St. Joseph Catholic Church
The great spiritual problem of the day is being “like fish out of water.” A life without spiritual regularity drifts through time with little to really hang onto when life most needs an anchor. Instead, we often get caught up in someone else’s agenda most of our lives. We put the cell aside for work and its never-ending deadlines. We forget the cell when we need it most and make play a poor substitute for thought and prayer. We think that we can run our legs off doing, going, finding, socializing, and still stay stolid and serene in the midst of the pressure of it all. And then we find ourselves staring at the ceiling one night and thinking to ourselves, “There must be more to life than this.”
—from the book In God's Holy Light: Wisdom from the Desert Monastics
Clearly one of the pillars of the spiritual life, as far as the Desert Monastics were concerned, was a time and place for reflection. A cell. A place to which we can retire in order to find our way back to our best ideals, our fullest selves, our life with God. A physical place, not a mental one, where we are truly alone and truly in peace. The cell is the place where clamor and chaos stop at the door. It’s the place where we get back in touch with our best selves. It’s the center of our very own, private, spiritual universe.
–from the book In God's Holy Light: Wisdom from the Desert Monastics
While a vocation does bring us joy and should be something that we are good at, it is not primarily concerned with either of these things. As the word indicates, a vocation—from the Latin vocare, “to call”—is something that comes from outside and for the sake of something other than ourselves. Against the values of the world that tell us to never do anything we do not like and to think of our own happiness first, someone with a vocation is concerned most with the needs of the caller rather than their own, willing to sacrifice their own immediate happiness and comfort for the sake of the call. For them, there is a mission much greater than themselves at stake and they are willing to do whatever it takes to fulfill it. Sometimes, this means accepting that what we want to do and what we are good at is not what the world needs.
—from the book Called: What Happens after Saying Yes to God
The mystic knows in a uniquely graced way these mysteries that we believe and live out as we try to be true to the mystery of our baptism. The very word mystic derives from the word mystery, and God does allow the mystics to see into mysteries, like the mystery of baptism, by way of visions or insights that transcend our usual way of seeing. They see and relate to us the wonder of what is happening within us, for example, as we live out the mysteries of our salvation. The mystics confirm that what we believe is indeed true.
Prayer is about love, not insight. It is meant to establish friendship. Friendship, as we know, is not as much a question of having insight into each other’s lives as it is of mutually touching each other in affection and understanding. Friendship, as John of the Cross puts it, is a question of attaining “boldness with each other.” When we have touched each other’s lives deeply, we can be bold with each other. We can then ask each other for help, ask each other to be present without needing an excuse, or share our deepest feelings. Good friendship inspires boldness. The object of prayer is precisely to try to attain this kind of “boldness” with God, to try to reach a point where we are comfortable enough with God to ask for help, just as we would a trusted friend. But to reach this kind of trust we first must let God touch us in the heart, and not just in insight.
Gregory of Nyssa elaborated a theory of the stages of the mystical life that had a profound impact on the future of Christian spirituality. For Gregory, the spiritual journey is a dynamic adventure of progressively deeper union with God that can never stagnate or get boring, since our created nature can never contain or comprehend the fullness of the infinite God. Since God surpasses our intellect, Gregory identifies a certain darkness that characterizes the mystical experience, a theme that would be developed by many subsequent writers over the centuries.
—from the book When the Church Was Young: Voices of the Early Fathers
The mystics cultivate awareness. They listen for God’s word; they respond with concrete, often heroic, actions when they hear it. A mystic, then, is one who shows the rest of us who we really are, who we can become, if only we would realize the gift of God that is already within us and respond in our concrete daily lives to God’s great gift of love. The mystic shows us how not to let God’s word return to God empty. The mystic uncovers the mystery, a mystery inside each one of us, and models what it looks like and what it accomplishes. In all of this it is important to remember that God takes the initiative—both in the ordinary believer’s life and in the mystic’s life. One cannot force God’s hand or woo God to make one a mystic. But once that initiative is taken, the mystic’s heart is changed, and he or she falls in love with God.