What follows is excerpted from my latest book, WAYS TO APPROACH THE MYSTERY OF FAITH WITHOUT FRYING YOUR NEURONS: A Lay Cistercian reflects how to approach the Mystery of Faith for those who wait before the Blessed Sacrament. I have added Internet resources so that this may become a journaling retreat on the mysterious topic of The Mystery of Faith.
THE CONFESSION OF A WEAK MIND
As one who seeks to have in me the mind of Christ Jesus (Phil 2:5), with various degrees of success, I am at peace with the mystery of faith being beyond my ability to know it at all. Christ has helped me to begin to transform myself from self to God by placing my energies on what I can do rather than what will always be beyond my ability to define it and then move on to the next challenge.
St. Meinrad Archabbey and School of Theology
I think about my time at St. Meinrad School of Theology, especially in 1962, when I was angry with myself that I could not comprehend the mystery of Faith–the Trinity. It just did not make sense. Can you imagine someone just beginning their spiritual journey even trying to grasp the depths of who God is? I was trying to do this with my feeble mind and my own human reasoning. Shades of Adam and Eve! It was a particularly hot day in September, one Indiana is noted for, that I decided to trudge up four flights of stairs to the chapel (located on the very top of the Seminary. I was angry with God, thinking that He made all of this theology stuff so difficult to know. I just sat there and tried to empty my mind (not a difficult thing for me to do then or now) of my anger and frustration. “Just help me a little bit, Lord,” I said. What must have been thirty minutes passed and no help? No revelation from Heaven. No burning bush of Moses with God giving me divine knowledge. No satisfaction that God answered my prayer, a sure sign of my pride and lack of humility. Immediately, I noticed that it was very hot in that upper chapel. I got up to leave and made a double genuflection (on both knees bowing profoundly as is customary before exposition of the Blessed Sacrament. I got up and happened to look at the clear glass window high up in the chapel. My mouth dropped open in astonishment. High up in the chapel the light came into the window but there was something I had not noticed before. There was a diffusion of light spectrum colors from that light. In one second, I knew about as much of the Trinity as I was ever to learn. I realized that the Trinity was beyond my human ability to define it except through experiences that I have had, such as relationships between my parents and me. In that one instant, I knew that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit were only representations for my mind to grasp what love is. In that one instant, I knew why Christ had to become one of us to show us how to love and to ask us to love others as he loves us (Philippians 2:5-12). In that one instant, it all made sense and I knew that I did not have to struggle to try to comprehend with human reasoning that which was pure energy, pure knowledge, and pure service. In that one instant, my heart was next to the heart of Christ with no assumptions on my part. In one instant, I knew that I would learn more about spirituality on my knees than in the classroom. I knew for certain that is was acceptable not to know everything but to continue to approach pure love for the rest of my life in peace and joy.
LEARNING POINTSThe Mystery of Faith is at the core of what we know as reality and all the reality that we can know. Humans minds are not equipped to go there.
Praise be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, now and forever. The God who is, who was, and who is to come at the end of the ages. Amen and Amen. –Cistercian doxologyWe can know part of the Mystery of Faith, the part that we humans can access through tradition, faith informed by reason, our
THE MYSTERY OF FAITH PRODUCES WHAT IT SIGNIFIES
In the presence of the Blessed Sacrament, we adore the Father through the Son with the power of the Holy Spirit. In the Eucharist, we receive Jesus Christ, both God, and Man, into our hearts to help us adore the Godhead. In adoration of the Blessed Sacrament contains the totality of the mystery of faith, hidden under the appearance of bread. As a Lay Cistercian, all I can do is approach the mystery of faith with humility and openness to the Holy Spirit. I do so most often in silence and solitude. I realize that, when I stand in the presence of the totality of all that is, I can only absorb energy from God according to my capacitas dei. This I why adoration before the Blessed Sacrament not only energizes my spirit (lower case s) but puts me in the presence of the Holy Spirit (upper case S).
It is wonderful that Christ made himself present to each age through the Church in Eucharist and our prayer. The effects of being in the presence of Christ is that we hope to become more like Him and less like us. Cistercian prayers and practices have been an eye-opener to me on just how powerful the Mystery of Faith is. This is not like the power of our Sun, but more like the power of the Son of God, unmeasurable, unknowable with mere human reasoning, approachable with love as Christ loved us.
THAT WHICH THE WORLD CANNOT CONTAIN OR EVEN FATHOM HAS IS SUBJECT TO THE SINFUL AND INCONSISTENCIES OF HUMANS.
Humans, with the archetypes of Adam and Eve (Genesis 2-3) are not evil, but sinful, and need constant Faith from God to sustain us in a world whose default is Original Sin. As a Lay Cistercian I must continuously convert my life from my false self to my true self. I must try to make all things new in me each day. I must use my abilities to reason, along with constantly asking for God’s mercy, to make sense of what the world presents as meaningful.
