The online Oxford English dictionary gives a general definition of mystery as “something that is difficult or impossible to understand or explain.” The way “difficult” and “impossible” have an “or” between them suggests something can only be one or the other, but not both. I disagree. It absolutely makes sense that something difficult could also be impossible to understand or explain. But not everything difficult to understand or explain is necessarily a mystery. Take for instance, Calculus, radical fundamentalism, racism, gun violence, predatory sexual behavior, and that grayish substance in a sealed plastic container toward the back of the fridge. Difficult maybe, but not impossible. In contrast, true mysteries will be difficult, even impossible, to understand or explain. For instance, the Bermuda Triangle, how the pyramids were built, what happened to the lost colony of Roanoke Island. So when an alleged mystery is finally understood or explained, it then ceases to be a mystery. But if a mystery at some point ceases to be a mystery, was it ever truly a mystery to begin with? In the strictest sense, I think not. In which case we really meant it may have been for a time just difficult to understand or explain. Po-tay-to, po-tah-to, you think? I’m convinced it’s more like being pregnant or convicted of a crime. Either you are or you’re not.
Now when we consider mysteries that pertain to matters of religious faith, what would truly and always be regarded as mysteries are also by definition impossible to understand or explain. Oxford further defines mystery as a “religious belief based on divine revelation, especially one regarded as beyond human understanding.” So among the things we would consider mysteries are realities associated with the sacred, material objects such as the Shroud of Turin and the blood relic of San Gennaro in Naples, such observable phenomena as the uncorrupted bodies of certain saints, and unexplained healings attributed to the intercession of the saints. We also regard as mysteries the beliefs of our Christian faith pertaining to the Lord Jesus and his Mother Mary such as the Immaculate Conception, the Incarnation, the Eucharist, the Resurrection, and the Assumption. These religious beliefs would be most difficult, even impossible, to clearly understand or explain. Yet that hasn’t stopped philosophers, theologians, and scientists through the years from attempting to clear things up. Furthermore, just because we are told authoritatively that something is true does not mean we will stop asking questions.
But on this feast of the Most Holy Trinity, we have to concede that despite the interesting and extensive work of many philosophers and theologians, we know for certain barely anything more than what Jesus himself has said in sacred scripture. He mentioned the Father, the giver of life and the source of all life’s blessings, the glory of the saints and the reward that awaits those who are faithful. He promised his apostles that with the Father he would send the Holy Spirit to lead them to all truth, to empower them to heal the sick and drive out demons, and to strengthen and encourage them to proclaim the Gospel. And he spoke many times of the unique relationship he shared with God his Father, that he came to bring healing, mercy, forgiveness, renewal, and eternal life. For evidence we have his word, and the wondrous effects of grace we see in our lives and in the world. The mystery of the Holy Trinity itself is still very much a mystery, difficult to understand, impossible to explain. But mystery is more than an invitation to engage the mind, more than just something to explain or understand. Instead, mystery invites us to faith and conviction, which is only persuasive and convincing when others can tell us that they see it in the way we live our lives.
How does our faith in the Most Holy Trinity ultimately find expression in our actions? How do we live purposefully and convincingly each day the mystery of One God in Three Persons? We might fail to explain it in words. We might not understand it clearly ourselves to even attempt an explanation. But our actions and our way of life can boldly and persuasively proclaim the mystery if we are first convinced of its truth, and because of it we then live our lives intentionally and joyfully.
Moses took the opportunity in the first reading to remind the children of Israel of God’s tremendous love and mercy, having gone and taken “a nation for himself from the midst of another nation, by testings, by signs and wonders, by war, with strong hand and outstretched arm, and by great terrors, all of which the Lord, your God, did for you in Egypt before your very eyes.” He concluded by challenging them to “keep [God’s] statutes and commandments … that you and your children after you may prosper, and that you may have long life on the land which the Lord, your God, is giving you forever.” In effect, he is saying that if we are convinced of God’s love and mercy, we will want to keep his statutes and commandments. We can look at it from a completely human perspective. If children are convinced that their parents love them, they will do as they are asked; they will try not to disappoint their parents; they will want to make them proud. It makes sense that we would then embrace God’s statutes and commandments, with eagerness and joy, because we are truly convinced of his love and mercy for us.
St. Paul says, “you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear.” Fear is not what motivates those who sincerely want to be Jesus’ disciples to act uprightly, to choose good, and to avoid evil. Rather, through Jesus “you received a spirit of adoption, through whom we cry, ‘Abba, Father!’” The Spirit of God himself bears witness to our adoption as “children of God; and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ.” We are privileged to be children of God. The consequence of that privilege is nothing less than eternal gratitude and such reverence as to avoid disappointing God. But on a more positive note, our gratitude overflows with delight and eagerness as to make us want to share that joy. If we are truly and sincerely grateful, even thrilled to be Jesus’ disciples, children of the Father, led by the Holy Spirit, it makes sense that we would want to draw others to share our good fortune and joy. We would want to grow the family of Jesus’ disciples, children of the Father, the community led by the Holy Spirit.
The mystery of the Holy Trinity is more than an invitation to understand with our mind. First we might recall all that God had been to us, and done for us, the many wondrous ways God has shown his tremendous care for us, loving us into being, sustaining our life, reconciling us to himself and to one another, creating us anew in the image of his Son, strengthening us to proclaim Good News. Then in our gratitude we are eager to be deserving of God’s love. We want to please God. We are careful not to disappoint God. Our beliefs and convictions stir us so powerfully that even when we cannot explain or understand them, our living proclaims them loud and clear. It’s like being alive. No one asked us if we wanted to be born. But once we are aware of the life we have, we can embrace the gift, we can celebrate it, we can live it joyfully, intentionally, meaningfully. So does our living proclaim loudly and clearly the mystery of One God in Three Persons?
Rolo B Castillo © 2018
Deuteronomy 4: 34
Romans 8: 15