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Spirituality | Religion | Self-interest | The Danger of Moral Depravity | The Danger of Offense to Chastity 
The Danger of Infatuation with Mystic Phenomena | Compunction | Sick of Sin

 
IN TODAY’S world, especially in the San Francisco Bay area, we often hear of persons who claim to value spirituality. In this New-Age sense, spirituality does not mean much more than an awareness of some sort of “enlightenment” that imbues one’s life with an esoteric, otherworldly feeling while making no particular demands on anyone.

   
Spirituality

In its best and most practical sense, however, spirituality can be defined psychologically as an inner belief system that provides a person with a sense of confidence and emotional comfort that transcends the conscious “self.”

Spirituality can be valuable as a first step leading us away from psychological self-centeredness. But it’s only a first step. And it’s often a misstep leading us right into its own narcissistic illusions, however esoteric they may appear—as I describe below.

 
Religion

In contrast, religion (deriving from the Latin religare, to bind back) refers to the beliefs and practices with which we worship God who created us.

  

Our help is in the name of the LORD
Who made heaven and earth.

  

—Psalm 124:8

Therefore, religion essentially denotes a lifestyle that draws us away from our self-centeredness and back to God in adoration and gratitude.

Note carefully, though, that if religion does not have a spirituality breathing life into it, religion will be just dry intellectual superstition. In other words, unless religion is a lifestyle that provides spiritual confidence and comfort, it will be stiff and lifeless. And it is for this precise reason that so many children reject their parents’ religion: “It’s not relevant to my life!”

But once we properly understand both spirituality and religion we can then speak, as I do here, of a mystic spirituality—that is, a firm grounding in the Christian religion that allows us to live our faith with awesome reverence, rather than intellectually. This spirituality can guide us in our religious practices to seek profound purification of heart and soul, and to accept, in perfect and chaste obedience, the obligations of love that Christ placed upon us: deny ourselves, take up the cross, and follow Him in the holy mission of bringing souls back to God in adoration and gratitude.

   
Self-interest

Human nature is such that, left to ourselves, without any external guidance, we tend to seek nothing more than our own self-interest. The Biblical history of the ancient Hebrews reveals that, time and time again, we seek God when we are in crisis and then we forget Him when things start looking rosy.

Saint Paul encountered the same human nature among the Greeks of Corinth. Corinth, after all, was one of the most morally corrupt cities in Greece, sort of like a combination of San Francisco, Las Vegas, Hollywood, and Amsterdam today. That bad. And the church at Corinth gave Saint Paul constant headaches.

Indeed, throughout its history, the Church has had to contend with almost constant arguing and bickering about what Christ really asked of us, because the hard, narrow way, to many persons, has seemed too narrow to allow them to squeeze through with all their self-interests wrapped around them.

Therefore, those who choose to live lives of holiness through deep contemplation and prayer need to recognize the dangers that are essentially inevitable along the way.

 
The Danger of Moral Depravity in Mysticism

Moral depravity is not a term much used in today’s world. After all, in the name of “diversity” just about anything goes today. And when anything goes everywhere, all paths lead nowhere. What one person sees as depravity, another person sees as . . . well, self-interest.

So there are many ways—specific to mystic aspirations—by which a person can lose a sense of chaste moral direction and fall into depravity.

 
The 007 Mentality

In the fictionalized James Bond stories, the “double 0” designation meant that a spy was of such unique and specialized worth that he had a license to kill anyone, without question, in carrying out his secret mission. Similarly, many self-styled mystics through the ages have developed a belief that they have such a unique and enlightened relationship to God that they can do things that are morally forbidden to persons of lesser holiness. This moral relativism amounts essentially to a “license to sin.”

From the miracle workers in Corinth who challenged Paul, to the Messalians (or Euchites) who gave headaches to Basil St. Louis Marie de Montfort of Caesarea in the fourth century, to the Albigensians whom Saint DominicSaint Dominic suppressed with his preaching in the thirteenth century, to the Jansenists whom Saint Louis-Marie de Montfort suppressed with his preaching in the eighteenth century, to the ordinary person of today’s world who says, “Oh, there’s your dogma again. I have no use for dogma. If Christ told me in my heart that He wanted me to marry someone who was divorced, I would do it. It’s between me and Christ,” it’s all the same thing. License to sin. It all flouts the demands of Christian chastity.