One of the astonishing aspects of God is that he entrust the holy to the unholy and sinful individuals. Even as Moses was coming down off Mr. Sinai with the Ten Commandments, the Israelites were worshipping the Golden Calf, or David sent Uriah the Hittite to his death so he could marry Bathsheba. Ten of the twelve tribes of Israel will be assumed into their enemies with only two surviving. Matthew’s chronicle of the lineage of Jesus contains many rascals and villains (Matthew 1:1-16). Peter denied Christ three times and Judas hanged himself. The pattern is clear. Jesus entrusts his Church to both saints and sinners. The main thing to remember is, the gates of Hell will not prevail against it.
In our time, there has been a proliferation of thinking about what Jesus meant and what he passed down to us. We are in a struggle between the forces of darkness who wish to derail the bark of Peter with violent storms that threaten our very belief about the Church. Remember, there is a difference between what you believe about the Church and the Faith of the Church. One comes from God, the other comes from your understanding of what you believe God is telling you. People who believe in Christ made in their own image and likeness will not have Faith in the Real Presence. That does not mean they are bad persons as much as ones with limited abilities to stand before the Real Presence in the Blessed Sacrament and give praise to the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, now and forever. The God who is, who was, and who is to come at the end of the ages Amen and Amen. –Cistercian doxology
WHY THE MYSTERY OF FAITH IS SO MYSTERIOUS
We don’t actually know why the Mystery of Faith is so mysterious. If we knew that, it wouldn’t still be a mystery, clouded from our knowing. It is precisely because it is mysterious, beyond knowing, beyond all telling, the cloud of unknowing, that I know that it must be real. Consider these thoughts. It is the ultimate sign of contradiction.
God wanted humans to share in the love that is God. It is the love that only exists within the divine nature of God. The problem is, humans would never be able to love God by themselves nor share back who He is because humans have only human reasoning and human senses that limit responses, and recently acquired at that. Humans have only developed their capability to discover meaning recently in their awareness that they know that they know. In the fullness of time, human’s collective reasoning developed to such a condition, that they began to seek answers for love outside of themselves. The Greeks developed a family of gods to mimic what they saw around them. These gods lived in Olympus, the heavens and were quite distinct from humans because they were immortal, and some gods, the Father of the gods, Zeus, even had relations with mortals and had a child from this union, e.g. Perseus.
As Erich Fromm, author of the popular book, The Art of Loving says, humans don’t know how to love without practice and help. My book, Learning to Love: A Lay Cistercian reflects on the art of learning to love as Christ loves us, is my attempt to set forth that spirituality is also an art that must be learned. Part of this learning is to confront the Mystery of Faith, our ultimate purpose for all humans and what steps we can take to access that which cannot be accessed, to know that which is unknowable, to love that which cannot be loved by human love.
Christ is not only just someone who lived historically but is actually the key, the capstone that holds the monument of reason that we call Faith, together. This key is a person, but not just a starry-eyed Jew sitting on a hillside looking up at the stars and reflecting on his morality. The key to unlocking the gate of Heaven is God’s key. We don’t have the code. The good news is, Jesus shared the code with us. Some people today would have you believe that Jesus’ ego was so great that he wanted to be a messiah. Think about that. God’s plan was to prepare people on earth to be able to receive what could not be received, that God loved them. The Old Testament is the record of that relationship. Philippians 2:5 is the next chapter is the drama of salvation. Any human, then and now, could not stand before God and take in the full force of the love God has in the Trinity. We don’t have either the capability nor the capacity to do so.
Christ had to be God and human to talk to us about love and give us an invitation to join God. The language Christ used was metaphors and examples from nature, culminating in using himself as the key to open the door to true infinity and happiness with God. I am the way, the truth, and the life, Christ says. Christ never wrote a book but others around him did. John 20:30-31 says: “The Purpose of This Book
30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31 But these are written so that you may come to believe[a] that Jesus is the Messiah,[b] the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.”
The purpose of life becomes Deuteronomy 6:5 and Matthew 22:37. To love God with our whole heart, our whole mind, and all our strength and to love our neighbor ourselves. That is the purpose of life, but how do we humans make the jump from being human to something more, something that will allow us to stand in the presence of Love itself without frying our neurons. God made Christ his only Son to be human to tell us and more importantly, to show us, that we can indeed exist in Heaven without being afraid.
THE MYSTERY OF FAITH: MY SUMMARY THOUGHTS
Write down your thoughts about the Mystery of Faith and how you can to practice standing vigil before the Blessed Sacrament.
As a Lay Cistercian, being in the presence of the Real Presence is at the core of my prayer life. I know that I must approach the Mystery of Faith each day in all its dynamic element, one of which is the Blessed Sacrament. My hope is that this book is the occasion for you to move away from your old self and closer to Christ. That in all things, may God be glorified. –St. Benedict