Monday, November 9, 2009

So What Powers The Catholic Mystical Dream--Is It Love Or Suffering?

Catholic mysticism is caught between two very different paradigms and it seriously effects the ability to dream really potent dreams. The following extract from an article by Tom Hoopes on Holy Spirit Interactive, brings this conflict in focus as it pertains to Mother Angelica.

Deacon Steltemeier elaborated. “The Lord told Mother, ‘Get it up there and I’ll take care of the rest.’” So Mother got the signal going, and then demurred from grand fundraising schemes, telethons, and the like. She simply asked listeners to “think of us in between your light bill and your gas bill.” And they responded.

“The listeners realized that Mother loved them,” Steltemeier said. “They could see that Mother loves them. The power of the Lord’s love compels us to do what God wants us to do. That’s dynamite stuff.” (Deacon Steltemeier has hit the nail on the head. It was the love that Mother Angelica radiated that got the attention of her viewers, that gave her the authority to teach, that made her more authentic than her ecclesial superiors.)

Hoopes then goes on to more or less discount the power of love in exchange for the power of suffering and selective obedience.

Behind the feisty demeanor, pain and suffering, obedience and faith have been the constants in Mother Angelica’s life. It’s as if at each stage of her life, God took a strange pleasure in calling her to do something big, throwing an impossible obstacle in her way, then watching her do it anyway. (This does not describe a God of Love.)

When she was trying to be a little girl, He watched her lose her family. When she was trying to be a contemplative nun, He allowed her to develop a swelling condition in her knees that made it impossible to kneel and almost cost her a place in the convent. Before calling her to lead crews in building an unprecedented monastery in the deep South, God watched her lose the ability to walk in a freak accident.

When she tried to serve the Church with a worldwide cable television network that inspired countless conversions, prominent bishops tried to shut her down. And after she built her own wildly successful talk show into a media empire, God took away her ability to communicate.
The jolly nun who spoke as much with her warm grin and mischievous winks as with her frank words is now all but unable to speak.

“He expects me to operate, if I don’t have the money, if I don’t have the brains, if I don’t have the talent—in faith,” she told Arroyo. “You know what faith is? Faith is one foot on the ground, one foot in the air, and a queasy feeling in the stomach.” (This is a succinct validation from Mother herself about the capacity of mystics and shamans to focus and live in two different worlds. You only need the queasy stomach if your focus is fueled by fear.)

Hers is a prime example of the spirituality of suffering that historians will likely use to define the Catholicism of the 20th century, despite so many attempts by Catholics to blaze easier spiritual paths. (A true spiritual path is seldom easy, whether it includes physical suffering or not. Some spiritual mentors would say that physical suffering serves to divert a person's attention from the serious ego flaws they refuse to see. Those ego flaws are the very things Jesus said we needed to shed in order to truly experience the power of love.)

One thinks of the stigmatist Padre Pio, whose shrine is the most visited in the world, but whose name is rarely mentioned in homilies. Or Mother Teresa, who spent decades in spiritual darkness. St. Faustina, St. Gianna Molla, Edith Stein—what so many of these modern saints have in common is that their causes were advanced by John Paul II, the suffering pope. Like Mother Angelica, he too lost his family, then his mobility, then his speech—and left an enormous mark on the world.

People who undergo suffering on this scale are usually crushed by it. But those who accept these blows as ways to commune with God open up channels of grace capable of moving mountains. (Some people open up these channels in this manner because they can't believe (or they haven't been taught) there might be any other way to open those channels.)

Thus, EWTN stands as more than a monument to the charism and powers of one woman—though Mother Angelica’s charismatic powers certainly didn’t hurt. (No, they certainly did not.)

“EWTN is God’s network,” said Warsaw.


EWTN is only one of God's networks. Followers of CBN would say their's is God's network, and followers of Islam would anoint other networks. EWTN just happens to be the biggest of God's networks and it got to be the biggest because Angelica had the most potent and least conflicted dream. She also maintained total control and never deviated from her core personal belief that God would provide all the resources the network needed. Money would appear like manna in the desert, miraculous and 'free'. Except of course, she did pay a price in her own personal health and she did barter, just like a lot of indigenous shamans make bargains and barter and sacrifice their personal health.