The Messalians, for example, believed that there was evil in every person that could not be overcome by sacramental grace alone. Now, in a way, there is some truth in this, in the sense that a passive acceptance of the sacraments, without a concomitant will to be changed and strengthened by them, won’t amount to much spiritual benefit. But the Messalians, missing the whole point here, taught that only intense prayer and ascetic contemplation could do the job—if it were forceful enough to produce palpable, psychological effects—and they abandoned the sacraments along with church attendance.

Similarly, the Albigensians—derivatives of the Manichaenism that almost snared Saint Augustine in his youth—taught about a guaranteed salvation in the context of a complete indifference to morality. In their scheme of things, nothing a person did or did not do would make any difference to the person’s salvation: the devil created the world, God created the spirit, and so everyone will end up in heaven anyway—or so they believed. 

So, too, those who followed Jansenism, a form of quietism (see below), while smugly awaiting their spiritual “baptism,” refused all moral discipline. Like the Albigensians, the Jansenists believed that, because of Adam and Eve’s fall from grace, human nature is corrupt and depraved, and that evil cannot be avoided.[1] So they looked for an endowment of irresistible grace from the Holy Spirit. In their rolling on the floor and babbling in “tongues” they acted much as some charismatics do today. In fact, many charismatics today fall into Jansenism without realizing it, and their emotionally charged activity is really nothing more than a psychological regression into infantile behavior, not a mature mystic spirituality.

It really shouldn’t seem astonishing that such silly ideas could have such a broad appeal, because they appeal psychologically to that part of the human psyche that wants an easier way than the hard, narrow, disciplined way of Christianity. Which is why, even today, most Protestants, and many Catholics even, are unconsciously riddled with these same errors. Sadly, few gullible souls ever read the fine print that says, “No license granted by the devil will be honored by God.”

  
Quietism

Some persons build their spirituality on the idea of self-abandonment. In contrast to self-surrender,[2] which is based on the emptying of the self through a humble and devout love for God, self-abandonment is based in a sort of spiritual pride whereby one seeks an indifference to the external world, including traditional virtue itself. Abandonment, after all, means just that: total lack of direction.

Whether based on the Buddhist perception that creation is evil and that one must therefore avoid suffering by freeing oneself from attachment to the world by meditation, or based in the infamous seventeenth century heresies of Jansen, Molinos, Guyon, and Fénelon, or based on the naive concept that marijuana and psychedelic drugs—or sexuality other than chaste marital sex—have some spiritual value, or based in a preoccupation with apparitions and visionaries, or even based in pseudo-Catholic “centering prayer,” quietism looks to psychological feelings as the focus of “spiritual” experience. Enlightenment comes, so it is said, by doing nothing. But this “doing nothing” becomes an exclusive narcissistic activity that attempts to feel with the senses what traditional theology attributes to the nonsensory workings of divine grace. In essence, then, all these varieties of quietism have nothing to do with “religion”—they are really nothing more than psychological techniques.

  

This desire for sensory, psychological satisfaction is not unique to quietism, however. In fact, it’s a universal phenomenon, and it derives from sin itself—that is, from our natural separation from God.

Just as philosophers through the ages have noted that we can find hints and traces of divinity in the natural world, so too we all experience a “hunger” for spiritual connectedness with each other and with God, as a sort of deep aching for what is missing in ordinary life. But given our state of separation from God, and the spiritual blindness that results from that separation, most of us fill our hunger with what is most immediately and naturally available: the five physical senses of the flesh.

And so Christ had to teach us the truth that we cannot see because of our natural blindness: “Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life. . . . Just as the living Father sent Me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on Me will have life because of Me. . . . It is the spirit that gives life, while the flesh is of no avail” (John 6:54,57,63).

