Many of us have heard this response to a difficult religious question: “It’s a mystery!” Yet while it may not satisfy our curiosity in the moment, it does capture a profound truth about our faith: no matter how much we know, there is always more to know, and we can never know it all. Our Faith is a collection of mysteries that all point to the Person of Jesus Christ, who reveals the ultimate mystery of God and His love for us. Jesus is the mystery, and the Church is where we encounter Him and enter into His mystery. He isn’t a tractor, which can be taken apart and pieced back together; He isn’t a book that can be read cover to cover; He isn’t a chemical reaction that can be determined after a few experiments. While fascinating, none of these can be properly deemed “mysterious”. To understand what we mean by mystery in the Catholic Church, a definition from Fr. John Hardon’s Modern Catholic Dictionary is helpful. A mystery is
A divinely revealed truth whose very possibility cannot be rationally conceived before it is revealed and, after revelation, whose inner essence cannot be fully understood by the finite mind. The incomprehensibility of revealed mysteries derives from the fact that they are manifestations of God, who is infinite and therefore beyond the complete grasp of a created intellect. Nevertheless, though incomprehensible, mysteries are intelligible. One of the primary duties of a believer is, through prayer, study, and experience, to grow in faith, i.e., to develop an understanding of what God has revealed.
Every single Catholic has a right and a responsibility to do those things that will lead to the deepening of their faith; only in this way can they be truly “practicing” their faith. Practicing one’s faith is not simply going to Mass on Sunday and listening to Christian music in the car. Attending Mass is of course a foundational building block, and taking in good music can nourish our interior lives, but if we understand that the mysteries of our Faith have been revealed to us in order to incorporate us deeply into the hidden life of God, we should want to engage them and study them and discern them. This kind of knowledge (knowledge of God) is actually the most supreme form of knowledge and everything else we could study or know or understand pales in comparison to growth in our knowledge of God. If we find God or the things of our faith “boring”, then it is likely that we do not really understand what – or Who – we are dealing with. Of course, this doesn’t mean everyone needs to grab the thickest, densest piece of theology and painfully trudge through it, but it does mean that every Catholic should foster a healthy curiosity and thirst for that knowledge which pertains to God and the mysteries of our salvation, and then do those things (prayer and study) that will deepen that knowledge. So much frustration in the religious and spiritual life can be reduced to simply not having known better, but as members of the Catholic Church we have every resource necessary to overcome that frustration, and once we know better what we believe, we can live out our belief in such a way that it will lead to our sanctification. To know God, to love God, and to serve God: this is the purpose of our life on earth, and knowing God better will lead to loving Him better, and loving Him better will lead to serving Him better, and serving Him better will lead to our enjoying Him forever in Heaven.
So go deeper! There is something beautiful and freeing about getting lost in the mystery. Commit to listening to a solid Catholic podcast; study the Catechism of the Catholic Church (and buy one if you don’t have it in your home!); pray with Scripture every day; read orthodox Catholic books that explain the beauty and truth of our Faith; get to know the saints, who show us what living and practicing the Faith really means; carve out time for quiet prayer every day with Jesus; join (or start!) a book or faith study group. Taking personal initiative is critical, because so much of what we know or think we know about our Faith is based on hearsay, and that’s good if the person we heard it from is faithful and believes what the Church teaches, but is risky if they aren’t faithful. And not only that but personally drawing near to the mysteries is to personally draw near to Jesus, Whom the Church has been given to reveal to us. The Church’s teachings and the mysteries of our Faith are clear and straightforward – even if they are deep and mysterious! – and they are beautiful and good and true; when we begin to dive into them, a whole new and exciting world opens up to us. Every Catholic must own his or her faith in a personal way, and this means spending time studying and understanding the mysteries of the Faith in a deeper way. God is amazing, Jesus is amazing, His Church is amazing, and we will be amazed at what we find when we finally decide to go deeper. May God bless you in the week ahead and may Mother Mary lead you more deeply into the Sacred and Merciful Heart of Jesus. I remain,
Affectionately Yours in Christ,