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Catholic Spiritual Direction

Mysticism: Who’s Called to it?

May 11, 2013 by  
Filed under Mary Kaufmann, Mysticism

Mysticism?

Many times when we hear of mysticism we think extraordinary phenomenon for the chosen few, the Saints: Saint Catherine of Siena’s visions or living image prayer, Saint Faustina’s locutions or dictated words from the Lord, Saint Padre Pio’s stigmata, the visible wounds of Christ in Pio’s flesh. We may feel discouraged for our experiences don’t match these spiritual giants.

However, Father Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P. author of The Three Ages of the Interior Life promulgates something profound, “Reality, as God made it, is far richer than all our limited and narrow conceptions. Mystical life is not essentially extraordinary but something eminent in the normal way of sanctity for all of us!” What does he mean, “mysticism is the normal way of sanctity?”

Mysticism with a face!

To answer this, we turn to the life of Servant of God, Elisabeth Leseur (1866-1914), a wealthy French lay woman, whose journal includes Elisabeth Leseurno reports of mystical transports or spiritual experiences outside the norm.  What sets Elisabeth apart was her ability to offer her life as living sacrifice for the very ones causing her suffering. Although she endured many physical sufferings: infertility, intestinal abscesses, and finally breast cancer that claimed her life, what crucified her  most was the spiritual isolation and ridicule that she endured at the hand of her atheist friends and husband, Felix, who was a leader in the French anti-clerical atheistic movement.

Elisabeth’s daily thoughts from 1899-1906 reveal to us the climate of her interior life, a mystical life of infused insights into daily life and ministry to others. She shares, “Our outer life is the reproduction of our inner life, and the visible part of us reflects what is unseen; we radiate our souls, so to say, and, when they are centers of light and warmth, other souls need only to be brought into contact with them in order to be warmed and enlightened. We give out, often unknown to ourselves, what we carry within us; let us strive to increase daily this reserve store of faith and quiet charity.” She lived deeply grounded in the unseen presence of God within so she could radiate Him to others around her without speaking of Him, which would have violated their sensibilities.

By making daily flexible resolutions for prayer and virtues, any excessive emotional sensitivies or tendency to self focus brought about by her physical maladies became sacrifices for others. She wrote, “It is only in heaven that we will realize how wonderfully God made use of the labor of these little workers: the multitude of small duties, the daily acts of self-sacrifice, the acceptance of pain, offered to the heavenly Father, poor worthless metal transformed by God into gold for others, that pure gold of love enriching others and ourselves” (February 12, 1912).

In a letter to her spiritual friend, Sr. Goby, Elisabeth wrote, “Let us think of ourselves as small, insignificant stones that God has placed where he wished in his grand building plan. No matter how insignificant we think we are, we still desire to reach the heights where Truth, Goodness, Love, Beauty gently attract those who don’t feel at home in this world” (January 24, 1912.)  Elisabeth epitomizes what Father Lagrange describes, that “pure contemplation is like a wine of exquisite flavor which lifts those who drink it out of themselves.”

After her death, her husband, Felix started reading her journal. Animated by the power of her sacrifices for him, he was torn at the heart in realizing how his ridicule and indifference to the Faith had wounded Elisabeth. One year following her death, he converted back to Catholicism and in 1923 was ordained a Dominican priest. He offered spiritual exercises with her spirituality to Venerable Fulton Sheen, who preached about them in his television program, A Life Worth Living.

Elisabeth shows us, as Father Lagrange suggested, that in truth “reality, as God made it, is far richer than all our limited and narrow conceptions, and in the words of St. Ignatius of Loyola, that “few people suspect what God would make of them if they placed no obstacle to His work.” Mysticism, rather than always involving extraordinary spiritual phenomenon, is about love for God and our neighbor in the concrete. It’s something within reach of any Baptized soul who seeks to empty themselves of any preoccupations “that are useless for salvation, obstacles within that hamper Christ’s loving action through them. Even when the extraordinary is manifest, according to Father Garrigou-Lagrange, it is a “divine sign given to draw us from our lethargy and make us understand what is most profound and most lofty in an ordinary Christian life when the soul is truly docile to the Holy Spirit.”  We can become “ living stones, edifices of Spirit, a holy priesthood that offers spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ”  (1 Pt 2:4-5), living mystics that beget spiritual life to others.

