What do “mystery-buffs” want to see in a summertime page-turner or an addictive Netflix series? Besides basic motivations to relax or to pass one’s time, many people are simply fascinated by a good mystery. And this is true not only for those who frequented the Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew volumes in the stacks of the middle school library. One author attributes this fascination to a built-in problem-solving attitude and an “inclination to discover the unknown.” So what does the thirst of mystery-buffs for improved or hitherto “inaccessible” perspectives say about what we all really want in life?
Mystery-lovers are in good company. In fact, the desire to “get to the bottom” of life’s perplexities or the tendency to wonder at wondrous things has been described by some as the prerequisite for doing philosophy! St. Thomas Aquinas went so far as to say that committing to such speculative activity was a crowning achievement in a person’s life: “Among all human pursuits, the pursuit of wisdom is more perfect, more noble, more useful, and more full of joy” (Summa contra gentiles, Bk 1, Ch 2). Thomas would urge us to care more about pursuing answers to the more basic and important questions: “Who has given me meaning and shown me love?” or “What is going to make me and those around me better and more peaceful?” Of course, getting caught up in mysteries is often scary. If we’re talking about the mystery of a life, however, the inevitable suspense and stress are worthwhile and (sometimes) even exciting.
The Catholic faith is about such life-encompassing mysteries. “Mysteries of faith” are those things which exceed the human capacity to know, but which God has chosen to reveal about himself and his plan for mankind. The culmination of God’s sharing his vantage point with us came only with the arrival of His Son; Jesus has made God known in a way otherwise impossible for human beings (cf. Jn 1:18). This is why the Church emphasizes our getting to know the “mysteries” of the life of Jesus, such as the Incarnation and the Redemption. In fact, the Catechism states that “everything in Jesus’ life was a sign of his mystery” (CCC 515). This means that everything Jesus said and did pointed in some way to his identity and mission as the incarnate, only-begotten Son of God and the Savior of men and women. There is inexhaustible richness to be quarried from the life of God’s “Word” who became Flesh (cf. Jn 1:14). And by becoming a man and living among us, Jesus desired his life’s mysteries to be intertwined with our own.
What makes thinking and even praying about the mysteries of Jesus’ life so important for us? First, we need to recognize an essential part of being human: we were made in God’s own image (cf. Gen. 1:27). This makes us capable of exercising a power of vision resembling God’s own all-knowing awareness. And if we want to be complete, we can’t just leave our intellectual-spiritual side unengaged! Next, we should not underestimate the gift of faith. Have we yet dared to imitate the one who first “pondered” deeply the mystery of God poured into her own life? The blessed Virgin Mary was the first to engage seriously this free gift of God who is Jesus (cf. Lk 2:51). Especially through praying the Rosary with eyes of faith, we are led to transforming and hitherto hidden insights about God and his re-creation in Christ. With this supernatural knowledge, we find ourselves ever more capable of living a life at once more human, more adventurous, smarter and more deliberate, and more joyous.
Image: Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon (1942)