A Tribute to the Holy Women of the Mystical Tradition

© José Luiz Bernardes Ribeiro / CC-BY-SA-3.0

This past week, I have been traveling in Europe: Fatima, Lourdes, Avila, and soon enough up to Notre Dame in Paris. What a privilege it is to be in these places so near to the feasts of our Lady of Fatima (10/13) and St. Teresa of Avila (10/15)! Yes, two very important women in my life: Mother Mary and St. Teresa.

Indeed, I have come to realize my need for and indebtedness to the holy women of God’s Church, to those who are living and those who have gone before and set forth a glorious testimony of the feminine genius and mystique of deep, mystical prayer.

Ah, the Holy Women! To be sure, there are also men: St. John of the Cross and St. Bernard of Clairvaux, whose towns I am also visiting. They, too, have set forth the great mystical vision. But I must say, I am particularly indebted to the great women, to the mystics and Doctors of the Church such as St. Catherine of Sienna, St. Teresa of Avila, St. Rose of Lima, St. Therese of Lisieux, Sister Faustina, and others who ventured into deep, contemplative, and spousal union with the Lord.

How their deep love, their intensity, and their union with God has inspired me in my own journey toward contemplative prayer! Though I cannot access their spousal love for the Lord, I am able to transpose their experiences to a deep spiritual experience of sonship with God the Father, for He is Abba and I am a son of His.

Ah, the great Catherine of Sienna: her love for the Lord and her wisdom, rooted in both suffering and affliction, joy and ecstasy! She personally met the Lord. What a witness! What a glory! What a testimony the mystics gave us! St. Teresa of Avila: she who encountered the Lord and yet suffered greatly. She was even suspected of heresy and her visions and experiences submitted to the Inquisition.

Alas, Lord, spare us for our suspicious rejection of the normal Christian life! St. Rose of Lima, St. Margaret Mary, and Sister Faustina were considered by many of their contemporaries to be strange, excessive—even possessed! Yet, they knew Him whom they had encountered. They knew His love for them and were willing to suffer with Him and for Him.

Spare us, O Lord, for our obtuseness, our doubt, and our lack of faith in assigning to them, who experienced a normal Christian life, the label of insanity, oddness, extremeness, mental unbalance, and even possession!

They encountered you. They had met you and experienced you. Yet so many of us thought them strange and unbalanced. Forgive us, Lord. Too often have we substituted extreme rationalism for the mystical vision of you, who go beyond mere words and human descriptions.

Forgive us, Lord, for while our intellect is our crowning glory, sometimes we forget that you cannot be reduced to the limits of human concepts.

The mystics remind us of God’s transcendence and we often made them suffer for this.

Yes, Lord, while it is surely our obligation to submit all things to your holy Magisterium, forgive us, Lord, for the times when we have been too slow or skeptical to accept the bold testimony that the mystics gave us: that you are Other and that you draw us beyond what is comfortably understood by us.

Thank you, Lord, for the mystical tradition, for the holy women and men, beginning with John the Apostle, who have testified to us of you, who may have encountered you in ways more deep than words. They suffered much, often at our hands, for their visions, but they knew and would not deny you, whom they encountered.

The intellectual tradition of the Church is magnificent and necessary, but so is the mystical tradition, a tradition not opposed to, or really even distinct from, the intellectual tradition. For the same God is experienced and speaks in both ways. And while all things must be submitted to the sacred Magisterium of the Church, the intellectual and the mystical traditions should both be appreciated and respected.

In particular I must say that as a man, so relentlessly male, I must, despite my gifts as a man, be balanced and completed by the holy women of the Church. Indeed they have been my teachers, especially in the ways of prayer.

Thanks be to God. Some of the most beautiful women I know hang out at the basilica here in Washington D.C. Here is a video I have compiled in gratitude to some very important women in my life: