As I was prepping for class recently, I came across a quote from an under-appreciated giant among the Catholic mystical authors, the Flemish Blessed John of Ruysbroeck. Much of his work was to combat the ‘quietist’ tendencies of reform movements in 14th century Germany and northern Europe. Quietism espoused a highly passive understanding of Christian holiness, locating the essence of holiness in a simple abandonment to God in faith that eschewed the essential role of the active life of charity and good works. Among other things, Ruysbroeck criticized Quietist practitioners for simply canonizing their ego’s voracious appetite for self-gratification (i.e. ‘experiences’) and sloth, and calling it ‘spiritual.’
This quote catches the spirit of Ruysbroeck’s critique, and offers a powerful image of the relationship between the quest for mystical experience and the the demands of charity:
Though you be caught up in the very rapture of God and there comes to you a sick man to demand of you a bowl of broth, descend from your seventh heaven and give him what he comes to ask.
Or as St. Vincent de Paul said it,
When you leave your prayer to attend to the knock of the needy at your door, do not think you have shirked your sacred duty, for you go from God to God.
Prayer fans the inner Fire that powers our good deeds, and our good deeds provide wood for that same Fire to consume as a living sacrifice to God.