Both the great St. Teresa of Avila, and Saint Veronica Giuliani warn against the reading of mystical books. A priest told me years ago that it was dangerous for someone to read mystical writings on prayer as one could very easily think one is holier, more advanced that one actually is.
This advice proves to be ignored by the vast majority of Catholic women who think they can skip to contemplation, a point I have made on this blog many times, without developing meditation and without going through the levels of purification in the Dark Night.
My own unpacking of mystical texts has been mostly from the viewpoint of a teacher trying to slow people down by showing the great difficulties of each level of prayer. I myself, am a beginner.
To imagine one is holier and more advanced than one really is actually prevents one from growing in holiness. And, the real litmus test remains very simple. Is one actually loving as Christ loves? I would add, is one living the evangelical counsels as much as possible in the world?
Again, I have written many times on "middle-class" spirituality-that mind-set which many Catholic women adopt by wanting to be saints without suffering. They want all the consolations of life, no suffering, and yet, all the goodies God wants to give them.
I am reminded of a vision I had in England in 2011. I was frustrated by the lack of orthodoxy in a particular charismatic group, which, at that time, included some friends of mine. In this vision, I saw Christ on the Cross, suffering, with copious amounts of blood dripping from His wounds. His agony was occurring in a typical English field, not on Calvary. Strewn all over this field, and under His Cross, where thousands of those candies called Smarties. Charismatics were bending over picking up the Smarties instead of looking at Christ on the Cross.
I shared this with someone who acted almost immediately, left Charismatic prayer groups, knowing this was true-people wanted candy from God and not suffering, consolation and not the Cross.
One reason I used Garrigou-Lagrange in my long perfection series was that he presented the levels of prayer and the way to holiness rationally, and avoided, like a good teacher, falling into subjectivity.
His emphasis on purification and suffering can be found in the lectures of Father Chad Ripperger online, a priest who has told his audiences that most people have not even begun to follow the path of holiness and that most people think they are holier than they really are.
I began to read the mystics in my late twenties, and put St. Teresa back on the shelf, as I realized the danger of thinking I was making more progress than I really was. Then, the wise priest cautioned me and others not to get ahead of reality.
But, the real step in the right direction for me has been much suffering and the acceptance of that suffering, both physical and spiritual. Once one is pulled into the Dark Night, one knows where one actually is, and that is a good thing. If a person does not want to suffer that purification, he or she will fall back into the "candy seeking" stage again and again.
We do not have time for this waffling back and forth. We do not have time to look for Smarties, or read books beyond our ken.
The book which saved me from thinking I was holier than I was had to be The Practice of the Presence of God, by Brother Lawrence which I highlighted in the Framing Prayer series last month.
Such simplicity keeps one rooted in reality.
Again, taking up the holy priest and Fr. Ripperger's warnings about not thinking one is holier than one is, I caution readers not to read or study too much mysticism without truly, truly the daily examen of sin explained also in the Framing Prayer series.
Go back and look seriously at the levels of prayer from Garrigou-Lagrange in the long perfection series, and be honest about what level one finds one resting in.
Becoming holy is a full-time response to God's graces. The real key is saying yes to suffering, willing suffering and purification.
But, remember my most constant warning, one cannot become holy without first being completely orthodox in all things. One must conform one's mind to the teachings of the Church, all the teachings, before stepping on the ladder of the levels of prayer.
Without orthodoxy, there is no sanctity.