Deeper mysteries

Question: Why do we speak of “mysteries” of the Rosary? We fully understand them. They are plain historical events. So how are they mysteries? I thought a mystery was something we don’t understand.

Jack Farese, Leonia, New Jersey

Answer: Your question points to the fact that in the modern world, a “mystery” is something that baffles or eludes understanding, something that lies hidden. And the usual attitude of the world toward mystery is to solve it, get to the bottom of it or uncover it. Mysteries must be overcome! The riddle or “whodunnit” must be solved!

However, in the Christian and especially the Catholic world, “mystery” is something richer. Here, mystery refers to the fact that there are hidden dimensions in things, people and situations that extend beyond their visible, physical dimensions. The philosopher John Le Croix classically defined mystery:

“Mystery is that which opens temporality and gives it depth. It introduces a vertical dimension and makes of it a time of revelation, of unveiling.”

Consider the following example: You and I are at a party, and Smith comes in the door and goes over to Jones and warmly shakes his hand. And I say, “Wow, look at that.” Puzzled, you ask, “What’s the big deal? They shook hands. So what?” And then I tell you, “Smith and Jones have been enemies for 30 years.”

And thus, in this simple temporal event there is a greater hidden and richer meaning than meets the eye. This is mystery, something hidden, something that is accessible to those who know and are initiated into the mystery and come to grasp some dimension of it; it is the deeper reality of things.

It is in this sense that we speak of the “mysteries” of the Rosary. They are external and known events with a deeper meaning. The fifth sorrowful mystery is not simply a man dying on the cross. It is the act of salvation for us all, sin is atoned for, we are reconciled to God, the gates of heaven swing open and death is turned to life. We are saved by the human decision of a divine person. There is much more than meets the eye.

Apostles’ families

Question: Did the apostles leave their wives and families? Since they left their jobs, how did they have any financial support?

Robert McBride, Cheswick, Pennsylvania

Answer: Not all of these things are known to us. However, we ought to shed a simplistic notion that Jesus wandered about with just the Twelve Apostles. Rather, a larger group of disciples also accompanied the apostolic band. This may have included some of the family members of the apostles. St. Luke describes the apostolic journeys as follows:

“[Jesus] traveled from one town and village to another, preaching and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. Accompanying him were the Twelve and some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities, Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, Susanna, and many others who provided for them out of their resources” (Lk 8:1-3).

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Thus we have a kind of entourage, more than a lonely band of 13 men. We do not know how many of the apostles were married at the time. But it is possible that their wives were in the group. As for support, it would seem that some of the wealthier women in the entourage assisted in underwriting the costs. Other costs may have been covered by grateful townsfolk who experienced healing and preaching.

Msgr. Charles Pope is the pastor of Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian in Washington, D.C., and writes for the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., blog at blog.adw.org. Send questions to msgrpope@osv.com.