A Reading from the Holy Gospel According to Mark:

Christus Remunerator, Ary Scheffer, 1847-1858

The mother of Jesus and his brothers arrived at the house. Standing outside, they sent word to him and called him. A crowd seated around him told him, “Your mother and your brothers and your sisters are outside asking for you.” But he said to them in reply, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking around at those seated in the circle he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”

The Gospel of the Lord.

Transcription of Sermon

Saint Mary Magdalene de’ Pazzi (miniature), Josefa de Óbidos, 17th c.

Today the Church celebrates the feast of the great Carmelite mystic Saint Mary Magdalene de Pazzi. She was born to a very wealthy, extremely wealthy, Florentine noble family and, following the natural ways of the world, she should have been chosen, courted, by a young nobleman to marry and live a comfortable life of court life and aristocracy.

And nonetheless, when she was nine years old, making confessions for the first time, her confessor introduced to her mental prayer. And so, this nine-year-old girl began to enter into meditation, mental prayer. At 10, she made her First Communion, which was somewhat young for the time. And one month after her First Communion, she made a private vow of virginity. At 16 she entered the Carmelites, even though her father had already picked out a husband for her. And she said, “I have to be faithful to my promise that I made when I was 10. I’m going to be the Bride of Christ.” And the father respected that decision.

So, at 16, she entered the monastery, and she was very ill during her first year. And as a novice in preparation for vows it seemed that she wasn’t going to survive. And so, she was allowed to make her vows on what they thought was her deathbed. And as soon as she made her vows, she went into two-hour ecstasy and then, every day for the next 40 days, she would have an ecstasy after Communion. Now, this was the 1500s, daily communion was not a practice except in that Carmelite monastery. And so, she would have these long ecstasies after receiving Communion. Obviously, back then, Communion was received after Mass.

Well, what is an ecstasy? An ecstasy is an elevation of the soul to God when there is a divine invasion of the soul and the soul is elevated to God to such an extent that the person is aware of what’s happening, is aware of this divine union, and, nonetheless, loses control of internal and external senses. So, what this shows us is that in the early life of a mystic, these ecstasies are usually more frequent because it’s the incompatibility of the unpurified soul in direct relationship with God. And as the mystic, if you read John of the Cross’ writings, if you read the Life of St. Teresa of Avila, The Way of Perfection, you’ll see that ecstasies happen early on in the mystical life and diminish as the soul becomes more accustomed to these divine invasions. 

Well, she was told by her confessor, and very prudently so, to dictate all of her visions to a secretary, one of the nuns. So, there were a couple of nuns who would take notes and she had to dictate this. And the idea was not to talk about herself. The idea was to be prudent and see if there was any deception, if there was anything in the content of the visions that was not in keeping with Church teaching so as to unmask the work of the evil one. So, she had this experience, a daily experience, for six years, and the dictated visions filled five volumes.

She could read hearts. She prophesied future events. She bilocated. And in the midst of all of these extraordinary things that made up what would be her ordinary life, so to say, it would be a mistake to think that she didn’t suffer a lot. She suffered horribly. Terrible temptations. Terrible images come to her mind. Terrible afflictions in her body, in her mind. Horrible. And she went five years in a dark night in which – the dark night is something that mystics go through which makes them feel like they’re separated from God and lost souls. She went through that horrible experience for five years. Our Lord also allowed her to experience Purgatory. So, she said she experienced Purgatory and all of its rungs; from those people who had been forgiven of horrible mortal sins to those people who had never committed a mortal sin and simply were being purified for their venial sins and their imperfections.

She said the following, “Self-love is like the worm that rots the root and destroys not only the fruit, but even the very life of the plant. The traitor that we have to fear most is self-love, for self-love betrays us as Judas betrayed our Lord with a kiss. He who conquers self-love, conquers all.” She died at the age of 41 and was canonized about 40 years later.

What can we take away from this? Two things: Just briefly, the importance of mental prayer in the life of the soul. If we are to advance in holiness, we have to be dedicated daily to mental prayer. If we do not dedicate time to mental prayer daily, we will not progress. Secondly, the need to do penance now in order to have our purgatory now, as opposed to later. So, we all will have to be purified for our attachments, for our forgiven sins. But does that happen in this life or the next? That’s something we’re choosing.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, the Holy Spirit. Amen

– Fr. Ermatinger