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Mysticism in Catholicism – questions and activities

Michele Frankeni  |  23 October 2019

Read A history of mysticism in Catholicism and answer the following questions and take part in the various activities.

Questions

  • What is mysticism?
  • What do the mystics have in common?
  • How does prayer feature in mysticism?
  • What kind of physical experiences were found to help people better connect with God? Can you explain why this might be so?

Activities

Research: Pick one of the saints mentioned and research their lives. Draw up a timeline of various points in the lives, but also explain their type of mysticism and why it’s important.

Or explore the role of monasteries in Catholicism. Why would people devote themselves to a life of prayer as a calling from God?

Digital detox: Mystics devoted time to their conversations with God. Switch off all your devices and spend time contemplating nature and God in quiet prayer.

Imagination: Encourage students to find a quiet space, and settle themselves in silence, then take them through the following exercise: Imagine that you’re meeting with a mystic saint. Where are you meeting? What do they look like? The saint asks you to sit with them. They pour you a drink and share some food. Now they ask you a question. What do they ask you? How do you answer? They invite you to ask them a question. What do you ask them? How do they answer. Now it’s their turn again to ask you a question. What do they ask? How do you answer? And again, it’s your turn to ask them something. You ask them to pray for someone or something. Who or what do you ask them to pray for? Spend some time in quiet prayer with the mystic saint.

Once the exercise is finished, invite the students to share in a word or a phrase what the experience was like for them – although stress that there’s no need for them to share if they don’t feel like it.

For younger students

Talk with the students about the various saints mentioned in A history of mysticism in Catholicism. Discuss interesting facts about their lives and then arrange for the class to detail the life of St Teresa of Avila.

Who is St Teresa of Avila?

  1. Create strips of paper for the children with different parts of St Teresa’s life. [See the information below.]
  2. Pass out the strips of paper with facts and information about St Teresa and ask them to create a timeline of St Teresa’s life using the information on the strips. They will form this timeline by standing in line in order of the date of their information.
  3. Some of the information will not be dated, so they will have to determine where in the timeline their information fits best.
  4. St a starting point and give them three minutes to get in line.
  5. Once they’re lined up, and beginning from her birth, invite the children to share their information with the group.

St Teresa facts

  1. Teresa was born in 1515. [How long ago was that? It was a time when there was no TV, computers, and no airplanes.]
    2. Teresa was born in Avila, a town in Castile, Spain. [Show students on a map or globe where Spain is.]
    3. When Teresa was seven years old, she tried to run away with her brother, Rodrigo, to Africa. Teresa wanted to go to Africa to tell the people there about Jesus. They didn’t get very far. Their uncle brought the children back home and Teresa’s brother blamed her for the idea of running away.
    4.Teresa’s mother died when Teresa was 14.
    5.When Teresa was 15, her father had her move into a convent. [A convent is a house where nuns live. In the 1500s it was common for young girls from wealthy families to go to a convent to be educated.]
    6.When Teresa was 20, she became a nun. A nun is a religious person who devotes herself to God’s work.
    7. In her 20s, Teresa found it hard to pray at this convent. Teresa couldn’t concentrate there because the families of the girls who were going to school at the convent would visit and stay for dinner. Teresa found she wasted a lot of time at this convent.
    8 .Teresa prayed a lot about living a simpler life, and when she was 40 years old, she started a new convent. The sisters in this new convent all agreed they would live simply and spend their days studying and praying.
    9. The sisters in this new convent wore sandals instead of shoes and habits made of coarse fabric. [Teresa wanted the sisters to change their way of thinking. She didn’t want them to be worried about clothing and fashion. She thought if they changed what they wore on the outside, it would help them change on the inside.]
    10. The nuns in this convent had to be silent. Teresa wanted them to devote themselves to studying and praying about God. If you talk too much, sometimes it is difficult to listen to God.
    11. Her new convent was called Saint Joseph and 13 nuns lived there. Teresa and the nuns who lived there had made a decision to live a simple, hard life devoted to God.
    12. Teresa founded 17 convents. These convents had the same rules as the St. Joseph convent.
    13. Teresa knew that prayer was wrote many books about the importance of prayer. Her books taught and encouraged people to pray.
    14. Teresa wrote that letting God into your heart was like planting seeds in your life. When we pray and help others, we let the seeds grow.
    15. Teresa wrote a book about becoming friends with God. She felt God was her best friend.
    16. Teresa is called a Doctor of the Church. A Doctor of the Church is a special kind of teacher. Teresa was made a Doctor of the Church because the books she wrote were important in helping people learn to pray and become friends with God.
    17. Teresa had a good sense of humour and was kind and sweet.
    18. Teresa died in 1582 when she was 67 years old.
    19. Saint Teresa of Avila’s feast day is 15 October. This is a day we remember all the good work Saint Teresa of Avila did.

Image: Dome and Altar in the Apse of the Church of St Teresa – Getty Images

 

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