And in our hunger for Christ we find the mystic basis for the Church’s teaching about sexual morality. It’s not that sexual pleasure is, in itself, bad or evil; it’s just that it simply misses the point when taken out of its proper context of marriage and procreation.

In Christ, then, we have access to real life and to a non-sensory ecstasy far, far greater than any mere physical sensation of pleasure. The physical realities of this life are . . . well, realities, yes, and they all have a temporal purpose, but understood in the Christian sense they should point us to the ultimate reality—and ecstasy—of God’s great glory in His Kingdom.

And so mystics through the ages have noted that the choice between spirit and flesh is eitheror. Just like Christ and John the Baptist, as one increases, the other must decrease. If we don’t understand that, then we simply miss the point of what Christianity is all about: entering into the awesome and glorious presence of God, to be filled, not with erotic fantasies, but with all the fullness of God (cf. Ephesians 3:19).

  

As an added “bonus” to quietism, of course, is the lack of moral obligation: the perfectly abandoned soul does not sin, the quietists taught, because the soul is so detached from everything that sin becomes irrelevant. So you can have your cake and eat it too. At least, until the Day of Judgment.

 


In both of these concepts of “mysticism,” you are pulled away from external good works, away from supervision by pastors and confessors, away from obedience to Church authority, and away from reliance on the liturgical, sacramental, and devotional life of the Church. So there you are, like a sheep without a shepherd, free to pursue your own self-interests—and vulnerable to the self-interest of any wolf that happens along.

 
The Danger of Offense to Chastity

All the baptized are called to chastity, but many of the baptized don’t even know what chastity is. So, in order to help define it, let’s look at the things that offend it (emphasis added to key words). And why are these things offenses to chastity? Because the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) says so? No. They offend chastity because they pervert the meaning of sexuality that God, in His creative love, intended for us. To anyone who has not entered into the experience of mystic love, all of this might seem difficult to grasp, but if you ever do surrender yourself to pure love, you will not only understand these things, but you will feel them in the aching depths of your heart. 

 

When they tell you
that the Catholic Church is wrong
about sexuality

Lust is disordered desire for or inordinate enjoyment of sexual pleasure. Sexual pleasure is morally disordered when sought for itself, isolated from its procreative and unitive purposes” (CCC 2351). 

“By masturbation is to be understood the deliberate stimulation of the genital organs in order to derive sexual pleasure. ‘Both the Magisterium of the Church, in the course of a constant tradition, and the moral sense of the faithful have been in no doubt and have firmly maintained that masturbation is an intrinsically and gravely disordered action.’ ‘The deliberate use of the sexual faculty, for whatever reason, outside of marriage is essentially contrary to its purpose.’ For here sexual pleasure is sought outside of ‘the sexual relationship which is demanded by the moral order and in which the total meaning of mutual self-giving and human procreation in the context of true love is achieved’” (CCC 2352). 

Fornication is carnal union between an unmarried man and an unmarried woman. It is gravely contrary to the dignity of persons and of human sexuality which is naturally ordered to the good of spouses and the generation and education of children. Moreover, it is a grave scandal when there is corruption of the young” (CCC 2353). 

Pornography consists in removing real or simulated sexual acts from the intimacy of the partners, in order to display them deliberately to third parties. It offends against chastity because it perverts the conjugal act, the intimate giving of spouses to each other. It does grave injury to the dignity of its participants (actors, vendors, the public), since each one becomes an object of base pleasure and illicit profit for others. It immerses all who are involved in the illusion of a fantasy world. It is a grave offense. Civil authorities should prevent the production and distribution of pornographic materials” (CCC 2354). 

Prostitution does injury to the dignity of the person who engages in it, reducing the person to an instrument of sexual pleasure. The one who pays sins gravely against himself: he violates the chastity to which his Baptism pledged him and defiles his body, the temple of the Holy Spirit. Prostitution is a social scourge. It usually involves women, but also men, children, and adolescents (The latter two cases involve the added sin of scandal.). While it is always gravely sinful to engage in prostitution, the imputability of the offense can be attenuated by destitution, blackmail, or social pressure” (CCC 2355). 