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About Mary Kaufmann

Ms. Mary Gannon Kaufmann, M.A., M.S. is Director of Incarnate Institute and co-founder of Word of the Vine Online. Through Word of the Vine Online Ministries, Mary offers face to face and also online interactive retreats. She teaches internationally on vocations, priesthood, the role of the laity, the Theology of the Body and topics of spiritual growth. Information can be found at www.incarnateinstitute.org. Mary holds a post-graduate certificate in Spiritual Direction and Retreats from Creighton University in Omaha, NE, a Masters in Theology from Loras College in Dubuque, IA and a Masters in Nutrition from the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities. She attends classes with her husband John, who is in formation for the Permanent Diaconate for the Archdiocese of Dubuque. They live in Cedar Rapids, Iowa with their six children.

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  • LizEst

    “Mysticism, rather than always involving extraordinary spiritual
    phenomenon, is about love for God and our neighbor in the concrete.” This is so true. Rather than seeking extraordinary experiences, the Christian life is about Christ’s extraordinary love for us…and living that out in spirit and in truth in our daily lives of witness to Him who saves us and calls us to Himself.

    This was beautiful…and so timely, too, as Vicki Burbach is about to add “Secret Diary of Elizabeth Leseur” to our book club list of books to read. God bless you, Mary…and thank you so much for this wonderful post.

    • marygannon

      Liz, Don’t you think that when God gives some extra ordinary phenomenon it is to show the rest of us the deeper reality that we all are called to live from Baptism?

      • LizEst

        Absolutely! You are correct. These are gifts to build up the Church. Some, however, seek these things for prideful reasons, among others. The Holy Spirit breathes where He wills and God generally gives these gifts to the humble who then subject them to the authority of the Church and to what She believes and teaches.

        • marygannon

          I wonder too, as a sign of discernment, if someone is drawn to pride, it may not be a true mystical gift. When someone stands before the mystery of God, they can only truly find their own smallness!

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  • http://www.facebook.com/joanna.farrugia.9 Joanna Farrugia

    I loved this article especially the part where it speaks of “Our outer life is the reproduction of our inner life, and the visible part of us reflects what is unseen; we radiate our souls, so to say, and, when they are centers of light and warmth, other souls need only to be brought into contact with them in order to be warmed and enlightened. We give out, often unknown to ourselves, what we carry within us; let us strive to increase daily this reserve store of faith and quiet charity.” This is so true because I have actually seen it happen. Also, the most important aspect of mysticism is love of God but even when there are extraordinary phenomena present, even then love of God still remains the first priority. The true mystic does not flaunt the extraordinary gifts God might bestow on others but simply use them for the good of others. I loved this article!

    • Becky Ward

      Amen!

      • LizEst

        Hey Becky – Happy Mother’s Day to you!

        • Becky Ward

          Thank you.

    • LizEst

      Joanna – Happy Mother’s Day!

  • Peggy

    We give out, often unknown to ourselves, what we carry within us; So very true. As one learns more about oneself, and is drawn closer to the Mystical Body of Christ so we can carry Christ in our hearts, one cannot help but think what we are capable of doing when we walk with Christ.

  • Jackie Barry

    There have been many times over the last several months where I found myself so wounded by the pain of not having a spouse that understood my devotion to the Catholic faith that it took me away from being the disciple I have been called to be. One cannot be about the work of the Lord when caught up in self pity. This is a great article that speaks to me of what an experience of mysticism really is. Thank you for this and I look forward to reading more about Elizabeth Leseur.

    • LizEst

      Jackie – When one is in a situation like this, one’s discipleship is being that face of God to one’s spouse within this difficult situation. Your husband is so blessed to be ministered to, by you, in such a personal, intimate way. He, likewise, affords you the opportunity to put your faith in the Lord into practice. Christ has many disguises and this is one of them. God bless you, Jackie…and Happy Mother’s Day!

  • Jeanette

    This article really strikes home for me. I came back to our dear Lord, in an extraordinary way, 5 years after being married to my atheist husband. We have been married for 41 years now. I’m still praying every day that he will be converted and fast on Fridays to that end. I know that my life is God’s Will for me right now. I’m sure that many others as well as myself in our book club can learn much from Elisabeth Leseur and her ‘daily thoughts’ in the “Secret Diary of Elizabeth Leseur” so I am hopeful that we will include this book in our list to read. Thank you for this Mary Kaufmann. God bless you!

