Prayer as the Gateway to Mystery

For a Christian, mystery is reverenced as that hidden dimension in things, people, situations and life which is beyond time, place or physical description. We may understand aspects of this esoteric reality beyond us and we can appreciate that there is more to life than what meets the eye or is understood by the mind.

Mystery can enrich our spirituality. A little poem tells us: Remember the little seed in the Styrofoam cup. The roots go down and the plant goes up. And nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that. The world is full of the creative mysteries of God. God’s creative genius stuns even the most vivid imagination. Even though we may know the scientific reasons for natural phenomena, such as the turning tides or the leaf positions to sun and shade, they do not detract from mystery. An individual is still in awe of the grandeur of God when he or she looks at the fiery colors in the fall leaves, lofty mountains, spring blossoms, cloud formations and, most of all, life developing within a woman’s womb. We can understand through facts, but we are wise through mystery. Thomas a Kempis said: “If the works of God were such as might be easily comprehended by reason, they could not be called wonderful or unspeakable.”

Humans will realize their capacity for compassion when they see themselves as part of the beautifully mysterious order of God’s world. Although humans have not always treated God’s creation well, nature will continue to replenish and refresh herself through the replenishing grace of the Holy Spirit. This is evident when one sees a flower growing through a crack in a sidewalk. God continues to reveal himself in the world. One way is through his renewed creation. The Holy Spirit embraces the world like a mother embracing her dear child.

And for all this, nature is never spent;

There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;

And though the last lights off the black West went

Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs —

Because the Holy Ghost over the bent

World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

(Gerard Manley Hopkins)

The deeper our spiritual roots, the more resistance we have toward all that does not come from God’s goodness. Sacred mysteries are the highest form of mysteries. They command our respect, even though they will never be fully understood here on earth. Eternal mysteries are deeper and richer than any temporal mystery, far beyond what we can ever imagine. Because of their sacred character, they require leaving behind the ambiguities of life and moving toward the incomprehensibility of God.

Prayer is the key that unlocks and opens the door to spiritual mysteries. Prayer beckons us to withdraw from the daily round of tasks and clatter so that we can pay undivided attention to the unfathomable mystery of the Lord. We move from the clamor of noise and movements to the peace of quiet and stillness in order to listen to, and gaze at, Jesus. A daily visit to a sacred silent place can spiritually mature us. When the mysteries of life overwhelm us, we welcome talking about them to God and placing them in his Sacred Heart. God is our refuge and our strength. He breaks through the complexities of life and speaks in our heart. To rest in the mystery of God is to be quiet, be still, and let him reveal how much he loves us.

Prayer is the world’s greatest wireless communication. François Fenelon wrote: “Talk to him in prayer of all your wants, your troubles, even of the weariness you feel in serving him. You cannot speak too freely, too truthfully, to him.” A mature spirituality trusts God‘s providence even when prayer requests are not answered. We learn we do not need things or experiences to be happy. Prayer teaches us that happiness is an attribute of the heart, and not a result of something. It is realized when we are content with life and quiet in God. Prayer mysteriously leads us to our nothingness in God who is all. Prayer can revitalize us and mystify us.

An ongoing factor in life and in prayer is mystery. Life is a journey in mystery that ranges from playful to grave. Prayer keeps us on course when we experience mystery in suffering, in unexpected pleasure, in unforeseen circumstances and in surprising encounters. Henri Amiel wrote: “We are hemmed around with mystery, and the greatest mysteries are contained in what we see and do every day.” If we can avoid the fast-paced busyness of life, we are more likely to notice the beautiful little mysteries in life.

The older we get, the more mystery becomes present to us. Living with the unexpected mystery of sickness, life changes, and inconveniences of aging is not for the faint of heart. At various stages in life, the mysteries in our Catholic faith deepen and sustain us. We find that when a mystery of faith is somewhat understood, it can stimulate a deeper exploration of it. Mystery leads to mystery and at the end of the road, mystery generates an awesome wordless wonder at the reality of God, the greatest mystery. In the words of Basil Hume:

The meaning of things and their purpose is, in part, now hidden, but it will in the end become clear. The choice is between the mystery and the absurd. To embrace the mystery is to discover the real. It is to walk towards the light, to glimpse the morning star, to catch sight from time to time of what is truly real. It is no more than a flicker of light through the cloud of unknowing, a fitful ray of light that is a messenger from the sun which is hidden from your gaze. You see the light but not the sun. When you set yourself to look more closely, you will begin to see some sense in the darkness that surrounds you. Your eyes will begin to pick out the shape of things and persons around you. You will begin to see in them the presence of the One who gives them meaning and purpose, and that is he who is the explanation of them all.

