July 6, 2013 by lucieromarin
At university, I took a course on women’s spiritual writings, during which the lecturer suggested that female mysticism existed as a way of reclaiming the power denied women by male clergy. I think she meant that religion was invented by men and that we should have a sort of pitying respect for the women who, trapped in the system, used their delusions in order to resist the system. Female mystics weren’t great because they conversed with God; they were great because they challenged male power with what the modern admirer would, if pressed, admit to be mental instability.
There’s a religious version of this idea which is not much better: it runs something to the effect that, though mysticism is subject to the Church, God often chooses women to be His messengers so that both men and women can have complementary dignity within the Church. To me, though, this makes God something like a kindergarten teacher who has to make sure that each child gets something to do in the school play. (It also assume that priests are all having great lives and that God has to make it up to women somehow. Hollow laugh. Just wait till I write about clerical roadkill.)
No one who knows what a genuine mystic is can think that mysticism has anything to do with power, because genuine mysticism is characterised by obscurity. Venerable Maria Agreda was a prolific writer and correspondent, but she only described her bilocations to her bishop because her spiritual director ordered her to be truthful. Only St Catherine Laboure’s Superior and spiritual director knew that she had seen Our Lady; everyone else, including her sisters in religion, thought the Miraculous Medal was the Pope’s idea. The Venerable Concepcion Cabrera de Armida raised nine children without any of them having the slightest idea that she had seen Our Lord or had founded religious orders through His messages. Blessed Mariam of Jesus Crucified is quoted saying, “Happy the souls who suffer in secret, known to God alone!”
This preference for obscurity remains true even when the seer is a child, who, therefore, cannot avoid being noticed. Mariette Beco passed her life so quietly that 99 out of 100 devout Catholics cannot tell you who she is. After the apparitions at Lourdes, St Bernadette entered an enclosed religious order and avoided all sightseers who requested interviews. It’s true that 70,000 people witnessed the miracle of the sun at Fatima, but Blesseds Francisco and Jacinta Marto both died before they turned twelve, and their cousin Lucia was sent to a boarding school with her name changed so that no one knew who she was, and lived out the next eight decades of her life in almost total religious enclosure as a Carmelite nun.
You see, you can’t meet God and then not care about Him more than anything else. You can’t meet God and then care about power, fame, or money. This is the fastest way to tell whether or not an apparition is real or a mystic is genuine. False mystics publicise themselves, set themselves up as somebodies, go on speaking tours, and, occasionally, generate an income off their books, and the reason it satisfies them is that they haven’t seen God.
Genuine mysticism is also characterised by sacrifice. It’s powerful, if by ‘power’ we mean the ability to save souls, but other than that, it’s a horrible job. St Juliana of Liege was repeatedly thrown out of her religious house; St Margaret Mary Alacoque was treated as a lunatic by her sisters in religion; so was St Faustina Kowalska, whose spiritual director was treated as a lunatic by his brothers in the priesthood because he persisted at her side. St Gemma Galgani wanted to be a Passionist nun; she begged for the grace until tuberculosis told her it was not to be granted. For her, mysticism meant that instead of becoming a nun, she got to stay at home with the stigmata (which, like, hurts), with her sister trying to get friends in the house to mock her when she prayed, with the devil routinely appearing to hurl her across the room. Our Lord told the Servant of God Rozalia Celak, among other things, that she could not become a Poor Clare, as she hoped, but that she had to return to her hospital and work in the ward for venereal diseases for the rest of her life.
The theme of true mysticism is always the same: reparation, sacrifice, the love of God. To the children at Fatima, Our Lady said, “Sacrifice yourselves for sinners.” To Sister Josefa Menendez, Our Lord said, “One faithful soul can repair and obtain mercy for many ungrateful ones.” To the children at Beuraing, Our Lady said, “I will convert sinners…Do you love me? Then sacrifice yourself for me.” At Banneux, she said, “Pray much.” St Faustina was given the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, to pray for the salvation of souls. Venerable Marie Martha Chanbon was given the Chaplet of the Five Wounds, to pray for the salvation of souls. At Akita, Our Lady said, “Pray very much the prayers of the Rosary,” and asked Sister Agnes Sasagawa’s community to make a special commitment to reparation for sin.
It makes sense to me that women should be chosen for this role, for the simple reason that to for someone to be born, someone has to go through labour, and it isn’t usually a man. The same holds true in the spiritual life. God doesn’t call women to this role because He’s all liberated and is worried that women won’t feel important if He doesn’t give them something to do. He calls them because the soul to be reborn needs a spiritual mother as well as a spiritual father.
The moral of the story is that if you wish to enjoy power, don’t aspire to mysticism. It means getting beaten up, kicked out, bullied, going hungry and thirsty, praying non-stop, wearing stones in your shoe, seeing the flames of purgatory and Hell, and then not being vindicated until you’re dead – and even then, there will still be people who think that all you were was some kind of statement about gender issues. This is fine if you’re the kind of soul willing to endure whatever God asks of you. But that isn’t most of us!