St Paul by Pompeo Batoni

On Saturday I attended the first South Carolina Catholic Men’s Conference. At the book table a young guy said to me, “Father, I’m a convert from Baptist too.”

“Great! Tell me how that happened!”

“It was my mother. She messed me up at the age of seven.”

He said this with a smile on his face. “See we were in the Baptist church for communion and they were passing those trays around with little bits of cracker on them…”

“I know. That’s what they did in my church when I was growing up.”

“Well, when they passed it to my mom she passed it beyond me and whispered in my ear, ‘That’s Jesus.'”

“Wow. That’s pretty high sacramental theology for a Baptist!”

“So then I grew up and got engaged to a girl who was Catholic, and when we went to Mass the first time she said to me, ‘That’s Jesus.’ and I remembered what my mom said and so I became Catholic.”

Huh. See? God moves in a mysterious way. All the apologetical arguments done and dusted with a few comments by people who mattered to that guy.

I was captivated by the phrase in Sunday’s second reading from St Paul, “We are regarded as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.”

That phrase “stewards of the mysteries of God” floored me. St Paul’s use of the term “mysteries” resonates so powerfully with the Catholic understanding.

This is one of the first steps of faith–to trace in your life and in the ways of the world the mysterious way God works. He does not work according to our plans and our sensible ways of organizing everything. He is always busy under the radar and behind the scenes doing his work. Faith is being able to see what is going on and how he works in his strange and mysterious way.

That’s why I love it that you can see his mysterious working in the faith story of that guy at the conference, then in Ephesians he uses “mystery” again saying that “the mystery of God which was hidden from the beginning of the world is now revealed through the Church.”

Jesus Christ is the mystery of God revealed to the church. He’s referring to the mystery of the incarnation. But look again. He says this mystery is revealed “through the church.”

Tell that to your Protestant friends who think the church is un necessary. For that matter tell that to your lapsed Catholic friends who think the church is unnecessary. “All that really matters is how much you love Jesus. The churches are just human institutions…” Have you heard that before?

St Paul says the mystery of God incarnate in the world is revealed. “Through the church.” How so? Here comes the mystery word again for we call the sacraments the “Holy Mysteries” and so do the Eastern Orthodox who refer to them as the “Divine Mysteries”. And so we celebrate the sacred mysteries of the sacraments and you can’t do that without the church.

God moves in a mysterious way. Who would have guessed it? You trace his mysterious workings in the world, then you see that in the midst of the great Roman Empire with its emperors and armies and wealth and power he comes sneaking into the world through the ‘yes’ of a peasant girl to be born in a shepherd’s village in the back of beyond.

Then he deems to make this mystery known through a rag tag band of disciples and one man who was too smart for his own good and was blinded on the road to Damascus so that he might learn to see, and they reveal to us that this same mystery is known to us through the mystery of the church where we participate in the sacred mysteries.

So what is a “mystery”? It is something that can be experienced even if it cannot be explained.

Like Love. Like Beauty. Like Goodness. Like Truth.

Like God.