January 29, 2015
Thursday of week 3 in Ordinary Time
Jesus Is A Mystical Experience
Let us hold unwaveringly to our confession that gives us hope.
Today’s readings are a “hope sandwich,” with three pieces of lettuce.
Okay, that’s corny, but it does sum up the readings.
The readings are all about hope. Hope in what? Hope in finding access to the mystical experience of God. And the key to it is the physical body of Jesus.
Because God is so close to us in Christianity, we sometimes forget that God is “transcendent,” which we “dumb down” in common speech to mean “above us” or “remote.” In Judaism before Jesus, “the first covenant had regulations for worship” that emphasized God’s transcendence even while giving access to him. There was a place in the temple called the “Holy of Holies,” where God was present in a special way. It was separated from the rest of the temple by a veil, through which only the high priest could enter, and only once a year (Hebrews 9:1).
But Jesus, Hebrews says, replaced the veil with his flesh. His body offered on the cross, is now “the new and living way” of “entering into that which is within the veil.” As members of Christ’s body, by being baptized into his body and into his death, we are not only always in the presence of God; we are in a constant state of mystical union with the Father, Son and Spirit by sharing in their own divine life. That is why Hebrews calls Jesus the “anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast” that lets us “enter into that which is within the veil.” Because we are “in Christ,” members of his body, living by his divine life, “we have confidence” that we always have access to God (Hebrews 6:19).
Let’s not take this for granted. That would be to downplay its mystery. Do you have constant awareness that, because of “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Saint Paul’s summary of the whole Christian message, Colossians 1:27), you can enjoy, whenever you want, an experience of God that is beyond all human achievement? That is because it is not an achievement; it is the gift, the pure gift, of divine faith, hope and love.
To make those gifts an experience, all you have to do is be conscious of them. Enter into your heart. Consciously believe. Consciously hope. Consciously love. If you are believing in, hoping for, and loving what (and whom) Jesus has revealed, those actions are impossible unless Jesus is believing, hoping and loving with you, in you and through you as his physical body on earth. To be aware of that is a “mystical experience.”
The reading from Hebrews suggests three ways to “have confidence of entrance” into the mystical experience of union with Jesus Christ. (Here comes the “lettuce”).
1. ”Let us hold unwaveringly to our confession [of faith] that gives us hope, for he who made the promise is trustworthy.” It is no small thing to keep the faith. St. Paul lists it as the final “accomplishment” of his life: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2Timothy 4:7). Persevere: consciously, deliberately and actively. We persevere “actively” when we live out our faith, hope and love in action. Those who “bury their gifts in the ground,” without expressing them in action, lose them (see Matthew 25:25). Today’s Gospel reminds us, “To the one who [knows he] has, more will be given; from the one who [thinks he] has not, even what he has will be taken away.”
2. “Let us approach with a sincere heart and in absolute trust, with our hearts sprinkled clean…” We have to seek contact with God by interacting with him and with the community of believers. If we don’t come into the light, we can’t expect to see. If we don’t go where the light is shining—for example, at Mass, in prayer meetings and Scripture study groups, during spiritual conferences, retreats and parish missions—we will remain in the dark about many things. Above all, Hebrews says, “We should not stay away from our assembly, as is the custom of some….”
3. [Let us] consider how to rouse one another to love and good works. The best way to keep the faith is to share it. That is also one of the best ways to experience its reality in our hearts. The same is true for hope and love. We need to reassure those who feel lost, to encourage those who feel their life or work is meaningless or unproductive, and to speak positively about what God is doing in the world, especially in and through the Church. And above all we need to be loving and encourage others to be loving—always, everywhere, and to everyone—especially when we talk about business and politics. Christians should stand out, be “remark-able” for never “badmouthing” anyone, no matter how bad they seem to be. Our goal is to love others as Jesus loves us, and his stance toward everyone is mercy.
Pope Francis speaks of expressing faith, hope and love in The Joy of the Gospel:
114. Being Church means being God’s people, in accordance with the great plan of his fatherly love. This means that we are to be God’s leaven in the midst of humanity. It means proclaiming and bringing God’s salvation into our world, which often goes astray and needs to be encouraged, given hope and strengthened on the way. The Church must be a place of mercy freely given, where everyone can feel welcomed, loved, forgiven and encouraged to live the good life of the Gospel.
Pray all day: “Lord, be a lamp to my feet, a light to my path.”
Practice: Get in touch with your divine gifts of faith, hope and love by expressing them.
Discuss: Would you claim to have “mystical experience?” Explain what that is.