The term Paschal Mystery comes from the ancient Aramaic word, Pasch, which means Passover.
And as we all know, the Passover is the festival commemorating the Jewish Exodus from slavery
in Egypt, around 1300 BC.
So the word Paschal is related to Passover.
Now, what this all has to do with Mystery,
we’ll just have to explore. . .
How many of you have ever been to New York City? Would you say it’s big? What other words would you use to describe it? One way that I might describe New York City today is “a big, toothless giant.” Now, I grew up only 15-miles from “The Big Apple,” and from our roof-top we could easily see the city’s skyline. We watched as the World Trade Center was built-in the late 60’s.
Then in 2001, our family visited the vacant lot where the Trade Center Buildings used to be. It was sad. Sad for the people who lost their lives in the plane and the building. Sad for the people who were so lost in life that they would perform such an atrocious act. Those buildings, at one time, were the tallest in the world. So now, unfortunately gone, I would call NYC
“a big, toothless giant.” No mystery there. We’ve all seen the consequences of “tooth loss” on a grand scale.
And talk about grand, how many of you have ever been to the Grand Canyon? Would you say that it is big? What other words would you use to describe the Grand Canyon?
Well, my words for the Grand Canyon would be “an unfenced chasm.” I just couldn’t believe when we visited there in 2002, that they would actually have this huge hole in the ground with no fence around it. Our four kids were
in their early teens and 20’s, and it was easy for them to horse around the edge of that chasm. But for me and Mary Ann, it was “heart attack city.” Especially seeing people sitting there with their legs dangling over the edge of a cliff, thousands of feet high. Anyway, yes it was Big, Scary, Wondrous and Awesome – for an “unfenced chasm”!
We might even call its lack of a fence a bit of a mystery.
Guess it’s just “dangle at your own risk.”
So which one of these two, The Grand Canyon or New York City would you say is bigger? Let’s take a look at an approximate comparison.
You see, what we can make, or create, or do in enormity, is miniscule compared to what God can create, and make, and do. And yet, which one of the two do you think God
cares about more? . . . yes, New York City! And why? . . .
Because God Loves people much more than anything else, created or made.
Keep in mind here, that we’ve only been looking at the simplest things on earth. But what if we were to go a little deeper? What if we went down to the absolute smallest things we know? Smaller than a dime, smaller than a protein molecule or even a water molecule, smaller than an atom or an electron, like a neutrino, or a muon, or a quark!
Even then, we still haven’t come close to the smallest thing there is (see video attachment)!
You know, astronomers recently discovered through the Hubble Telescope, that looking at the very darkest area, a black spot in our furthest pictures of the Universe, if they zoomed in even closer with the Hubble, to what they call “Ultra-Deep Space,” that black spot was filled with millions of
additional galaxies! We just haven’t got a clue!
And what about TIME? What do we actually know about the dawn of creation, or the final judgment and the end times? So even though, we may think we know a lot, we really don’t know a whole lot at all. All of life is really just one-big-Mystery! And Mystery is not simply the “Undiscovered”. . .
Mystery is the “Unknowable.”
The Mysteries of God are things that only Infinite Wisdom can understand. And ours is a “Finite” wisdom, at best. Yes, we do, continually grow in wisdom. And we can gain great insight by the revelation of the Holy Spirit working through us. Yet, to fully grasp some of God’s deepest theological concepts, like the Holy Trinity, the Incarnation, the Resurrection, or even the Unconditional Love of God for us, is beyond our comprehension.
Even our own concept of Love is beyond our understanding. Just think about it. How would you put into words this thing we call love? It’s not candy. It’s not flowers or hearts, or even sex. How would you describe love to someone who has no idea what it is? Would you tell them that love is something so great, so strong that we’d be willing to die for that One – we love so much? Did you ever love someone that strongly, that real? If not, maybe someday you will. And if so, then multiply that love by 7-billion people, without prejudice, without jealousy, without preference for the rich or the poor, the famous or the infamous, without preference for the genius or the simple-minded, and in that, you’re just beginning to touch on God’s unfathomable love for us.
For us, that Love was fully expressed in Jesus Christ. And what we saw was just a shadow of its depth, in this thing we call the Paschal Mystery. This is the Mystery of His passion, death, resurrection, (ascension and the descent of the Holy Spirit). And yet, Jesus’ whole life is Mystery Incarnate: God becoming man, fully divine and fully human, at the same time, in the same being, because of His unfathomable love for us.
And even though His humanity was destined for tragedy, He loved and lived life to it’s absolute fullest. That love for life was evident throughout the Scriptures. Jesus loved the stars and the sea and the birds and the flowers. He had His close circle of friends, like Peter, John, James and Mary Magdalene. And He also had many other friends. Some He knew well, and others maybe not as well, just like we do. He would tell stories of fishing and farming, because that’s what the people in His area did. And He would make them laugh and even cry with some of His stories.
