In his 10th Circular Letter in 1836, the year before he died, St. Gaspar encouraged his companions to be mystic missionaries: “A missionary must be a mystic in his room and a vigorous laborer in the field. Let him unite the interior life with the exterior and live in harmony with God. In other words, the interior life is the basis upon which the exterior life is built.”
Most of us think of mysticism as something beyond us, something reserved for those who are so attuned to God’s voice that we can never achieve such heights of holiness amid the clamor of a world so often tottering on the brink of chaos. But being a mystic is about making connections. A mystic believes in the connectedness of all life, both seen and unseen. The call of the mystic is to recognize the presence of God in our everyday life. A mystic is someone who traces these threads that bind us together in a holy web of community in each and every experience of life. The mystic knows how fragile these threads are, but also acknowledges, appreciates and depends on their tenacity and toughness in troubled times.
E. Allison Peers who has written biographies of John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila defines a mystic as “a person who has fallen in love with God.” The question I often wrestle with is whether I have fallen in love with God or only with my image of God?
All of us can be modern day mystics. It takes practice, daily exercises to awaken the spirit and expand the mind and heart. But when one seeks to cultivate the inner ground of one’s being one becomes more open and receptive to the presence of God not only in those peak moments of grandeur and grace, but in the daily grind of life.
As a mystic missionary, Gaspar founded the Congregation when he was only 29 years old. One suspects that the four years he spent in exile as a conscientious objector to Napoleon forged his mystic identity and made him an “old soul” at a very young age. Like Jeremiah, Gaspar could have said he was “too young” when the Holy Father asked him to preach to the priests and people of Rome, but God gave him the words to speak and he preached with passion about reconciliation and renewal in the blood of Christ.
Though he wanted to be a foreign missionary, his health would not allow him to travel far from Rome and the surrounding towns and villages. But through those who claim the charism of Gaspar, we continue to fulfill the command of Jesus: “Go into the whole world and proclaim the good news to all creation.”
As mystic missionaries, we need to nourish our inner life. Certainly our daily spiritual exercises deepen the mystic within. But taking a day of prayer or even a few hours of solitude now and then also responds to our founder’s call to be mystics. As part of our Bicentennial celebration, we are offering a few hours of prayer and reflection for priests and religious serving in the Kansas City-St. Joseph diocese as a sign of our gratitude for our collaboration through the years. As Gaspar’s first mission of renewal was to the priests and people of his local diocese, so we seek to follow our founder’s initial call and offer these days of gratitude and prayer. The first one is today at St. Francis Xavier Parish in St. Joseph. We are grateful to Frs. Ron Will, Bill Walter, Mark Yates, and our Companions for hosting our day of prayer.
As we meet in prayer across the miles on the feast of our founder, may we deepen our call to be mystic missionaries!
Joe Nassal, C.PP.S.