The Compass: Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay
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May 19, 2000 Issue
Saint of the Day

Mystical life has spiritual peaks, but also some valleys

St. Mary Magdalen Dei Pazzi underwent tough times to be with God

By Tony Staley
Compass Editor

Many people long for a rich spiritual life and want to be able to touch the divine.

But what most people seem unaware of is that, with the good times of spiritual delight, there also comes spiritual depressions. For many of the spiritually gifted, their prayer life bears a remarkable resemblance to biblical stories of nations who would enjoy several years of abundant crops followed by years of famine. This reality seems particularly true for the mystics.

Among these mystics is St. Mary Magdalen Dei Pazzi, who was born in 1566 at Florence, Italy, into a distinguished family. She was named Catherine at her baptism and studied at St. John Convent in Florence.

Much like another Catherine, who lived two centuries earlier in nearby Siena - she resisted attempts to have her marry. She had learned to meditate at age 9 from the family confessor. She made her First Communion at age 10 - an incredibly early age in this era - and, a month later, vowed to live as a virgin.

At age 16, so she could receive daily Communion, she followed the example of another great mystic, St. Teresa of Ávila, and joined the Carmelites in 1582, the same year Teresa died.

Once in the Carmel of St. Mary of the Angels in Florence, Catherine took the name Mary Magdalen. She made her vows in 1583 from her cot because her superiors thought she was about to die. Instead, she had a two-hour mystical experience. She had similar experiences for the next 40 mornings after receiving Communion.

Soon afterward, she became seriously ill and underwent many ecstasies. After recovering, she lived an extremely severe life. For the next five years, she was in the throes of spiritual depression and aridity until recovering in 1590.

For her, the suffering was a way to share in the suffering that Jesus had experienced.

While in mystical ecstasy, the person is acutely aware of their spiritual union with God and their senses are detached from the material world. During her ecstasies, some members of the community wrote down what she said - her comments filled five volumes - and were later published.

She also had several spiritual gifts, including healing. She also could predict the future, read minds and bi-locate.

For the last three years of her life, she was bedridden. She died in 1607 on May 25, the day on which we celebrate her feast. She was canonized in 1669.

While the life of a mystic may look attractive, St. Mary Magdalen Dei Pazzi reminds us that it can be quite demanding. Most of us will find it far better to develop a simpler daily relationship with God, though even then we may experience some dry times.

Sources: Dictionary of Saints and Saint of the Day

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