in the Catholic Mystic Tradition
sons of men, how long will you be dull of heart?
Why do you love vanity, and seek what is false?
A Basis both Ecclesiastical and Psychological
The Experiment |
Christianity is simple: love. Yet in this simplicity,
complicated problems can spring up like weeds, for we more often than not
use love as a mere excuse for
self-indulgence. In the modern world
especiallyalthough it has been a problem throughout Church historywe
commonly scorn real love. We scorn the suffering, self-sacrificial love with
which Christ loved us to save us from our sins. And even though Christ commanded
us to love each other as I have loved you, we scorn this love
because we have so perverted and eroticised the concept of love
that we even condone sin today in the name
So, before explaining the spiritual
counsels that can assist your healing, lets consider the practical
framework of a Christian life, reduced to its own simplicity: before we can
enter into the pure love within the Kingdom of Heaven, we must be purified
of all that is not genuine
Therefore, our mortal life should be a life of spiritual refinement, whereby
Therefore, a life of genuine
Christian faith and love must
be directed to doing everything we can to fulfill the Christian mandate
and to avoiding anything that contradicts this mandate.
A Basis both
Ecclesiastical and Psychological
Through its Tradition and laws,
the Church is able to guarantee to the faithful the very necessary
minimum in the spirit of prayer and moral effort, in the growth in love of
God and neighbor (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2041). Now,
in this context, the very necessary minimum means that salvation is
not possible with anything less than what the Church
But can it be advisable to do
more than what the Church minimally requires?
Well, remembering how easy it
is to pervert love into something it isnt, it is just as easy to make
the very necessary minimum into a mere intellectual performance.
If we do that, we end up deceiving ourselvesand that, sadly, is far
from what is really needed. Even at its very necessary minimum, love must be
more than a surface scratchit must cut deeply into the heart.
Now, in the realm of psychology,
when attempting to heal emotional wounds that block spiritual growth, we
need to go far deeper than surface appearances. We need penetrating psychological
insight to get to the roots of the weeds that choke our spiritual
And the best way to develop
psychological insight and spiritual development is to turn away from social
outsightthat is, attachment to social identifications that
merely cover over our inner confusion and turmoil with a surface feeling
of acceptance by others. So, considering that unconscious psychological
more often than not lead us away from complete trust in God and right
into spiritual disobedience, and
considering the consequences of disobedienceall the temporal misery
of purgatory, or, even worse, the unending misery
in hellit would be prudent to make certain
that the very necessary minimum is not just an intellectual
Therefore, seek true
lovethe true and single ecclesiastical and
psychological goalat any cost. Aim high or you will miss
the mark altogether. It is necessary to do everything we can to remain aware,
at every moment of our lives, from the very depths of our hearts, that we are
totally dependent on Gods love for us.
Believe it or not, all the counsels
that follow derive from pure love as exemplified
by the Catholic mystics through the ages. There is nothing arbitrary, or
artificial, or puritanical about them.
My love so delights
the soul that it destroys every other joy which can be expressed by man here
below. The taste of Me extinguishes every other taste; My light blinds all
who behold it . . .
as told to Saint Catherine
Spiritual Doctrine, Part III, Chapter VII
Yet, sadly, most everyone
who reads these counsels will balk.
I cant do that,
they say. Ill die if I have to give up
. . . cigarettes, alcohol, sex,
television . . . Well, maybe you can get the
Christ told us, however, that
in order to follow Him we had to die. What is Christianity but death
to this world and birth to a new, ineffably delightful spiritual life? And
what is the basis for this new life? Love. Pure, simple
love. And what are the things that obstruct pure,
holy love? Well, for example, how about
alcohol, sex (that is,
other than chaste marital sex), and
entertainmentthe very things to which you
cling in order to preserve your life
as you think it should be.
So how do these things obstruct
love? Well, in trying to preserve what now seems to you to be
lifethat is, in defending your
prideyou in effect prevent yourself from
doing what Christ told us all to do: give up everything for Him, from the
very depths of your heart, so as to serve Him with every aspect of your being.
