We are a people who are really influenced by hindsight. How many times have you said, “I should have said…” or “If I knew then what I know now…”? It’s easy to have regrets about not being aware of what was happening at the time, but that’s really unproductive. Because as we look backward at our lives and experiences, we can really come to new enlightenment, much like the disciples who walked with Jesus on the way to Emmaus and came to know him in the breaking of the bread. Retelling the story is what gave us the Gospels, and what created the first Christian community, and what continues to sustain us with the Word of God. And it is this experience that we call “Mystagogy.”
Mystagogia is a period of time following one’s receiving the Sacraments of Initiation. We could put a time limit on it, like a year or so, but God doesn’t. I truly believe that Mystagogia has to take place all the rest of our lives. So for Tom, Nick, and Christian, that starts now. Those of us who are “cradle Catholics” have been in Mystagogia all our lives. During that period of time all of us, who are properly called “Mystagogues,” take part in the experience of Mystagogy. Mystagogy is a process of looking back on the mystery. Having been through the Sacraments of Initiation, now is the time to look back on those experiences and to see how God has been active in our lives, probably going back well before having received the Sacraments.
We could say that Mystagogy happens whenever a person receives a sacrament. Every time we receive a Sacrament, we engage in the Mystery of Faith once again. So when a couple gets married, they can look back at the experience after the wedding, and see how wonderful it was for them. Every time we receive the Eucharist or go to Confession, we could look back on that experience and see what gifts God gave us in the celebration. For me, that experience was particularly pronounced this past June when I was ordained a priest, receiving the Sacrament of Holy Orders. For me, that whole ceremony was in some ways a blur. I remember picking up a worship aid on the way in because I wanted to sing the gathering song which was one of my favorite hymns. But I couldn’t even speak let alone sing at that moment. It was only in the days that followed, when I would sniff the cloth that I used to wipe the excess Chrism from my hands, that I would remember the awesome experience of kneeling before the bishop who liberally coated my hands with that Holy Oil. The next day, when I put on the stole, I remembered how completely changed I felt when two of my priest friends helped me to remove the deacon stole I had been wearing, and put the priestly stole on me. And more experiences like that happened in the weeks ahead: saying Mass here at St. Raphael’s for the first time, seeing the pictures that were taken at my Ordination and First Mass, all of these helped me to not only remember the joy of that great day of my life, but also helped me to experience the mystery of the priesthood in important ways.
You will have experiences like that too. Maybe you found it hard to speak or sing at some point last Saturday. Maybe the smell of the Chrism that Fr. Ted liberally poured on you reminded you of the liberal grace that God has given you as he called you to himself as a baptized member of the Church. Every time you’re sprinkled as we did earlier this evening, you may remember the time in the font in the Narthex and find help in living those promises in stronger and deeper ways. Every time you come here to receive the Sacred Body and Blood of our Lord, you may think back to that First Communion and be nourished once again and strengthened for the journey. That’s what Mystagogy is. It’s not just remembering the joy that you experienced last Saturday. For us Catholics, Mystagogy means being taken back completely into those mysteries once again to experience them in new and deeper ways. Every time you are sprinkled, you are not re-baptized, but instead you experience that one baptism once again. Every time the Spirit is invoked in Liturgy, you are not re-Confirmed, but you live in the grace of that one Confirmation once again. And most gloriously, every time you receive the Eucharist, you are not just receiving a symbol of the Lord’s Body and Blood, but you are actually there, on the evening of that Last Supper, taking part in the meal with the disciples and all the saints in heaven and on earth, receiving the incredible riches of the Lord’s very Body and Blood poured out for you on the Cross.
Jesus comes to his disciples in today’s Gospel just after the Resurrection. They still aren’t sure what to make of anything. All they have is the empty tomb and some stories. But on this occasion, Jesus calms them by being present among them as they have gathered and offering them the greeting that can only come from him: “Peace be with you.” Then he gives them three experiences of Mystagogy that I think can help us in this life-long quest to re-immerse ourselves in the Mystery. First, he invites them to look at him and to touch him. For them, this was reassurance that he wasn’t a ghost. But for us, it reminds us that Mystagogy is not just a head and heart experience. It’s not just mystical and intellectual or emotional and spiritual. It’s also flesh and blood. We can see it and touch it and experience it in all of its reality. We experience this kind of Mystagogy when we reach out to receive the Body of Christ or to take hold of the Cup of his Blood. We also experience this kind of Mystagogy when we reach out to embrace a brother or sister who is hurting or to serve someone in need. Every experience of this kind of Mystagogy helps us to touch and to experience our Lord in concrete physical ways.
