31Dec The Church needs mystics

Suffering far more from the maladministration of its canonical leaders just now than from the heaviest blows of its worst enemies, our church is in such dark times that it can often seem unlikely that any really Good News could emanate from it. Seemingly more bent upon instilling fear and despondency in the church community than on embodying the confident and trusting spirituality of Vatican II, the magisterium invites incredulity and derision when it invites us to embark upon a ‘New Evangelisation’. Who could conscientiously invite any stranger into our church just now without the most solemn of spiritual health warnings?

All the more reason to welcome, then, a most timely small book from someone whose track record for evangelical encouragement and spiritual wisdom is already well established in Ireland. Richard Rohr OFM has followed up a recent work outlining a spirituality for the ‘second half of life’ (‘Falling Upward’) with a complementary piece – ‘Immortal Diamond: the Search for Our True Self’*.

The book’s central theme owes much to Thomas Merton, who first named a major problem of the spiritual life – that of the ‘false self’. This is our ego-driven tendency to hide behind outward personae designed almost unconsciously to impress others – the typical intent of the first part of our life’s journey. For Merton, as for Rohr, it is our vulnerable and often hidden real self that is the object of God’s love – and ‘success’ as the world understands it can be an obstacle to its recovery. An experience of deep suffering may nevertheless reveal this real self to us – forcing this ‘immortal diamond’ directly into consciousness. This is very much part of the paradoxical mystery and mercy of God.

Where Falling Upward focused on the discovery of this second half of life, Immortal Diamond develops further our understanding of our inherent and original identity – that part of us that houses our soul. I have not yet encountered a clearer introduction to key understandings of some of the greatest Christian mystics, or a better account of what could be meant by the teaching that each of us is created in the image of God.

“The place which God takes in our soul he will never vacate, for in us is his home of homes, and it is the greatest delight for him to dwell there . . . . The soul who contemplates this is made like the one who is contemplated.” This quote from Dame Julian of Norwich helps to buttress Rohr’s central contention that far from being something separate from and far inferior to God, we can be raised through the divine indwelling into actual communion with the mystery. The Orthodox belief in ‘theosis’ – that we are in an important sense ‘of God’ – is something we in the West also need to embrace. Our ‘human dignity’ cannot be defended simply by magisterial assertion and weight-throwing: it needs to be realised through real, personal, spiritual experience.

Often under attack from narrow Catholic conservatives for defending beliefs in other traditions that echo his themes, Rohr sometimes feels obliged to insist upon his Catholic orthodoxy – for example his belief in the facticity of the Resurrection. For him it is not only true that Jesus was raised bodily from the dead but that this Resurrection is a promise and metaphor for our own necessary resurrection from despondency about our deepest selves. Resisting any theory of atonement that rests upon the Father’s supposed need to be placated, Rohr insists: ‘Jesus did not come to change the mind of God about humanity but to change the mind of humanity about God.’ The incarnation would have happened anyway, he believes, even if there had been no ‘original sin’ – because of God’s intent from the beginning to dwell within the hearts of humankind

Far, then, from being the necessary discharger of a debt caused by sin “The Crucified One is God’s standing in solidarity with the suffering, the tragedy, and the disaster of all time, and God’s promise that it will not have the final word…. The Risen One is God’s final word about the uni­verse and what God plans to do with all suffering.”

All-in-all this small book is a far more convincing and uplifting defence of the creeds than the magisterial church’s current cold and unjust theological policing regime. The notion that the loving truth can be captured and conveyed in rigid theological formulae tends to make policemen rather than pastors of bishops – as is well conveyed in Rohr’s account of what one bishop said to him about the church’s mystical tradition: “I don’t have time for the mystics; we are running a church here.” Surely if we had far more mystics in the Catholic episcopacy, and far fewer emotionally undeveloped canon lawyers and theologians, the church’s superstructure and internal relationships would not be in such a parlous and disedifying state.

Overall this book helps to validate Karl Rahner’s conclusion that “The Christian of the future will be a mystic or will not exist at all.” It also serves to demystify mysticism itself and to reduce the likelihood that Rohr’s readers will make the mistake of placing even him on a pedestal. To get behind the defences built by his students’ sense of inferiority, Rohr tells us that he often has to reveal his own ‘struggles, failures, sin, neediness and weaknesses’. This honesty strengthens the book’s appeal.

