Ecclesiasticus 4:28

"Fight to the death for truth, and the Lord God will war on your side."

Ora pro nobis,

Most Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Francis de Sales, St. Thomas Aquinas, and St. Dominic. Amen.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Like Any Good Mystery, You Just Can't Put It Down

Returning to our reflections on that mightiest of weapons in our arsenal of spiritual warfare, The Rosary, I desire to write one post for and on each mystery of the Rosary, but before I do, I just wanted to discuss this particular aspect of the Rosary: the Sacred Mysteries on which we meditate when we pray the Rosary.

I remember, back when The Passion of the Christ had come out, I was preparing to do a talk on it at a youth group that I ran at the time. I searched it on the Internet, and, among some good resources I found, I found one article titled "Animated Crucifix", which decried the movie as Catholic propaganda and mariolatry and many such things, and attempted to make these criticisms seem like bad things by sharing their own fundamentalist protestant view of the movie and the "problems" which they address.

One of the points that they make is that the movie is basically a "Visual Rosary", and then they explain what the Rosary is, and about the Sorrowful Mysteries. They actually explained things fairly accurately, so I had no real qualm, and wondered, quite frankly, what could they find wrong about meditating on Jesus' agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, His scourging, His crowning with thorns, His carrying His cross, and His Crucifixion. I wondered, what could any Protestant actually find wrong with that.

Well, what the author found wrong, first, was the name of the Mysteries. He called them "Sorrowful Mysteries" to begin with, but then, in order to criticise them, he had to change their name:

What is wrong with the five sorrowful mysteries? First, the Rosary is a method of praying that Jesus condemned (Matt 6:7). Second, they are an unscriptural devotion of Catholics. Nowhere in the Bible are these five identified as mysteries. Some true mysteries of the cross are election, adoption, atonement, justification, redemption, sanctification, and glorification. The mystery of the cross is what Jesus did spiritually to secure reconciliation with an offended Jehovah (I Cor 2:6-16; Eph 1:3-12; I Tim 3:16).
We've already dealt in previous articles with the bulk of this author's complaint, but I wanted to address his points that the Bible doesn't call these events in Christ's life "mysteries", and that the real mysteries of the Cross are "what Jesus did spiritually to secure reconciliation with an offended Jehovah."

What is a Mystery
St. Louis de Montfort defines a Mystery as simply "a sacred thing which is difficult to understand" (The Secret of the Rosary, p.54). Thus we speak of the Mystery of the Trinity--that God is One Being subsisting in Three Persons. It will take all eternity to really puzzle through that. Yet, the Trinity is never "identified" as a mystery in the Bible. Jesus being both completely God and completely Man, all in one Person, through the Incarnation--having these two natures, inseparable but unconfused--that is a Mystery, though it is never called one in Scripture. In truth, the Bible doesn't give us a complete catalogue of the Mysteries of the Faith somewhere, saying, "We believe X, which is hard to understand. We believe Y, which is hard to understand. etc."

But this post is too quickly becoming a polemic against the author in question, and a tirade against Sola Scriptura, which was not my intent. My intent was hopefully to explain what it is that we mean by "mystery", and why the events in Jesus' and Mary's lives, upon which we meditate in the Rosary, are, in fact, "Mysteries".

If, then, a mystery is a sacred truth that is difficult to understand, then how is it that the particular events in the lives of Jesus and Mary qualify? St. Louis says it thus:
The works of Our Lord Jesus Christ are all sacred and divine because He is God and man at one and the same time. The works of the Most Blessed Virgin are very holy because she is the most perfect and the most pure of God's creatures. The works of Our Lord and His Blessed Mother can be called mysteries because they are so full of wonder and all kinds of perfections and deep and sublime truths which the Holy Spirit reveals to the humble and simple souls who honour these mysteries (ibid.).
That is to say, that the Mysteries of the Rosary fit our definition of "sacred truths difficult to understand", because they are, first, true--they happened. Second, they are sacred, because the people who did them, namely, Jesus and Mary, are sacred. And finally, the work or event itself is so thoroughly charged and pregnant with significance and meaning for our faith and salvation, that we could plumb their depths for all eternity and never reach the bottom. And yet, St. Louis reminds us, the Holy Spirit draws us into these mysteries when we approach them with humility.

And yet, when we think of "Mysteries", we tend to think of abstract theological doctrines, such as the Trinity, or the Hypostatic Union of Christ, or Predestination and Free Will, or some other thing that theologians love to describe to the minutest detail using words with far too many syllables, which seem to have very little to do with the nuts and bolts of our day to day life of faith. It seems that the author of the condemnation of The Passion, of the Rosary, and of Catholicism in general, takes a very similar view, when he says, "The mystery of the cross is what Jesus did spiritually to secure reconciliation with an offended Jehovah" (emphasis mine).

