Skip to content
Catholic Online Logo

By Norbert Isles

2/3/2013 (2 years ago)

Catholic Online (

God's vision and power for transformation

"Seeing the mystic immobile, crucified or rapt in prayer, some may perhaps think that his activity is in abeyance or has left this earth: they are mistaken. Nothing in the world is more intensely alive and active than purity and prayer, which hang like an unmoving light between the universe and God. Through their serene transparency flow the waves of creative power, charged with natural virtue and grace." (from Teilhard de Chardin, Hymn of the Universe)


By Norbert Isles

Catholic Online (

2/3/2013 (2 years ago)

Published in Living Faith

Keywords: Christian Mysticism, Monasticism, prayer, devotion, Norbert Isles

WASHINGTON,DC (Catholic Online) - Christian mysticism is God's power for transforming the world through ordinary lives lived in union with God. This reality is illustrated in a grand scale by the rise of monasticism during the dark period in the history of western civilization.

As written in Wikepedia, "The Migration period, also called the Barbarian Invasions or Völkerwanderung (German: wandering of the peoples), was a period of human migration that occurred roughly between the years 300 to 700 CE in Europe, marking the transition from Late Antiquity to the Early Middle Ages". Historians attribute the salvation of Europe from these plundering barbaric races and the subsequent rebuilt of western civilization through the influence and activity of monastic communities.

Historian Mc Neill, William H., in A World History wrote that "In a violent and barbarous age, communities of monks, devoted to the service of God, were small islands of calm in a stormy world. Especially in the Latin West, monasteries became the main institution that preserved a minimum of intellectual culture during what are often called the Dark Ages".

What about monasticism that precisely brought this about? The way of life of the monks resulted in the gradual, yet massive transformation of European society economically, culturally and religiously after the fall of the Roman Empire. It is general knowledge, as Woods Jr, Thomas E, Ph. D. wrote in How The Catholic Church Built Western Civilization , that "the monks preserved the literary inheritance of the ancient world, not to mention literacy itself, in the aftermath of the fall of Rome".

But the impetus of this movement was attributed not primarily to the outward ministry but rather to the essential vocation of the monks in the monastic community. And this vocation is the singular dedication to a life of union with God. It accounted for the overflow of effective power in their labor that produced the kind of results that both arrest the decay and effect the restoration of western civilization. O'Connor, John B., O.P. , in Monasticism and Civilization wrote:

"Consequently, we must not judge the civilizing influence of the monks, the tremendous thing they did for society and humanity, as though they were the works of professional humanitarian whose lives were dedicated to these achievement in the execution of which they were but following a profession in which they had been carefully trained.

Had the monks contributed nothing to the reconstruction of society, to the advancement of civilization, to the material betterment of the world, they could not justly have been deemed deserving of censure. Such was not their vocation nor their sphere of life. For this reason it adds immediately to the credit and fame of their glorious accomplishments that they assumed these tasks gratuitously, purely from a supernaturalized love of their fellow-men."

The Heart of Mysticism

That this is God' vision and strategy for the world is very much rooted in the way God has acted through the incarnation of the Lord Jesus Christ. Fr. John Fuellenbach, SVD , who spent most of his life as theologian reflecting on the vision of Christ stated in The Reign of God: the mission of the Church that there are two basic things the Lord is on fire or passionate about: revealing God as Father and proclaiming the reign of God.

This obsession for the Father's business may be seen early in the life of the Lord as recounted in the infancy narrative. When he was lost and subsequently found by his parents and questioned about his whereabouts he responded by saying: "Didn't you know that I am about my Father's business". And all throughout his life he demonstrated that his business is to be with the Father, to listen to him and to simply do the will of the Father.

In the life of the Lord we see that intimacy with the Father is bound up with passion for his reign; they are inseparable, yet the manner of his reign always proceeds from his intimacy with the Father. It is not an agenda that he pursued independent of the Father's love. The essence of the Christian life is seen in the example of the Lord's relationship with the Father and the Father's mission for him. "I do nothing on my own; I only do what I see the Father doing."

This example of the Lord is most closely and clearly manifested in the monastic vocation and in the individual lives of the mystics. This can best be described as passion or obsession for God. The saint, man or woman of God, the mystic, what they all have in common is oneness with God and obedience to His will in everything.

How Mysticism Benefits the World

Mysticism has two practical consequences for the world. Life of union with God preserves the world from corruption and destruction. This is illustrated in the Old Testament story of Abraham and Lot, wherein Abraham bargained with God to preserve Sodom (& Gomorrah) if only he will find a certain number of holy people (Genesis 18:23-33). This need not be a great number. There seem to be a mathematical relationship wherein for the sake of the few, a multitude is saved.

