SEPTEMBER 16, 2009: 1 TIM 3:14-16; LUKE7:31-35


WONDERFUL INDEED IS THE MYSTERY OF OUR FAITH.  The first reading of today’s liturgy presents to our attention a concise statement that represents a summary of the Catholic faith. Saint Paul understands this faith of the Church of God to consist in a mystery, the hidden plan of God for the salvation and sanctification of the assembly of his chosen ones. On this occasion the apostle makes use of a hymn that was already in use by the faithful when they came together in prayer. These few rhythmic lines cover, in allusive phrases, the whole span of Christ’s life, from his birth to his ascension. “He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated in the Spirit . . . believed in throughout the world, taken up in glory.”  Even though in Christ God’s plan is manifested, yet both his person and his words and acts, Jesus lives at the heart of the great mystery of creation and redemption.


That God’s dealings with his creation constitutes a vast mystery that includes not only all of human kind but also the whole cosmos is a fundamental conviction that Paul speaks of repeatedly. He uses the term musterion in Greek twenty-one times, in a six of his epistles. The Greek word includes the idea of something that is secret, hidden. Paul makes the point that what was once hidden is now made openly know in and through Jesus Christ. In giving such prominence to the mysterious nature of God’s activity, the apostle is developing a view already expressed by the Lord Jesus himself. According to Matthew’s Gospel, the Lord gave the original impetus for such usage in the course of instructing his disciples. He spoke of God’s plan in terms of mysteries that his teaching revealed, though only selectively, not promiscuously so as to be grasped by the unworthy.  When his followers asked him “Why do you talk to the people in parables?” he replied: “Because the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven are revealed to you, but they are not revealed to them.” (Mt 13:11) The Lord went on to explain that the reason for concealing this teaching from the majority was their lack of receptive sympathy, dullness of heart. “They look but do not see, they listen but do not hear and understand,” he declared.  However, as he showed in the course of his preaching and in the events of his life and death, Jesus revealed the mysteries of the kingdom and had a great deal to say about them, but did not explain them in the full extent of their nature. They remain mysteries even after they are revealed, as Paul well understood.


Paul best described in extended detail how he understood the mystery in the introductory paragraph of his Epistle to the Ephesians. He states that God “has let us know the mystery of his purpose, the hidden plan he so kindly made in Christ from the beginning . . . . that he would unite all things under Christ as the head, all in heaven and all on earth.” (1:9, 10) The whole of our human existence is contained within the compass of the great mystery that is the Whole Christ. In some unimaginable way this new creation includes all the cosmos as well as the whole of humanity. This magnificent vision that gives purpose and transcendent meaning to the history of our race and even to the farthest reaches of the expanding universe accords well with the most recent findings of both physics and biology. Now it is demonstrated that in every cell of our body there is matter that assumed its basic structure within the depths of a star. The genes that control the forms of the organs of the human body have developed from the same primitive materials that gave rises to the mosses, plants, trees, and animals that share the earth with us. So that the unity that Paul speaks of as growing out of God’s hidden plan, the musterion, is the fulfillment and perfection of nature. The life of prayer is lived as the activation of a faith that places us in contact with the transcendent world that is God himself. “In Him we live, and move, and have our being.” (Acts 17:28)  In our Eucharistic celebration we praise and thank God for making us partakers of this surpassing mystery, that, as Paul proclaims is already at work in us and in the whole cosmos. “For anyone who is in Christ there is a new creation.”  (2 Cor 5:17). & 

Abbot John Eudes Bamberger

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