Friday, May 17, 2019 - Updated: 1:08 pm
QUESTION: I have come to the conclusion that my spiritual life is very “ordinary.” I am usually fine with that. But sometimes I hear or read about people who have mystical experiences. I used to think of such people as psychics or frauds. But from what I have read, mystics are really holy people. How does a person become a mystic (or obtain mystical experiences)?
ANSWER: Mystics are described in any number of ways. From a religious perspective, mystics are those who obtain some knowledge of God or the sacred from a direct experience. Often such experiences take place within dreams or visions.
For most of us, our knowledge of God and religious matters is obtained through reading, study, classroom instruction or the example of others. The point is that our spiritual lives are largely built upon knowledge about God.
Mystics differ in that their spiritual lives are enhanced by an experience of God. It seems from the history of spirituality that, for the classic mystics such as St. Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross and St. Francis of Assisi, these experiences were a rather consistent part of their lives.
What is revealed by such experiences, however, is always in the nature of private revelation. Therefore, it is not something that is necessary for salvation for the rest of us. Frequently, it is described by mystics as a conversation within which the love of God is felt intensely.
We might ask why such mystical experiences are given to some and not others. Some would argue that it is partly a matter of temperament, saying that some people are more open to such experiences than others. Some of the mystics themselves relate that these experiences are of such intensity that not everyone would be able to endure them.
Is there a danger in encountering false mystics? Yes, of course. The important thing to remember is that genuine mystics within Christian history are those whose experience taught them about God. When supposed mystics begin to make broad, generalized statements about world events, political leaders or the future of individuals or nations, one might suspect other influences than the divine.
It is this point that differentiates mystics from psychics. Psychics may have a greater sensitivity to things beyond the physical. They may have deeper insights into the future or the implications of the present upon the future. But psychics rarely claim to be directly influenced by God, but rather simply by forces beyond the physical.
The discussion of mystics raises interesting questions regarding the nature of our own spiritual lives. There seems to be within many of us a mistrust of that which is beyond the physical. Somehow we place more stock in that which we learn from books or instruction than we do from more direct personal experience.
How often do we hear people say, “Oh, that’s only a feeling.” Only a feeling! That feeling (experience) is part of the essence of the mystical. And it is a wonderful part of our Catholic faith that relies on sounds, symbols and experiences that deepen our relationship with God. Although not all of us are called to be mystics, we should be open to the many ways by which God may be speaking to us.
Father Bober is administrator of the grouping that includes St. Kilian in Adams/Cranberry townships and Holy Sepulcher in Glade Mills.