Jesus is Calling You
to Become a Mystic
by: Deacon Paul Rooney
I suspect that most people think that the mystical life is for “those other folks,” I.e., that amorphous group of holy people that our imaginations connect with a halo, a starry far-off look, and perhaps a prie-dieu. I also think that it would surprise those very same “most people” to discover that everyone is called to the mystical life.
I have been meditating on these words of Jesus: “Unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3, NRSV; Wednesday, 19th Ord. “B”). Certainly he is talking about both the physical life and the spiritual life. Jesus is calling us first to convert from our life of selfish inclinations, and abandon ourselves to Him. It is a path to eternal life easy to describe; but it is also difficult to persevere on such a path. Yet that is precisely what the spiritual life is all about: seeking and surrendering to the God who dwells within us. Thus the advice of Jesus translates simply into conversion and new life (cf. CCC 2784-5).
I desire to share with you in this short article some pertinent words and thoughts about this mystical life. They really originate from the great Italian mystic, St. Paul of the Cross (d. 1775), as well as members of his religious order (the Passionist Fathers). They resonated with me too much to keep them for myself.
We all know that birth comes before death. Nevertheless, in the life of the spirit, it is just the opposite: mystical death comes before mystical life! You will remember that even the Martyrs are remembered on the anniversary of their physical death, not birth. For St. Paul of the Cross, death is not an end, but a beginning. Mystical death was the fullness of detachment, from all that is created, all that is not God. Mystical life is the new life that begins after our death to self-gratification.
Then comes the logical question: aren’t we supposed to love everyone, as Jesus taught us, and love the world that God created, and take care of it so that it will serve the needs of all? Mystical language tries to describe what is experienced, and does not always use terms that are explained for everyone’s understanding. Mystics like Paul of the Cross speak of the goal of living in the uncreated Good, God himself. When we abandon ourselves, totally detached from the contentment found in things of the world, we are in the area of pure faith. We seek His divine pleasure, not our own contentment. As you can see, Paul of the Cross focuses on true detachment: not so much from creatures or people, but from our own satisfaction from them, from our own instinctive self-seeking.
Paul of the Cross connects both mystical death and this new mystical life with the concept of spiritual childhood (Matt. 18:3 cited above). He asks each of us to choose to surrender ourself to the divine will, abandoning ourself like a baby on the loving bosom of God. What a wonderful image: becoming a baby! Babies are docile: they let themselves be carried everywhere by their mother. They also have total freedom from care; they know and expect that the mother will take care of absolutely everything they need. Such is our God!
Then comes the surprise: Paul connects spiritual childhood with the Passion of Jesus; he says that we can understand the Passion only if we are childlike. Non-Christians think the cross is folly (1 Cor 1:21-24); but a childlike spirit “catches the message of love and doesn’t look for any other reasons” than love. So Paul urges us to become like trusting little children. God will “nourish us with the milk and most sweet wine of holy love, which inebriates” us with a “holy drunkenness.”
How can I react to such love? I can respond to God’s invitation to become a mystic. I must willingly die to the selfish satisfactions that I seek every day, become like a little child, and drink the milk and wine of His love. I can also pray daily to the Holy Spirit that He transform me into the image of Jesus, an image and reality that is also one of a childlike mystic. That prayer is in accord with His will, and therefore it will be answered!
Deacon Paul Rooney with his lovely wife Patricia
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