There are said to be approximately 11,000 Catholic saints whom the Catholic Church officially recognizes. However, a great many of these saints are anonymous, such as the 800 residents of Otranto, Italy, who were canonized on May 12, 2013 because they were killed in 1480 for refusing to convert to Islam after Ottoman Turks had sacked their town. Many other saints’ identities have been lost to time.
Aside and apart from martyrs and those killed or persecuted for their faith, many saints were canonized because of their virtuous acts and saintly lives. Further, some Catholic saints and Doctors of the Church are conferred sainthood because of their vast understanding of spirituality. And beyond this, some of the greatest saints are also our greatest mystics, having experienced firsthand the presence of God in their lives.
The latter category includes some of the spiritual giants: St. Teresa of Ávila, St. John of the Cross, St. Francis of Assisi. There is one lesser known saint who qualifies as an accomplished mystic, the Italian Carmelite nun Saint Mary Magdalene de’ Pazzi (1566 – 1607). Today (May 25) is her Feast day. She is the Patron Saint against sickness, among her various patronages.
Because of her harsh austerities, severe penances, and seemingly inhuman mortifications, Saint Mary Magdalene is not everyone’s cup of tea. She remains popular in Italy, though not very well known elsewhere.
Saint Mary Magdalene experienced her first ecstasy at age 12 while gazing at the sunset. She continued to experience ecstasies and visions throughout her life. However, she repudiated her own ecstasies as signs of her unworthiness before God, and she tried to hide her mystical experiences from others. She also underwent bleak dry spells and much physical suffering. Still, her faith and devotion were second to none, and her communications with Jesus were loving, almost playful at times, indicative of the intimate inner relationship she had established with Christ.
The Saint became a nun at age 15 and eventually was appointed Mistress of Novices. Many attested to her ability to bilocate, cure others, and read minds. During her canonization in 1668, her body was found to be incorrupt.
And so this is how we can best remember Saint Mary Magdalene de’ Pazzi on her Feast day: as an ecstatic saint who experienced oneness with Jesus and mystical union with God. May we be similarly inspired in our spiritual pursuits to have such faith and devotion.