Today I will be speaking at the Siena Symposium for Women, Family, and Culture at the University of St. Thomas, speaking on Women Mystics of the Catholic Church. I will speak about three mystics – Teresa of Avila, Julian of Norwich and Catherine of Siena – and about what we can learn from them.
My focus on women mystics is not intended as a slight against the male mystics of the Church, which include some who are deep favorites of mine (men like Thomas Merton, Ignatius of Loyola and John of the Cross). But some of the greatest mystics in the history of the Catholic Church have been women and I think that for contemporary women, the experience of so many Christian female mystics is something that is a source of strength and encouragement. Women like the Teresa, Julian and Catherine each showed extraordinary strength and courage, especially if one takes into account the social limitations of their times, challenging conventional ideas about gender. They heard God and they did not keep quiet about it. They recorded their experiences in journals, treatise, letters, music and visionary poetry. It was not their aim to form an opposition to the Church and society of their day. But, as Carol Lee Flinders observed in her Introduction to Enduring Lives, “when God comes to visit, you don’t keep quiet about it out of fear you might disquiet the bishop, and you don’t reword what you actually heard or censor what you saw.”
Ursula King had this to say about the importance of the mystics to our lives today:
To rediscover the story of the Christian mystics is a great adventure. Their manifold experiences and examples can be truly empowering for our own lives. Mystics traveled along the margins of the ordinary and the extraordinary, the world of the mundane and the world of the spirit, where all things are made whole. Today, at the beginning of a new millennium, we too are finding ourselves at an important threshold of a new, perhaps different and more difficult world, where we can gain much from spiritual nourishment. The Christian mystics speak to us across the centuries, and if we listen, we can learn something about the deepest experiences of their lives, so that we too may glimpse the glory of God and feel the healing touch of the Spirit.
If you are in the St.Paul area, come on over to the auditorium in Owens Science Hall at UST for what promises to be a wonderful day.