All who are sincerely interested in a ‘new evangelisation’ could benefit from this small work. It is an object lesson on how that project may yet be accomplished, without any assistance whatsoever from a magisterial reign of terror. The current structure and governing culture of the church is the greatest possible contradiction to the ‘Good News’, but this small work is convincing evidence that the latter can and will get through anyway.

* Richard Rohr’s book is called Immortal Diamond: The Search for Our True Self.  (Hardback now available from the Centre for Action and Contemplation: please visit their website for details. Paperback version due in February 2013.)

8 Responses

  1. Darlene Starrs

    I was drawn to this commentary on Richard Rohr’s book from the section marked as Recent News. It said, something about “Church Needs Mystics”. Indeed, the Church needs mystics, because as Richard Rohr and the above commentator point out, a genuine mystic, is living from their “Being in Christ”. As St. Paul says, “I live and move and have my being in Christ”. This is not an easy path to find and follow. In reference to the above, our ego, or false self, might not want to surrender to the authority of our true self, the Christ within. As Christ says, “If you want to gain your life, you must lose it, for my sake”. The mystic finds themselves on a journey of surrendering their ego desires and projects to the authority of the Christ within. In order for this to be a successful surrendering, the ego, must be in love with and united to the true self. Again, another spiritual process that Christ always takes the lead with. We are members of the mystical body of Christ, and so that should be a great starting point. If the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are truly dwelling in us, then, we have already, the potential to live as mystics in Christ. Yes, we need, mystics in the Church today, so that the Church is doing what Christ wants…………..The apostles of the first age, were indeed mystics……….This happened for them in the upper room, when they were empowered by the Holy Spirit. Indeed, the “New Evangelization” can only come with persons who are in Christ, as the first evangelists were. The true mystic does have the secrets of heaven revealed and not all of them are for public knowledge, but what a person who is truly living in Christ, gives the Church, is it’s very essence, the Eucharist, the Christ, and then hopefully, the practise of Church follows only the “voice of Christ”.

  2. Kevin

    Happy and Blessed New Year to all in and through 2013.

    It’s a new day, it’s a new dawn and hopefully a new spiritual life……… and let it be good for us.

    I’d heard some quotes from the earlier book Sean, ‘Falling ‘Upwards’ and I know at least one man who read it and changed his mind about ‘early retirement’ in his early 50s.

    I love what I’ve read of Richar Rohr and this book’s on order. Love the title too.

    Thanks for the recommendations, Sean

    God bless all. And may we all ‘truly live in Christ’.

    “That we be One.”


  3. Mary O Vallely

    Sean O Conaill paints an enticing portrait of Richard Rohr’s book. Like many others, I am sure, “mysticism” is a mystery to me and not something towards which I would feel naturally drawn. However, having read Sean’s article in January 2013’s edition of REALITY magazine, “The New Evangelisation And The Saving Of Souls,” I can see the little pieces of jigsaw fitting together and the purchasing of RR’s book definitely worth considering. Sean talks about the “greatest scourge” of the modern world -“the plague of individualism” which stems from the “promotion of the false self…”
    Like much of Sean’s writing it is challenging, thought-provoking and written in accessible language unlike so many liturgical and theological texts designed to make us feel even more inadequate.
    The great Einstein did say, however, that “if you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough. ”
    Now that might well be me making myself feel better but I thought I’d throw the quote in anyway. Why can’t all texts be written in accessible language? Eh?
    Mary V

  4. Stephen Kellett

    This sounds very interesting. I must look out for this book.

  5. Stephen Edward

    The Church has provided many mystics and their contribution to the truth is massive, timeless and much of it available in written form (and some free on archive.org). We can always use more truth but we mustn’t ignore that already provided to us. Try ‘The Imitation of Christ’ in this new year or ‘The Little Way’, they may not sit well with the opinions expressed so often here but the contents are still true.

  6. Rosaline

    If anyone is interested in receiving a free short meditation delivered to your in-box every day from Richard Rohr, you can sign up for it on http://www.cac.org.

