A Funeral Mass was offered Nov. 3 at St. Joseph’s Abbey in Spencer, Mass., for Trappist Father Thomas Keating, a leading figure in the centering prayer movement that got its start in the 1970s. He died Oct. 25 at the abbey. He was 95.
He had been abbot there for two decades in the 1960s and 1970s. Father Keating, according to his nephew, Peter Jones, had been in poor health for several years.
Pledging to God to become a priest if he survived a serious illness he had in childhood, Joseph Parker Kirlin Keating, the son and grandson of maritime lawyers, entered the Cistercians’ Monastery Our Lady of the Valley in Valley Falls, R.I., in 1944 and was ordained a priest in 1949. He took the name Thomas due to his admiration of St. Thomas Aquinas.
After the Rhode Island monastery burned down in 1950, the monks moved to the Spencer monastery. Father Keating stayed there until he was invited to help establish a new monastery in Snowmass, Colo. He stayed until 1961, when he was elected abbot at St. Joseph’s.
He turned to centering prayer—a technique of praying silently to God without words—based on the encouragement issued by St. Paul VI during the Second Vatican Council to rediscover the contemplative tradition. Father Keating returned to Snowmass and helped found Contemplative Outreach for centering prayer practitioners in 1984, serving as its president,1985-1999.
The irony for the Trappist is that, to promote centering prayer, he left the confines of the monastery to speak at conferences worldwide.
“People are feeling a deeper desire for prayer and the structure to support it,” he said in Omaha in 1990.
“Human nature has a dimension that requires silence,” Father Keating added. “The tendency had been to put people interested in the contemplative life in a convent or monastery to protect them from us—or us from them.”
Father Keating was a prolific author. The Contemplative Outreach website has a page listing 28 books. His titles included “Awakenings” and “Manifesting God,” and he co-wrote “Finding Grace at the Center: The Beginning of Centering Prayer.”
Several of his books made the Catholic best-seller lists, including “Journey to the Center,” “Invitation to Love,” “Open Mind, Open Heart.” The latter was translated into Spanish, and “Invitacian a Amar” was a Spanish-language Catholic best-seller in 2005.
Father Keating was profiled in the 1996 PBS series “Searching for God in America,” and was the subject of a 2013 documentary made by his nephew called “Thomas Keating: A Rising Tide of Silence.”
It was from reading the priest’s “Open Mind, Open Heart” that a California man, Mike Kelley, decided he wanted to share centering prayer with the inmates at Folsom Prison. Paul, one of the “lifers” at Folsom, recalled the day Kelley came to talk to the men about centering prayer as “an answer to one of our prayers.” Hundreds of Folsom inmates took centering prayer classes from him.—CNS