I once saw a cartoon that said the difference between a mystic and a psychotic is that a mystic knows when to shut the hell up. It’s like that old adage about it being better to keep your mouth shut and have people think you’re a fool than to open it and remove all doubt—if you had a vision of Jesus where he hands you his foreskin and tells you it’s your wedding ring, you’d better zip your lip about it or everyone will think you’re fucking crazy.
Or at least that’s what most people would think these days in this increasingly secular society where psychologists have replaced priests as the go-to person for those suffering from inner turmoil. What used to be known as “visions” are now called “hallucinations,” and most of antiquity’s so-called “mystics” would likely be reclassified as “schizophrenics.”
The Catholic Church considers all of the following saints to have been mystics, but I’m going to call bullshit until the Holy Spirit comes sailing down before my very eyes on a golden beam of light to correct me.
St. Catherine of Siena (1347-80) is one of a few saints on this list who claimed to have the stigmata, which are Christ’s crucifixion wounds revisited onto the bodies of his most rabidly devoted followers. In Catherine’s case the wounds were invisible, so you pretty much had to take her word for it. But just to prove that she was no slouch, she wore sackcloth and would whip herself three times daily.
Her first vision of Christ came at around age five, but it wasn’t until she was 21 that Jesus showed up with a gift that would probably fetch $1 trillion on eBay today—his divine foreskin, which he presented to her as a wedding ring. She then agreed to a “Mystical Marriage” with Christ but was prudent enough to refrain from describing his boudoir skills.
St. Padre Pio, AKA St. Pio of Pietrelcina, would likely be considered a masochist nowadays, for he once wrote that the “perfect Christian” must punish his own body to such a degree that he “must make sure that it hurts.”
While hearing confessions one day in 1918, he says that crucifixion wounds suddenly appeared in the same five locations where Jesus was wounded—hands, feet, and his chest. These wounds—which were allegedly examined and confirmed by several doctors—bled for a half-century until his death. The blood that flowed freely from them was said to smell like flowers—this was known as “the odor of sanctity.” But to me it smells like “batshit crazy.”
Saint Simeon Stylites the Elder is not to be confused with Simeon Stylites the Younger, Simeon Stylites III, nor Simeon Stylites of Lesbos. As a teenage Jesus freak, this Syrian ascetic was so extreme in his self-deprivation, he was asked to leave the monastery. He then cloistered himself in a hut for a year and a half and gained renown for refusing to eat or drink anything during the entire season of Lent. He also gained fans as a result of this, so he climbed up onto a nine-foot pillar in the desert to escape the persistent advice-seekers. For the next 37 years he lived on a small platform atop the pillar. He lived on goat milk and bread brought to him by local boys who’d ascend the pillar. Over the years subsequent pillars became taller and taller. Simon died in 459AD at the top of a fifty-foot pillar.
His story was immortalized in the 1965 film Simon of the Desert by surrealist genius Luis Buñuel.
St. Anthony the Great was an Egyptian Christian monk who first wandered into the desert wilderness in his late teens around the year 270 AD, only to be endlessly harassed by Satan and his hired demon-thugs. Satan quickly started tempting him with plates of silver and gold, as well as visions of naked women. He also appeared before Anthony in the form of snakes, scorpions, lions, and wolves.
One day the Devil, driven into a rage by Anthony’s world-class, take-no-prisoners holiness, beat Anthony unconscious. Friends found him and carried him to a local church. On another occasion, friends showed up inside his desert cave to find him beaten unconscious yet again, this time by a whole posse of demons. They at first thought he was dead and started carrying away his corpse but as the story goes he suddenly came back to life and returned to the cave, where a brief flash of miraculous light sent the demons a-runnin’. Obviously a man can get very lonely out in a desert cave.
St. Theresa of Avila (1515-1582) suffered the misfortune of having her prayer sessions repeatedly interrupted by Satan and visions of hell:
Once, while approaching to receive Communion, I saw with my soul’s eyes more clearly than with my bodily eyes two devils whose appearance was abominable. It seems to me their horns were wrapped around the poor priest’s throat.
Another time while deep in prayer, she suddenly found to her dismay that God had sent her to hell:
I suddenly found that, without knowing how, I had seemingly been put in hell….The entrance seemed to be by a long narrow pass, like a furnace, very low, dark, and close. The ground seemed to be saturated with water, mere mud, exceedingly foul, sending forth pestilential odors, and covered with loathsome vermin….Left in that pestilential place, and utterly without the power to hope for comfort, I could neither sit nor lie down: there was no room. I was placed as it were in a hole in the wall; and those walls, terrible to look on of themselves, hemmed me in on every side. I could not breathe. There was no light, but all was thick darkness.
Alrighty, then. Best to swipe left on that one, guys!
St. Margaret Mary was, like, totally into Jesus. Imagine her as Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction and Jesus as Michael Douglas. She was that into him. She did the Catholic saint’s version of getting a dude’s name tattooed on your boob—on different occasions, she carved Jesus’s name onto her breast and also burned his name onto her holy bosom. Margaret Mary & Jesus 4EVA!
St. Rose of Lima has been referred to as “possibly the most masochistic of the female saints.” Her parents named her in honor her rosy cheeks. But when she became an adult and kept trying to prove her faith by harming herself, she was wont to rub pepper and lye on those rosy cheeks of hers. She lived on a diet of stale bread, bitter herbs, and water. Unlike other saints who receive stigmata on the hands, feet, and chest, she allegedly developed wounds around her head, which she interpreted to be a gift of a crown of thorns. She once described the process:
During their development, I feel them active. The impression is that of a hair being tightly pressed against the skin and boring a hole, as a small hand tool would do.
This was back in the 17th century, so there was no such thing as Seroquel.
Full disclosure: I was raised Catholic, and at age eight I chose “Francis” as my confirmation name in honor of St. Francis of Assisi, who not only loved animals, he also wrote the eminently wise Serenity Prayer. But he also is credited with uttering this gem of metaphysical masochism:
Humiliation is the way to humility and without humility, nothing is pleasing to God.
As part of his ongoing program of worship-through-self-humiliation, he would go on extensive fasts, wear a hairshirt, and whip himself. One day in the year 1224, he also received stigmata on his hands.
He would also “converse” with animals and birds. He referred to his own body as if it were an animal, calling it “Brother Ass.” He would also roll around in the snow to punish himself. In short, he was one nutty monk.
St. Clare of Montefalco (c. 1268-1308) was a nun, which is a term used for women who take a vow of chastity and thus don’t get none.
One day, who should show up to her in a vision but Jesus himself, weary from lugging that frickin’ cross around. She offered to help him carry it, at which point he plunged it into her heart, causing tremendous pain. Legend has it that after her death, a tiny crucifix was found in her heart. She also reportedly had three gallstones, which true believers interpreted as a sign of the Holy Trinity.
The Dutch vixen known as Saint Lutgardis of Aywières (1182-1246) was allegedly able to levitate, which makes me jealous because I’ve failed every time I’ve tried. She also was said to drip blood from her forehead while in the midst of religious ecstasy. One day while Jesus was visiting after he’d granted her a wish that would enable her to speak Latin, he reached into her chest, removed her heart, and put his in its place. He then hid her heart in his chest.
That is soooooo fucking romantic. It’s like wearing one another’s T-shirts after sex!
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