There are many different ways of learning about God. In modern times, we are aware of the academic approach. But did you know of the more spiritual approach?
Throughout the Church’s history, holy men and women have known and studied God through the practice known as Catholic mysticism. These people are called mystics—some of them are even mystical saints. (Read: Prayers of the Rosary: The Sorrowful Mysteries)
Mysticism is not magic. It is the belief that union with the divine may be attained through contemplation, prayer, and self-surrender. In other religions, there is the universal belief that the spiritual side of the world is perceivable—through certain spiritual exercises, we can gain a deep understanding of, and a relationship with, the divine.
In this way, we come to know God in a much more tangible way than just study alone.
What Is Catholic Mysticism?
In Catholicism, this mysticism focuses on the preparation and sustaining of a direct and transforming period in the presence of God.
Catholics believe that God is calling us to have a deeper experience of his presence so as to make ourselves more receptive to his call. Hence, there are many different activities to make us more engaged with him—one of which is contemplative prayer, whether using the senses or silence for contemplation. (Read: 5 Spiritual Podcasts To Strengthen Your Faith)
Today, we look at three famous mystical saints and what they teach us in having a deep and loving relationship with God.
Mystical Saints: St. John the Baptist
John the Baptist is not only famous in the Catholic Church, but in other religions as well. In fact, in both Christianity and Islam, John is revered as a prophet. (Read: A Prayer to St. John the Baptist)
Famous as the baptizer of Jesus, John the Forerunner, as he is sometimes called is the one mentioned in the prophecy of Isaiah: “I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way—a voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.'” John wandered the wilderness, eating locusts and wild honey, and was always in deep conversation with a spiritual being.
John knew that Jesus was coming and when he saw Him and in various accounts in the Gospel, saw the descent of the Holy Spirit upon Jesus Christ—a symbol of Him being the prophesied Messiah.
Mystical Saints: St. Clare of Assisi
St. Clare is known as the founder of the contemplative “Order of the Poor Ladies” and spent the majority of her life in imitation of St. Francis of Assisi and his order. The two of them sought a life of poverty and charity in the Christian mystic tradition. T
The Catholic Church celebrates St. Clare’s connection to the Holy Spirit—she was said to project a vision of the daily mass on the wall of her room when she was too sick to physically attend. (Read: 5 Novena Prayers for Special Favors) As a young child, Clare, who came from a wealthy family in Assisi, was uninterested in worldly practices and instead prefers mystic endeavors such as mortification.
Towards the end of her life, Clare had her most famous mystic endeavor when she was said to have thwarted the advance of rival forces who were set on terrorizing the chapel by lifting a ciborium over her head.
Mystical Saints: St. Pio of Pietrelcina
Much like St. Clare, Padre Pio grew up a devout Catholic. His family in Pietrelcina, Italy, puts God above all else. From a young age, the young Padre Pio was no stranger to daily Mass, the rosary, fasting multiple days a week, and the memorization of Scripture. At the age of 5, he consecrated himself to Jesus and took on extra penances for himself. Known as a quiet and religious child, Padre Pio would later recall that he often spoke with Jesus, Mary, and his guardian angel as a child, and was already experiencing attacks from the devil at such a young age.
At the age of 10, the future Padre Pio told his parents that he wanted to become a priest, then later on “be a friar… with a beard.” He would be later renowned for his supernatural spiritual gifts, including bilocation, spiritual ecstasies, prophecy, the ability to read hearts, and the gift of tongues. (Read: Three Times Padre Pio Interceded Pinoys’ Prayers)
Padre Pio was also known as a great confessor and spiritual director—he had growing scores of pilgrims who seek out his confession and his counsel. In 1918, Padre Pio received the stigmata or the five wounds of Christ. It would remain with him for the rest of his life as he bore his cross—extraordinary gifts and holiness peppered with skepticism.