The Essential Call

Holiness is a clarion call that shakes us out of comfort and complacency and instills a yearning that cannot be fully satisfied and a search that is unceasing. This sacred call is greatly unrecognized or neglected by many people in today’s society, even though it is the greatest of challenges and the primary way to bring peace to this world. John Ayscough said: “Every saint is a little looking glass of God; a facet of the jewel which constitutes the Catholic Church.” Striving to be a saint is the primary way to participate in the mystery of God. However, it is not for timid people. In Women before God: Prayers and Thoughts, William Kelly, SJ, wrote:

If we were saints, we wouldn’t have it easier, nor would we have special privileges, nor receive special gifts. The saints did not have it as easy as we would like to believe. They were men and women just as we are. They didn’t live in greenhouses, isolated from temptation and sin. Otherwise their sanctity would have no special merit. They lived in the world as we do, and still served God in an extraordinary way. They loved the world: the aroma of a flower, the charm of an attractive animal, the confidence of little children, the friendship of mature men and women, and still won eternal life. They knew guilt and experienced the false way which the human heart travels. Still they asked for forgiveness. They fell, and committed the same mistakes. Yet they rose again and again and thanked God who gave them the strength to do so. They also had bodies. They experienced within themselves the humbling weakness and inadequacy of human nature. Still they never forgot that they were children of God. The world was the workshop of their lives, but they never lost sight of the goal of their earthly pilgrimage — eternity.

Sacrificial Banquet

Peter Julian Eymard wrote: “The Eucharist is the work of a measureless love that has at its service an infinite power, the omnipotence of God.” The Mass is the greatest prayer, the most powerful action and the most profound mystery on this earth. At Mass, we are drawn into the unseen, intangible world of the Triune God. As the center of Christian life and the epitome of love, the Mass is the axis around which the Church and the world revolve. No words can adequately express why or how. The Mass is far more than a collection of words or a sacred ritual. It is our essential certainty as Christians.

The consecration is the most solemn and sublime action on this earth. Changing bread and wine into Jesus’ body and blood is a mystery far too magnificent for anyone to grasp. The boundaries of time and space vanish. There is nothing else like the Mass in the world. Thomas Aquinas wrote a prayer we can meditate on for a lifetime:

O Sacred Banquet in which Christ becomes our food, the memory of his passion is celebrated, the soul is filled with grace, and a pledge of future glory is given to us. O God in this wonderful sacrament, you have left us a memorial of your passion. Help us we beg you, so to reverence the sacred mysteries of your body and blood that we may constantly feel in our lives the effects of your redemption who live and reign forever. Amen.

Christ gives himself to us in the Eucharist, which nourishes our souls and fills us with his mercy and his love. We strive to pass on that mercy and love into society. At communion, we receive the greatest of gifts, and by receiving it respectfully, we learn to be more loving and more grateful for the smallest of ordinary things. Faith in Christ’s Eucharistic presence is the most holy and most blessed mystery of love.

Christ with us

In the flame of your Eucharistic love

Illumine our faith in your passion,

Death and resurrection.

Christ with us

In the furnace of your Eucharistic love

Melt the coldness of our hearts

And burn away indifference from our lives.

Christ with us

In the fire of your Eucharistic love

Consume the sin that keeps us

From intimacy with you.

Christ with us

In the heart of your Eucharistic love

Bake us like finest bread

And break us for those

Who hunger for you.

Amen

Croist Linn, Divine Master Convent, Stillorgan, Dublin.

The Mass joins the Church militant with the Church triumphant and the Church suffering. John Paul II wrote: “United with the angels and saints of the heavenly Church, let us adore the most holy sacrament of the Eucharist. Prostrate, we adore this great mystery that contains God’s new and definitive covenant with humankind in Christ.”

The Mass reminds us that it is helpful to reflect on communion with the saints. We do not journey through life alone. Whether we are aware of it or not, all of us are united to the saints in heaven, because they are our brothers and sisters in Christ. Saints are asked to intercede for us at Mass. It is reassuring and consoling to know that they praise God with us, and intervene for all people who request their intercession. We are the mystical body, the Church, gathered together in the communion of the Saints. The saints in heaven worship God with us and the souls in purgatory are dearly remembered by us at Mass. The Mass is a great, mystical, mysterious circle of love.

