December 19, 2014

Letter #51: Mystical experience

March 18, 2013, Monday — Mystical experience

Vidit ergo Iesus publicanum et quia miserando atque eligendo vidit, ait illi: ‘Sequere me’” (“Jesus saw a tax collector and, because with feelings of compassion and choosing him he saw him, he said to him: ‘Follow me.’”).” –The Venerable Bede (672-735), Homily on the Gospel of St. Matthew, Latin text and English translation; the words in the middle of this phrase, “miserando et eligendo” meaning “looking upon him with compassion and choosing him” describe the moment when Christ called St. Matthew, the tax collector, to come and follow him; the words were chosen by Pope Francis as his episcopal motto, and will remain his motto as Pope

Caravaggio, The Calling of St. Matthew, in the Church of St. Louis of the French, near the Piazza Navona in Rome. The traditional interpretation of this painting is that Matthew is the old man. However, it seems to some -- to an increasing number -- that the young man with his head down at the end of the table is Matthew, whom Christ is calling to look up, stand up, and follow Him

Caravaggio, The Calling of St. Matthew, in the Church of St. Louis of the French, near the Piazza Navona in Rome. The traditional interpretation of this painting is that Matthew is the old man. However, it seems to some — to an increasing number — that the young man with his head down at the end of the table is Matthew, whom Christ is calling to look up, stand up, and follow Him

Pope Francis, the Mystic

“The more we love God and enter into intimate contact with Him through prayer, the more He makes Himself known and enflames our hearts with His love.” —Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI, speaking on mystical union with God at his Wednesday General Audience on January 12, 2011

Why is Pope Francis so simple, so genuine, so evidently filled with the love of Christ?

Part of the answer may be… because God filled him with His love.

Part of the answer may lie in what seems to have been a sort of mystical experience which occurred to Francis on September 21, 1953, when he was 17 years old.

We found out about this experience only today, in an official Vatican press release.

But is has been almost entirely overlooked by the Vatican press corps.

One of the central claims of the Catholic faith is not only that God exists, that He is real, but also that He can communicate with human beings, that human beings can be “pierced” by the actual sense of the divine presence, can experience and be aware of this real presence, can — as the very first verse of the old Baltimore Catechism taught — “know” God, then “love and serve Him.”

Today in Rome, the Vatican released a statement about the new Pope’s coat-of-arms.

But hidden in the statement was something that few knew up until now: that there was a mystical experience at the origin of this Pope’s religious life.

That this Pope, at the age of 17, while deep in prayer, was touched by God.

That this Pope, at the age of 17, was filled with the Spirit of God, in a very special way, and given the grace to begin a life of total commitment to God, which has ended up bringing his to the throne of St. Peter, which he will receive in tomorrow morning’s Mass of installation.

We know that many young people (all young people?) pass through a period of time when they seek with great intensity to know their place in this world — to hear their calling, to find their true vocation.

And now we know that Pope Francis passed through this process of discernment, too.

The homily of the Venerable Bede on the calling of St. Matthew “is a tribute to the divine mercy and is reproduced in the Liturgy of the Hours for the Feast of St. Matthew,” the Vatican told us today in a press release.

This homily “has a particular meaning in life and the spiritual journey of the Pope,” the Vatican said.

“In fact,” the Vatican continued, “on the Feast of St. Matthew [September 21] in the year 1953, the young Jorge Mario Bergoglio experienced at the age of 17 years, in a very special way, the loving presence of God in his life.

“Following a confession, he felt his heart touched and sensed the descent of the mercy of God, who with a look of tender love, called him to the religious life, following the example of St. Ignatius of Loyola.”

In these few, spare words, we are told of an experience which transformed the life of young Jorge.

He felt his heart “touched” and he “sensed” the “descent of the mercy of God.”

He felt, “in a very special way,” the “loving presence of God in his life.”

He felt, we are told, as if God were gazing upon him, “with a look of tender love.”

These are all the elements of a personal experience of Christ (for Christ is God, and Christ is God’s mercy).

These are the elements of a mystical, life-transforming experience of God’s actual presence.

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These are the elements of an experience of meeting God, face to face.

This is the secret of Pope Francis: that he experienced personally, in a powerful way, the goodness and mercy of God, and found the experience so powerful, that it changed his entire life, led him to become a priest, a Jesuit, and now the Bishop of Rome and head of the Church.

On the Feast of St. Matthew

And it is significant that this experience occurred on the Feast of St. Matthew, September 21.