To do what He asks is love, for it is to value the holy life He offers through
Himself more than your own illusions
about how you think life should serve your own
The present time is very
precious. Now are the safe days. Now is the acceptable time. But how sad
that you do not spend this time well while you have strength to gather the
merit which will allow you to live forever! The time will come when you will
wish for one day or one hour for changing your ways, and I do not know whether
you will get it. . . . Learn now to place Christ at the center of your life,
that then you may begin to live your life with Christ. Learn now to let go
of all things that stand between you and Christ . . . . Do, do now, dear
friend, whatever you can do, because you do not know when you will die, nor
do you know what will happen to you afterwards. Gather everlasting riches
while you have time. Think of nothing except your eternal well-being. Care
only for the things of God. . . . Keep your heart free and lifted up to God,
for this world is not your permanent home . . . .
Thomas à Kempis
The Imitation of Christ, 1. 23
(Trans. by William Creasy)
Right now, with all your illusions
wrapped around you, you are dwelling in blindness, even though you deny it.
Of course you cant see it. Who could?
Just remember that many persons
caught up in addictions, such as alcoholism, will, while in a state of
intoxication, claim that they are doing nothing harmful to their lives.
Its only when they get into a sober state of mind that they can perceive
how close to death and total destruction they really were. And so it is in
the spiritual realm. When youre caught up in all the attractions of
the world its literally impossible to see how
much of your life is a refusal to serve God and
how close to spiritual ruin you really are, even if you already claim to
be Catholicor even a devout
I have seen this in myself,
for from time to time I have found many natural
desires destroyed within me which had previous
seemed to me very good and perfect; but when they were thus removed I saw
that they had been depraved and faulty, and in accordance with those spiritual
and bodily infirmities which, being hidden from me, I had not supposed myself
to possess. And this is why it is necessary to attain such a subtlety of
spiritual vision, in order that all which at first appears to us perfection
may in the end be known as imperfections, robberies, and woes: all this is
clearly revealed in that mirror of truth, pure love, in which all things
appear distorted which to us had seemed upright.
Saint Catherine of Genoa
The Life and Doctrine of St. Catherine of Genoa
Therefore, if only you would
now do what I tell you here, in true imitation of Christ, you would soon
discover for yourself an experience of holy love so palpable and real that
every unconscious resistance will dissolve
into oblivion and only pure love will
Instead of seeking
your own pleasure, seek to do Gods will. Instead of defending your
pride, defend the Faith.
Instead of serving your self-interests, serve others with love, as Christ
Himself commanded us to do.
Consider this work to be a
experiment; it will give you a chance to experience a life of
spiritual nakedness such that, having no recourse to old distractions, your
focus can be on three things only: (a) exploration of the fears and
resistances that arise on your confronting your inner
weakness; (b) devout prayer and reading;
and (c) your work in the world, which is a physical necessitymay
it honor God and sanctify your brothers and sisters.
I recommend that
you make a commitment to follow these counsels for three months. During
the course of that time, if you fall, dont obsess about it, and dont
punish yourself; just stand up and start again where you left off.
After the three months, you will
have a good idea of your weaknesses and resistances. Then you will have a
You can simply give up the counsels
and go back to your old ways.
Or you can make a focused effort
to resolve your weaknesses and resistances. To do this, it is necessary to take up
relentless, persistent prayer to God (and to the saints and angels for their
intercession) that you will grow in holiness. Moreover, at the same time,
it is necessary to force yourself to maintain a calm trust in Gods protection
and guidance despite your fears of admitting your own helplessness and
despite your impatience with things not happening as quickly as you
If you face your fears, and if you
desire above all things to clean your soul of
your own self-impediments, then you will understand the following words of
Saint John of the Cross:
Thus the small dove, the
soul, not only returns to the ark of her God as clean and white as when He
created her before her departure, but also carries in addition the olive
branch that signifies the reward and peace obtained in her victory over
of the Cross,
The Spiritual Canticle, 34. 4
There are four basic aspects
to this experimental process: prayer, abstinence from defenses,
charity, and self-encounter.
the course of the work, make prayer the basis
of your emotional stability.
