeded to Roozen Hall for a program where we were reminded about the objective of our annual recommitment activity. It was to renew the vision and mission of Contemplative Outreach, and to practice in daily life "the contemplative dimension of the Gospel" which is expressed in a deepening of our relationship with God, and a practical caring for others.” At the same time, it was to reiterate our full support to our faith community and to each other in our spiritual journey.

Tess Castaneda, head of the Socials Committee in the Circle of Service (COS), emceed the program. This year we did not have a guest speaker. Instead we watched the video or Fr. Keating, “From the Mind to the Heart". This was after the individual members of the COS gave their reports regarding their respective committees which included activities that were done in the past year, as well as their plans for the coming year, 2021.

Then it was time for fellowship among the members. It was bonding time with the members from the different centering prayer groups (CPG’s) that interacted with each other. A hearty snack was served simultaneously with some parlor games being played, complete with prizes for the winners.

Recommitment 2020 ended on a happy note, the members bonding with each other as they renewed their intention of “living our ordinary lives with extraordinary love.” For after all, centering prayer is not just a method of prayer but a way of life.

AN ANCIENT BYZANTINE PRAYER

Serene light shining in the ground of my being,
Draw me to yourself,
Draw me past the snares of the senses,
Out of the mazes of the mind,
Free me from symbols and words
That I may discover the Signified,
The word unspoken,
In the darkness that veils the ground of my being.

REMEMBERING “MONSI”

By Chuchi Daroy

(As I settled down to write this, I said a little prayer to Monsi for guidance and inspiration. Then a whiff of blissful joy came upon me as if he were next to me and smiling approvingly.)

Monsignor Atilano Oracion, “Monsi”, as he was fondly called, was a faithful spiritual adviser to Contemplative Outreach Philippines and a devoted advocate of Centering Prayer and Lectio Divina. From the moment he first heard of Centering Prayer from Lita Salinas, he would follow her everywhere she would share the prayer with. He finally got her to give a Retreat to the Seminary for Theologians for the whole Province of Quezon and Laguna.

He would also attend the formation talks that Lita would give to COP members four times a month at Santuario de San Antonio Parish. He would be up as early as 4:00 AM, leaving Lucena at 5:00 AM to attend the formation talks in Makati at 9:30 AM. Monsi loved to bring native delicacies from Quezon, like espasol and flat, thin biscuits called “apas,” which he would share with the COP members and guests at the snack breaktime during these formation talks. The COP community looked forward to his pasalubong treats with great gusto.

Monsi was a very nice person...comfortable with being himself, simple, humble and kind-hearted. His presence at COP gatherings was a great consolation as he was always ready to say Mass, give advice and share in the fellowship. He would celebrate contemplative Masses on special occasions that were solemn yet full of light and love. He would be there during Recommitment Day, celebrating Mass and presiding over the Recommitment ceremony, and staying for the program and fellowship that followed. He would say Mass during our Christmas fellowship and join in the camaraderie that ensued. He was happily content with the modest stipend COP would give him and would have to be forced to accept love offerings from other COP members, protesting that he had already received a stipend from COP. Monsi was a generous soul indeed. At the wake of a COP member's parent, he celebrated Mass even if it meant travelling from Lucena to Manila. At the golden wedding anniversary of Lita, he brought his theologians from the seminary to sing during the Mass.

Dedette shares: “I will never forget the time when I assisted Charit in an Introductory Workshop and we stayed for 2 nights at the seminary in Lucena where Monsi was assigned then. He was a marvelous host - so solicitous about our comfort and feeding us with the specialty food of Lucena for our last dinner and for breakfast before going home. "May pabaon pa siya, lukban Iongganisa" for me which he knew I loved. His funeral Mass was so impressive with so many people in attendance, showing that he was well loved. The eulogy given by his successor captured Monsi's character to a T, so simple, so thoughtful and so giving. After the Mass, before going home, his sister gave us "pabaon" of "espasol". His sister said "pinagbilin yan ni Monsi. Sabi niya gusto niyo ito.”

Indeed, Monsi is much loved by COP and we sorely miss his faithful presence. Yet we are comforted by the thought that he is in a much better place from where he looks upon us, and intercedes for us.

(Thank you to Lita Salinas, Tess Colayco, Charit Montalban, Anna Marie Llanos, Billie Trinidad, Doris See, and Dedette Gamboa for sharing their memories of Monsi.)

RETREATS, WORKSHOPS, FORMATION CLASSES AND OTHER ACTIVITIES

The first CP Introductory Workshop for 2019 was held at Don Bosco Parish, Makati, on Feb. 16, 2019. Eight people attended the workshop which was facilitated by Billie Trinidad and Rita Go. Making sure that everything would go smoothly in the AVR (audio visual room), Betty Florendo, head of Retreats and Workshops, staffed the activity.

The next Introductory workshop was held on Feb. 23 at Don Bosco Parish, Sta. Rosa, Laguna. Facilitators were Susan Rivera and Chickie Ferraren. There were eight participants.