In the New Testament, the Lord illustrated this in the parable of the salt; salt being the primary substance that prevents corruption. This mathematical aspect has been demonstrated in the history of the church, particularly monasticism's role in arresting further degradation of western civilization.

The New Testament speaks of the kingdom of God as a lamp that lightens the house or like a city on top of a hill (Matthew 5:13-14). This imagery is so eloquently realized in the building up of Monte Casino which attracted visits even of Barbarians. And after the predation of Europe by the Barbarians, it is in the monasteries that the seed of the new civilization that would rise were reproduced, stored and later rediscovered. Indeed monasticism has become the salt of the earth and the light of the world.

The problem of the cleavage of the active and contemplative life became a development in the history of the church and in the modern world the active life became predominant. There was a decline in the monastic institutes over the years and in the history of the world this is accompanied by parallel rise of modern heresies and global conflict. The active institutes were not able to cope up with the challenge of secularization and rationalism that resulted in godlessness among the nations.

However, in the first half of the 20th century God raised up a monk who brought the monastic charism to the attention of the world and re-awakened interest in the monastic life. That person among others is Thomas Merton. He confronted the problem of cleavage between the contemplative life and the active life and pointed out their essential unity, coining the word contemplation in action. Through him the mystical life became accessible through writings that for the most part directed at monks, but where nevertheless, become increasingly applicable and directed to wider readership as well.

Mysticism for Everyone

We should begin to see the mystical spirit not as a special charism but rather as the essence of the Christian life. There is a need for a creative formulation of the mystical way of life so that it becomes more accessible to the ordinary Christian. The voluminous record and concentration on the high end of mysticism has given the exclusivity of the mystical graces to the domain of elite saints and mystics. This is primarily because mystical literature focused on the extra-ordinary and unique fruits of the mystical experience.

But ordinary Christians not schooled in the deep insights of the mystics can also experience the mystical life. This is illustrated by the story of Cure de Ars.  When asked about what he was doing, why he had been regularly spending long hours sitting at the back of the church before the Blessed Sacrament  he replied simply: "Nothing. I just look at Him and He looks at me."

Ruth Burrows, in her Guidelines for Mystical Prayer, identified two kinds of mystical experience as "lights on" and "lights off" experience. Most of the mystical literature we have refer to the "lights on" experience, but not much is written about the "lights off" experience. It is this "lights off" dimension which offers a door for theological and pastoral reflection and can eventually open the door for the wisdom needed for mystical growth to the whole church. This spirituality of extraordinariness in ordinariness is beautifully described by Dwight Longenecker, in the June 2002 Touchstone Magazine article of the same title, as "Everyday Grace".

This spirituality is exemplified in the life of St. Therese of Liseux; and her life can be a model for guiding ordinary souls into the practice of extraordinary love in ordinary life. While mysticism is a gift freely given from God, it is continually being offered as unconditional love by God. Therese's little way of love offers a theology of mysticism wherein conscious union with God, initiated and sustained by him, is nevertheless accessible to everyone who has faith.

Need for Mystical Agenda

What is needed at this point in time is for the church to rediscover the monastic/mystical spirit and ask God to make it available to the Church as a whole. The reason for this, as shown above, is that the mystical life exemplifies the essence of the Christian life. Whenever the mystical spirit is in bloom the power of God flows, transforms and enriches not only the Christian life but the condition of life in general.

Just as in the early medieval time the monastic charism spilled forth to the communities and towns, eventually realizing the parable of the leaven in the history of western civilization, so there is a need in these present days for the radiation of the mystical spirit and way of living to the rest of the believers. And this will create an ever increasing powerful force for the transformation of the world through the reign of God.

There is a need for a new theology and a new praxis for making the mystical agenda at the heart and forefront of the Church of this age.

The preparatory movement for this has been initiated and on-going with the advent of a new Pentecost among the Pentecostal churches in the early part of the 20th century and in the mainline churches through the charismatic movement during the last half. In time this movement ran counter with the contemplative spirit but later prominent leader and theologian of the charismatic movement, Ralph Martin, resolved this in his article, Charismatic and Contemplative: What Would John of the Cross Say?, by merging both realities as fruit and parcel of the same movement of God's Spirit in the Church.


Scripture and God's action in Christian history showed that whenever the mystical spirit is in bloom God's power for transformation of the world become evident in the very fruits that manifest itself in the culture of the world. That the mystical spirit need not be the privilege and province of a select few but rather a gift meant to flow to the whole church is an idea that the church need to embrace and translate into a theology and pastoral practice for all.


Pope Francis: end world hunger through 'Prayer and Action'

Copywriter 2015 - Distributed by THE NEWS CONSORTIUM

Pope Francis Prayer Intentions for October 2015
That human trafficking, the modern form of slavery, may be eradicated.
Evangelization: That with a missionary spirit the Christian communities of Asia may announce the Gospel to those who are still awaiting it.