Physical, tangible events in the day to day lives of people (even the God-Man), don't seem like mysteries because, at least on one side, they seem almost ordinary. Well, almost. It's the so-called "spiritual" things that are the mysteries. It's what Jesus did "spiritually" to save us.

Well, hold on--what did Jesus do to save us?
For us men and for our salvation
he came down from heaven:
by the power of the Holy Spirit
he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary,
and was made man.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered, died, and was buried.
On the third day he rose again
in accordance with the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
What Jesus did to save us, to reconcile us with an offended God (No comment about the accuracy or appropriateness of using the name "Jehovah" at this time), was physical. It was tangible. It was Incarnational. Every mystery that exists in the Christian faith is a result of Christ's becoming Man, suffering for our sins, and Dying on the Cross!

The mysteries of the Rosary, then, remind us of two things: first, that what Jesus did to "spiritually reconcile us to God" was all physical. That is, God's not in the business of "saving souls" as so many think of that expression. He's in the business of saving people. Second, they remind us that those high-fallutin' abstract theological doctrines really do apply to the nuts and bolts of day-to-day life, whether or not we ever learn words like "Hypostatic", "Homoousious", "Transsubstantiation", "Eschaton", or "Vestigium Dei", or what they mean. The mysteries show us that our faith is built on real things--that theology and doctrine are built not on intellectual philosophy, but on People and Relationships. In other words, in the mysteries of the Rosary, as Pope John Paul II put it, "with Mary we contemplate the face of Christ."

I've already detailed in previous posts what the mysteries of the Rosary are, and so I will not belabour that point. It is my intent, from here on out, essentially to "preach" a sermon for each Rosary, rather than to offer "apologetics", strictly speaking. As I said, the depths of mystery contained in each event in the lives of Mary and of Christ are unfathomable, and what I want to do is not to try to sound their depths or exhaust their mystery. Nor can I. I simply want to write my own reflections on each. There will definitely be apologetic content in each. There will certainly be theological content in each. But my prayer is that what will never be absent is a deeper love for Mary, and most of all for her Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, as she leads us ever closer to Him.

God bless

(Category: Catholic Devotions: The Rosary.)


Hidden One said...

"So if you're looking for "Jesus' Agony in the Garden" and you get St. Augustine's Just War Doctrine, don't be surprised."


Joni said...

And so this is why we are instructed to "meditate on these holy mysteries". Truly, the whole plan of salvation and how God "fleshed it out" is a mystery.

Why would we want it to be otherwise? Why is it "we" always think we have to have it all figured out?

Excellent post, and I look forward to the future posts on this topic.

The longer I am a Catholic, the more I wonder why I was Protestant! :o)

suneal said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
suneal said...

As a Protestant I am greatly into mystery, namely the mystery of Christ. I have no problem with the "Passion of Christ," except how a Catholic friend at the time wanted to "preach to me " through it. I can take the preaching, just not the superior attitude. I can get into endless Scriptures showing the mystery of Christ makes all who have been baptized into Him, and YES that includes me; it makes us all equal and one in Christ. Amen?

I love a good mystery, don't you? And to leave the gospel where it leaves things is a great mystery to our sectarian, human, deprived flesh. But it is good that there is neither Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free, Barbarian, Scythian, male nor female, Catholic nor Protestant in God's kingdom, but we are one in Him and He is all in all (Gal 3:27-28). Amen? Can we leave this all as a mystery, or does someone here want to be "anti-mystical" and explain away how I as a Protestant "mystically" through my union with Christ am equal to the Pope himself. I doubt many Catholics would not scurry to immediately "justify," "explain," "defend," and "reason" contrary to this clear, prestine mystery set forth in Scripture.

Blessings on all my equal brethren and sisters in Christ. I love you in the mystery of Christ Himself, living in you by faith, moving within you to go deeper into His everlasting arms and the mystery of His Passion for us and the world.

Anonymous said...

Not trying to be divisive here, but just an observation. This is obviously a Catholic blog, with teachings on Catholic beliefs and practices. I didn't think it was supposed to be an ongoing debate over whether Catholicism is "right" or whether Protestantism is "right".

I read here to be encouraged in my Catholic faith. There are plenty of other forums for debate.

My two cents' worth.

suneal said...

To anonymous,

Thank you for your opinion, and I agree with it, except that at times on this "Catholic" blog there are derogatory and comparative remarks made between Catholicism and Protestantism, which always portray the former in a better light than the latter. So I take that as an invitation to at least offer my "2 cents" worth as well.