On earth, we love God with the angels and saints in heaven and pray for the souls in purgatory. The power of the Mass is beyond any power on this earth. A book, My Song is of Mercy, contains homilies and conferences given by Fr Matthew Kelty to his Trappist brothers at Gethsemane Abbey in KY. He was a missionary priest in New Guinea before he entered the Trappists. He writes:

“One time I was in Wewak, a small town on the northern coast of New Guinea, trying to get some help for an infected ear. I was there only a couple of days, and the last evening the priest from the old mission on the hill asked me to come up. He had a problem. On the hill was a local community of religious brothers who ran a center for delinquent boys, teaching them a trade or craft. The priest and the Divine Word Brother told me their problem: spirits.

“Strange goings on: like the sound of huge sheets of glass shattering with great noise in a field outside the church during Mass. And afterwards, no evidence whatever anywhere of glass. Sounds of huge truckloads of timber being dumped with much din, no timber. Tables and desks and chairs knocked about at night in a locked classroom with a certainty no one had been in the room. These events had the boys on edge, and the priest feared if this continued they would all run away.

“The hill in Wewak had been the scene of severe military action in the war. Many Japanese had been killed, and their bodies had never been recovered or taken home. Several times a year Japanese tourists would come to a little Shinto shrine on the hill and burn incense sticks for their dead to do them reverence.

“So I said to the priest, ‘Maybe the Japanese dead need help. Prayers. Intercessions. Pardon. Why not offer a few Masses for them? You could do it privately. If that is not enough, then a public Mass. And more yet, then the bishop with cope and miter and staff, a procession and exorcism, prayers for the dead.’ Later, I heard from the priest. He did offer the Masses. Peace was restored. All was quiet.”

Trust

When our trust is at a low ebb and unexplainable darkness surrounds us, we bow to the mystery of God. An undercurrent of joy, perhaps unperceived by us, moves us past the hard circumstances of life and fixes our eyes on God. Jesus helps us to believe in the goodness by which we were fashioned by God. Jesus wants us to deepen our friendship with him and to trust in his love and mercy. When we believe God is in control, the mysteries of life are not a cause for undue concern. We rest in the assurance that this is God’s world. Dwelling on the Divine mysteries elevates our perception of suffering and its salvific value. The Christian recognizes sin, but does not despair because the Holy Spirit continues his work, and Jesus will be with us until the end of time.

When all thy mercies, O my God,

My rising soul surveys

Transported with the view,

I’m lost in wonder, love and praise!

 

Unnumbered comforts to my soul

Thy tender care bestowed,

Before my infant heart conceived

From whom these comforts flowed.

 

Ten thousand thousand precious gifts

My daily thanks employ;

Nor is the least a cheerful heart

That tastes those gifts with joy.

 

Through every period of my life

Thy goodness I’ll pursue,

And after death, in distant worlds,

The glorious theme renew.

 

When nature fails, and day and night

Divide thy works no more,

My ever grateful heart, O Lord,

Thy mercies shall adore.

 

Through all eternity to thee

A joyful song I’ll raise;

But O, eternity’s too short,

To utter all thy praise.

 

Joseph Addison (1672–1719)

Carolyn Humphreys, OCDS About Carolyn Humphreys, OCDS

Carolyn Humphreys, OCDS, OTR, is a discalced Carmelite, secular, and a registered occupational therapist. She is the author of the books: From Ash to Fire: A Contemporary Journey through the Interior Castle of Teresa of Avila, Carmel Land of the Soul: Living Contemplatively in Today’s World, Mystics in the Making: Lay Women in Today's Church, and Living Through Cancer, A Practical Guide to Cancer Related Concerns. Her latest book is Everyday Holiness: A Guide to Living Here and Getting to Eternity. You can find her reflections online at contemplativechristianityorg.wordpress.com.

Comments

  1. This is an excellent article, so much so I shared with 3 friends. I like the words that “Prayer teaches us happiness is an attitude of the heart.” We are all searching for happiness and looking for it in all the wrong places.

  2. Avatar Yasmin Mohammed says:

    I too love those words.. and Christ gives himself to us in the Eucharist, which nourishes our souls and fills us with his mercy and his love.
    Thanks for sharing Doris..
    Plenty to absorb here still.
    Be blessed all..

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