Mass every Sunday (if not daily) and on every
holy day of obligation and on every Solemnity
of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Be careful to arrive on time, and do not leave before the
dismissal. Dress modestly and reverently. Women,
cover your heads with a scarf or chapel veil.
If you have a family, read the Scriptural
texts for the next days Mass each evening as a family activity.
Spend time reflecting on the meaning of the texts. If you need help interpreting
the texts, then use the book A Practical Commentary on Holy Scripture
as described on the Reading the Bible page of this
Use the United States Conference
of Catholic Bishops website to view the Readings for Mass, for any day
of the current month.
around your neck at all times as a seal upon your heart; the chain, therefore,
should be long enough to keep the medal over your heart, rather than over
your throat. Say its prayer (O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for
us who have recourse to thee.) at least twice, if not several times,
Teach yourself to pray the
Jesus Prayer as a moment-by-moment ongoing
On a daily basis, keep, at a
minimum, Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer from the
Liturgy of the Hours.
If you have a family, pray the Evening
Prayer each day as a family activity, to the extent possible.
Every noon (except Sunday), stop
work and pray the Angelus (or the
Regina Coeli during the
Pray at least five decades of
the Rosary every day to the extent
If you have a family, pray the Rosary
every evening after dinner with your family, in lieu of watching
always for all the souls in Purgatory and for all the poor souls in danger
of hell who have no one to pray for them.
the course of the work, you can encounter your inner brokenness by
abstaining from all self-indulgent defenses that serve only to distract
you from your brokenness. These defenseswhich do nothing to lead you
to spiritual purity and do quite a bit to seduce you into spiritual
Sex is not
love, so outside of its procreative function in
marriage, it serves only the narcissistic purpose
of making ourselves feel good. Learn, therefore, to place your
trust in God, not in your body or in the body of a partner
in sin; to learn to trust in God, it is important to
face your emotional emptiness directly,
without defenses. Therefore, to conduct your experiment
in these spiritual counsels, live in chastity and abstain from
eroticism: no interpersonal sex, no masturbation, no pornography, no dating, and no
Internet or social network flirtations. (If you are marriedthat is, a
legitimate marriage between a man and a womanmarital chastity does not require
abstinence from sex with your spouse. During the three months of the work, however,
you should still abstain from
you will have to negotiate this with your spouse.)
Tobacco. No one who remains enslaved
to any addiction, including
smoking, can fulfill Christs command
to love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul,
with all your mind, and with all your strength (Mark 12:30). To be
addicted to anything means, by definition, that you love the addiction more
than anything elsemore than the welfare of your own soul and, therefore,
more than God.
Alcohol. A small glass of wine
can be a legitimate part of a meal, and an occasional glass of beer
or a cocktail can be a part of a festive celebration, but any
habitual use of alcohol is nothing but a way
to soothe yourself when you should be turning to God in prayer.
Recreational drugs, especially
marijuana. Self-induced altered states of consciousness are all a fraud,
in the spiritual sense; drugs have no place in true
love and devotion.
TV, movies, sports, electronic gaming, social networking, gambling,
radio, secular music, etc. These things not only squander your time and talents
on frivolities, but they also infect you with
the anti-Christian values (such as lust, pride, avarice, vanity, self-indulgence,
competition, hostility, etc.) of contemporary society. Instead of turning
to a corrupt social world for emotional satisfaction,
turn to God in contemplative silence and
both men and women, avoid tight or revealing clothing, piercings, and
tattoos. (If you have an existing tattoo,
cover it in shame for having defiled your body, the
temple of the Holy Spirit.) For women, do not wear jeans and
slacks, and cover your head when praying, especially in church. To learn true
humility, set aside all
Junk foods and
fast foods. If you really
believed that your body is the
temple of the Holy Spirit, you would eat a healthy
diet, not bad for you foods. Avoid white flour, and eat
fatty foods and sugars sparingly. Eat only foods baked with whole grain flours. As
much as possible, avoid eating meat, because meat is an expensive luxury. Eat simple
avoid a regular use of restaurants; and gather up the money youve saved and give it
to the poorand lose excess weight in the
Colas and soft-drinks. Drink
water. Our bodies need water for
but soft-drinks are just self-indulgence: empty sweetness with no nutritional
or spiritual value.