I believe Gregory stated this, "Now, no struggle in prayer, this is new for me. It is a kind of freedom in the spirit that I have not known before and I was a card carrying Pentecostal for over two decades."

Question- is Gregory implying he was an inadequate Protestant because he did not find the deep rest of prayer which Jesus promised to all who come to Him ("Come unto to me all you who are heavy burdened and I will give you rest" Mt 11:28) or is he here implying Protestantism is inadequate in comparison to Catholicism and its particular spiritual exercises? If Gregory is implying the latter rather than that the failing lies in himself, not Protestantism, then this blog site is no longer "Catholicism" for encouragement of Catholics only.

I believe Joni stated this "The longer I am a Catholic, the more I wonder why I was Protestant!"

Again, what is the point of this in terms of Catholic encouragement. Am I to understand, as a Protestant, that a big part of "Catholic self-encouragement" is based on putting down the likes of me?

Moreover, my remarks are perinent to the Biblical understanding of the word "mystery." Why don't you do a study of that word, Anonymous, in the New Testament, and tell me what your conclusions are? The point I made about "equality" was given in the context of the "mysteries" of the Gospel as found recorded in Holy Scripture.

Blessings on you in truth and love, not only love. I am not trying to be divisive here either, I merely point out what already is divisive.

C.J. said...


You are welcome to be a reader. You are welcome to comment. You are not welcome to imply the way the board should be run, what it's going to be about, or the material that appears here. That is the providence of Gregory and myself; the two people (of which I am not a Catholic) who started this site, maintain it, and deliver the content.

Suneal is welcome to discuss his understandings just as much as the next man. You state what you believe, he states what he believes. Christianity is a free discussion between believers, not a censorship between communions with different understandings. If you have a point of disagreement, deal with it logically, as Suneal has done, and you are welcome to so.

As per the nature of a blog, it is a public site; anyone, anywhere can view it. As for the comments sections of the articles, we don't tolerate blasphemy (and calling the pope an equal heir to salvation is not blasphemy), racism, derogatory remarks, or any other such obviously coward-like, and fearful thinking. Still, the comments sections are, by extention of the public nature of a blog, public also. This is not a private Catholic forum; it is a public Christian blog.

One more thing: this site is not purely about 'encouragement'. It is about the entirety of the faith, and that includes our differences.


Gregory said...

Okay, let's clear things up for everyone:

First and foremost, when C.J. and I set up this blog, it was intended to be a Catholic Apologetics blog. Chris himself even wrote in the Intentions and Definitions article that we would be providing clear apologetical proofs for the Catholic Church. This was, however, when Chris himself was actively considering converting to the Catholic Church. He has since changed his mind, or at the very least, hesitated, and remains Protestant.

Therefore, this remains something of an ecumenical effort of sorts. I, as a devout, practiciing Catholic, still seek to defend Christianity in general, and Catholicism in particular. My stance on Catholicism is that it is the One True Church founded by Jesus Christ Himself, upon the Rock who is Peter. While the Catholic Church recognises the right to be called Christian of every validly baptised person, regardless of denomination, that does not, however, follow that all strains of Christianity are equal.

Again, since I am a Catholic, and think therefore that Catholicism has the fulness of Christian truth, which is lacking in other Christian communions to some degree or other, I obviously will be presenting the Catholic faith as the best option--especially in the face of Protestant claims against it.

Chris, for his part, has agreed to stay on with our venture, posting from a more "small-c-catholic" viewpoint, and desires to defend Christianity in terms of where we all agree (which is to a greater extent than perhaps everyone realises amidst all the polemics), against common "enemies".

Occasionally, because we are such close friends, Chris and I will goad each other and provoke each other. Anonymous, recently you accused us of having "issues" between ourselves based on our recent discussions of Chris' question about the essence of Catholicism. I would disagree that it is "issues", but a sincere desire to help each other better understand our own beliefs, and come to a greater knowledge of the Truth.

Suneal, I will confess to finding the way you worded your comment on the Mysteries post (this one) to be rather provocative and approaching offensive. I am not offended, but I empathise with Anonymous' misunderstanding of your intentions.

Moreover, you quote me regarding finding in the Rosary the ease and rest in prayer that I had been missing. I would point out that while I value and agree with that post substantially, it was itself a reprinting of someone else's words, and their own personal testimony of the benefits of the Rosary. The person whose words I quoted is not an apologist, nor was he necessarily offering an apologetic for the rosary nor necessarily disparaging Protestants who don't use it. He was (and I am) simply advocating a tested and proven form of prayer as another, possibly better way.

