Growing into the mystery of faith

Hotel rooms around the world are uniformly alike. There is, however, one exception. In Jerusalem -- and in the Holy Land -- as one enters one’s room, there is a small metal box or tube attached to the frame of the door. It is called a mezuzah. In it is contained the Scriptural address: “Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone! Therefore you shall love the Lord, your God...” (Deut 6: 5). It is a reminder that our main vocation in life is to become a lover of God. And as the presence of the mezuzah reminds us, we are to love God at all times and in all circumstances of life, even in the most pedestrian and common circumstances of daily living.

After reflecting upon the presence of this reminder, we are also led to reflect upon a further truth: namely, that one of the most overlooked gifts in life is the gift of time. Each minute, for example, affords us an opportunity to contact the deity and to grow in intimacy with Christ. It is also a time that we are able to reach out and touch our neighbors, especially those who are vulnerable and who need our help.

St. Augustine, in treating of the liturgical year, noted that there are certain times and feasts which insert us into the very heart of the Christian mystery. And these should lead us to grow in holiness in our ordinary, daily routines. I believe that Lent is one of these grace-filled times.

In speaking of God’s gifts, I have often thought that our God is a giver of second chances -- again, and again, and again. We see this truth recorded in the entire history of God’s chosen people. From the very beginning of the Exodus experience to the resurrected Christ embracing in love St. Peter who deserted and denied Him, sacred Scripture is filled with examples of God offering His people second chances. He is not a God who holds grudges. Rather, in a wonderful paradox, among His attributes we must include His infinite forgetfulness.

Traditionally Lent is seen as a time for inner renewal -- a time God offers to us so that we may more intimately pursue our vocation to holiness. It is both an individual and communal opportunity to take advantage of God’s continuing “second chances.”

On another level, it was the poet Gerard Manly Hopkins who coined the word “inscape.” There are many scholarly interpretations about what the author actually meant by the term. But I am sure that all would agree that our world is according to him, a “sacramental world,” lending itself to many levels of meaning and beauty. In an analogous way, I believe that we might concentrate on the many levels of certain words in our spiritual tradition, trying to develop a type of spiritual inscape. In prayer and reflection, we would try to discover certain explosive (and beautiful) meanings for our own lives. I believe that the word “mystery” as used in our proclamation of faith after the consecration of the Eucharist is one of these terms. But sadly, perhaps our frequent use of the term has dulled our sensitivities to its powerful connotations.

The use of the term, above all, reminds us that there lies a realm of truth above human reason. And such can only be comprehended by deepening our personal relationship to the Lord in prayer. Thomas Merton notes that faith is not merely an intellectual assent to truths, but “ the gift of our whole being to Truth Itself, to the Word of God.”

During these Lenten reflections it is our hope that we may gain an ever-deepening appreciation of what it should mean for our life when we hear the words: “Let us proclaim the mystery of faith” and the meaning contained in our response. For the sake of simplicity, we will concentrate on the third acclamation: “When we eat this bread.....” It is a personal address to the Lord -- a prayer if you will. And its richness and relevance will be seen.

Before we leave this initial reflection, there are two points to be emphasized. The first is that faith is a gift -- a gift for which we must pray for and be appreciative of. Self-reliance in the area of the spiritual life inhibits true growth and can be extremely detrimental.

One might consider the scene of Peter walking on the water. As long as he concentrated on Christ and listened to His word, he was able to stand erect. Only as he thought about self and took his eyes off Christ, and relied on his own power, he sunk.

Secondly, let us listen to the wisdom of St. Francis de Sales: “...Follow your own way of speaking to the Lord, sincerely, lovingly, confidently and simply, as your heart dictates.”

Msgr. McDonnell is a senior priest of the archdiocese and is in residence at St. Mary, Dedham.