Coffee or tea that is not a part
of a legitimate meal (i.e., breakfast, afternoon tea, and dinner). Coffee
and tea, like wine, can aid digestion, but taken repetitively throughout
the day coffee or tea becomes a harmful addiction. Drink water throughout
the day instead.
Magazines, books, newspapers,
etc. not necessary for professional purposes. Read only the
readings and similar theological texts.
For many, as
I have often told you and now tell you even in tears, conduct themselves
as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction. Their God is
their stomach; their glory is their shame. Their minds are occupied
with earthly things.
the course of the work, you can learn to minimize your sense of self-importance
and pride by treating others with charity.
Avoid swearing, whether aloud
or silently. Train your thoughts to be as calm, peaceful, and prayerful as
possible. Avoid all hostility. Do not seek revenge
and do not make threats. When injured, give a blessing to the person who
injured you and pray the Chaplet of The Divine
Mercy for the sake of that person with the intention that he or she will
come to recognize and repent such hurtful behavior.
But now you must
put them all away: anger, fury, malice, slander, and obscene language out
of your mouths.
If anyone who
does not control his
imagines that he is devout, he is self-deceived; his worship is
For the judgment
is merciless to one who has not shown mercy.
Avoid all gossip and
competitive behavior, including
sports. Learn to focus instead on your own
Do nothing out
of selfishness or out of vainglory; rather, humbly regard others as more
important than yourselves, each looking out not for his own interests, but
everyone for those of others.
Give a dollaror five dollars,
if you can afford itto every beggar who asks you for money. Learn to
feel the enormity of the worlds need and your
inadequacy to provide for it. Moreover, dont
be concerned with what the beggar will do with the money; give simply because
Christ commanded us to give. You can tell the beggar that you think he is
a liar and a fraud, and you can preach
the Gospel to him as you give him money, but just as the beggar will have
to give an accounting of his behavior to Christ, so will you have
to account for your behavior.
Give to everyone
who asks of
the course of the work, you can learn to encounter your unconscious
fears and conflicts by
entering into the scrutiny of
the Four Steps to Humility;
keeping a nightly log of your
interpreting your dreams;
keeping a personal journal of
reading spiritual texts and setting
aside time for contemplative prayer.
Study the books on the
Recommended Readings page of this website. Begin with
the Imitation of Christ. Read it straight through once, quickly, but
thereafter open it at random and read bits of it in depth, as a sort of daily
guidance, while reading the other books, including the
Bible, and keeping the Liturgy
of the Hours.
agree to all these counsels, receive the sacrament of Penance and
Reconciliation: confess your past sins and state your desire to begin
EMEMBER, the mystics did all these things,
and more, not just for three months, but for their whole lives, out of pure
love and reverence for God. The martyrs gave
their lives out of faithful love for Christ.
The prefect Rusticus
said: Now let us come to the point at issue, which is necessary and
urgent. Gather round then and with one accord offer sacrifice to the gods.
Justin said: No one who is right thinking stoops from true worship
to false worship. The prefect Rusticus said: If you do not do
as you are commanded you will be tortured without mercy. Justin said:
We hope to suffer torment for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ, and
so be saved. For this will bring us salvation and confidence as we stand
before the more terrible and universal judgment-seat of our Lord and
From the Acts of the martyrdom
of Saint Justin
and his companion saints
Office of Readings, June 1:
Saint Justin, martyr
Ultimately, you may
do what you wantthat is, no one can force
you to live a holy life, because if your actions are not based in love, then
they are all worth nothing, as Saint Paul said (1 Corinthians 13:1-3).