Jesus had the ability to bring out the truth in people’s thoughts and actions, without ever pointing fingers. He could bring justice without chastising. Like the time He saved a woman from being stoned to death for adultery, by people who’s sins were no less terrible. He cared so much for the downtrodden and sick people, that he even risked exposure to deadly diseases Himself, in order to heal them and lift them up. And in lifting up their spirits, He didn’t just give out hope like a candy bar that would be eaten and then gone. Jesus taught them ‘the how and why’ of everything they were supposed to do, so that they could be their very best in the long run, and so that they could then, be sources of encouragement for lifting others up.
He was fair with all people. He said, you don’t feed steak to the dogs. But He recognized that even the dogs sometimes were more worthy of the steak than the children were; when those dogs would show more faith in Him than the children did. It’s funny, don’t we sometimes find that with our own pets, compared to our friends? And the dogs in the Scriptural sense were the non-Jews, while the Jews, who were supposed to be the “Children of God,” struggled to believe in Jesus, who came as their Messiah. But, you see, regardless of their religious preference, Jesus loved them all! He let them know that in God’s eyes, there is no such thing as an “Unimportant Person.” Each and every one of us is SO valuable to God, that He mourns when we’re sad and all of heaven roars when we’re happy – the rain and thunder of our lives.
You see, Jesus loves us so much, that even when He was nailed on a cross, barely able to breathe, He still forgave his persecutors. He still made sure that his mom would be taken care of by John, after He died. You see, in His death, the love of Jesus won out over all despair and evil.
Do we dare to truly look into the eyes and heart of Jesus, where blue is the color of the sky and the sea, and not our mood? Where red is the color of rosy cheeks, and not spilled blood? And where white is the brilliance and beauty of the stars, and not the color we’d like to force our teeth to be? You see, beauty and love truly are in the eye of the beholder, when that eye gazes through the prism of Jesus’ most sacred heart.
Now remember, we said, that the life of Jesus was as fully Human as it was Divine. And that meant that He had his own struggles too. His life was constantly filled with little deaths. Each little “Death to self” allowed something greater in Jesus to come to life. For example: Can you imagine at 12-years old, having deep theological discussions, maybe even heated arguments, with the 60-year old Rabbi’s in the Holy Temple . . . When here comes mom, who grabs you by the ear and scolds you for not coming home on time. Talk about embarrassing! And yet the Gospel tells us that “(Jesus) went down with them and was obedient.”
You see, unless you’ve lived through it yourself, you absolutely cannot imagine the devastation of the loss of a child, even if it’s just for a little while. Jesus sensed this in Mary and Joseph, and He knew that He had to change for them. He knew that their exasperation was out of Love and not anger. This was just one of those little deaths that helped Jesus grow in the strength that He would need to carry Him through one huge death, for the sake of ALL life.
Jesus said, “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat.
But if it dies, it produces much fruit.” (Jn 12:24).
You see, Jesus knew that all of Life is a dying process.
Only children think that things can remain the same forever. Life moves on. We change from being dependent children, to young self-supporting adults, to adults who support others – like the less fortunate and someday children of our own, and eventually we’ll even change back to being dependent on others again, ourselves. And yet, at some point we realize that, in reality, our whole lives are dependent upon God.
When we can step down off that platform of self-centeredness, just as Jesus had to, at 12-years old, and submit to obedience; only then will we realize that His saving grace has been with us through our entire lives. Jesus said, unless you give yourself away, you cannot possess yourself. (Mt 10:39 paraphrase) Jesus showed us that even though total self-giving might make us vulnerable, it’s only when our hearts are filled with generosity, that we’ll actually begin to live – as God intended us to. It is this self-giving that will truly bring Fullness to our lives.
I learned about self-giving early in my life, both by example and personal experience. When I was 7-years old, my dad gave up his profession as a tool and die maker, to become a grocery store owner – in order to be closer to my mom, who had a pretty serious heart condition. We lived in an apartment behind the store, which became our lives from 6:00 in the morning until 11:00 at night; every day, seven days a week. I learned to stock shelves, sell candy, scoop ice-cream and cut meats. But most importantly, I learned the value of Service.
I learned to appreciate the beauty and diversity of people. I would walk grocery bags to the homes of the elderly. And my dad had to convince me that it was not polite to refuse their tips, which I did because I knew they were poor. And yet, my dad would allow some of those tabs, or unpaid bills, of the poorest in our neighborhood to sometimes just disappear, as his goodwill offering.
We worked together as a family, sharing and giving, and dying to self, constantly. When I was in the 7th grade, my mom had one of the first heart valve replacements ever performed. Our responsibilities became even greater, learning to balance school-work, with store-work, with babysitting our little sister. I watched, as some of our customers and closest friends went off to war in Vietnam and never came back. We truly learned about Life, and poverty, and death, and the Mystery – of the ‘Happiness of Giving,’ just as Jesus said we would.
Passover and the Paschal Mystery
What we call this Paschal Mystery brings to fulfillment what began at that very first Jewish Passover in Egypt. Remember, prior to that last plague, the plague of death to the first-born of all Egypt, there were nine other plagues. It was these plagues that prefigured the Passion of Jesus. . . .
From the Last Supper and His betrayal by Judas (a close friend and apostle); to the Agony in the Garden and His trial by the Jewish leaders (His own people).
