Monday, October 11, 2021

Learning from a Church mystic when life has its fair share of challenges

                                 Following the life of a Church mystic when life has its challenges

What a reading of St Teresa of Avila’s autobiography revealed

I’ve always believed that a person who faces the challenges of living life positively despite having a few other physical challenges can and should learn from the mystical saints who have written autobiographies of their spiritual pursuits.  The Catholic Church has had many saints who supplied her with many of their writings which people with afflictions can abundantly benefit from.  One such saint is Saint Teresa of Avila who 40 years after her death was canonised by Pope Gregory XV, and the University of Salamanca granted her the title Doctor ecclesiae, which is distinct form the papal honour of Doctor of the Church, always conferred posthumously.  This latter title was bestowed upon St Teresa by Pope Paul VI on 27 September 1970, along with Saint Catherine of Sienna, making them the first women to be awarded with the distinction.  Teresa is revered as the Doctor of Prayer.  

Teresa was preoccupied with the ascent of the soul to God in four stages, which she wrote about in her Autobiography.  

The first mystical thought was what she called the Devotion of the Heart, consisting of both mental payer and contemplation.  It helped the soul to withdraw, to be penitent and to proceed to meditate on the passion of the Christ.

The second mystical thought was what Teresa called the Devotion of Peace, where human will is surrendered to God.  There is a cultivation of the virtue of an uplifted awareness granted by God, while other human faculties like memory, reason and imagination can still be subjected to worldly distraction.  Partial distraction can happen, but the prevailing state is one of quietude,

The third mystical thought was Devotion of Union, concerning the absorption-in-God.  Generally, this was seen to be an ecstatic state where reason is also surrendered to God and only the memory and imagination are not used in the surrender.  In this state there is a blissful peace, and a consciousness of being enraptured by the love of God.

Fourthly, the mystical thought was Devotion of Ecstasy, where the consciousness of being in the body disappears.  In this stage, memory and imagination become absorbed in God, as though being intoxicated.  In complete unconscious helplessness, body and spirit dwell in the throes of exquisite pain.  Sometimes, at this level of mystical thought, the ecstatic person causes the body to be lifted into space.  In Teresa’s experience, this state may last as long as half an hour, followed by relaxation of a few hours of swoon-like weakness, where one had been in union with God.  Apparently, the subject awakens from this trance state in tears and it may be regarded as the height of mystical experience for the person.  Reports have it that Teresa was said to have been observed levitating during Mass on several occasions.

When she spoke about these experiences, she said that “contemplative prayer is nothing other than a close sharing between friends, where a person takes precious time to be alone with God whom the person knows loves us”.  

As a reader of such writings and reflections, and having had a rich experience of the reality of physical suffering in life due to my unfortunate accident that happened on 24 May, I must admit that I am enamoured by such writings of personal reflections.  I have dreamt of some of them from time to time while I am convalescing and awaiting my second surgery to my skull to return it to its spherical shape using synthetics such as polyetheretherketone that show a higher primary tear resistance.  But I must admit that I have never been left in any sort of complete unconscious helplessness like the way St Teresa wrote about in explaining her Devotion of Ecstasy.  I do have a yearning for that close relationship with God which St Teresa wrote about when explaining these mystical experiences, but yearning only goes so far.  But in my daily prayer using the Rosary and its meditation on the life of Jesus and Mary, I do try to activate my inner love of God to make the meditations bear fruit in my life,  

I am thankful that the Church has such a rich resource of mystical saints who have written profoundly about their mystical experiences.  People like myself stand to benefit greatly when we go into prayer during times of strife and suffering in life.  And as I prepare to celebrate the memorial of St Teresa of Avila which is observed on Friday, October 15, I will definitely be praying to her for her intercession for me to be drawn closer to God.  And I will be offering up my prayer for the benefit of so many in the world who are in need of the intercessions of the saints.


  1. Father Luke, you have demonstrated strength, faith, positivity and we are inspired by you. My husband Alan and I Celest continue to pray for you. Take care !

  2. It is with much prayer and hope that we are able to elevate our innermost being towards the reflections of the saints as much as your own personal reflections.

    Thanks be to God for the ability to grow in understanding and relationship with God, our Father and Jesus Christ as well as Mother Mary and all the saints (Heavenly and earthly ones).