I never learned to read and speak Hebrew. I came close a couple of times. All language is simply learning the words and then applying them so that others can understand what you are saying. I have come to the awareness that there are many different languages besides French, English, Spanish, and so on. Each language must be mastered to be able to use it to communicate. Science is a language, Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry are all aspects of it. The problem with knowing about reality is we all speak different languages with different assumptions about words and meaning. I think of this whenever I look at reality from the viewpoint of three universes (physical, mental and spiritual). The three distinct universes each have their own language. Again, the problem comes when we use the language of science to decipher the spiritual universe. Each uses different languages and measures of accomplishments. The three are one. It is the template for what is real. The Mystery of Faith is the attempt by humans to penetrate the language of God. God tells us what the purpose of life is but it is Christ, who is God and man, who shows us what love feels like. This book is about three discussions that have helped me find resonance in a sea of dissonance. What doesn’t make sense using conflicting human languages makes perfect sense with the language of God, love. One of the reasons Faith does not make sense is that language is one of contradiction to what we use in the World. With the Mystery of Faith, we can begin to make sense out of what seems to be an enigma.
What follows is an excerpt from my latest book (published today) entitled The Mystery of Faith: A Lay Cistercian reflects on three ways to make sense out of what can’t possibly be real.
FIRST DISCUSSION: APPROACHING VISIBLE AND INVISIBLE REALITY: What does it look like?
I tried for many years to discover how Science (the quest for what is and how it is) interfaces with philosophy (the pursuit of meaning about what is and what it could be) regarding spirituality (the resolution of why what is, is meaningful). The only way I could reconcile how reality fit together was to accept that there were three distinct universes, each with its purpose, complimenting each other but with very different assumptions about what is real and true, and how to measure them. It made sense to me that looking at two universes was using all five senses to access the powers of reason to make hypotheses about the world, learning from the collective wisdom and knowledge of what went before me, in science, philosophy, and spirituality. In the physical universe, animals just live, procreate and then die. In the mental and physical universes, humans are born, can know that they know, find meaning, procreate, then die. The spiritual, mental and physical universes work as one to allow the individual to live…Forever with God.
I used everything I knew to address the issue of visible and invisible reality with the two-universe theory but always thought there was a missing part of the equation, to use a mathematical term. I knew that I was not the center of the universe. How could someone who lived seventy or eighty years if he was strong, contain the collective wealth of knowledge accumulated by the result of our learning? We have only been able to collect and synthesize information until very recently, thanks to technology. A word of caution about what is invisible. In the Little Prince, St. Exupéry writes: “what is essential is invisible to the eye.” The question becomes, what is essential in life?This is one of the reasons that the three universe concept makes so much sense for me. Invisibility may be seen from two viewpoints: one has to do with how the world sees it, which is that the only things real are those you can measure and prove, and the other way has to do with approaching a mystery, in our case, The Mystery of Faith. Both are authentic. One leads to spiritual reality and enlightenment the other one just gives insights into the world as it perceives it to be; right, but in no way transforming. In the Nicene Creed that we recite every Sunday or Solemnity of the Lord, we say the words that we believe in what is visible and invisible. What does that mean? Why even say it at all? As usual, in dealing with the Mystery of Faith, the meaning is far greater than we can ever imagine. I will describe four different elements that I believe are contained in each of the three ideas. Remember, elements are those concepts of reality that are buried (invisible) within the Mystery, but, like assumptions, contain the prescription for what they signify. They are hidden, waiting to be uncovered by reason, experiences, and even contemplation, in this lifetime. All will be known in Heaven. Here is how I see Jesus even though He is invisible.
I. THE FIRST ELEMENT: I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. (Realm of the Mind)
What follows are my Lectio Divina Meditations, and maybe a bit of contemplation, about what is important as both a community and someone immersed in its value system. The key issue facing all of the humanity in the Twenty-First Century is not nuclear waste, the deteriorating environment, or the rise of Religion Wars. Those are all serious issues, but they exist in the physical and mental universes only. What worries me the most happens in the invisibility of the spiritual universe. It is an invisible thought process. It is called relativism, i.e., each of us is the center of reality. No one can tell you that you are wrong because you have the right to hold whatever you want and whatever you this is right is your center. I know, it seems foolish to speak about something invisible as being so important, but what I am talking about is the pervasive conviction that I am the center of the universe instead of God. I am god. To see invisibility, you must look at the footprints it makes in the sands of reality. I offer four such footprints.