Did you ever feel betrayed by your best friends, or your family? It’s not easy!
Jesus was then handed over to the Romans and tried by Pilate.
Were you ever accused of doing something that wasn’t even a possibility of your nature to do?
Then convicted, Jesus was stripped, mocked, and even rejected by His very closest friend, Peter. He was scourged, crowned with thorns, forced to carry His own death cross, and then crucified upon it.
Can you remember as a kid, watching that bully neighbor or mean cousin steal or break something valuable, only to end up accused and punished for doing it yourself?
And yet you weren’t a tattle.
And you knew the truth wouldn’t help either.
So you bore it anyway.
The blood of Jesus on that cross, like the blood of the lambs on the doorposts of the Jews in Egypt; and the Passover sacrifice of a lamb to God for forgiveness of Israel, just like the Good Friday sacrifice of Jesus for our forgiveness, were all preparations for something much, much greater to come. These were all little pieces of that “Big Mystery” of the Covenant Promise – that God would always save His people.
That salvation of the believing and obedient Jews, huddled in their homes in Egypt, would come to represent the salvation of all believing and obedient Christians of the world, through the Paschal Mystery of Jesus. And there as Jesus hung abandoned by all but just a few, with no divine retaliation, but instead, in one final act of divine forgiveness, Jesus pleaded, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
And with that one final act of divine obedience, Jesus said, “Into your hands Father, I commend my Spirit,” as he breathed his last.
Then like the uplifted staff of Moses at the foot of the Red Sea, an uplifted spear was thrust into that most Sacred Heart of Jesus. And just as the parting of the Red Sea’s water opened up a path of God’s salvation for the Israelites, the gushing of water and blood from that pierced heart of Jesus opened up a path for our salvation.
And where the water of the Red Sea led to the death of Egyptian slavery, this water from the side of Jesus led to the death of our slavery to sin. For through the water of our Baptisms we died with Jesus on His cross. Hand in hand we entered that tomb with Him; like the chasm of the Red Sea, between two great walls of water; like the chasm of the Grand Canyon.
And whereas the water of the Red Sea brought New Life for the Israelites, through the water of our baptisms, just as Jesus was Raised from death, in His Father’s Glory, we too were raised with Him to New Life in the Spirit. Jesus said “no one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of the water and the spirit.” Jn 3:5
In our baptisms we were plunged into this Paschal Mystery of Jesus. Remember, Jesus said that only if the wheat grain dies, will it grow into a fruit-producing plant. You see, there can never be a Resurrection, without a Death.
After His death, Jesus rose, just like the wheat seedling, in order to offer us His Fruit, that mysterious, yet very real and permanent bond – of our spirits to His, our union to His Living Love.
Jesus described that bond at many different times and in many ways. He said, “I am the vine and you are the branches,” (Jn 15:5). We are that tightly united to one another.
He said, “Whoever receives the one I send (meaning the Holy Spirit), receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me (meaning the Father)” Jn 13:20.
You see, through our Baptism and Confirmation, we are One with God, the Holy Trinity. And in His prayer to His Father, in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus said, “I have given them the glory you (Father) gave me, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may be brought to perfection as one” Jn 17
The Work of Living
Together, our lives become a present-day, Living, Paschal Mystery of Christ. And even though we are not yet living the Ascension, as resurrected members of the Body of Christ, there are times when we might still find ourselves confronted with some of those same tough, worldly situations that Jesus had to live through: the pain, betrayal and opposition; fighting the weakness, laziness and apathy of our human natures; learning discipline, obedience and forgiveness; suffering disappointments, death of loved ones, abuse and hatred and on and on. Jesus said, unless we take up our crosses and follow Him, we cannot be His disciples. (Lk 9:23)
God doesn’t cause suffering. It’s just a part of the life that Adam and Eve unfortunately chose for us. And God continues to allow all of humanity to have the Free Will, the Choices, given to our ancestral parents. He will not take that Gift away, even to reduce our suffering.
You see, Jesus didn’t come to explain away suffering or even remove it. But He did come to FILL our lives with His presence – the presence of Peace and Hope and Joy, despite the suffering. All it takes is following His one simple rule; a rule that could bring the greatest relief of suffering possible – to anyone. Jesus said, “This is my final commandment: that you love one another as I have loved you.” Jn 15:17
– Love for the starving child in Africa.
– Love for the oppressed Christian in China.
– Love for the brainwashed sects who worship death over life –
as we pray for their conversion.
– Love for the mother of the aborted child, who saw no other option.
– Love for the displaced and orphaned children who lost parents in
– Love, not just for the people less fortunate than us, but even for the
rich and the powerful.
You see, they’re all Children of God, they just may not realize it yet.
Love. . .
It may not always be easy.
It may take a little dying.
Dying to self, in order to grow.
Dying to self, in order to live for Christ.
Dying, to fully Live the Life that God intended for us.
This is the Paschal Mystery!
Thank you for visiting, beloved and . . ..
May our Loving God bless you and
keep you always in His Care!
Excerpt from a witness talk for T.E.C. 2012
This song sums it up beautifully. . .