Mystic versus Saint

One of my 60th birthday presents from my wife Anne was “Christian Mystics – 108 seers, saints and sages” by Carl McColman.  It was a wonderful introduction to mysticism through short pieces on various mystics classified along different themes, such as “lovers”, “heretics”, “wisdom keepers” and “soul friends”.

I was surprised to find that Pierre Teilhard de Chardin SJ was classified as a heretic.  “…his writings are considered sufficiently “dangerous” that the Vatican issued a warning about them in 1962…” (p.134).

Ignatius of Loyola was classified as a “confessor” because he conveyed his intimacy with God through a recounting of his life. You can see that this is an interesting read.

In the introduction, McColman describes his distinguishing between saints and mystics.  Saints are persons who have “exemplified this spirituality of manifesting the presence of God, the wisdom and power of God, the love and mercy of God, in their own lives, in their hearts and minds…”(p.xvi).  Canonization officially recognizes saints.  Sainthood means supernatural qualities.

“Mystics encounter and embody the presence of God in profound and life-changing ways…The language of mystics is often deeply beautiful, expressing love of God, communion with God, even union with God…” (p. xvii)

“A saint is someone who is good and holy, while a mystic is someone who knows God, who embodies the presence of God, and whose life has been transfigured by his divine presence…saints embody goodness while mystics embody love.” (p. xvii)

To be a saint is not my goal.  It’s way too out-of-the-ordinary for someone who wishes to remain ordinary.  To become a mystic has been joyous.

My first mystical experiences were with the application of the senses when many years ago Fr. Len Altilia SJ was leading a group from St. Bonaventure’s College in the Spiritual Exercises.  One of his favourite scenes is the Nativity.

In the reality that was my Nativity Scene, Joseph handed me the baby to hold on to while he fixed something in the manger.  I cannot describe the joy of what that feels like.

Mystics termed “unitives” believe that by neglecting all that is worldly, peeling it all away to an absence or a “darkness” enables connection with God, becoming one with God.  I can understand why they seek that union.

Paul seems aligned with this ultimate goal.  To reach God and to be in Him is to create a void, where there is no longer any distraction.

“More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith.” (Philippians 3: 8-9)

Sensing companionship in the driving to work.  Feeling a tight hug.  Finding a shoulder to lean on.  Someone holding out a guiding hand.  I describe these things in physical terms, because their reality for me is nearly that.

The deep knowledge that someone is always, always there in my corner, to share success and failure, to be there when I do right or wrong, knowingly or unknowingly, is the reality of my faith. How can I not love back when loved so much?

I feel sad for those who don’t yet realize that presence.  Acknowledgement of the presence of God during my children’s liturgy session is key:  “Let us call upon the Holy Spirit to join us today in our room….” I try to teach them the reality of that presence.

One thought I read was that the Catholic Church seems to the outside observer to be a church of words.  We are always saying words. We recite all kinds of prayers, but we don’t seem to be doing anything but saying words.

Words are okay but there really is way more than saying words.  There is the richness in the silence of sensing, connecting, listening rather than saying, and feeling God come into your room.

“There’s no GREATER LOVE
Than the love of Jesus.

There’s no love that’s stronger,
That lasts longer,
That’s more soul-satisfying,

There’s no love more caring,
More sharing, more daring
For sinner and stranger.

There’s no love MORE VAST,
More validating, more victorious
Or more glorious!”

© 2019 Dayspring Cards. Siloam Springs, Arkansas. (From an Easter card I picked up in the greeting card aisle at the drugstore)

Dr. Michael Bautista is a physician practising in St. John's and is the recipient of the 2015 Ignatian Spirit Award from St. Bonaventure's. He is also the Chair of the Discipline of Anesthesia at Memorial University. and an associate professor of Medicine.

  • Peter Bisson
    Posted at 07:52h, 03 July Reply

    Thank you Mike! And Happy Birthday!

  • Maria Skarzynski
    Posted at 00:23h, 04 July Reply

    So much to think about in this writing. Thank you Dr. Michael – and the poem is also lovely !!

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