    • LizEst

      Your husband is blessed to have you as his wife, Jeanette. You are the face of Christ to him in a most personal, intimate way. It’s a special ministry that only you can fulfill. Yes, Vicki has said she is going to include this book in our reading list. God bless you, Jeanette…and Happy Mother’s Day!

      • Jeanette

        Thank you for your kind comments. Happy Mother’s Day to you too!

        • LizEst

          Thank you, Jeanette.

    • marygannon

      Thanks Jeanette,
      Elisabeth Leseur helps us see the power in our faithfulness. On Earth, she never saw the results of her prayer for her husband in the concrete. There is a beautiful article about their marriage (Elisabeth and Felix) called” A Marriage Saved in Heaven” by Robin Mass. You could google it I think! Blessings!

      • Wretched Sinner

        Dear Elisabeth,
        Thank you for your article. I was just thinking about this yesterday “On Earth, she never saw the results of her prayer for her husband in the concrete.” I often think about the saints that encountered so much resistance and pain from their own family and loved ones. How many even within their own religious order. Jesus Himself – ultimately the epitome of rejection. He saw the very depths of the heart of all those He came in contact and He knew exactly what kind, amount of grace was needed to convert every single heart. Yet not every single heart did get converted to see who He really was. Couldn’t he so infuse love into the high priest so that he wouldn’t ask for His crucifixion? Couldn’t he have infused just the right grace into the heart of all the sinners that asked Him hard questions and challenged Him? Why didn’t He do so? Why didn’t He just convert the entire world? Why do some like Mary Magdalen get His tender words “go and sin no more” and others “go away saddened” Clearly the fault can’t be upon Him. There is a mystery here, something deep in the heart that either asks God to show who He is and this mysterious plea is answered in the same mysterious way by grace. A dialogue deep within the soul that is only between creature and Creator. We can plead for those we love we can earn graces for them we can be examples par excellence of holiness – yet the last and final say is between each heart and God. It really isn’t up for us to decide when, where and even whether we’ll see and witness any fruit from our suffering. Right? Our duty isn’t to suffer then sort of look for the fruits. Like taking a test then waiting for the results to take home to mom. Mrs. Leseur exemplifies this, she lived how many years praying and suffering only to die in the arms of her still atheist husband. Her sorrow was to the bitter end. No sign of relief or that it would bear any fruit. Just the complete trust and hopeful surrender that God will hear her prayers.

        • marygannon

          Dear WS,
          So beautifully stated “There is a mystery here, something deep in the heart that either asks God to show who He is and this mysterious plea is answered in the same mysterious way by grace.” It seems to me that it’s a mystery of love. God respects our free will to choose the good. This makes it love I think! Elisabeth had a spiritual light that her husband would respond to grace and come back to Catholicism. She even shared this with Felix before her death. This still took faith on Elisabeth’s part for she died in the hope of this inner light. I, too, wonder what Felix’s reaction was upon hearing her prophecy!
          Good insight too about how the Cross is a necessary element in the Christian walk…so we bear fruit in abundance. Sometimes the prayer of Jabez..”.enrich me Lord and expand the borders of my tent” obscures the unavoidable dynamic of the Christian life. Don’t you think that, yes, God enriches us and expands our borders, but it’s not necessarily a feel good Faith, but a gift to weather the storm faithfully into the Death and Resurrection of Jesus in the concrete of our own lives. Blessings,
          Mary

          • Camila

            Dear Mary,
            Yes I agree with you that “God enriches us and expands our borders, but it’s not necessarily a feel good Faith, but a gift to weather the storm faithfully.” I have been thinking, if we follow the teachings of the Church, there is no way we can live a “feel good faith” no way. The narrow way can’t feel good, otherwise it wouldn’t be called the narrow way. St. Faustina talks about this in her diary, how so many walk through life happy and gay only to plunge into the unforeseen (to them) abysm at their death. While the ones that walk the narrow path are full of tears and suffering to arrive at the most splendid and marvelous garden where all the sorrows are no more. Maybe that’s why God gave us 5 sorrowful mysteries… There are days we live in agony, others we feel the sting of scourge, others we feel the piercing crown of sorrow that seems to overwhelm, others we feel the weight of having to slowly carry the cross one step at a time on the verge of imagining we can’t give even a half step forward, and finally the death, where we surrender.
            What comes to my mind is that through whatever moment one is living through we hold fast to the helmet of salvation, we throw the anchor of faith, we climb the rope of hope to achieve the crowning joy of charity!

