Monday, January 21, 2013

Mystics: Dangerous People?

Over the weekend I came across two seeming oxymorons. The first was a pattern for knitting a lace tea cozy. Lace tea cozy? Gimme a break!

The other had to do with the word, mystical.

Here’s a Catholic priest the Vatican is accusing of mysticism. This is from the UK newspaper, The Daily Mail and came to my attention via Father Andrew Stephen Damick. Emphases mine.

Pope finally launches crackdown on world's largest illicit Catholic shrine and suspends 'dubious' priest

The Pope has begun a crackdown on the world’s largest illicit Catholic shrine – by suspending the priest at the centre of claims that the Virgin Mary has appeared more than 40,000 times.

Benedict XVI has authorised ‘severe cautionary and disciplinary measures’ against Father Tomislav Vlasic, the former ‘spiritual director’ to six children who said Our Lady was appearing to them at Medjugorje in Bosnia.

The Franciscan priest has been suspended after he refused to cooperate into claims of scandalous sexual immorality ‘aggravated by mystical motivations’.

He has also been accused of ‘the diffusion of dubious doctrine, manipulation of consciences, suspected mysticism and disobedience towards legitimately issued orders’, and is suspected of heresy and schism.

(You can read the rest here.)

Mystical, in Eastern Christian parlance, means not available to the senses. Thus, the Holy Communion is really, truly, mystically, the Body and Blood of Christ. In Holy Baptism, we are mystically grafted into Christ; we cannot actually see the sacred Body into which we become incorporated; we only see the process in symbol. Our worship is mystical participation in the ceaseless worship of heaven. The saints and angels are mystically present with us, but we only see them symbolically, too (icons).  And so on and so forth.

In other words, in Orthodox Christianity, we have no distinct category of people whom we label as mystics. We’re all “mystics”. Even infants in arms, even the not-so-devout, we all practice mysticism.

In Western parlance, mysticism means having direct experience of God; direct, as distinct from through the Scriptures or through the Pope or through anything whatsoever.  The word mystic implies a person of advanced spirituality, mature in prayer and/or meditation, who after long years of effort has acquired something special the rest of us do not have because he actually experiences God firsthand.

Of course mysticism in this sense is problematical in the West, because strictly speaking, Western theology does not logically allow for any direct, two-way relationship with the immutable, changeless God.  In Catholicism, especially, it is a disquieting phenomenon when people assert they have a direct relationship with God, because that leaves out the Pope.  He no longer controls that.

So with that in mind, one can sort of see how "mysticism" could be a charge levelled against someone.  But really, now.  Some of the people Catholics have canonized have been called, and revered especially as being, mystics: Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, Francis of Assisi, Joan of Arc, Catherine of Siena... the list is long.

So while I'm glad the Pope has cracked down on this lucrative fraud (and I wonder what took him so long), I'm left bewildered by the charge against this priest of "suspected mysticism".  What's with this?