Rape is the forcible violation of the sexual intimacy of another person. It does injury to justice and charity. Rape deeply wounds the respect, freedom, and physical and moral integrity to which every person has a right. It causes grave damage that can mark the victim for life. It is always an intrinsically evil act. Graver still is the rape of children committed by parents (incest) or those responsible for the education of the children entrusted to them” (CCC 2356).

 
Chastity for those who are Single

“People should cultivate chastity in the way that is suited to their state of life. Some profess virginity or consecrated celibacy which enables them to give themselves to God alone with an undivided heart in a remarkable manner. Others live in the way prescribed for all by the moral law, whether they are married or single. Married people are called to live conjugal chastity; others practice chastity in continence” (CCC 2349).

“Those who are engaged to marry are called to live chastity in continence. They should see in this time of testing a discovery of mutual respect, an apprenticeship in fidelity, and the hope of receiving one another from God. They should reserve for marriage the expressions of affection that belong to married love. They will help each other grow in chastity” (CCC 2350). 

Homosexuality refers to relations between men or between women who experience an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction toward persons of the same sex. . . . Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered. They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved. . . . Homosexual persons are called to chastity” (CCC 2357; 2359).

 
Chastity in Marriage
 

“Sexuality is ordered to the conjugal love of man and woman. In marriage the physical intimacy of the spouses becomes a sign and pledge of spiritual communion. Marriage bonds between baptized persons are sanctified by the sacrament” (CCC 2360).

“Called to give life, spouses share in the creative power and fatherhood of God. Married couples should regard it as their proper mission to transmit human life and to educate their children; they should realize that they are thereby cooperating with the love of God the Creator and are, in a certain sense, its interpreters. They will fulfill this duty with a sense of human and Christian responsibility” (CCC 2367). 

“For just reasons, spouses may wish to space the births of their children. . . . Periodic continence, that is, the methods of birth regulation based on self-observation and the use of infertile periods, is in conformity with the objective criteria of morality. . . . In contrast, every action which . . . proposes, whether as an end or as a means, to render procreation impossible is intrinsically evil” (CCC 2368; 2370). 

“Couples who discover that they are sterile suffer greatly. . . . Techniques that entail the dissociation of husband and wife, by the intrusion of a person other than the couple (donation of sperm or ovum, surrogate uterus), are gravely immoral. These techniques (heterologous artificial insemination and fertilization) infringe the child’s right to be born of a father and mother known to him and bound to each other by marriage. They betray the spouses’ right to become a father and a mother only through each other. . . . Techniques involving only the married couple (homologous artificial insemination and fertilization) are perhaps less reprehensible, yet remain morally unacceptable. They dissociate the sexual act from the procreative act. The act which brings the child into existence is no longer an act by which two persons give themselves to one another, but one that entrusts the life and identity of the embryo into the power of doctors and biologists and establishes the domination of technology over the origin and destiny of the human person. Such a relationship of domination is in itself contrary to the dignity and equality that must be common to parents and children” (CCC 2374–2377). 

Adultery refers to marital infidelity. When two partners, of whom at least one is married to another party, have sexual relations—even transient ones—they commit adultery. Christ condemns even adultery of mere desire” (CCC 2380). 

Divorce is a grave offense against the natural law. It claims to break the contract, to which the spouses freely consented, to live with each other till death. Divorce does injury to the covenant of salvation, of which sacramental marriage is the sign. Contracting a new union, even if it is recognized by civil law, adds to the gravity of the rupture: the remarried spouse is then in a situation of public and permanent adultery. . . . Divorce is immoral also because it introduces disorder into the family and into society. This disorder brings grave harm to the deserted spouse, to children traumatized by the separation of their parents and often torn between them, and because of its contagious effect which makes it truly a plague on society” (CCC 2384; 2385). 

“Yet there are some situations in which living together becomes practically impossible for a variety of reasons. In such cases the Church permits the physical separation of the couple and their living apart. The spouses do not cease to be husband and wife before God and so are not free to contract a new union. In this difficult situation, the best solution would be, if possible, reconciliation” (CCC 1649). 