Second, Jesus eats some cooked fish among them. Again, for the disciples, this reassured them that he was not a ghost, because a ghost would not have been able to eat anything. For us though, it reminds us that Mystagogy is always experienced in community. For Catholics, the life of faith is absolutely never just a “me and Jesus” experience. While a personal relationship with Jesus is important, it pales in comparison to the relationship with Jesus that is experienced with the entire community gathered. We experience this kind of Mystagogy when we gather for worship and share the Eucharist together. We also experience this kind of Mystagogy when we join a group on Service Day to rake leaves or clean houses for those who are not able to take care of these tasks themselves. We experience this kind of Mystagogy when we join a Small Christian Community to break open the Scriptures and continue our faith formation. Every experience of this kind of Mystagogy helps us to find the Lord working among us and see his face in every person he puts in our lives.
Third, Jesus opens the Scriptures to them, recounting the prophecies that said what he would have to go through and what would happen to him. This helped them to know that the whole experience of Jesus hadn’t been a big mistake. For us, though, this kind of Mystagogy helps us to learn more about our faith every single day. We experience this kind of Mystagogy at Mass in the Liturgy of the Word, as we hear the Scriptures proclaimed and the homily preached. We experience this kind of Mystagogy, too, in Bible Study, either alone or with our Small Christian Community. We also experience this kind of Mystagogy when we speak with those who don’t have the same beliefs that we do and help them to understand our Church and our faith a little better. Every experience of this kind of Mystagogy helps us to know Christ better by immersing ourselves in the Scriptures.
At the beginning of your Mystagogia, the Church’s message to you is this: don’t forget. Don’t let the cool spray of water pass into distant memory, or the smell of the Chrism fade. And above all, don’t let the taste of the Body and Blood of our Lord be replaced by tastes for anything the world might offer you. Continue to engage the mystery. Look back, look forward, reflect and listen, see and touch and eat and drink and hear. As this parish community has welcomed you, so enter in and become part of it. Let us help you through your bad times and rejoice with you in the good. Continue to sort through the mystery of how the Lord is calling you and seek the grace to respond. Some days that will be a great joy, and other days it might be real hard to figure out. But either way, continue to engage the Mystery and know that God hasn’t poured out all of his grace on you just yet.
And for those of us who are still living the Mystagogia that began so long ago, hear those same things too. Maybe now God is calling you to recommit your life in new ways of service, or to experience the Mystery in a completely new way. We too must look back, look forward, reflect and listen, see and touch and eat and drink and hear. For us too, the fullness of God’s grace has yet to be revealed and received and we need to be open to that.
On this Easter Day, we can do nothing less than look on the great grace that we all have been given: the gift of new members in our parish family, the gift of sacrament, the gift of grace and the joy of salvation. On this Easter Day, the song that wells up in us must be sung at the top of our voice to our God who is amazing in so many ways, this God who is the rock in our storms and the light in our darkest nights. On this Easter Day and every day, as we experience the joy of God’s amazing love, we cannot keep from singing the great song welling up in our hearts…
There is an endless song
Echoes in my soul
I hear the music ring
And though the storms may come
I am holding on
To the rock I cling
How can I keep from singing Your praise
How can I ever say enough
How amazing is Your love
How can I keep from shouting Your name
I know I am loved by the King
And it makes my heart want to sing
I will lift my eyes
In the darkest night
For I know my Savior lives
And I will walk with You
Knowing You’ll see me through
And sing the songs You give
I can sing in the troubled times
Sing when I win
I can sing when I lose my step
And fall down again
I can sing ’cause You pick me up
Sing ’cause You’re there
I can sing ’cause You hear me, Lord
When I call to You in prayer
I can sing with my last breath
Sing for I know
That I’ll sing with the angels
And the saints around the throne