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A recent poll revealed that nearly 80% of Catholics could not explain transubstantiation of the Eucharist. This, the pollsters noted, was a terrible failure. I disagree.

Sue BE was right when she advocated embracing one’s own ignorance and seeking solutions. But not everything is cut and dried. Transubstantiation — the changing of bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ — is a mystery. Not every mystery can be diligently divined. Some things remain a mystery.

And that’s okay.

Sure, humans are programmed to want answers, to lean toward black-and-white clarity. But (as Sue also noted) we’re only human. We can’t understand everything. We can’t solve everything. If you can’t live with ambiguity, with shades of gray, with mystery, you’ve got a bumpy journey ahead of you.

The road never did go straight.
Sands shift. Time expands and contracts.
And there you are, in fog, flailing, falling.
Still. Love is sure, and never fails; faith
supplants compasses. Head into the strange
knowing: what cannot be known now
will come, swimming into view, duck
where once was bunny. You will
recognize all things by their contours.
You will stumble into light. But for now,
be at peace. Mystery is a gift. You will
open it at leisure, realizing
it has been in your pocket
all the time.

 

 

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Spoiler alert: If you’re looking for declarative answers, this is not your lucky day. Because no one has them. Yes, all Christians believe in a “triune” God — one God composed of three persons: The Father, The Son and The Holy Spirit. But to try to make a triune God fit in a square box would be nothing but an exercise in futility. God is not so easily defined.

But let’s try. The three persons of God are God fully present in each of God’s roles: As God our Father in Heaven; as Jesus, God’s son; and as The Holy Spirit, who operates as a sort of bridge between Father and Son and between God and us. Think of it like water, which can assume three forms: ice, liquid and steam, yet remains one chemical compound, H2O. Three unique embodiments, one unified composition.

If you’re not satisfied with that explanation, I understand. It’s tricky. But therein lies the beauty of the Holy Trinity, and of Catholicism. See, us Catholics perceive the Holy Trinity (and other difficult concepts) as a mystery of the church. In other words, it’s okay to be confused. The church, in a beautifully zen move, admits that not everything can be neatly defined. Some things are not explicable. And that’s okay.

We live our lives in tension with mystery: How exactly does gravity work? How can something exist if I can’t see or touch it? How does an egg and a sperm become a human being? Nobody has all the answers, even if they very much want to. The Holy Trinity is like that.

I think one of the greatest chores of our lives is to give in to mystery, to admit that we don’t know and that not knowing is acceptable. I pray to God in all three persons, as a father who creates, loves and cares for me; as Jesus, my brother and friend, who lived a human life like mine; and as the Holy Spirit, who enlightens and empowers and transmits the grace that allows me to grapple with the great mysteries of life. Yet there is only one God. This isn’t the Pep Brothers or Donald Duck’s nephews — three guys who are always seen together. This is one indivisible God in three unique persons.

And, of course, God isn’t a guy at all. Or a gal. But that’s an entirely different mystery. Let’s save that one for another day.

MysteryWhat does a wall full of plates have to do with mystery?  They belonged to my Grandmother.  She was the one who most often had to answer my why questions.  “Why did this happen?”  “Why didn’t God heal so-and-so?”  “How could God …”

Honestly, this woman was endlessly patient.  She didn’t have all of the answers but she did have the most important one.  “No one knows why things happen the way they do, but we do know that God loves us.”  We may not understand everything, but we can know that.  God loves us.

–SueBE

 

I recently read an article in which a woman dismissed belief in God as “magical thinking.” She preferred the world of science, of certainty. I took the words in. And then I thought, “Wow, what a fundamental misunderstanding of faith.” I’m sure the author would not have appreciated this take-away, but there it is. Belief in God has nothing to do with magic. Mystery, yes. But not magic.

Trying to explain faith is a lot like trying to explain love (not a coincidence since God = Love). Why does love happen? Why does it endure? Who knows? Certainly trying to justify belief in an all-powerful, all-good God presents similar conundrums: Why does God allow disasters to occur? Why does God let children die? What kind of God slaps his Chosen People in the face with a Holocaust?

Those are tough questions, questions centuries of scholars and saints have struggled to answer. I fully understand if someone doesn’t find these answers acceptable; they were, after all, formulated by fallible beings for fallible beings. God has not given us the real answers, and for good reason. Like Tom Cruise in that movie everybody quotes, we can’t handle the truth. It would be like trying to explain calculus to toddlers.

The truth is that believing in God demands not magical thinking, but a radical acceptance of mystery. Science cannot explicate everything. In fact, when it comes to faith, it cannot explicate anything at all. Mystery permeates human existence. That faith in God exists at all is a mystery. Yet it has endured, in myriad faces and guises, over all of time and history. Belief in That Than Which Nothing Greater Can Be Thought precedes and supersedes any scientific theory one can conceive.

I don’t know how to explain why bad things happen to good people, why those we love die young or tragically, why storms ravage and earthquakes consume. It’s not my job to explain, or even to understand. And if that’s your sticking point, I can only say this: I’m sorry. Not everything is explicable. Some things are mysteries. Human beings are fated — by our very humanity — to living with mystery. All the science in the world can’t fix that.

But guess what does help? You guessed it: Faith.

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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