THE WAY: Whenever society blinds itself to God as the path to Forever, it must substitute itself for Christ. What a poor way is the one which has false centers like money, fame, fortune, family, church, or me, like the one principle upon which all others are based. There are only two ways from which to choose: my way, or Christ’s way of life. The Life of Christ is one of contradiction, one where you must renounce yourself to follow him, one where try to follow the Tools for Good Works as described in Chapter 4 of St. Benedict’s Rule. Scriptures, the ultimate guide to perfection and right behavior, shows us how to lead The Life of Christ by doing the will of the Father. It is this Way that leads to loving God with all your hearts, your minds, and your strength plus loving our neighbor as yourself. (Deuteronomy 6, and Matthew 22:37) When I think of invisible reality, I think of Christ as the Way, making straight the path to the Father, taking me, as a poor sinner, along for a ride that I could never make by myself.
1. There is only one way, just as there is only one truth or one life.
2. Living the Life of Christ means practicing the right behaviors. Right behaviors come from Scriptures and the exemplary sacrifices and faith of the martyrs and saints.
3. The way is not seen as being attractive by the secular world and by even some religions.
THE TRUTH When Pilate asked the question, “What is truth?” he did not realize that he was identifying one of the core issues of all time. (John 18:37) Truth, in the pervasive thinking of most people, even Catholics, is tinged with relativism. The truth has to be realized in three universes (physical, mental, and spiritual). Ironically, it is science and its disciplines that protect us from relativism by using the rigor of tools and logic to keep our intellectual heritage safe from the ravages of those who pollute facts with politics, even religious politics. It saves all of us from being servants of our whims of the pronouncements of another human. When a President of the United States or even a Pope says, “truth is what I say it is,” we should be skeptical. Likewise, when Jesus Christ says, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life,” I am also skeptical but test and verify the truth by not only using my reason, but also the collective reasoning of my heritage through the ages. Truth now is truth as it was in the time of Christ. Truth is one.
My problem with the scientific approach to truth is not the methods or even the results it discovers, but that it only looks at part of reality (the physical and the mental universe). Remember, the physical universe is what is, the mental universe asks the questions, why is it, what makes it up, how does it operate, and how does it fit into other realities. Spiritual universe is composed of the physical, mental and spiritual universes. It asks the questions that science does but expands this reality to include what is invisible. We recite the words, “I believe in the visible and invisible,” when we say the Nicene Creed at Eucharist every day. Truth makes what is invisible, visible to those who have the eyes to see and the ears to hear.
As an aspiring Lay Cistercian, I try to have in me the mind of Christ Jesus each day (Phil 2:5). I focus on this because it helps me to begin to realize what it means to lead my life from self to God, to practice the Life of Christ. I do not worry about philosophical theories of truth as much as I try to emulate the words of St. Paul, “ …For him, I have accepted the loss of everything, and I look at everything as so much rubbish, if only I can have Christ and be given a place in Him.” (Phil. 3:8-9)
Here is the thing about truth, and it goes back to the very beginning of this essay on truth, “What is truth?” It is that truth depends on placing Truth as your center. Don’t make the mistake of confusing a person’s right to hold any center they want, with the center that is right (correct). There can be only one center, just as there is only one reality. Humans use our mental capabilities to discover both meaning and truth. Truth is at the center of all reality because it is. All truth, and therefore our view of reality, depends on what we place at our center. Truth has to have a center or core or pole against which we measure all that is. If I am the center of truth, I make myself god, which is what is happening in our politically-correct and morally challenged society, one that God will correct, just as the San Andreas Fault will someday snapback due to all the pressure. Read about Sodom and Gomorrah.
The significance of Christ’s statement, “I am the way, the truth, and the life” is that this truth is a person, the person of both God and human, not a process or a product of my belief. Christ says he is the core, the center, the meaning of all reality. If you believe him (using the gift of Faith) you have life in you, that is, you can see what is unseen, you can know what others consider folly, you can hear what others can not hear about the journey to Forever. If you place Christ as your center, you stand outside the convenience of science looking at only two parts of a three-part universe, if you have you as you are the pole of all reality, you are your church, your god, your judge of who goes to heaven or hell.
THE LIFE: THE CHRIST PRINCIPLE
A principle, as I learned it back Philosophy Class in 1962, is “that from which anything proceeds in any way.” I take that to mean the hub on a wheel. The truth is not as easy to discover as you might imagine. Many think they have the truth when they only have part of it, like a dart board with concentric rings of 10 points each. So, comes the big question, “What is the truth?