Charit Montalban, one of the earliest commissioned presenters, gave a talk on Centering Prayer to a group of ladies from Our Lady of Fatima Parish in Parañaque on Holy Tuesday, April 16, 2019. There were twenty-four ladies who were very interested to learn Centering Prayer so much so that Charit helped them organize themselves into a weekly Centering Prayer group.

There was a Deepening Retreat on March 29 - 31, 2019 at the St. Scholastica’s Center for Spirituality in Tagaytay City. Thirty participants spent the time in prayer, silence and reflection. The group also watched a video of Fr. Thomas Keating, “A Life Surrendered to Love.” Staffing the retreat were Betty Florendo and Terly Chikiamco.

On May 17 - May 19, twenty-two attended a Centering Prayer Introductory Workshop at the same venue. Among them were three CP workshop presenters-in-training. Charit Montalban facilitated the retreat while Betty Florendo took care of the administrative and other staffing matters.

There was an Introductory Centering Prayer Workshop held at Don Bosco Parish, Sta. Rosa, Laguna on May 25, 2019 sponsored by two centering prayer groups: Don Bosco, Sta. Rosa, and Pedro Calungsod. Workshop presenters were Susan Rivera and Chickie Ferraren. Thirteen people attended the workshop which was staffed by members of the sponsoring centering prayer groups.

The next Introductory Retreat will be held on Aug. 16 - 18, 2019 also at St. Scholastica’s Center for Spirituality, Tagaytay City.

A Presenters Training Workshop was held a few months ago for some COP members who have been doing the prayer and living its spirituality for several years. Eventually the four presenters-in-training will conduct CP introductory workshops. Facilitating the training were Lita Salinas, COP Formator, and Charit Montalban.

Len Hizon, member of the Santuario de San Antonio centering prayer group was the guest in “Headstart”, a talk show on ANC channel TV hosted by Karen Davila. This was held last Holy Wed., April 13, live on Ch 27. Len shared with the audience some basic information about CP, the method and its fruits in one’s daily life. For one whole hour, Len and Karen had an engaging and inspiring conversation about contemplative prayer. Audience feedback about the one-hour interview was very positive.

Every 4th Monday of the month, there is a formation talk for COP members at Santuario de San Antonio Parish. The regular speaker is Lita Salinas, COP Formator. Once in a while a resource person is invited such as the formation talk on March 25, 2019, which was given by Fr. Ted Garcia, S.J.

“Pause, Reflect, Turn” was the title of the presentation which was about the importance of pausing and reflecting on what’s happening in one’s life here and now, then turning or moving towards the direction of spiritual growth and transformation.

Some nuggets of wisdom from Fr. Ted’s talk:

  • An unreflected life is not worth living. A personal inventory/accounting/review of our life is important in our human development.

  • Embrace our story...acknowledge our gifts and limitations, our shadows.

  • God is in our experiences.

  • Don’t be pulled down by emotions. Like thoughts, we can let them go.

  • Be aware of exaggerated emotional reactions, over-involvements.

  • We need Jesus who identifies with our pain and can liberate us from them if we let Him be God in our lives.

  • Be open...do not judge. Just pay attention to what “is”.

  • Celebrate diversity... respect differences in each other.

  • A problem well defined is half solved.

  • Where is the Lord in my present life journey? Where am I in relation to Him?

  • There is a little child inside each of us ... listen to her... she needs to feel safe.

  • Define what are our deepest convictions, values, what’s important for us (i.e., esteem, creativity, love, etc.)

  • Identify graced moments when you felt God’s presence.

  • What takes me far or near to God?

  • Strong energies/inner drives/obsessions bring us closer/farther away from God... (i.e, materialism, worry, gluttony, narcissism, etc.)

  • We center our life in our dignity as children of God. Like Peter, Christ invites us to transcend/rise above the struggles of our life.

  • God wants us to return to our true identity/true self....

The next Formation Class will be on July 22, 2019 with Lita Salinas as speaker.

IN MEMORIAM

Fr. Thomas’ final resting place at St. Benedict’s Monastery, Snowmass, Colorado
(Mar 7, 1923 – Oct. 25, 2018)
 

In the past year 2 years, eight COP members passed on. We remember them in prayer and unity as a faith community bonded in the heart of God forever.
 

Daisy Vergara
August 13, 1946 – November 18, 2017
Presentation of the Child Jesus CPG

Grace Plazo
March 10, 1948 – July 27, 2018
St. Ignatius CPG

Josephine “Ping” Ong
August 19, 1939 – November 25, 2018
St. Michael CPG

Meny de la Rosa
May 1, 1941 – April 29, 2019
Santuario de San Antonio CPG

Josephine “Jo” Gonzalez
Feb. 25, 1951 – June 17, 2019
Parañaque, Las Pinas, CPG
  Thelma Antonio
-------------------- – June 26, 2019
Santuario de San Antonio CPG (up to early 2000. Thelma eventually joined the Carmelite Third Order Lay Community).

Monsignor Atilano Oracion, “Monsi”
Oct. 5, 1939 – July 26, 2019
Spiritual adviser to Contemplative Outreach Philippines

Lil Dacanay
Jan. 5, 1943 – Jan 23, 2021

 


 

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