Jesus did none of this.

Satan attempted to barter and bargain with Him and He said no, I don't think so. Don't need to do that. Makes my Father out to be arbitrary and capricious. My Father is Love. My father gives freely. My father forgives seventy times seven.

From my perspective, Jesus was executed as a sacrificial victim so that the cultic dream of the capricious and vindictive God, who required contractual bargains and sacrifices would die with Jesus in one last sacrificial act, and a new more truthful universal dream would rise with Him from the dead. This new dream has it's faith in the fact that love is the power that runs the universe because God is love. That's exactly the dream Jesus taught us to follow, and that is exactly the dream the mystics we don't credence or hear much about experience. For the most part we still like our healers and mystics to suffer for the cause. This says a whole lot more about our truth, than it does anything about God's truth.

I look to the story of John the Evangelist for proof that humans need not suffer in order for God to work through them. John understood the message of Jesus because he is the evangelist who defined God as love. John's faith was such that he stood unafraid at the foot of the cross and witnessed the death of the old dream. Into John's loving arms Jesus entrusted His mother. How much bigger a validation of John's understanding of Jesus's message could there be. Oh, and last but not least, John was the only one of the Apostles who did not SUFFER martyrdom. He died an old man in his bed.

Deacon Steltemeier has it right about Angelica. It was her love, not her suffering that fueled the miracle of ESPN.


  1. Sister Wendy offers a totally different contrast. She is clearly a mystic. She radiates love and joy. And she only emerged from her hermitage - to participate in TV - because she felt it would be wrong to say no if she could assist. However, she went right back to her hermitage, where she prays 8 hours a day!

    Sister Wendy did suffer greatly until she was finally allowed, by her first non-contemplative order, to leave and become a hermit. But she seems not to flaunt her suffering. Nor does she flaunt any fame.

    To me the "true mystics" prefer to remain hidden. Or maybe that's my ideal for them ....

    This is a fascinating series you're doing here. And I'm not sure I'm "getting" what you're driving at completely. As it seems like you're tying several threads together and making a braid.

    Seems like women is one thread. Suffering another. Mysticism a third. Maybe there's more than 3 threads here.

    Ruth Burrows has "suffered" - in that she, as Sister Wendy says, has "no feedback" in her prayer. But her writing makes clear that there are different types of mystics. And Sister Wendy on prayer makes clear that God leads people by different paths.

    I guess the important thing is that obstacles are not the proof of anything. Nor is the overcoming of them.

    Ok... I'm kind of on a stream of consciousness comment here. But my final and most important point is: Humility seems to be the essential thing. Not suffering.

  2. Angelica is hard to write about because a great deal of what she accomplished as a mystic, is not the standard mystic we think about. I see her as more of a shaman, without the same kind of intentional control.

    She made powerful connections with the other side of reality and from those connections she manifested incredible things. Reading Raymond Arroyo's biography of her goes into more detail about some of these events.

    I could have written a more in depth piece that dealt with the fact her connections were fostered by a protestant stigmatic turned Catholic who was most likely schizophrenic. She had been institutionalised before Angelica met her. Angelica herself, would most likely not pass the current psychological tests most orders use before admittance to the novitiate.

    A lot of our more grandiose mystics are very fascile at disassociation. The CIA in time past did a great deal of work forcing states of disasociation in order to force the appearance of what they call psychic talent. They eventually settled on 3-6 year old children and the use of physical, emotional, and sexual abuse for the triggering of the talent. The theory was that making connections in alternative universes was fostered in people who were in super survival mode. These people, especially girls, chose escape over confrontation. The CIA also found out their manufactured psychics eventually presented with various forms of disassociative personality disorder and were not all that reliable.

    Having studied many, many Catholic mystics I've seen this same pattern emerge. Early abuse leads to disasociation and other forms of escapism. The Church provides a framework in which this talent can be expressed in more positive ways.

    Psychic talent, mysticism and shamanism are all forms of the same kinds of connections, the same abilities of human consciousness. Different spiritualities have different ways of identifying and mentoring these individuals.

    Women are far more apt to be fascile at this than men. In the Indigenous traditions male shamanic ability is passed through family lines. Which, if you think about it is another reason we don't have many male Catholic mystics. Religious vows pretty much put and end to the genetic line.