Moreover, who has the truth?” If you believe in Christ, he answers both of these questions. The problem is not the Christ Principle, the center or the dartboard, or the assumption that He is the Way, the Truth and the Life. The problem becomes many people have different ideas about what that center is. They cannot all be right. There is only one center and one truth. They make Christ in their image and likeness, instead of the reverse. This issue goes back to the very beginning of this discussion about reality. I called it relativism because everyone thinks they are right (correct) and have the truth when the truth is only one. Truth is One, and there is only one truth.
“There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.” (Ephesians 4:4)
If Christ is the reference point, then everything centers around Him as the source of truth. There is one problem, and it relates to original sin and the Tower of Babel; whose Christ did you put as the center of all reality? Again, there are two choices: Christ says that He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life for all that is, and you must discover what that means with your Faith informed by reason, or you, who say that Christ is the center of your world and everyone must believe what you said is true because Christ said it in Scripture. So, how do we, in the 21st century escape the relativism sweeping our secular thinking processes and discover which Christ is true and which one is false? There is a formula used in the early formation of the church, and we use it in the Nicene Creed that we recite at each Sunday Eucharist. What is true now must also have been true in the immediate time after the death and resurrection of Christ. These are the four marks of the Church, not invented in the last one hundred years, but handed down to us to distinguish what is from Christ and what is from man. Traditionally, they are one, holy, catholic, and apostolic.
I think this writing from New Advent perfectly describes these four marks and their significance merits quoting here in its entirety.
“The marks of the Church are certain unmistakable signs or distinctive characteristics which render the Church easily recognizable to all, and clearly distinguish it from every other religious society, especially from those who claim to be Christian in doctrine and origin. That such external signs are necessary to the true Church is plain from the aim and the purpose which Christ had in view when He made His revelation and founded a Church. The purpose of the redemption was the salvation of men. Hence, Christ made known the truths which men must heed and obey. He established a Church to which He committed the care and the exposition of these truths, and, consequently, He made it obligatory on all men that they should know and hear it (Matthew 18:17). It is obvious that this Church, which takes the place of Christ and is to carry on His work by gathering men into its fold and saving their souls, must be discernible to all. There must be no doubt as to which is the true Church of Christ, the one which has received and has preserved intact the Revelation which He gave it for man’s salvation. Were it otherwise the purpose of the Redemption would be frustrated, the blood of the Saviour shed in vain, and man’s eternal destination at the mercy of chance. Without a doubt, therefore, Christ, the all-wise legislator, impressed upon His Church some distinctive external marks by which, with the use of ordinary diligence, all can distinguish the real Church from the false, the society of truth from the ranks of error. These marks flow from the very essence of the Church; they are properties inseparable from its nature and manifesting of its character, and, in their Christian and proper sense, can be found in no other institution. In the Formula of the Council of Constantinople (A.D. 381), four marks of the Church are mentioned — unity, sanctity, Catholicity, Apostolicity — which is believed by most theologians to be exclusively the marks of the True Church.”
Christ is the principle upon which we based our truth, even for those who do not share the same value system or no value system at all. The Church inherited and is the caretaker of truth, not to lord it over others because they do not share the unity, heritage, holiness, and universality with Christ, but to live the life of Christ.
ASSUMPTIONS ABOUT THE CHRIST PRINCIPLE AND HOW TO FIND IT
1. Christ gives us what we need to know, the grace to love each other, and the humility to serve others as He served all of us by his passion, death, and resurrection.
2. Christ lives in and through the Church universal and local community. The four marks of the Church are not individual marks.
3. The marks of the Church come forward from Apostolic times and do not revert from the 21st century back to the 1st Century. The journey moves forward down the centuries but does not leapfrog back in time.
4. When all opinions are considered to be equal by secular minds, these four marks differentiate how views are vetted to ensure what is true.
5. Perhaps the most important yet underwhelming assumption is that of a mystery as a sign of contradiction. In my view, the sign of contradiction is one of the three rules of the spiritual universe. When you enter this universe, up is now down and down is now up. You can read a more detailed version of this in my book, Three Rules of the Spiritual Universe at www.thecenterforcontemplativepractice.org
The sign of contradiction is why words make a difference and truth takes on a more sophisticated meaning. Make sure you think of the spiritual way of thinking with Christ as the Way, the Truth, and the Life when you read the following four marks to tell which Church is true and authentically from Christ.