Opening the Word: Mysterious ways

“Everyone loves a good mystery,” an old saying goes. That may be true, generally speaking, of mysteries involving crimes, clues and sleuths. But what of the mysteries of the Christian faith?  

The word “mystery” has great significance in Catholic teaching, appearing nearly 200 times in the Catechism of the Catholic Church in reference to mysteries of the faith. These mysteries are not unsolved puzzles, but are divine truths and realities that can only be glimpsed and grasped through the gift of God’s revelation and grace. 

Today’s readings touch on at least three of these mysteries. 

The first is the mystery of God’s will, seen in today’s Old Testament reading. The prophet Samuel was sent by God to meet Jesse of Bethlehem and Jesse’s sons, one of which would be chosen king of Israel. The natural instinct was to look for the son who was big, strong and skilled in combat. But God told Samuel, “Do not judge from his appearance or from his lofty stature. ... Not as man sees does God see.” These words foreshadow the prophet Isaiah’s description of the Suffering Servant, who “had no form or comeliness that we should look at him,” a prophetic depiction that was fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ, the son of David (see Mt 1:1). The choice of the young David was a concrete example of Isaiah’s declaration, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord” (Is 55:8).  

Yet we are tempted to think that through reason, technology and human ingenuity, we can solve all problems and right all injustices. The truth, how-ever, is that God alone is in complete control.  

The second mystery is that of evil. Why do suffering, murder, starvation and discord abound? The disciples, upon seeing the man blind from birth, ask Jesus if the man’s condition was due to his sin or the sins of his parents. Jesus’ answer is surprising: “It is so that the works of God might be made visible through him.” If God is truly good, why would he allow any sin or evil in the first place? St. Augustine pondered this mystery, writing, “I sought whence evil comes and there was no solution.” But he concluded, “God judged it better to bring good out of evil than to suffer no evil to exist.” The Catechism readily acknowledges the great challenge presented by the question of evil, saying, “There is not a single aspect of the Christian message that is not in part an answer to the question of evil” (No. 309).  

Which brings us to the third mystery, that of redemption and salvation. This is, to draw upon the language of today’s epistle, the awakening of those in darkness so they might live as children of light. It is Christ who gives this light, for “Christ himself is the mystery of salvation” (No. 774), and his “whole life is a mystery of redemption” (No. 517). If we contemplate this for a moment, we can see how other mysteries, such as that of creation, are closely connected. So “the mystery of Christ casts conclusive light on the mystery of creation and reveals the end for which ‘in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth’” (No. 280). 

All of these mysteries flow from and point back to the central mystery of Christian faith and life: the mystery of the Most Holy Trinity, “the source of all the other mysteries of faith, the light that enlightens them” (Catechism, No. 234). Indeed, everyone should love the greatest mystery: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Carl E. Olson is the editor of