    One of my mentors has said that there are different types of psychic/mystics for a number of reasons. Part of it is training and belief system, and part of it is comfort level. Comfort level includes witnesses as well as psychics. On the Light side of things non ordinary events usually don't induce fear. Surprise, some shock and awe, maybe even disbelief at first, but not fear. Fear is the other side of things. For example, Jesus always said 'fear not' or 'peace be with you' in His post resurrection appearances.

    Finally, I kind of agree with the whole staying hidden thing, but that eventually comes to an end, unless one is really really lucky. These talents are generally supposed to be gifts for the community. It's just too often the community has other ideas about the gifts.

  3. I need to add one last thing. The sanest, most effective, and most authentic psychic/mystics are those who come to understand the real force in what they do is the love they feel both in themselves and coming through their mystical states/dreams. That's when the real magic happens. These are the dreams we need to be seeking. That love also includes ones self. Just like Jesus said. When there is a good kind of self love--not the narcissitic kind, that person just radiates love for others and receives much love in return.

    You wrote a brilliant piece explaining this when you recounted your meeting with the Dalai Lama. One never ever forgets the impact.

  4. Dissociation is a form of self-hypnosis. Children are adept at this. But dissociation, in my view requires two things. One, experiences which are beyond the child's capacity to tolerate/integrate. And next, the absence of caring adults to help the child tolerate and integrate the overwhelming experiences. (And absolutely, people who dissociate can literally imagine things and then believe they actually happened. What happens in trance feels very, very real.)

    I personally would differentiate dissociation from mysticism. Though I do think a mystic could receive "infused wisdom" at times through a kind of self-hypnotic route, a kind of "active imagination" - to use Ira Progoff's term.

    I know nothing of shamans.

    But to go back to your original question - and knowing NOTHING about this nun (except having heard the name a few times), I think LOVE must underlie or "power" (as you've put it) mysticism. How else could people accept suffering except through love? I've certainly found that in working with some very traumatized (and yes, dissociative) patients. On the other hand, I do not believe that suffering, in and of itself, leads to love. So love is primary here.

    I don't think a mystic needs to be "known" for the transformative effects of their prayer to work. I view the Mystical Body as well as the cosmos as benefiting from these hidden mystics. (Jewish tradition has it that the world is sustained in being through the holiness of of 10 unknown, pious individuals. I've always loved that thought!)

    We may have different views of what constitutes mysticism. OK by me.

  5. Just saw your last comment! And I can see we are totally on the same page!

    Love. Well, God is love after all.

    And yes, one never forgets certain experiences. And one "mines" them over and over, always drawing more as if water is being drawn from a well.

    And yes, I think there is a ricochet effect. One cannot but feel filled with love - giving it, receiving it, and one is drawn into the Divine Life - thus it may not be normal "self love" as it involves a participation in the Triune Love Fest - and that is shrouded in Holy Mystery. But there is no doubt that when people come to have compassion for themselves (that's how I view it), their sense of being close to God increases. (I've seen this in patients of mine.)

  6. Here's another article, like the one I left a couple days ago:

    Very, very worthwhile. A lot related to women too.

  7. We are on the same wave length for sure. I really liked your concept of self compassion. That notion for self love is really very good.

  8. And compassion for oneself fits with the humility I mentioned earlier (there's a great book on humility! by Andre Louf - very short, excellent!) in this way:

    Humility means you've accepted yourself with all your limitations, your inadequacies, your stumbling blocks (and thus your need for God). And compassion is the acceptance of that in a loving way (kind of like adopting a God's eye view of yourself). To have compassion for yourself you really have to know yourself, accept yourself, love yourself. But again, it's this painful self-knowledge transformed by compassion.

    God, you are a good muse for me! Bless you!

    (I didn't mean to monopolize your thread here....)

  9. Regarding "Big Momma" (including Angelica as well as Pell, Burke, ad nauseum) ----

    Mark 12: 38-40

    38 In the course of his teaching he said, "Beware of the scribes, who like to go around in long robes and accept greetings in the marketplaces,
    39 seats of honor in synagogues, and places of honor at banquets.
    40 They devour the houses of widows and, as a pretext, recite lengthy prayers. They will receive a very severe condemnation."