In the Jewish world and society of that time — the time of Christ — no one was more shunned than a publican, a Jew working for the Roman authorities by collecting taxes from his own people and making a large personal profit.

Publicans were not allowed to trade, eat, or even pray with others Jews.

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One day, while seated at his table of books and money, Jesus looked at Matthew and said two words: “Follow me.” Matthew rose, leaving his pieces of silver to follow Christ. In the painting by Caravaggio above, that is what is about to happen.

Matthew’s original name, Levi, in Hebrew means “Adhesion.” His new name, Matthew, meant “Gift of God.”

Matthew is also mentioned in the Gospels as the host of a dinner party for Christ and His companions to which Matthew invited his fellow tax-collectors. The Jews were surprised to see Jesus with a publican, but Jesus explained that he had come “not to call the just, but sinners.”

St. Matthew is known to us principally as the writer of one of the four Gospels — his Gospel is the first in the New Testament. Matthew’s Gospel is believed to have been written in Aramaic, the language that Jesus spoke, and it was written to convince the Jews that their anticipated Messiah had come in the person of Jesus.

This explains, in part, why Pope Francis is so open to those who are outside of the Church — because he wishes to bring them in, as Matthew was brought in.

He does not want anything that he does to exclude them, to keep them outside. He wants to call to them, he wants them to hear his call, so that they, like Matthew in the painting, with his head down, almost in despair, can look up, see Christ, and follow, beginning a new life.

St. John of the Cross, the great Spanish mystic, wrote: “Very few people have the courage to be happy. It is difficult to tear the heart away from the things of earth, from riches, from honors. Yet happiness is not outside us, in these things: ‘The kingdom of God is within you.’ For the kingdom of God does not consist in food and drink, but in justice and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.”

St. Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, was born in 1491, one of 13 children of a family of minor nobility in northern Spain. As a young man, Ignatius was inflamed by the ideals of courtly love and knighthood and dreamed of doing great deeds. But in 1521 Ignatius was gravely wounded in a battle with the French. While recuperating, Ignatius Loyola experienced a conversion.

It was in Manresa, on the banks of the river Cardoner, that he had a vision which is regarded as the most significant in his life. The vision was more of an enlightenment; he later said that he learned more on that one occasion than he did in the rest of his life. Ignatius never revealed exactly what the vision was, but it seems to have been an encounter with God as He really is so that all creation was seen in a new light and acquired a new meaning and relevance, an experience that enabled Ignatius to find God in all things. This grace, finding God in all things, is one of the central characteristics of Jesuit spirituality.

So Pope Francis, after much prayer, also experienced something extraordinary. For Ignatius, it was a vision; for Pope Francis, “the descent of the mercy of God.”

The new Pope's coat-of-arms.

The new Pope’s coat-of-arms.

 

Here Below is the complete text of the Vatican’s official explanation of the meaning of the symbols, in the origical Italian and in my own English translation, including the text explaining the meaning of the motto, which includes the reference to Pope Francis’s mystical experience.
LO SCUDO

Nei tratti, essenziali, il Papa Francesco ha deciso di conservare il suo stemma anteriore, scelto fin dalla sua consacrazione episcopale e caratterizzato da una lineare semplicità.

THE SHIELD

In its essential elements, Pope Francis decided to keep his old coat-of-arms, chosen at the time of his episcopal consecration and characterized by a linear simplicity.

Lo scudo blu è sormontato dai simboli della dignità pontificia, uguali a quelli voluti dal predecessore Benedetto XVI (mitra collocata tra chiavi decussate d’oro e d’argento, rilegate da un cordone rosso) . In alto, campeggia l’emblema dell’ordine di provenienza del Papa, la Compagnia di Gesù: un sole raggiante e fiammeggiante caricato dalle lettere, in rosso, IHS, monogramma di Cristo. La lettera H è sormontata da una croce; in punta, i tre chiodi in nero.

The blue shield is surmounted by the symbols of the papal dignity, the same as those desired by his predecessor Benedict XVI (miter placed between crossed keys of gold and silver, bound by a red cord). At the top, stands the emblem of the order of origin of the Pope, the Society of Jesus: a radiant and blazing sun containing the letters, in red, IHS, the monogram of Christ. The letter H is surmounted by a cross; at the tip, the three nails in black.

In basso, si trovano la stella e il fiore di nardo. La stella, secondo l’antica tradizione araldica, simboleggia la Vergine Maria, madre di Cristo e della Chiesa; mentre il fiore di nardo indica San Giuseppe, patrono della Chiesa universale. Nella tradizione iconografica ispanica, infatti, San Giuseppe è raffigurato con un ramo di nardo in mano. Ponendo nel suo scudo tali immagini, il Papa ha inteso esprimere la propria particolare devozione verso la Vergine Santissima e San Giuseppe.

