Interview with Carmelite Father Luigi Borriello
By Miriam Diez i Bosch
ROME, SEPT. 1, 2010 (Zenit.org).- Mysticism is not just a secondary aspect of theology, but is something that all people are called to, says Father Luigi Borriello.
The Carmelite priest knows about mystics: Not only does his Carmelite family claim many in its history, such as St. Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein), but he is also co-director of the “Dictionary of Mysticism” of the Vatican Publishing House.
Father Borriello is a consultor of various Vatican dicasteries and a theology professor at numerous universities in Rome.
He spoke with ZENIT about the mystical experience, and stressed the importance of clarifying what Christian mysticism is, at a time when many religions are interested in this field.
ZENIT: Mystics are famous for being from another world, but you say this is not so.
Father Borriello: Mystics are men and women of this world.
Today there is a tendency to trivialize mysticism, as if it were something of another world, and that it has nothing to do with us. But it isn’t so. Moreover, the mystics’ experience fits in the Church and is related to faith, not foreign to it.
Mystical experience cannot be separated from faith; it can only take place in it. Mystical experience calls for a mystical theology, a reflection whose basis is mysticism itself.
Today there is a persistence of the mystical event. It is part of the post-modern society. This universal mystical richness is rediscovered in Western and Eastern religiosity. And Eastern mysticism has exercised great fascination in the West.
Also in the present climate of crisis, of confusion and syncretism, there is a temptation to confuse the authentic nature of mysticism with New Age or Next Age realities.
Religion and mysticism are different realities, and it is necessary to make distinctions.
ZENIT: In fact, many seek in the East what Christian mysticism already contains.
Father Borriello: Indeed. It’s a paradox.
Many Christians don’t know the wealth of their own mystical tradition and they turn to the East, seeking what is in the interior of that tradition.
Moreover, it is important to recall that there is a mystagogy in all mystical experience: You can also experience this as the other does.
Although the mystic is reserved, what he says is for others.
In this sense we must say to ourselves that we are all called to sanctity and to mysticism. And the mystical experience is a call to witness.
ZENIT: Christian mysticism always recognizes the “You” of God.
Father Borriello: Yes, it isn’t dissolution; it is encounter.
Christian mysticism is characterized by the Incarnation, which is always a gift; it isn’t something that the human being gains.
In it, the “You,” the duality of a God who gives himself and the man who receives, though there is fusion, always recognizes the other.
We are speaking of duality in unity, as a spiritual marriage. The two always recognize one another; they are not confused; they keep their own identity.
ZENIT: Would it be appropriate to desire a mystical experience?
Father Borriello: It is not a question of asking for it but of receiving it when it comes, if it comes.
Experience is a category that is used in all the disciplines. I prefer to speak of mystical experience; it is something that God gives to man who receives it passively, and, in fact, makes an effort on receiving it.
It is what John of the Cross calls “the night.”There is a collaboration in the acceptance, but the initiative is always God’s, who makes himself known. And the greatest revelation takes place in Jesus Christ.
Hence, mystical experience is always Christ-centered and Trinitarian. And it is revealed only gratuitously, without our merits.