Friday, May 3, 2013

Mystical Realism, Realistic Mysticism

May the month of Mary. Not Mary of the sentimental pictures, not Mary of the many, endless, pious, pietistic stories. No. Mary, the fifteen year old girl, filled with the wisdom of God and of the ages. Mary talking to an angel with dignity and directness. Mary of the immense Fiat, said with a humility that surpasses all understanding.

Mary of the Visitation. Selfless. Forgetting her own precarious position and fearlessly going to assist Elizabeth. Mary the poet, the handmaid of the Lord singing her magnificent Magnificat! Mary, the Mother of God, the poor woman of Bethlehem. Mary, the housewife in Nazareth. Mary of the hidden life. Mary under the Cross, sharing Christ's passion… and Christ's love. Loving even those who crucified Him. Mary of the Pieta.

Nowhere is there anything sentimental about Mary. Yet from the moment she enters the pages of history, she becomes our model. Truly we go to Jesus through Mary. First because He came through her to us... then because she teaches by example all that we need so desperately to learn. We who walk in fears… whose days are filled with neurotic anxieties… who won't believe unless we “see and touch”. How desperately we need you, Mary of the Annunciation.

We who worship self so constantly that each has become a lonely island unable to communicate with one another let alone love one another... how desperately we need you, Mary of the Visitation.

We who are afraid of the slightest discomfort, whose lives revolve about more cars, more bathrooms, more TVs, more gadgets, more material wealth and goods… how desperately we need you, Mary of Bethlehem and Nazareth.

We the lonely ones always seeking a crowd, always on the go, to this meeting, that cocktail party, this dance, that date… how desperately we need you, Mary of the hidden life.

We who are so fearful of pain, so afraid of the Cross, so eager to be ‘Cross-less’ Catholics... how desperately we need you, Mary of Golgotha, Mary of the Pieta.

We who are afraid to love our own, even our friends, who have forgotten oh, so often, the very meaning of love, how desperately we need you, Mary loving Mother of mankind.

Mary of a thousand titles, Mary my mother, teach me, teach us, faith, trust, selflessness, poverty, detachment, obedience...and caritas—love—your Son! Amen.
 Catherine de Hueck Doherty, Restoration, May 1961

Reflection – This article from the Madonna House newspaper Restoration (in continuous publication since 1947!) is a prime example of what I call Catherine’s mystical realism. Catherine was a mystic: she saw beneath and behind and above the level of the sensible, the tangible, the prosaic, to the reality, the mystery, and the action of God and the communion of saints. Whether her sighting of this level of mystical reality was in the order of visions and extraordinary experiences or of spiritual insight and understanding is really irrelevant. She saw it, she knew it, and her writings are utterly filled with mysticism of the highest order.

Her genius lies in her capacity to connect and ground that mysticism in a profound realism. She was rooted in the ordinary, the concrete, the practical, and brought a full human level of engagement to all of it, working very hard every day, organizing, training, teaching, all the while keenly interested and involved with all the issues of the day of politics, economics, and culture.

She was a mystical realist. She knew that we are not really practically engaged in the concrete needs and circumstances of our world unless we are deeply rooted in the mysteries of God and of heaven. 
And so we see in this beautiful, simple article, how aware Catherine was of the social malaise of her day, a malaise which has only intensified in the ensuing 50 years: frenetic busyness, consumerism, avoidance of suffering, isolation and loneliness. All of this Madonna House has consistently opposed in our life of prayer and work, voluntary poverty, community life and acceptance of the Cross as it comes to us in our daily life.

Catherine sees, though, how deeply we need heaven’s help in all these matters. Our Lady embraced the true pattern of human life filled with the divine spirit, and this is manifest in the various mysteries and title by which we contemplate her. And so we need to turn to her in depth and in childlike simplicity to be free of the pathologies of our day and enter the fullness of Gospel life. It is mystical, and it is intensely realistic.


  1. As someone who struggles with the "saccharine piety" version and images of Mary thank you! Frenetic busyness and Crossless Catholics describes the reality and temptations on the ground so to speak of many of us who are failing forward as faithful (or at least trying to be faithful) Catholics in a modern world.


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