Experiencing the Joy-Filled Season
This weekend, our readings point to Jesus unlocking human-centred experiences of God’s own self. Both Isaiah and the Psalmist look forward to the promise of what is to come: sight to the blind, unsealed ears, full bellies, and safety and security for the oppressed – all of which were fulfilled with the birth of Jesus 2000 years ago. While we can read the Old Testament forward, we shouldn’t fall into the trap of merely reading the New Testament backwards as a summary of the past as something which simply happened 2000 years ago. What this season offers us, in a special way, is a chance therefore, not to just prepare for the annual celebration of Christmas, but to experience the exact things God promised and which were fulfilled in Jesus’ birth: spiritual sight and hearing, healing, new life, and perhaps most importantly, the chance to experience The Story in a personal and life-changing way.
This supernatural experience of the Good News – a pseudonym for Jesus himself – is something which often happens to people when the dynamic nature of Scripture – God’s Word – is unlocked as we pray with the Bible. Imagine, if you will, the experience of the Gospel writers; all four – Mark, Matthew, Luke and John – spent years collecting pre-existing written and verbal accounts about Jesus. In writing The Story of Jesus, they all faced the challenge of both maintaining fidelity to the actual words Jesus spoke and retelling The Story in such a way which spoke to their own communities. The dynamic nature of Scripture is such that God speaks to us when, in union with the teaching tradition of the Church, we faithfully interpret and therefore experience what God is saying to us as part of our Story.
While we are perpetually caught between the tension of an already, but not yet understanding of Jesus’ presence in our lives, many Catholics have never experienced the now of Jesus’ mystical presence – much less able to grasp or gain a sense of what this might feel like. Unfortunately, this can sometimes be a generational challenge. For the last century, the Church has taught that if we faithfully celebrate Mass on Sundays, say our prayers, give to the Collection and go to Reconciliation twice a year – (I have plenty of anecdotal evidence to support this claim and it was certainly my own experience growing up) – then we were doing the right thing. It’s an approach which maintained fidelity to the rich sacramental life of the Church, but which has perhaps left us with an impoverished understanding of the mystical, supernatural presence of Jesus in our lives. It is curious, however, but also anecdotally supported, that young people and adults who have not habitually gone to Mass their entire lives need this sense of personal encounter or mystical experience of the living Lord before they commit their lives to following Jesus. Herein lies the clash between two different, but not mutually exclusive approaches to celebrating faith: what we experience in a sacramental way, and what we experience in a mystical way.
How can we begin to grasp this mystical reality if it is foreign to us? It begins with a recognition that God wants more for us. St. Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556) articulated this sense of more – magis in Latin – as the opposite of what we, today, might describe as status quo: eg. adequate, sufficient or enough. I firmly believe that the evil one rejoices when we are happy with an adequate or sufficient approach to our faith life and our parish journey. The magis however, disrupts any such notion of adequacy in which we become happy with the way things are. God’s desire is for more: more love, more mercy, more service, more giving, and more wisdom – especially in our active discernment of God’s will for us and our community. As we move deeply into the season of Advent, I pray for a desire in your hearts for the magis. May God bless you and your family with a deep and abiding knowledge and experience of Jesus’ mystical presence in your lives.