“The consent [to marriage] must be an act of the will of each of the contracting parties, free of coercion or grave external fear. No human power can substitute for this consent. If this freedom is lacking the marriage is invalid. For this reason (or for other reasons that render the marriage null and void) the Church, after an examination of the situation by the competent ecclesiastical tribunal, can declare the nullity of a marriage, i.e., that the marriage never existed. In this case the contracting parties are free to marry, provided the natural obligations of a previous union are discharged” (CCC 1628–1629).

“Human love does not tolerate ‘trial marriages.’ It demands a total and definitive gift of persons to one another” (CCC 2391). 

“Formal cooperation in an abortion constitutes a grave offense. The Church attaches the canonical penalty of excommunication to this crime against human life. A person who procures a completed abortion incurs excommunication . . . by the very commission of the offense. . . . The Church does not thereby intend to restrict the scope of mercy. Rather, she makes clear the gravity of the crime committed, the irreparable harm done to the innocent who is put to death, as well as to the parents and the whole of society” (CCC 2272).

 
The Danger of Infatuation with Mystic Phenomena

Quite often, at least in popular opinion, the effects of mystic spirituality—the stigmata, the ecstasies, the levitations, the apparitions—overshadow the mundane reality of a lifetime of discipline and hard work. And for some persons these mystic phenomena become desired at all costs, even to the point of fraud—or conscious (or unconscious) collusion with the devil.

Christ, of course, warned us about this:

  

Nevertheless, do not rejoice because the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice because your names are written in Heaven.

  

—Luke 10:20

Thus there can be only one protection against the danger of infatuation with mystic phenomena: seek only to love God, and let God give you whatever gifts He wants. 

Sadly, even this protection can be twisted and distorted by psychological prevarication. The world is full of people who claim to love God, and yet—wittingly or unwittingly—they serve nothing more than their own self-interests. Instead of seeking the humility that characterizes genuine mysticism, many persons seek “an emotional feeling of well-being, a reassurance that what you’re doing is right, and that you can have spiritual delights while ignoring the discipline that they entail.” [3] Thus they hope for miracles, rather than hard work, to change their lives, and they wander from the Way of the Cross to chase off after the allure of apparitions and visionaries.

  

In his fantasy book The Hobbit, the precursor to the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Tolkien tells of a journey through the dark and dangerous Mirkwood Forest. The travelers were warned to stay on the path and never leave it, no matter what should happen. Yet, no sooner did they get started than they spied fairy lights flickering in the darkness. Enthralled with the allure of the lights, they left the path in the hope of discovering the fairies themselves. But the more they sought after the fairies, the more the lights receded into the distance. And then, far from the safety of the path and wandering helplessly in the darkness, the travelers were snared by giant spiders.
 
Well, the story continues . . . but the lesson is clear: if you forsake the true path to chase after fairy lights, you do so at great peril.   

  

So this brings us to one unique mystical test which reveals a sincere desire for God. Many genuine mystics through the ages have experienced it personally. Moreover, some mystics, such as Blessed Anna Maria Taigi and the seers at Garabandal, [4] have predicted that it will occur eventually as a worldwide event. It’s the test of compunction. 

   
Compunction

Compunction—or the gift of tears—“is not just a fit of depression; it’s the result of a genuine and sudden shift in perspective, a pervading attitude of sorrow for sin.” [5]

  

Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted. But the mourning for which [the Lord] promises eternal consolation, dearly beloved, has nothing to do with ordinary worldly distress; for the tears which have their origin in the sorrow common to all mankind do not make anyone blessed. There is another cause for the sighs of the saints, another reason for their blessed tears. Religious grief mourns for sin, one’s own or another’s; it does not lament because of what happens as a result of God’s justice, but because of what is done by human malice. Indeed, he who does wrong is more to be lamented than he who suffers it, for his wickedness plunges the sinner into punishment, whereas endurance can raise the just man to glory.

