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Spending time with the mystics

“Do not set expectations for growing in prayerful encounter with God,” says Kathryn Jean Lopez. “Trust him and stay close to the sacraments.”

Kathryn Jean Lopez, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute and editor-at-large of National Review Online, is the author of "A Year With the Mystics: Visionary Wisdom for Daily Living." (CNS photo/Tan Books)

I’ve had a hunch for quite some time that more people than you might suppose have had mystical experiences or, if not quite that, at least something resembling them, and lately a quick search of the internet turned up evidence for that. There’s even an institute devoted to “research and education” on mysticism.

Admittedly, though, much depends on how you define “mystical experience.” One survey found 35% of the respondents agreeing that they had sometimes felt “very close to a powerful, spiritual force that seemed to lift you out of yourself.” That might be a mystical experience, but it also might be the experience of looking up at a starry sky and saying, “Gosh!”

A more rigorous account comes from the late Father Jordan Aumann, O.P., a theological expert on mysticism. The “first requirement” for genuine mystical experience, he wrote, is “immediate contact with God.” There are degrees of intensity to the experience, he added, but any true mystical experience comes from God.

All this is worth bearing in mind when approaching a new, novel, and very attractive—both physically and in its contents—prayer book assembled by Kathryn Jean Lopez. Bearing the title A Year With the Mystics (Saint Benedict Press), this is not a how-to-do-it manual for becoming a mystic, but it does bring readers into the company of genuine mystics and other holy persons, and—who knows?—it might dispose some users to receive this particular gift if God were to give it.

“Let him bring you to a peace that surpasses all understanding,” Lopez, a widely published author and certified spiritual director, advises, adding modestly: “I want you to spend some time with some friends of mine who have helped me know our God better.”

She concedes that not all the sources quoted in her book are full-fledged mystics, but all have had, and express, what might be called leanings in that direction which they wish to share with others. That aside, they’re a diverse lot in respect to time, place, and circumstance. They include St. Teresa of Avila and Dorothy Day, St. John of the Cross and Mother Angelica, St. John Paul II and Caryll Houselander, St. Pio of Pietrelcina and St. Thomas Aquinas, Catherine de Hueck Doherty and St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein), and many others both ancient and modern.

What they have to say is sometimes bland, but also sometimes startling, as when St. Jane Frances de Chantal, foundress of the Visitation order, advises a correspondent to cultivate “a calm, peaceful uselessness” or when the anonymous 14th century author of The Cloud of Unknowing remarks matter-of-factly that “God may be loved, but not thought.”

The volume is organized on a day-to-day basis, with each excerpt followed by a brief consideration and closing prayer by Lopez. Although this adds up to enough material for a year, the days aren’t dated and readers can use the contents pretty much when and in whatever order they wish. In this the book has a family resemblance to the mystics themselves, who tend to be a spontaneous and unregimented lot, yet singularly open to the promptings of the Holy Spirit.

“Do not set expectations for growing in prayerful encounter with God,” Lopez counsels. “Trust him and stay close to the sacraments. At a time when people describe themselves as ‘spiritual but not religious,’ the mystics draw us into deeper prayer at the heart of the Church. And that, whatever our station in life, is exactly where God wants us.”


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About Russell Shaw 211 Articles
Russell Shaw was secretary for public affairs of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops/United States Catholic Conference from 1969 to 1987. He is the author of 20 books, including Nothing to Hide, American Church: The Remarkable Rise, Meteoric Fall, and Uncertain Future of Catholicism in America, and, most recently, Eight Popes and the Crisis of Modernity.

3 Comments

  1. Very good article. I have encountered the strong presence powerful reflections which in my secular mind I interpreted until I learn to just breathe in and let go. To me, it is an influx of peace. Not ordinary peace but that peace of Christ we give/take at Mass.
    I don’t think it is mystic,I feel it is jolt of strength

  2. I have known a mystic in my life who is now a servant od God and being researched at the Vatican. I have had many experiences my self over my life that I know was from God and I answered him.

  3. Daily Eucharistic adoration was started at our church after the 7:30 am Mass until midnight. I signed up for 10 to 11 pm Sundays. Initially strange things were happening in the church. The demons were not happy and tried to stop it. In my hour I frequently had one or two votive candles flare up, with flames perhaps rising a foot above the candle and the glass candle holders breaking. We purchased more expensive candle holder, to no avail so went back to the less expensive brand.
    We also had a lot of noise. One time it sounded as if a large group of people were marching up the center aisle.
    One night while alone I felt the presence of demons near me and I thought of the power of Satin and I became exceedingly frightened. I prayed fervently and I perceived this image. It was my soul surrounded by a golden, radiant fire of Gods love, and these words came to me,

    “Your thoughts are foolish. My love surrounds and sustains you every instance of
    your existence. No true harm can befall you from without.”

    Neither before this experience nor since have I witnessed votive candle acting in this way. I probably observed several dozen of these flaming up votive candles over several months while at Eucharistic Adoration. After several months of this activity the manifestations ceased and our Eucharistic Adoration was extended to 24 hrs a day. Neither before this or after this have I seen votive candles acting in this way. And once again our church is silent and peaceful. This happened about 20 years ago.

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