Regardless, I am a Catholic, and from the outset this was established as a Catholic Apologetics blog (despite the later reconsideration by one of its contributing authors). When I post apologetic material, it will be such that promotes the beauty and truth of the Catholic Church over and above all other religions, and yes, over and above all other forms of Christianity. If I didn't believe Catholicism to have claim to that status, I never would have made the immense sacrifices that I did, in order to convert. And if I choose to water down my understanding of the Faith to such a degree that I deny the "superiority" of Catholicism, then I am being intellectually dishonest and have no business writing on this blog.

In Conclusion, then, Anonymous, you are more than welcome here, and I hope my writing does encourage you in your faith. But there will from time to time be "debates" regarding the various truth-claims and differences between Protestants and Catholics. If you read through the "Ecclesiology, or The Church" page (linked in the Topic Index in the sidebar), you'll see that there is a whole section of this blog devoted specifically to that. If you don't want to read such discussions, then by all means, feel just as free to ignore them as Chris and I feel to publish them.

On the other hand, I am trying to refashion certain aspects of this blog so that it does not amount to simply Protestant-Catholic debates--which is where this Rosary series originated from. Whenever I find the time again, I'll be posting articles about the mysteries of the Rosary, and then following it up with teaching on Mary. The mystery posts will not be specifically "apologetic" in nature.

But Suneal, until they are done, I won't be engaging here in Protestant-Catholic apologetics. As such, as much as you want to discuss whatever point it was that you tried to get across above by claiming to be equal to the Pope, it will be awhile before I address your comment--between my recently hectic life, replying to our discussion at your own blog, and the Rosary posts, that may be a long time to come.

I've ranted and rambled for long enough now. I hope we all have a clearer sense of what's supposed to be going on around here.

God bless

suneal said...


Don't bother getting back to me about the "equality with the pope" issue. I get your "superiority stance" loud and clear. And for that matter, I have no desire to discuss with you about Catholic/Protestant issues on any blog, so don't waste your time there either. I will only talk to you as an equal in Christ. There is no "separated brethren" thing acceptable here. For that matter, if you truly heard my comments on the "Aspiring Cynic" blog, my whole argument and "attitude" was to assail this unscriptural, superior attitude underlying your discussion with Chris. Obviously you can not accept an equal-leveled discussion, SO I CAN NOT ACCEPT GOING ON WITH ANY DISCUSSION. I am not offended, but I am also not into this kind of ridiculous dynamic. I implored you to "come down" to us Protestants, accept Catholic shortcomings, and get on with true Christian discussion. That cry obviously has not been heard.

Your faith is not superior to mine. And what I said is not any more "offensive" than what you have said Gregory. So if this is always about "who I have offended" before I can theologically discuss anything, then I have no desire for further conversation.

That is all I will say, these are my last words on this "sacred" Catholic hill. So Anonymous, you got what you wanted. Hope you Catholics enjoy yourselves on your insulated blog. As far as I'm concerned, I've been censored.

By the way Gregory, your message is quite different than that of your "inferior" co-author. Here your voice wins. Peace be on you participating Catholics and whoever else can "get along" at this blog site. I mean no one harm, but that does NOT mean I mean no offense, for even the gospel can be offensive. And quite frankly, it already has offended, right here.


Hidden One said...

I almost wish I was Protestant, so that Suneal would be more likely to head my belief that he's acted surprisingly immature in this most recent comment. I'm sorry Suneal, but I was hoping that you would not permeate your comment with great anger, and instead respond when you were more level-headed. (In all honesty, I wasn't expecting you to be so upset period, but I don't know you well.)

Hidden One said...

On a more pleasant note, and the original reason that I waded through this, Gregory, whenish can we expect another post? I dont' want to rush you in the least, but if you're thinking "tomorrow" or "in two weeks or so" or "next month" or "I haven't a clue"... I'm interested in knowing.

C.J. said...

"I almost wish I was Protestant, so that Suneal would be more likely to head my belief that he's acted surprisingly immature in this most recent comment. I'm sorry Suneal, but I was hoping that you would not permeate your comment with great anger, and instead respond when you were more level-headed. (In all honesty, I wasn't expecting you to be so upset period, but I don't know you well.)"

So then, why write anything Hidden One? You've just proved Suneal's point. Doesn't look good on you.


Anonymous said...

Sorry if I raised ire. I was not intending to do so. I have no thoughts of being superior to any Protestant in any way. I simply misunderstood some of the points. I will admit that Suneal did offend me to a point. But whatever. I will read and not comment.

suneal said...