  7. Darlene Starrs

    Just a few further thoughts about the Church Needing Mystics.
    The word mystic comes from mystery. I believe, I can say, that a Christian Mystic is immersed in the Mystery of Christ. Traditionally, we have understood this immersion into the Mystery of Christ, to begin at baptism. St. Paul refers to those baptised in Christ as forming the “Mystical Body of Christ”. Everyone of us, who is in “the Father, the Son, and Holy Spirit”, is potentially a mystic. The degree to which someone is graced with a “mystical life with Christ” depends on the vocation given to us.
    Again, St. Paul says that the Grace of Christ is given to each according to their vocation in Christ. Certainly, for those who have been called to an “intense” union with Christ, might well, experience more of the mysticism associated with Therese of Lisieux, St. John of the Cross, St. Teresa of Avila, but being “mystic”, or being a mystic, does have implications for all of us. It is Christ who is the Mystic………..and He dwells in us……..so, we are “mystic” by virtue of Christ in us……..

    From that life of Christ within us comes prayer, perhaps, contemplative prayer, other gifts and charisms. With our spiritual development in Christ, comes a greater degree of the mystic and of being mystical. The fully mature mystic in us, is perhaps best symbolized by the story of the “tree that becomes a place for all the birds of the air” to rest. No doubt, even, in the old testament, we have a description of a mystic, “one who walks humbly, loves tenderly, and does justice. I think, my favorite description of what a mystic would be comes from St. Paul.
    “It is no longer I who live, but Jesus Christ in Me”, and I have been predestined to be conformed into the image of the son, called, set apart, purified, sanctified, and glorified”. No growth happens overnight, but during the course, of our life, with Christ, He will make us into more of Himself, and therefore, we really become mystics, perhaps, without being aware. In other words, with our fidelity to Christ, with our union with him, we do become what we have been contemplating………..

  8. Darlene Starrs

    Continuing from the entry above. Todays, mystic resonates with Vatican II and intrinsically “knows” where and may be even how, the Church needs to grow. That’s first and foremost……….Vatican II………the renewal of the Church, is going to be a priority with the mystic…..It’s important to note, that one of the Carmelite charisms was the “reform of the Church”. Carmel itself, needs reform, today and that also is not unusual, because very often the reform of Carmel and the reform of the Church went together. Secondly, today’s mystic is in love with God, and enjoys a union with Christ, so complete, that is defies logic, how someone could be so united to Christ, and still be in the flesh. St. Teresa of Avila’s greatest legacy and gift for the Church was her intellectual vision of the mansion with its many rooms, although, there are 7 major ones. Another woman, in the United States, a Peggy Wilkinson, had outlined very clearly the 7 phases, or states of prayer and relationship with Christ, so modern day, believers could easily relate to St. Teresa. Stages 1-3 are when a person, is pretty much concerned with the issues of this world, like security and career and such. Stage 4 is the bridge, when someone starts to ask the deeper questions of life.
    State five is when the person falls in love with God. Stage 6, is a an engagement, a union with the soul, and stage 7, is the spiritual marriage, or a permanent union with the soul. St. Teresa, did not think, mansion 7 was possible to live 24-7, but thought it was a special time set aside for private prayer. In fact, mansion 7 can happen……….this is where the person, like St. Paul, could say, “It is no longer, I who live, but Jesus Christ in Me”. We have had our mansion 7 mystics….someone like St. Patrick……Anyway…..so todays mystic to recap…..is someone in tune with Vatican II and renewal…is someone living a union with Christ, and thirdly, the mystic, today, is more like a prophet……..yes, they can also, be a healer, and preacher, and teacher, and someone who perhaps, consumed with love for the earth, but most importantly, today’s mystic is a prophet…..and 4th, today’s mystic is someone who knows “the truth” about much, but you know what, a mystic, can’t share everything…….not all, that a mystic, knows….those heavenly secrets, could not possibly be understood, so, the mystic of today……shares what is beneficial for the souls of the Church and the world. A mystic of today in the Church IS THE VOICE OF WIDSOM, OF REAL INSIGHT, AND THE MYSTIC OF THE CHURCH TODAY IS THE APOSTLE, THE LOVER OF GOD, BUT MOST COMPREHENSIVELY….PUT, THE MYSTIC OF THE CHURCH TODAY IS A PROPHET AND PROBABLY A WOMAN