The Mystic Way Part IV
Conventional wisdom tells us that geniuses are born. However, the Catholic metaphysical poet, Francis Thompson, said there is an exception to this rule. He insists that at the moment of rebirth at baptism, the genius of God is implanted in the very depth of our being. It is his genius, the Holy Spirit who supports, sustains and keeps our hearts centered on God. In this way our love, strengthened and fortified with his, begins to rise, piercing through the evil that surrounds us, opening up a mystical passageway. It is through this passageway that our augmented love rises to God, enabling his infinite loving to descend into us.
The love that sets the receiver on fire
In God’s time, not ours, his love prepares us for the fullest possible union with him that finally satisfies the profound primeval desire for love that he planted within us from the beginning. The love that previously set our superficial selves on fire is directed to the very center of our human heart. This is the beginning of a profound purification in which all other impure, wayward and self-serving loves that have ruled us before are defeated and destroyed at source.
This purification takes place in the Dark Night where we see what ruled us before, as it is being rooted out. It is painful and humiliating, but it does two necessary things before the fullness of love can be received: it creates within us a humble heart and a pure heart, both of which are necessary to receive the infusion of God’s love, his Holy Spirit.
Wisdom from G. K. Chesterton
The outpouring of the Holy Spirit can only be received by continually turning to receive it, as St. Peter insisted on the first Pentecost day. This process may begin on a fairly superficial level, but for those who keep selflessly turning day in day out, the act of turning away from the evil world around and within them deepens. It now involves turning to God with every fibre of our inner being when the forces of evil within us are bent on turning us to their will to seek the object of their desires and their satisfaction.
Gradually the battleground moves from the surface of our lives to the depth, where carrying our daily Cross involves endlessly turning away from the evil that is within us. White martyrdom now necessitates the deep repentance of heart that involves trying to keep our heart turned to and fixed on God in mystical contemplation, when at times it feels as if all hell is trying to stop it. This does not involve months but years, trying to act selflessly before the love that we desire begins to make itself present. This is what true practical Christianity involves. G. K. Chesterton said that, “Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried.”
As our continual repentance enables us to become ever more sensitive and docile to the love of God, then that love makes our heart ever purer, ever humbler. It is then that our heart becomes like a spiritual prism that on receiving the pure love of God’s Holy Spirit, refracts and reflects it. It does this in such a way that it infiltrates every part of our human being. Then it becomes visible in human acting, as all the virtues and gifts of the Holy Spirit that are one in God become many in man, the new man recreated more fully than before in the image and likeness of the perfect man, Jesus Christ.
An athlete without muscles
A Christian without the virtues is like an athlete without muscles, looking the part but achieving nothing. Human wisdom enables us to see through the mind with the intellect, but it is one dimensional, flat, instructive and can set us on ‘the way’ with knowledge. Infused wisdom enables us to see through the heart, with spiritual insight. It is three-dimensional, alive, inspiring, and sets us on ‘the way’ with love. The first is only open to the few with brilliant minds, the second for all with loving hearts. Human wisdom can easily be subverted with error, infused wisdom never.
While those with purely intellectual knowledge remain silent when errors are smuggled into the Church by stealth, those with infused wisdom speak out and are prepared to die for the truth, because they are infused with the virtue of Fortitude. Infused virtues never come alone but always together with the whole spectrum of God-given virtues, because they come through the love that is received in prayer.
Wisdom from St. Francis of Assisi
A spirituality that sees the acquisition of the virtues without the mystical death to self, is just humanism in modern dress. Yet sadly, since the demise of mystical theology, this modern humanism has been taught to the young as the ideal in both schools and in many seminaries, religious orders and houses of study—as if the infused virtues can be acquired by human endeavor alone. St. Francis of Assisi is adamant that no one can attain any of the God-given or infused virtues unless we undergo the profound mystical death that I have been detailing.
“All holy virtues, God keep you, God, from whom you all proceed and come. In all the world, there is no one who can possess any one of you without first dying to self” (The Praises of the Virtues, Saint Francis of Assisi).
Wisdom from Julian of Norwich
Daily dying to self is the very essence of the journey in the mystic way that leads to the sustained contemplation through which all the infused virtues are received. Julian of Norwich makes this point so clearly when she uses the example of Our Lady gazing upon God in profound mystical contemplation.
“The greatness and the nobility of this contemplation of God filled her full of reverent awe, and with this she saw herself so small and so humble, so simple and so poor in comparison with her Lord God, that this reverent awe filled her with humility. And so, founded on this humility she was filled with grace and with every kind of virtue.” (Revelations of Divine Love – Long text chapter 7)
What happened to Mary happens to all who through dying to self are eventually led into mystical contemplation with her, in her Son, our Divine Lord. This divine loving which is the Holy Spirit, draws us not only into the life of the risen Christ, but also into his action, into his unending loving of his Father. We cannot see the profound mystical prayer that enables God to enter our human being, but what can be seen are the virtues that are generated as God’s love enters human action. That is why Jesus said, “You will be able to tell them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:16), and most especially as Jesus insisted at the Last Supper, “By this love you have for one another, everyone will know you are my disciples” (John 13:35).
Seeing the fruits of contemplation in action
As the stoics continually failed to practice the virtues they preached to others, and as paganism seemed ever more superficial and senseless, the ancient world turned elsewhere. It turned to Christianity because it could be seen how Christians lived the love they preached, animating and inspiring everything they said and did. They saw not just an obscure teaching, but in their action, the fruits of the contemplation in which they died to self to live for God and for his Kingdom of Love, Justice and Peace.
What they came to call ‘the prayer without ceasing’ was nothing other than the continual practice of turning to God directly in prayer and indirectly outside of prayer by turning to him in the neighbor in need (Matthew 25:40). This was the offering they made together at their weekly Mass that summed up their whole lives and made their whole lives into the Mass, the place where they continually offered all they said and did through Christ to their common Father .
This means that at all times they were open to receive the genius of God, the Holy Spirit, who made them into the living likeness and image of the greatest loving Genius who ever lived. Early Christianity was full of spiritual geniuses who they referred to as ‘the saints.’ These saints become so sensitive, docile and open to God, that he implants into them his own DNA, namely the Holy Spirit, who inspires and animates them with the same love that animated Jesus and embodies in them the same virtues and spiritual gifts that animated him.
It is precisely because God has implanted into all of us the profound and deep desire for infinite love, that anyone can become the genius that love can make of us. Only those with hearts of stone are excluded. However, even these hearts can be melted to be remade and remolded by the love that is open to all who are radically prepared to abandon all else for the pearl of great price, the treasure hidden in the field.
The conversion of the ancient pagan world to Christianity in such a short time still baffles historians who only have reason for their guide. It was brought about by spiritual geniuses, or saints, transformed by the same love that raised their Risen Lord from the dead. What was done then can be done now, through those who persevere in the profound mystical contemplation that creates pure and humble hearts to receive the love that is endlessly pouring out of the heart of Christ, remaking us into his image and likeness.
Image courtesy of Pixabay.