Saturday, July 20, 2013

Into the mystery

Read Colossians 1:24-28

When we really stop to consider what we mean by “God,” our words fall short, our imaginations stumble, our concepts fail. We are like an old pocket calculator which, when faced with a calculation that exceeds its capabilities, flashes “Does not compute.” And so we say that God is a “mystery.” Yet, a mystery is not a problem to be solved, however complex – as if the concept of God was just a more complicated version of the general theory of relativity. Rather, a mystery is a reality so all-encompassing that we never stop discovering its depth or its meaning. We are both fascinated and overwhelmed by the mystery of God. This mystery beckons, it calls us to enter into the darkness in order to discover its light and glory.

This was Saint Paul’s experience. Before his encounter with the risen Christ, his knowledge of God was partial and obscured. In accepting Christ’s suffering for him, in accepting the darkness of the Cross, Paul came to discover the brightness of God’s love not only for him, but for the whole world. This is why the struggles of his ministry are an occasion for him to rejoice: for as he enters more deeply into identification with the suffering Jesus, he discovers more fully the life-giving love of God. This is why he can write these strange but wonderful words: “I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake as I complete in my flesh what is lacking in Christ’s own suffering for the sake of his body, the Church.”

Through the struggles of his ministry, the rejection and suffering he experiences because of his faith, Paul comes to a greater understanding and experience of the depth of God’s own love for all people. This is the “mystery” into which we can all enter, “Christ among us, the hope of glory.” And Paul can only invite us to enter into this mystery ourselves, so that we will all grow into the fullness of this glory. For Paul, this is the great mission in his life, the great task he has accepted and for which he is willing to suffer and die.

People who truly know what it means to love also know that love is often costly and painful. It requires us to die to ourselves in order that others might come to greater life. A parent who suffers for his or her child’s sake; a spouse who gives all in caring for a wife or husband; a social worker who cries over the pains of a broken family; a nurse or doctor who is torn by the ravages of a patient’s disease: all these enter into the dark mystery which, when lived in love, somehow opens up into light. The “mystery” which has been hidden from all times then becomes our meaning and our hope.

Outside of love, the pains and struggles of this life can only drain and empty us. Encompassed by love, they become a way of knowing the mystery of God, of entering that mystery, of being upheld and embraced by that mystery. This was Paul’s experience of Christ. May it also be ours.

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