Below, are found the star and the flower of spikenard. The star, according to the ancient heraldic tradition, symbolizes the Virgin Mary, Mother of Christ and of the Church, while the flower of nard indicates St. Joseph, patron of the universal Church. In the Spanish iconographic tradition, in fact, St. Joseph is depicted holding a branch of spikenard. By placing these images in his shield, the Pope wanted to express his particular devotion to the Blessed Virgin and St. Joseph.

II MOTTO

Il motto del Santo Padre Francesco è tratto dalle Omelie di San Beda il Venerabile, sacerdote (Om. 21; CCL 122, 149-151), il quale, commentando l’episodio evangelico della vocazione di San Matteo, scrive: “Vidit ergo Iesus publicanum et quia miserando atque eligendo vidit, ait illi Sequere me” (Vide Gesù un pubblicano e siccome lo guardò con sentimento di amore e lo scelse, gli disse: Seguimi).

THE MOTTO

The motto of the Holy Father Francis is taken from the Homilies of St. Bede the Venerable, priest (Om. 21, CCL 122, 149-151), who, commenting on the Gospel story of the calling of St. Matthew, writes: “Vidit ergo lesus publicanum et quia miserando atque eligendo vidit, ait illi: ‘Sequere me’” (“Jesus saw a tax collector and, because with feelings of compassion and choosing him he saw him, he said to him: ‘Follow me.’”)

Questa omelia è un omaggio alla misericordia divina ed è riprodotta nella Liturgia delle Ore della festa di San Matteo. Essa riveste un significato particolare nella vita e nell’itinerario spirituale del Papa. Infatti, nella festa di San Matteo dell’anno 1953, il giovane Jorge Mario Bergoglio sperimentò, all’età di 17 anni, in un modo del tutto particolare, la presenza amorosa di Dio nella sua vita. In seguito ad una confessione, si sentì toccare il cuore ed avvertì la discesa della misericordia di Dio, che con sguardo di tenero amore, lo chiamava alla vita religiosa, sull’esempio di Sant’Ignazio di Loyola.

This homily is a tribute to the divine mercy and is reproduced in the Liturgy of the Hours for the Feast of St. Matthew. It has a particular meaning in life and the spiritual journey of the Pope. In fact, on the Feast of St. Matthew [September 21] in the year 1953, the young Jorge Mario Bergoglio experienced at the age of 17 years, in a very special way, the loving presence of God in his life. Following a confession, he felt his heart touched and sensed the descent of the mercy of God, who with a look of tender love, called him to the religious life, following the example of St. Ignatius of Loyola.

Una volta eletto Vescovo, S.E. Mons. Bergoglio, in ricordo di tale avvenimento che segnò gli inizi della sua totale consacrazione a Dio nella Sua Chiesa, decise di scegliere, come motto e programma di vita, l’espressione di San Beda miserando atque eligendo, che ha inteso riprodurre anche nel proprio stemma pontificio.

Once he was elected bishop, His Excellency Monsignor Bergoglio, in memory of the event which marked the beginning of his total consecration to God in His Church, decided to choose, as his motto and his program of life, the expression of St. Bede miserando atque eligendo, which he decided to reproduce also in his pontifical coat-of-arms.

Link to the Vatican’s official site where this information is found.

“Think nothing else but that God ordains all, and where there is no love, put love, and you will draw love out.” –St. John of the Cross

Francis’s schedule for the next few days

On Tuesday, 19 March, the Feast of St. Joseph, patron of the Church, the Mass to inaugurate the new papacy will be held at 9:30 am in St. Peter’s Square. No tickets will be issued for that Mass. All who wish may attend.

On Wednesday, 20 March, he will hold an audience with fraternal delegates representing the heads of the various Eastern rite Churches so there will not be a General Audience.

On Saturday, 23 March, he will go to Castel Gandolfo to meet with Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI and have lunch with him.

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  1. [...] In this dispatch from Rome, Robert Moynihan explains Pope Francis’ episcopal motto.  Well wor… [...]

  2. [...] of an openness to Christian mysticism; details have begun to surface from official Vatican sources, reported by eminent ‘Vaticanista’ Robert Moynihan, about Jorge Mario Bergoglio’s personal faith journey which stress the importance of a mystical [...]

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