More Living Faith

3 Biblical ways to achieve small victories in our Walk with God Watch

Image of Walk with God.


Life struggles are inevitable but to look at them more than just a bump in the road is like putting rocks in your backpack before a hike. God doesn't want that - our journey to Him is meant to shape us in a way He planned for us. Little by little, we achieve victories ... continue reading

Families 'free us from the sea of loneliness and indifference,' Pope Francis says Watch

Image of After recently concluding a series of catechesis on the family as a lead-in to this year's synod gathering, Pope Francis explained that he would start a new catechesis on the

By Elise Harris, CNA/EWTN News

Family rescues us from indifference and loneliness and teaches us the essentials of life, Pope Francis said - adding that as the family of God, the Church has the same role and must evaluate how to live this out. Vatican City (CNA/EWTN News) - "Like Saint ... continue reading

Respecting life the Gospel way Watch

Image of

By Tony Magliano

For the sake of our salvation, we need to pay serious attention, and act with purpose, to what Jesus teaches here in Matthew's Gospel: "When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit upon his glorious throne, and all the nations will ... continue reading

Young girl blessed by Pope Francis during visit to U.S. believes the 'miracle has begun' Watch

Image of Julia Bruzzese was blessed by Pope Francis.


12-year-old Julia Bruzzese, who has been experiencing symptoms of Lyme disease, suffered from sudden paralysis that doctors are still unable to explain. However, following a blessing from Pope Francis, the young girl seems to be healing. NEW YORK, NY (Catholic Online) ... continue reading

'God did not create us to live in sorrow or to be alone,' Pope Francis says of marriage Watch

Image of Pope Francis' comments were made during his Oct. 4 Mass marking the official opening of this year's Ordinary Synod of Bishops on the Family.

By Elise Harris, CNA/EWTN News

Pope Francis formally opened the synod of bishops Sunday, telling participants that the union between a man and woman is the foundation of God's plan for the family, and a solution to the many forms of loneliness in today's world. Vatican City (CNA/EWTN News) - ... continue reading

FULL TEXT: Family synod prayer vigil, Pope Francis's full address Watch

Image of

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Presiding over a prayer vigil in St. Peter's Square, Pope Francis led the beginning of the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the Family, at the Vatican. Drawing tens of thousands of the faithful, many were present in the Square since the afternoon for a ... continue reading

Vatican issues statement in regards to monsignor's declaration of homosexuality Watch

Image of


The director of the Holy See press office has issued a statement in response to Vatican official Msgr. Krzysztof Charamsa's declaration in a recent interview that he is homosexual and has a boyfriend. Vatican City (CNA/EWTN News) - Msgr. Charamsa, 43, granted a ... continue reading

Guardian Angels are always by our sides, Pope Francis says Watch

Image of Pope Francis explained that when Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden of Eden, God could have left them to fend for themselves. Instead, as an act of love and mercy, the Lord sent with them an angel to guide and protect them.


Each of us has a Guardian Angel who, acting on behalf of God, advises us and protects us from evil, if we only listen to him, Pope Francis said during his homily at Mass on Friday. Vatican City (CNA/EWTN News) - "May we ask the Lord for the grace of this ... continue reading

Top 5 Bible verses to turn to when you're angry Watch

Image of What does the Bible have to say about anger?

By Kenya Sinclair (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

What makes you angry? Maybe you don't like the way your boss talks to you at work or your spouse spends too much money. What do you do when you feel anger coming on? Who do you turn to? LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - When we get angry we can say or do things we ... continue reading

Megachurch Pastor's new book tells people to 'get over themselves' Watch

Image of Pastor Kyle Idleman (YouTube).


Megachurch Pastor Kyle Idleman claims that to live life, "everyone simply needs to get over themselves" to truly "experience abundant life with Jesus," a theory he promotes in his new book The End of Me: Where Real Life in the Upside-Down Ways of Jesus Begins. LOS ... continue reading

All Living Faith News


Newsletter Sign Up icon

Stay up to date with the latest news, information, and special offers

Subscribe to Catholic OnlineYouTube Channel

Daily Readings

Reading 1, Joel 1:13-15; 2:1-2
13 Priests, put on sackcloth and lament! You ... Read More

Psalm, Psalms 9:2-3, 6, 16, 8-9
6 the enemy is wiped out -- mere ruins for ever -- ... Read More

Gospel, Luke 11:15-26
15 But some of them said, 'It is through Beelzebul, ... Read More

Saint of the Day

Saint of the Day for October 9th, 2015 Image

Sts. Denis, Rusticus, and Eleutherius
October 9: The first mention we have of these three martyrs who died around ... Read More