Catholic Classroom: Mystics
Question: What is a mystic?
Yesterday, September 23, was the feast day of one of the twentieth century’s greatest mystics, St. Padre Pio. St. Padre Pio was an Italian Capuchin friar who was known for his great piety and the extraordinary spiritual gifts that God gave him, including the stigmata and the ability to bilocate.
But what exactly is a mystic? Do all mystics receive these amazing gifts?
In a general sense, a mystic is a person who seeks an intimate relationship with God through prayer and contemplation. Mystics are concerned with more than an academic or intellectual understanding of God; they desire the discovery of truths about God that can only be understood through a deep relationship with him. Perhaps above all, they seek an intimate union with God.
Although some mystics do receive extraordinary spiritual gifts like the stigmata, this is neither the goal nor sole indication of mysticism. Like any spiritual gift, God gives it to the recipient for a special purpose in building up the Body of Christ and giving glory to him. In the case of someone like St. Padre Pio, we don’t admire him and call him saintly because of his gifts—we recognize him as a saint because of his holiness and closeness with God.
No matter who you are or the way you approach your faith, you can engage in mysticism to deepen your relationship with God. All you need to do is to set aside time for quiet prayer and contemplation, and to use that time to seek God with your whole heart. If this type of spirituality appeals to you, pray for the grace to enter into contemplation (or ask one of the mystic saints to intercede for you), and give it a try.
Here are just a few of the famous mystics in Catholic tradition:
- St. Hildegard of Bingen
- St. John of the Cross
- St. Teresa of Avila
- St. Elizabeth of the Trinity
- St. Padre Pio
- St. Julian of Norwich
- St. Gemma Galgani
- Thomas Merton