Father David's Second Reflection for Thursday of Week Sixteen (Ordinary Time)
The Responsorial (Daniel 3: 52-56) exhorts us to give God “glory and praise forever.”
St. Augustine said, “We cannot love what we do not know.” So the level of our praise and love will be determined by the level of our knowledge of God: the more we know him, the more we will appreciate him.
However, we can know what we do not see. In fact, if we only know what we see, that is superficial knowledge. We say, “Appearances deceive.” With God, we know that anything we can perceive with our senses, understand with our intellects or resonate to with our emotions will conceal as much as it reveals of his total, infinite Truth, Goodness and Being. So human beings throughout history have sought to know God by in some way “rising above” the normal, human ways of knowing and experiencing. Those whose experience we find credible we call “mystics.”
The mystics are those who are able, by God’s gift and (usually) years of rigorous asceticism and intense meditation, to rise above the particled atmosphere of our human orbit, where we see only by light reflected off of creatures, and arrive at the undistorted emptiness of outer space where there is nothing but pure Light and utter darkness.
This can be a misleading description of mysticism, one that limits it to very special people (when in fact, all who live consciously by the mystery of grace have mystical experiences) but it faces us with the basic question: “Since God’s truth is infinitely beyond us, do we go up to God or does God come down to us?” If we can only love what we know, how can we praise God as he deserves, with appreciation for what he truly is?
This puts Exodus 19: 1-20 in perspective. The truth is, we meet God halfway, “on the mountain.” God “comes down” to us; but we must; “go up” to listen to his words. The problem is, most people won’t “go up.” They prefer to remain on ground level, “at the foot of the mountain” while their appointed ministers go up to talk to God and come back to tell them what he says. They opt for “second-hand mysticism.”
In Matthew 13: 10-17 Jesus recognizes that the truth of the Kingdom — the mystery of grace — is not something just anyone can automatically receive and absorb. On “ground level” we are subject to so much distortion from our cultural conditioning, our unexamined attitudes and our unsorted desires (see Sunday 15’s Gospel) that his words don’t bear in us the fruit they should. So to spare us the illusion of thinking we understand when we don’t, Jesus speaks in “parables” that force us to think. But if we “separate” from our culture in prayer and go “up the mountain,” we will see, and be able to enlighten others. We just have to choose to “go up.”
Christian ministers are “mystics of the mountain top.” We don’t have to go to outer space; just “meet God halfway” on the mountain top in reading and reflection on his words. Then we will give him “glory and praise forever.”
Initiative: Be a priest. Go to the mountain to see God, and return to share.