This is the second in a series of teachings and reflections offered by the moderator of spiritual formation for the Jefferson City diocese.
Mystery does not mean we cannot understand something, it means there is no end to the understanding.
If we can find the courage to move beyond our rational minds and into our hearts ... into the mystery of love, letting go of any need for certitude, then and there ... mystery becomes delightful.
“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For every one who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds.” (Matthew 7:7-8)
As Christians, we believe that the Word of God is true, eternal, unchanging. It is God communicating Himself to us.
And yet we must honestly ask ourselves: “Do we get everything we ask for in prayer?”
Of course not! God does, indeed, answer our prayers, but like the best loving parent we could ever imagine, it may not be he the answer we think it should be.
Let us delve into this mystery.
Our Sacred Scripture demands a great deal from us. We must roll up our sleeves and get to work as we try to break it open.
This is why a small faith-sharing group is crucial, where the Holy Spirit works wonders in us, and in the community, as we try to break open the Word together. The Spirit will also bond us in love.
We’ll soon discover the Scripture is actually breaking us open.
Let us get to work ... first we remember that the Bible is not a book, but a library of books. And so it is helpful to consider which part of the library we are currently reading as we long to understand a text.
Second, as Catholics, we do not “proof text.”
Proof texting is when we read one line and understand it literally. A classic example of this is to read, “They shall take up serpents; and if they shall drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them.” (Mark 16:18)
Personally, I would advise you to go to the Emergency Room if you drink poison or are bit by a rattlesnake!
And so we must approach this mystery with a resolve to dive-deep, utilizing the treasures of Catholic Tradition.
We are instructed to read the lines that come before a particular text, and we read what comes after.
We consider whom is the author addressing, and what situation? What are the historical and cultural contexts?
To read a biblical text without context is a pretext. As St. Jerome teaches us: “Sacred Scripture is like a nose, and a person can bend it in any direction they wish.”
In addition, our Catholic Tradition teaches us that there two levels of meaning in Scripture. There are the Literal level and the Spiritual level, and the Spiritual level is then broken down into the allegorical, the moral and the anagogical.
A journey into this profound concordance of the four senses guarantees a richness to the reading of Sacred Scripture.
So, an understanding of these levels of meaning, a willingness to engage in a bit of scholarly research, the willingness to work with others in faith ... all of this will lead into an exploration of the depth and breadth of the Divine revelation, and it also leads us deep into ourselves as well.
“Those with ears ought to listen, those with eyes ought to see” — a favorite saying of Christ.
So it turns out that this wise, all-knowing Heavenly Father of ours is inviting us to understand at deeper and deeper levels of trust and surrender.
So, we consider more and more, what it is we are asking for, and how do we best ask for it?
This God of ours may not always give us what we want ... but will always give us what it is we need most of all.
And what is that? What God most desires to bestow on us is the Holy Spirit. God is offering us the very breath that Christ breathed on his Apostles.
This Divine Spirit is the supreme gift.
My goodness, what more could we want!
Sisters and brothers, if we pray long enough, ask long enough, surrender our wills long enough, we will eventually join Christ in the Garden, and our only prayer will be “Thy will not mine be done.”
Fr. Flatley is pastor of Immaculate Conception Parish in Jefferson City.