The Mystery of Holiness
by Fr. Fio Mascarenhas
"God desires sanctity, and leads man to it along ways known only to him" (John Paul II).
There is a beautiful incident in the last chapter of the Book of Genesis. After the death of Jacob, Joseph's brothers came to him to plead for forgiveness, offering themselves to him as slaves. "But Joseph answered them, 'Fear not, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.' Thus he reassured them and comforted them" (Gen. 50:19-21).
How often down the centuries have holy men and women found these words echoing their own experience: 'You, ________, meant evil against me - but God meant it for good!' And how often has this faith-vision of God's wisdom and love helped men and women of every century to find peace, strength and even joy in the face of life's vicissitudes!
We have here in a nutshell an important key to saintly and victorious living, one that shows us how to discern well the two basic mysteries encountered by all human beings, the mystery of Good and the mystery of Evil. All of us must learn, through experiencing both, to walk steadfastly on the path to sanctity.
The mystery of Good is the mystery of God's love. Our experience of the love and delight God bears us teaches us to recognize that all the good things in life are true signs that someone cares. In the Ecclesial Spiritual Movements like Charismatic Renewal, etc., people learn this easily, because they have been gifted, in a new or deeper way, with an awareness, a gratuitous awareness, that they are uniquely, unconditionally, and everlastingly loved by the Triune God, a God who is their Creator and loving Father, who is Jesus, their Elder Brother and Saviour, who is the Holy Spirit, their Friend and Lord.
On the other hand, all of us also encounter the inescapable mystery of Evil, and feel deep anguish as we grapple with it. We experience this in our personal individual lives, in our family and social lives, and in our ministry.
How are we to reconcile the experience of Evil, of harm done to us, of things not going well, of various needs and problems, with the fact of a God whose love for us is extravagant, magnanimous, faithful and everlasting?
A Mystery of Faith
Human life is full of mystery. No one can tell what will become of a child that is newly-born. A long life or short, health or sickness, wealth and success or failure and misery, noble service to humanity or a life of crime - all these are real possibilities as myriads of particular circumstances influence the child's actual history. Are such circumstances just luck, chance, blind fate, as many insist? Or worse, as some believe, is life somehow controlled by assorted spirits and demons?
For a Christian, life remains a mystery. But it is never a mystery of chance or of superstition, it is a sacred mystery, a mystery of faith (see below: 'Authentic Love'). "The mystery of our lives is in the hands of God," said recently beatified Pope John XXIII, and every saint, every great man or woman of God down the centuries, has been characterized by such invincible faith. Such faith is the stuff of holiness, and we need it all the more in today's unspiritual world. Such faith is an absolute pre-requisite for disciples interested in discerning God's will for their lives.
The modern world militates against faith and holiness, because it abhors mystery. A sense of mystery, a sense of the sacred, is of no use to big business, science, politics, etc., because life in this world is all that they are interested in. For example, the world tries to banish all mystery from love and marriage: "Why put up with an unsuitable partner, why forego the sensual pleasures of the moment, why tolerate any 'mystery' about the human person"? The result: free sex, divorce, abortion, artificial contraception, etc., become the accepted order of the day, with their consequent tragedies.
Because the world laughs away all mystery in human life, prayer, worship, penance, the sacraments, etc., are thought irrelevant and unnecessary. Church statistics reveal the impact the mass media's propaganda is having: religious congregations are dying for lack of vocations, only 10% -20% attend Sunday Mass even in "Catholic countries" like Spain, Belgium, etc. The rejection of a sense of mystery in life necessarily leads to the rejection of the quest for sanctity.
Sanctity cannot be programmed. Joseph, sold into slavery by his jealous brothers, was led to sanctity by God along ways known only to him. The apostles, the martyrs (see below, 'Saints Perpetua and Felicity'), the holy men and women in the Church, all the saints were led to sanctity by God along ways known only to him. What they did was to entrust their lives to Jesus, their Lord, choosing to believe that the mystery of their lives was surely in the hands of a loving God. Thereafter, they remained secure in the knowledge that the sovereign God who gave them life was also the ruler over every detail of their life's journey, and that he would finally bring them to true fulfillment and unending happiness. Thus, even when they met with reverses in life, they knew: "God means it for good! He is able to turn it to our benefit!" (See Rom.8:28).
The Charismatic Renewal is a current of grace enriching the lives of millions of believers in our modern day. Its providential arrival on the scene is part of the mystery of the Church, of the mystery of the Spirit who 'blows where He wills' (Jn.3:8), part of the initiatives God takes to renew and strengthen the Body of his beloved Son. Pope Paul VI called it in 1975 'a chance for the Church and the world.' And referring to this phrase, Pope John Paul II confirmed in 1981 that 'the six years since have borne out the hope that inspired his vision!' Several times in various conversations, the Holy Father has said that the Charismatic Renewal is 'so important, because it is fighting against materialism', fighting against an unspiritual approach to life.
Therefore, we must foster even more in ourselves this sense of mystery, this sense of the sacred, this precious and deep gift of faith. Jesus is Lord, and all history belongs to him. This is a mystery, that is, a reality that can never be fully comprehended or explained rationally. But as we open ourselves to the Holy Spirit, he will 'illumine the eyes of our hearts' (Eph.1:18, RSV), and keep alive and strong in us a sense of the mystery of human life, the mystery of the Church, the mystery of God's Kingdom. And, in our quest for sanctity, we will be equipped to discern better God's holy will for us in the various choices that life offers us.
The Church prays in the liturgy of the Eucharist, "Almighty and ever-present Father, your watchful care reaches from end to end, and orders all things in such power that even the tensions and tragedies of sin cannot frustrate your loving plans... The love you offer always exceeds the furthest expression of the human heart. Direct each thought, each effort of our life, so that the limits of our faults and weaknesses may not obscure the vision of your glory, or keep us from the peace you have promised. We ask this through Christ our Lord, Amen" (Sunday Mass, 2nd and 3rd Weeks of the Year).
Such prayers, expressing the faith of the Church, cannot be prayed without a deep sense of mystery! They need a foundational faith that 'wherever evil abounds, grace superabounds' (Rom.5:20), and that a loving God watches over and guides the destiny of mankind! May this spirit of courage, of biblical wisdom, and of Christian hope fill us and move us to trust in, and entrust ourselves to our great and all-holy God, especially at moments when our personal weaknesses and/or the sinfulness of others tend to weigh us down.
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'Scripturally Speaking' copyright © 2004 Fr. Fio Mascarenhas. All rights reserved.