Love and the Message of the Mystics

Interview With Carmelite Father Maximilian Herraiz

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QUERETARO, Mexico, OCT. 29, 2004 ( The Church needs more spirit and less attention to structure, says Carmelite Father Maximilian Herraiz, a leading expert on the spirituality of St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross.

Father Herraiz, who is in Mexico giving a series of lectures and seminars on St. Teresa, was a professor of theology at the University of Valencia, in Spain, and founder of the International Center of Specialization on St. Teresa and St. John of the Cross in Avila, Spain.

He is now a missionary in the Ivory Coast. In this ZENIT interview he shared his insights into the two Carmelites.

Q: How does Africa receive the mysticism of St. Teresa or St. John of the Cross?

Father Herraiz: With great enthusiasm, because in Africa there are many people and few things. What we have here, in the West, is many things and few people. When your are monopolized by the supermarket and the television, there is little in the way of personal relationships.

What matters in Africa is personal relationships, because there are no distractions. And they are able to keep their gaze on the God that Jesus revealed to us. But there is a limit. Not only the anguished hunger for bread, but a hunger for learning. Africa is the world’s great ignored one, except by the predators.

Q: Is the nucleus of the mysticism in both saints renunciation of the world?

Father Herraiz: There is a positive option without which all detachment hardens, shrivels and kills a person.

It is the radical option for life, truth, freedom and, very concretely, the option for love, for God. When we opt for love, we find that there is too much extra furniture in our homes. Mysticism tells us that love is the essential dimension of life.

Q: How can one summarize what mysticism is in itself?

Father Herraiz: It is a relationship with the divine Person that — inevitably — transfigures, and gives depth and solidity to human relationships.

Mystics, like Africans, are happy with the minimum. What it means is that there is a love that liberates from the many enslavements of things that have passed from being useful to being necessary.

Q: What is Christianity for St. Teresa or for St. John of the Cross?

Father Herraiz: To live an intimate relationship with God, a relationship that creates community and good for others.

The mystics are the great teachers of being. We, in Spanish, have the distinction between “being” and “being present in a specific place.” I can “be” in a specific place and yet not “be.”

I can “be” in the front pew in the Church and not “be” a Christian personality, built on the foundation of “being” a slave of others, even if the term is frightening.

To “be” the least of all and to decide to give others joy — that is when I build myself. This is the message of the mystics.

Q: Is there a viable definition for Christian mysticism?

Father Herraiz: Mysticism, in addition to being a dactyl, is a mysterious word. There are close to 60 definitions of it. But, said in a general way, mysticism is a giving in to falling in love, freely, and with determination.

Mysticism is to feel in love and to be committed to seeking a relationship with the one who has invaded one’s life. It is God who invades as a grace, never as a punishment.

Q: What is necessary to have the mysticism of St. Teresa or of St. John of the Cross received by Christians as a wonderful way of being enamored of God?

Father Herraiz: We need people who pray, who reflect, who study, who dialogue with the great witnesses of what it means to be a person in general and of Christianity, which is our home. Not poorly trained priests or churches dedicated to worship and nothing else.

The problem of the Church is that much more time has been dedicated to the structure than to the spirit. And we must change this. The mystics are people of a maximum of spirit and a minimum of structures.

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