Do the mystics really have something to say to all of us, in 2019? If nothing else: “The saints were super busy. There’s something to imitate there.”
We Catholics can take advantage of the graces offered in Advent to deepen our spiritual lives. Like the resolutions made every January 1st, Advent offers a time to change, to pause, to be renewed. Pick up a new spiritual practice during these precious Advent days of waiting or use them to shed an unwanted vice.
Kathryn Jean Lopez’s new volume, A Year with the Mystics, offers the promise of daily moments to pause and pray. But don’t be put off by the book’s title. Lopez assures would-be readers the book is accessible, saying, “Part of my prayer for this project is that it demystifies mysticism. The Catechism talks about it as union with God. We have to enter into that on some level.” And you can start anytime. The structure of the book, which features 200- to 400-word excerpts from the saints boasts a contemplative design and engaging reflection questions.
To be a mystic, according to Lopez, means that a person prioritizes her relationship with God. In contrast to the view that holiness is reserved for a select few, the Fathers of Vatican II boldly proclaim, “All the faithful of Christ of whatever rank or status, are called to the fullness of the Christian life and to the perfection of charity” (LG 40).
Mysticism, understood in connection with personal holiness, is the relationship with God that lies at the very heart of the Church. What’s more, far from being a point of shame or embarrassment, Lopez reminds us, “The ‘nones’ are not intimidated by mysticism.” In fact, the mystical life is the best thing the Church has to offer.
But why a book on mysticism today? Is this really what the Church needs in 2019?
Lopez asserts, “We need to pray to be truly Christian. There’s so much anger today. How do you relieve it? We’re so anxious. We worry for our families, the church, our nation…There are so many layers to our anxiety, and the only way we find peace is to pray.” The continual revelations of new dimensions of scandal and pain test our confidence in Christ and his work. We have to fight to hear his voice, to renew our trust in Him.
There’s so much anger today. How do you relieve it? We’re so anxious. We worry for our families, the church, our nation…There are so many layers to our anxiety, and the only way we find peace is to pray.
Lopez summarizes her hopes for the book, saying, “I hope the book is a relief and challenge. I hope the book reminds people to pray more than we give commentary or even give attention to what’s going on.” Rather than getting caught in news cycles, we need to be caught in the nets of Christ. By turning our hearts and minds to things that are above, we can weather the storms below.
Lopez counsels, “There are so many times we speak, when we really need to be silent and pray. In the face of all the evil in the world, I hope this is a reminder that the Church is Christ. As you see injustices and scandals, go to Christ.”
Everyone may be called to holiness, fine. But do the mystics really have something to say to all of us, in 2019? Lopez says yes. She explains, “The saints were super busy. There’s something to imitate there.”
“Busyness” is no cause to neglect the spiritual life. We need to constantly be praying. Lopez implores: “We need to pray about specific relationships and situations, not just the big vocational questions. There are a lot of examples in the book from religious, because it’s their job, right, but we need to look to them as models of prayer. Nevertheless, the depths of prayer and knowledge of Christ are possible even in the busyness of the world.” Lopez’s testimony is made all the more powerful given her own acutely demanding modern pace of life.
Lopez exhorts us to look to the saints as models of life. She explains, “When I’m around other people who are truly praying it draws me into deeper love and devotion. I see Christ in them.” Her book offers that opportunity to be drawn by the saints to Christ.
It was Loepz’s own delight in the saints which inspired the project. She recalls, “My interests in Gertrude the Great and Catherine of Siena are reasons I said yes to this project. I’ve read a lot of Catherine of Siena. We can look to her as an example to respond to the crisis we face today. Would she be yelling on Twitter? No!” In fact, the life of Catherine of Siena was constant reparation and prayer. She tried to walk everyone she encountered through the same process of prayer and penance. Lopez summarizes Catherine’s approach, saying, “From the depths of humility she reached out. She has so much to offer us.”
As we prepare to receive Christ again this Christmas, let us take advantage of this Advent as a particular time to pause and rest and pray. May the voices of the mystics be our guide during this season of penance and preparation. May our prayers be joined to theirs, and may our hearts be opened again to the charity of Christ, which alone will redeem the world.