Friday, July 30, 2010

Mystical Theology

God works through everything.
St. Bridget (Birgitta) of Sweden reminds us that we cannot brush aside the mystical aspects of the spiritual life. As difficult as it may be in some cases to discern whether a person is genuinely receiving locutions or is experiencing visions that are not the result of illness or a disturbed imagination, we must guard against the kind of dismissive attitude that refuses even to consider that a person may be a genuine mystic, and which often leads to unjust judgements. Bishops and priests, and others who may be charged with the task of discernment, must always remember that just because a person claims to be having visions etc does not mean that he/she is no longer entitled to the respect we owe to every human being. In the name of avoiding error great injustice has often been visited on people. Sometimes they have been genuine mystics or have become great religious reformers (e.g. St. John of The Cross). Injustice cannot be justified on the basis of exercising caution.

As St. Paul tells us, "God works through everything" and it is clear that suffering is allowed by God in such cases, but that does not mean - cannot ever mean - that God approves of cruelty, insults and injustice. Sometimes I have seen and heard the most uncharitable remarks made about people who claim to be having visions as though those making such remarks have a God-given right to do so. Such critics are seriously mistaken. In particular a bishop or priest (or deacon for that matter) has a serious duty of pastoral care towards a person they may regard as deluded or mentally disturbed. Brushing people off with the advice, "You need to see your doctor" or words to that effect should not be the first response. If we do not know the person concerned we need to listen and ask questions, always treating the person with respect. If it becomes clear that theologically, spiritually or - quite possibly - medically, there are serious problems, we must act with gentleness as well as firmness. We should always try to leave a person with hope. No one should leave our presbyteries feeling utterly dejected or abandoned.
Having said all that, mystical experiences cannot be relegated to the fringes of the Church. We need only remember the extraordinary conversion of St. Paul to understand this. That was a "private revelation" which was also to become public. Without that mystical experience there would be no St. Paul.

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