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Psychological Healing
in the Catholic Mystic Tradition

Questions and Answers

I am a lawyer and father of six. I am thus very occupied most of the time. I know being holy is for all the faithful and I strive to incorporate prayer and penance throughout my day, revolving around the Eucharist. My question is: Are the ascetical practices of St. John of the Cross, as you mention on your website, meant for all or only for the few religious who can devote their entire life to them? or for occasional periods in our life (e.g. lent, to overcome addictions, etc.)? Is it dangerous for an ordinary mortal like myself to try to scale this Mount? Is it even possible in a normal “lay” life?

Outline of the Answer
• A Price Anyone Can Afford
• Vocation in the Context of Devotion
• A Final Image
• With Trials as a Teacher

 
Christ Himself told us what He requires of us:

  

When the Pharisees heard that He had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them [a scholar of the law] tested Him by asking, “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.

  

—Matthew 22:34–40

So what does it really mean, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind”? Can an “ordinary mortal” do this? How much is enough? Well, I can tell you what the Catholic mystics through the ages have said it takes: everything you have. Furthermore, that’s actually something anyone can afford.

 
Vocation in the Context of Devotion

Now, as Saint Francis de Sales wrote, it would be “ridiculous, unorganized and intolerable” for “married people to be no more concerned than a Capuchin about increasing their income; or for a working man to spend his whole day in church like a religious.” Still, he explains,

  

St. Francis de SalesThe bee collects honey from flowers in such a way as to do the least damage or destruction to them, and he leaves them whole, undamaged and fresh, just as he found them. True devotion does still better. Not only does it not injure any sort of calling or occupation, it even embellishes and enhances it.
 
Moreover, just as every sort of gem, cast in honey, becomes brighter and more sparkling, each according to its color, so each person becomes more acceptable and fitting in his own vocation when he sets his vocation in the context of devotion. Through devotion your family cares become more peaceful, mutual love between husband and wife becomes more sincere. . . .
 
Therefore, in whatever situations we happen to be, we can and we must aspire to the life of perfection.

  

—From The Introduction to the Devout Life
by Saint Francis de Sales, bishop
Office of Readings, 24 January

Note carefully that the need for every Christian to aspire to a life of perfection is the whole point of my website. Catholic mysticism is simply a matter of living a humble and devout lifestyle so as to seek holiness in everything you do, letting nothing interfere with a life of constant prayer. For example, rather than thinking of family responsibilities as a hinderance to prayer, parents can maintain a dedicated prayer life in two ways: by performing all daily tasks while maintaining a constant awareness of the presence of God (such as by praying the Jesus Prayer) and by sharing some of their vocal prayer time (e.g., the Liturgy of the Hours and the Rosary) and holy reading with their children, as a family activity.

 
A Final Image

Beyond that encouragement, I can offer you one final image in your own language that you might find particularly understandable. When you say, “Is it dangerous for an ordinary mortal like myself to try to scale this Mount? Is it even possible in a normal ‘lay’ life?” you express a subtle doubt in a way that sounds as if you were arguing a case in court before a jury, with a preconceived answer already in your mind.

So imagine standing before Christ the Judge on the last day. You will have to stand in your own defense. If you walk into the court with humility and say, “My Lord, I can offer no defense. I have already given you everything I have—my occupation, my family, my entire life—and I have nothing left with which to defend myself,” Christ might just say, “That’s true. Case dismissed.” But, if you have hidden doubts, He might just say, “I don’t think so. Let’s hear what your Accuser has to say.” There you will be, empty and broken, with a fool for an attorney, standing next to the opposing counsel: Satan himself. And Satan, a master psychologist, will trample all of your psychological excuses and defenses into the dirt. It won’t be pretty.

But, if you accept the fact that you—indeed, anyone—can and should ascend Mount Carmel, and if you make the sacrifices to make the climb, then you will discover the ineffable glory awaiting you at the summit.

 
With Trials as a Teacher

You might wonder why some persons grow to such great spiritual heights and why others make so little progress. Well, Saint John of the Cross explains it.

  

And here it ought to be pointed out why so few reach this high state of perfect union with God. It should be known that the reason is not that God wishes only a few of these spirits to be so elevated; He would rather want all to be perfect, but He finds few vessels that will endure so lofty and sublime a work. . . . There are many who desire to advance and persistently beseech God to bring them to this state of perfection. Yet when God wills to conduct them through the initial trials and mortifications, as is necessary, they are unwilling to suffer them and they shun them, flee from the narrow road of life [Mt. 7:14] and seek the broad road of their own consolation, which is that of their own perdition [Mt. 7:13]; thus they do not allow God to begin to grant their petition. They are like useless containers, for although they desire to reach the state of the perfect they do not want to be guided by the path of trials that leads to it.”

  

—Saint John of the Cross
The Living Flame of Love,
Stanza 2.27

 


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