  

—From a sermon on the beatitudes
by Saint Leo the Great, pope
Office of Readings, Saturday,
Twenty-Second Week in Ordinary Time

Many mystics through the ages have described the experience of compunction as the first step into genuine spiritual life. Once overwhelmed by the profound realization of how much we have hurt others with our self-indulgent behavior, we then, like Christ weeping for Jerusalem, begin to weep for ourselves and for others. Saint Teresa of Avila describes a soul in such pain: 

  

In some way perhaps the sorrow proceeds from the deep pain it feels at seeing that God is offended and little esteemed in this world and that many souls are lost . . . Even though it sees that God’s mercy is great—for however wicked their lives, these [souls] can make amends and be saved—it fears that many are being condemned.

. . . [T]he pain suffered in this state . . . breaks and grinds the soul into pieces, without the soul’s striving for it or even at times wanting it.

. . . If a soul with so little charity [6] when compared to Christ’s . . . felt this torment to be so unbearable, what must have been the feeling of our Lord Jesus Christ? And what kind of life must He have suffered since all things were present to Him and He was always witnessing the serious offenses committed against His Father? . . . But I consider it so difficult to see the many offenses committed so continually against His Majesty and the many souls going to hell that I believe only one day of that pain would have been sufficient to end many lives; how much more one life, if He had been no more than man.

  

The Interior Castle
V:2. 10,11,14

 
Sick of Sin

This profound sorrow for the sins of the world confirms the soul’s love for God because it originates at the very core of free will. No soul can desire the good, let alone do good, without the grace of God. But contrary to the fifth century claims of Pelagius, this statement does not contradict the goodness of human nature, nor does it make a mockery of free will. Nor must it be supported with the Augustinian idea of predestination.

The simple fact is that, just as psychological change begins with painful remorse for one’s behavior, the soul, in looking at the corruption of the world and feeling deep sorrow for it, can freely turn to God and, like Saint Catherine of Genoa, say, with a cry of inner anguish, “O Lord! no more world, no more sin!”

But without divine grace the soul can do nothing about its sorrow; nor does it even know what to do. Yet its initial, tearful cry will be heard, and its journey into the holiness of pure love—and the profound gift of tears—will begin.

 

   

Who wrote this web page?

 

Notes.

1. True Catholic theology teaches us that human nature is essentially good. Even though we can see evidence of depravity and corruption all around us, this social corruption is called concupiscence, the result of Original sin. But, if we surrender ourselves to divine grace, the psychological defenses that support us in concupiscence can be overcome.

2. Surrender always implies a surrendering to someone. Thus, in the mystical sense, self-surrender means surrendering the self to God and His will. Consequently, self-surrender necessitates a total belief in God. In contrast, self-abandonment implies a belief in “nothing” and means an abandonment to anything and everything, come what may, without qualification—and this opens the soul to demonic influence as well.

3. Kevin Orlin Johnson, Twenty Questions About Medjugorje (Dallas: Pangæus Press, 1999), p. 13-14. Dr. Johnson gives clear, authoritative answers to questions about what Rome has really said about the so-called apparitions of Medjugorje. You can order this booklet direct from the publisher by sending $2.00 (includes postage and handling) to Pangaeus Press, PO Box 670127, Dallas, TX 75367.

4. Blessed Anna Maria Taigi (1769-1837) predicted a future “illumination of all consciences.” The seers at Garabandal in 1965 experienced visions of the Blessed Virgin who predicted an imminent Warning that will “correct the conscience of the world.”
   Note, however, that according to the official Church investigations (as of 1996) into the events at Garabandal, “the supernaturality of the referenced apparitions was not proven” (see http://www.ewtn.com/library/BISHOPS/GARABAND.HTM).

5. Kevin Orlin Johnson, Apparitions: Mystic Phenomena and What They Mean (Dallas: Pangæus Press, 1998), p. 35.

6. That is, herself.

 

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Where Catholic therapy (Catholic psychotherapy) is explained according to Catholic psychology in the tradition of the Catholic mystics.