I want to let you into a secret. It is the secret of sanctity, and St Paul was the first to pen it. It is simply this, “God’s power works most perfectly in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). That is why God always seems to choose the wrong person for the job, the person who appears to be unfit-for- purpose. Take Abraham and his wife as a case in point. He was a ‘not-fit-for-purpose, hundred years old’ and his wife was eighty, yet he was chosen to become the father of God’s chosen people. Moses had a speech impediment, yet he was the one God chose to be his spokesman before Pharaoh. The strippling David was chosen to fell the giant Goliath. The whole point of God choosing someone who we would think unfit-for-purpose, was to make it quite clear that it is not this man’s potency, or that man’s eloquence, or this boy’s strength that triumphed, but God’s power working through human weakness.
It was the same in the New Testament. It was Peter, the weak ditherer, the one who was always getting things wrong, and who finally denied Jesus, who was chosen to be the rock on which the Church was founded. It was the narrow-minded bigot Paul who had persecuted and put Christians to death, who was chosen to become the Apostle to the Gentiles and who was to tell them of God’s plan for us all, that nobody had seen or written about so clearly before. He saw the essence of that plan moments after he had been thrown off his horse on the road to Damascus. “Why are you persecuting me?” Jesus said to him. Gradually God’s secret plan began to unfold in Paul’s mind. The very people whom he had been despising and persecuting as heretics were within Jesus in his risen life, within his mystical body. Jesus who had been put to death, had indeed risen from the dead. Then, filled with the Holy Spirit, he sent out that same Holy Spirit to draw all who would receive him into his human but glorified body. Through him they would return to the Father who had sent him, and who had created them in the first place.
When human beings love, their love is both physical and spiritual, but as God has no physical body, his love is entirely spiritual. As a mark of reverence therefore, his spiritual loving has traditionally been called the Holy Spirit. This is the loving that completely restored Jesus to the fullness of life. Furthermore, it was this loving that flowed out of him on the first Pentecost Day, and on every subsequent day. It flows out of him like an infinite supernatural tsunami, sweeping out to encompass the world, to surround and penetrate all who are open to receive it.
Saint Augustine explained that those who are open to receive this love are like sponges in the sea, not only surrounded by the love of God, but penetrated through and through by that love. Then, for this love is like a powerful magnetic force, it draws all who would not resist it back into the glorified Christ to give glory to God the Father. When we reach this, our final destiny, faith finally gives way to vision, a spiritual vision where we begin to experience what was only known by faith before. Saint Augustine says that in this, our destination, we are taken out of ourselves to gaze upon the glory of God in a state of ecstatic bliss. However, Saint Gregory of Nyssa takes us even further, and to do so he had to manufacture a new word. He attaches the prefix ep to the Greek word for ecstasy, to form a new word, epecstasy to express the true nature of our ultimate destiny. It is not just to be taken out of ourselves into ecstatic bliss, but to be continually taken out of ourselves, again and again to all eternity.
This is the great plan of God that St Paul was the first to see and write about with such clarity. The Greek word that he used to describe God’s secret plan is the Mysterion. Jesus was the first great mystic because this plan was first brought about in him. Those of us who choose to follow him by entering into him, were the first to be called mystics, and before Latin became the language of the universal church, the sacraments were called the mysteries, because they take us up into God’s secret plan, the Mysterion. That is why we refer to one of the greatest means of prayer as the ‘mysteries of the Rosary’ because by saying the prayers and meditating on the plan of God unfolding in the Gospels, we are taken up through love into Jesus, as he is now, on our way to our destination in heaven.
First Published in The Catholic Universe for the third week in Advent.