To Anonymous,

Although I said I would no longer write on this blog, I am here to ask forgiveness for offending you, if the offense is mine and not that of truth. I am sure somewhere in all this I have failed. I am sorry for my failures, that also extends to Gregory and any others who feel offended by my shortcomings.

Having said this, I don't think the substance of anything I have said changes for me. If anyone chooses to understand where I am coming from, they may view my latest postings on Catholicism at "Aspiring Cynic."

Gregory said...

Suneal, I first of all want to say that you are absolutely more than welcome to visit and comment here.

Second, I want to say that I, too, apologise for my above outburst. I've been under a good deal of emotional strain of late, and didn't handle things the way I perhaps should have. I hope that you will forgive me, as I forgive you.

Finally, just to clarify that I was not offended by the content of your message, but by subtext which I perhaps read into it beyond what was there. More, I was primarily annoyed that it rather strayed from the topic of the post than for any other reason. For the next little while, I've chosen to stay away from "apologetics" and have chosen to focus on the Rosary. Since I am an apologist, there will still be a perhaps automatic apologetic bent even in my "sermons", but that is not my primary intent with them.

I still intend to comment on what you and Chris have written to me at Aspiring Cynic, whe I have time (which I am managing to find more of now--though not today), and will read your latest post about Catholicism (which I've only had the opportunity to skim so far, but appreciate nevertheless) in the very near future.

There seems to have been a lot of misunderstanding between us, and that's primarily because I haven't had the time to adequately reply to you regarding my position and beliefs. I hope we can continue to discuss the issues and rectify misunderstandings and, hopefully, injured feelings along the way.

Anonymous, I love that you read my blog. I love that anyone reads my blog. I write for "the readers", and not simply to please myself--though I write mainly according to what has occurred to me to write, and less according to "requests"--though I'll take those, too.

More, I desire comments and discussion, despite how that seems to have played out in this com-box. I hope you continue to comment. My rant above simply desired to clarify the intent of this blog--though I'm not so sure it did that. It is an apologetics blog, and while I certainly hope that reading it encourages you in your Catholicism as much as writing it encourages me in mine, there will be a time and a place for amiable discussion (hopefully) and actual debate.

I don't think either Christopher nor I dislike or fear criticism of the content of our writing. It's the criticism of the genre that bothers us.

I hope that clears things up a little bit, and I hope that we can move forward in the peace of Christ.

God bless

suneal said...

O.k., I am starting to feel things are being cleared up on both sides. I appreciate your recent commet Gregory, it does alot to help me go on in discussion.

I am sorry that not having read even nearly all your older posts, my comments in terms of timing were behind the times.

I reaffirm I am open to more discussion here or elsewhere. I hope we all do that with further mutual respect.

And yes Gregory I forgive you, although the underlying issue of "equality," is still pending. To be fair, I am trying to understand your convictions along the lines of "Catholic superiority," which I know you understand to be in terms of a "fuller tradition" than any other Chrisitan one. I want you to know Gregory, as my latest posting at "Aspiring Cynic" affirms, I believe Catholics are superior in certain ways concerning issues of faith than let's say most Protestants. But I also believe the reverse holds true as well. That is why I wanted to come into any discussion without "superiority" as a pretext. Let us agree to slowly try and cope with that issue. I am not expecting a response here, now, so please don't feel you need to get into this rather deep topic right away.

Finally, I will be more careful if commenting to stay on topic. Again, not so easy because of varying perspectives. Believe it or not, I still think I was on topic! But that's o.k., I get where you guys are coming from.
Take care.

C.J. said...

Fine. I admit it: you guys were all innocent, and I was the fatuous jerk giggling in the corner as you fell for my arcane ploys!

I'm a twisted, cruel, nonsensical curmudgeon.

I'm also having you on, again!


Joni said...

I haven't been able to stop by for a few days, and didn't realize all that was transpiring here. Wow.

If I had any part any making suneal feel that I view Protestants as any less, then I am truly sorry. Nothing could be further from the truth. I was raised Protestant, and only became Catholic within the past year. But if you knew me, suneal, (which, of course, you couldn't) you would know that both families (my husband's and mine) are still Protestant. And I am more than thankful for the godly heritage in which I was raised.

Please do not take offense, okay? Especially when I put a smiley after a comment! ;-)

I'm just thankful for where I am, okay?

C.J. said...

See? Joni is innocent, and I'm the ninny steeping in the steamy mess that is my perpetual guano heap.

Gah! How could I have been so awful?


Anonymous said...

Very shorts, simple and easy to understand, bet some more comments from your side would be great