And the spiritual awareness that our lives, without grounding in divine love,
are worth nothing, is the justification for these counsels. So, having
successfully encountered the challenges of this work, you just might have
a changed outlook on Christian mysticism and morality, and
Now I occupy
and all my energy in His service;
I no longer tend the herd,
nor have I any other work
now that my every act is love.
If, then, I am no longer
seen or found on the common,
you will say that I am lost;
that, stricken by love,
I lost myself, and was found.
of the Cross,
The Spiritual Canticle,
The Poem, Stanzas 28-29
Keep in mind this analogy: fire does not burn itselfonly that which
is not fire is burned by fire. Thus, in the spiritual realm, Gods
love burns and torments whatever is not love. The fire of Purgatory
is Gods love purifying and burning out of repentant souls every worldly
attachment that is not love, until they become pure love. And the
fire of Hell is Gods love that burns and torments
unrepentant souls who are not love because in this life they
have chosen lifestyles defiant of love, thereby refusing the opportunity
to become love.
A conflict refers to the psychological fact that one part of your
unconscious mind wants healing and health and another part of your unconscious
mind resists healing. This resistance usually derives from two things. First,
because you have been so mistreated by others, in the depths of your mind
you secretly believe that you are worthless and
dont deserve anything good. Second, because you are so
angry with others for having mistreated you, you
experience a certain unconscious satisfaction in remaining a victim so that
you can throw your pain back into their faces in
Just as Christianity began, so to speak, with the Blessed Virgin,
so your spiritual healing should begin with her guidance.
But please understand that the Miraculous Medal is not
magic. The graces that flow from
its use, through the hands of the Blessed Virgin, depend entirely on your
willingness to open your heart to them totally, free from
superstition, with a deep yearning to have
your life profoundly changed by them.
In this sense, then, the Miraculous Medal is a
sacramental. Tangible things such as medals and scapulars, and intangible
things such as blessings are all sacramentals. Sacramentals, says the
Catechism of the Catholic Church, signify effects, particularly
of a spiritual nature, which are obtained through the intercession of the
Church. By them, men are disposed to receive the chief effect of the
sacraments, and various occasions in life
are rendered holy (§ 1667).
Thus, whereas sacraments in and of themselves produce
graces for those who are properly disposed to receive them, sacramentals
inspire us to acts of devotion and virtue that draw divine grace to
In lieu of sexual contact, try practicing non-sexual emotional and physical
intimacy such as cuddling, holding hands, and
Please understand that Im speaking here of vanity (from the Latin
vanitas, meaning emptiness or worthlessness).
We all need to go shopping at times, but some persons make shopping into
a self-serving hunger for materialism. We all must keep our fingernails trimmed,
but wasting money on having them painted is, well, wasteful. We all have
hair that must be groomed, and premature gray hair is sometimes more attractive
if it is returned to its natural color, but some persons change the color
of their hair just to project an illusory sense
of identity. The point here is that personal grooming shows a necessary respect
for the body, the temple of the Holy Spirit, whereas
self-indulgence and vanityboth sins of
prideimpede not only
humble service to Christ but also true
love to others and are therefore spiritually
Dont be rigid about this, however. The point here isnt to punish
yourself or make your life misery; the point is to introduce
simplicity to life. There is nothing wrong with eating special foods
once in a while or of feasting occasionally.
In general, one glass (8 ozor 250 ml) of pure water per hour is recommended
for good health. Be advised, though, that exceeding the maximum recommended
water intake½ qt/hr (500 ml/hr) in moderate temperatures and easy
work loadcan lead to a medical condition called water intoxication
If we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we also
guide their whole bodies. It is the same with ships: even though they are
so large and driven by fierce winds, they are steered by a very small rudder
wherever the pilots inclination wishes. In the same way the tongue
is a small member and yet has great pretensions (James
from the Heart
How to turn the
emotional wounds of daily life
into psychological growth.
in the Catholic mystic tradition
about the spiritual depth of