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  • Camila

    It hurts, so much.

    I’ve been collecting quotes on suffering that helps me live in this gnawing reality of suffering. Maybe it can help someone else…

    “If you are willing to bear serenely the trial of being displeasing to yourself, then you will be for Jesus a pleasant place of shelter.” – St. Therese

    “If you want a secret encounter of the heart with Jesus, serenely accept your displeasure with your “self” and rejoice that the feelings of inadequacy that you suffer are the clever disguise under which God has decided to work in your heart.” – Dr. Anthony Lilles

    “Feel the pain and don’t run away.” – Dr. Raymond Lloyd Richmond

    “I have come to love the darkness. – For I believe now that it is a part, a very very small part of Jesus’ darkness and pain on earth.” – Blessed Mother Teresa

    “Then when you feel miserable inside, look at the cross and you will know what is happening. Suffering, pain, sorrow, humiliations, feelings of loneliness, are nothing but the kiss of Jesus, a sign that you have come so close that he can kiss you.” – Blessed Mother Teresa (from the 33 day to Morning Glory)

    I particularly loved Blessed Mother Teresa’s insight of the kiss. -Oh Dear Jesus, help me embrace your tender kiss with complete confidence that in doing so I am embracing your most holy will for me and for those I love. Mother Mary, you so perfectly lived God’s will in your life, please Mother, teach me to live serenely, like you, in this earthly exile! Until we can join you and your Son forever in heaven!

  • LizEst

    Happy Mother’s Day WS!

    • Wretched Sinner

      Thanks LizEst! You’re sweet.

  • marygannon

    It is a great mystery of how God loves us. At times, I seem to apply a human mode of loving to God. A good parent tries to help their child avoid deep pain. But with God, He sees how we fill work with the suffering to bring out our deepest goodness. It is a mystery! By remaining faithful in the midst of distress, we make leap year progress much greater than if we just faithfully endured in less challenging conditions….and His grace is always there sustaining us. In these kind of times, I have thought of Mother Teresa’s words, “All right Jesus! Don’t kiss me so much!”

    • Rachel Gehring

      Love this concept of the universal call to mysticism. Discovering and accepting that God wishes to communicate Himself to ordinary folks like me was a real turning point in my spiritual life and life of prayer.

  • Jose

    This is a great article and moved me very much! Do you have any recommendations on what books to read by or about her? I know of “Secret Diary of Elizabeth Leseur”, but any suggestions or others are welcome.

    Mary you wrote “She lived deeply grounded in the unseen presence of God within so she could radiate Him to others around her without speaking of Him, which would have violated their sensibilities.” Do you have any suggestions on how to do this, or recommended any books or prayers to help one achieve this? Myself and I’m sure many others, feel the same way she did being in “spiritual isolation and ridicule” from my spouse, family, and friends on a regular basis. Any help here would be appreciated! God bless!

    • marygannon

      Jose, Another great book about Elisabeth Leseur is Elisabeth Leseur:Selected Writings,translated and edited by Janet K. Ruffing,RSM, Paulist Press, New York, 2005. Your second question is a good one. I also feel challenged to do this too, for, in this day and age, many aren’t interested or able to speak of God directly. My sense is that as we grow in humility, we present fewer obstacles to his radiating presence. I like the Litany of Humility to cultivate this sense of being offered to God for others!

      • Jose

        Mary, many thanks for this information for the books and prayer. I just prayed the Litany of Humility and felt its healing presence almost immediately. My prayers are with you and please do the same for me if you don’t mind! Peace and blessings!

  • marygannon

    WS Que Bueno! Onward!

    • Wretched Sinner

      Estimada Maria,

      “Que Bueno!” ?!?!!!!
      Vamos a escribir espanol de ahora en adelante!?! ;-)
      Que bueno que te gusto el comentario!

      Saludos,
      - WS

      • LizEst

        WS – Un consejo: por favor cuando escribes en español, es preferible añadir la traducción de inmediato para que otros/otras pueden seguirla. ¡Gracias!

        (WS – A little advice: please, when you write in Spanish, it is preferable to immediately add the translation so that others can follow along. Thank you!)

        • Wretched Sinner

          Great idea! Thank you so much for the tip – it didn’t even occur to me! Gracias! (Thank you!)

          • LizEst

            ¡De nada! (You’re welcome!)

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