Karl Rahner said, “The Christian of the 21st century will be a mystic or will not exist at all.” In part, he meant that the challenges of the 21st century are such that if you’re not deeply rooted in Jesus, you won’t persist as a Christian. That’s a pretty big deal, so let’s take a look at why it means to be a mystic.
For you word geeks out there, “mystic” comes from the same root word as “mystery”, which is “mystes” (“initiate” in Greek). In the Christian sense, the mystics are those with deep, intimate prayer lives. One of my favorite saints, St. John of the Cross, is one of the great mystics of the Church. His writings on prayer and the interior life can give us a guide to what God is doing in prayer. I even made a video on it.
What being a mystic is not
Some of the great mystics of the Church received visions from God, dialogues with Him (the technical term for that is “locution”, referring to any spoken word received from God). It can be easy to think that’s what it means to be a mystic. But that’s not true.
Being a mystic can include visions and locutions, but it doesn’t have to. Those are incidental, not essential; they’re electives but not the core classes.
Visions and locutions are things that God can give us. Which makes them gifts. But gifts are given in the context of a relationship. The relationship is key. That’s the core of what it means to be a mystic
(plus, mystics like John of the Cross caution us against relying too heavily on visions and locutions, since the devil can sometimes make his own, and also even if it’s from God we can still misunderstand it)
Being a mystic is encountering Jesus as a person
Prayer is an encounter with the living God. If mystics have deep prayer, then it means mystics deeply encounter the living God. And ultimately, that’s the core of the Christian life: encountering Jesus as a person. Entering an intimate relationship with Him. Growing in intimacy with Him. Ultimately, perfect union with Him in heaven.
You’ve probably heard the phrase “personal relationship with Jesus”, and it’s true, but not sufficient: Jesus calls us to far more. He doesn’t just call us to a relationship like it’s a dating relationship. He wants to marry us. In fact, human marriage is just an analogy, a foreshadowing of how closely He wants to be united with us.
When I echo Rahner and say that every Christian must be a mystic or not exist at all, I’m saying every Christian must know Jesus deeply, personally. And every day, encounter Him anew. That’s what it means to be a mystic.
Being a mystic is not primarily about feelings, though sometimes God gives us feelings of peace, joy, happiness. Other times He gives us dryness in prayer. Dryness doesn’t mean we’re praying badly.
Whether you feel happy or sad, thrilled or bored, those things aren’t the core of it: sometimes our emotions lie to us and so something might not FEEL true but it IS true. So that’s why we need to know the truth instead of feeling it.
So take some time today to encounter Jesus anew. And do it again tomorrow. And the day after. To grow in a relationship with someone, we spend time with them: same with Jesus. And then you’re well on the path to being a mystic.
Mystics are heroes. Be a hero today.