Our faith allows for mystery. That’s why I’m still Catholic.
A Reflection for Saturday of the Second Week of Advent
“Lord, make us turn to you; let us see your face and we shall be saved.” (Ps 80:4)
Matthew’s Gospel is not always user-friendly. Personally, I prefer the intimacy of Luke, the action of Mark and the poetry of John. In Matthew, we get a Jesus who is constantly talking in knotty, confusing parables, offering nuggets of rabbinical wisdom that aren’t always easily grasped. Instead of a straightforward Jesus, Matthew’s Jesus is a person we have to work to figure out. He is, in other words, a mystery.
Matthew’s Gospel wants us to understand that Jesus was a teacher, and a greater teacher than prophets like Moses and Elijah who preceded him. But let’s be honest: How many of us would really appreciate a teacher constantly telling us not to share what he’s shared, speaking in elliptical fashion and testing the limits of our patience? Jesus would have scored terribly on RateMyProfessors.com. “Nice guy, but there was no syllabus and he kept taking us on field trips up mountains. And the questions on the final were ridiculous.”
Catholicism, for all of its flaws, has room for mystery.
But Jesus is really asking his friends to listen. Listen and understand. “I won’t be here forever with you in human form, so pay attention to what happened to John.” It is so easy to wave off what happened to the people who went before us, so easy to forget the real cost of living a prophetic life. That’s what Jesus is reminding us here. Listen, if you want to walk with me you have to pay close attention. You have to notice. You have to learn. You have to take risks.
Part of that learning and risk is being open to accepting the mystery. When people ask why I’m still Catholic, that’s the reason. Catholicism, for all of its flaws, has room for mystery. It is willing to shrug its shoulders on occasion. Miraculous baby? Why not. Man rises from the dead? Sure. Jesus on a mountain with Moses and Elijah? You bet. Can we explain all of it? Absolutely not. That mystery can be just as frustrating as anything in Matthew’s Gospel, but it can also be sustaining, because sometimes the most difficult thing we can do is to accept something as real without having to understand every single thing about it. Because that’s what it’s like to love someone, after all.
Get to know Kaya Oakes, contributing writer
Favorite Advent or Christmas themed art? I’m a fan of the ’90s television show “Northern Exposure,” which has one of the best Christmas episodes ever, in my opinion, along with one of the best episodes about art as the solution to seasonal depression. Sadly it’s still not on streaming anywhere, but you can find the DVDs pretty easily.
Favorite Christmas tradition? Gathering with my large and loud family for Christmas morning brunch, and sometimes driving out to the frigid coast to spend time contemplating the Pacific Ocean.
Which project are you most proud to have worked on this year at America? This story on how focusing on communication between men and women in seminaries would lead to better communication in churches might be a bit of a niche topic, but as a teacher I’m constantly thinking about how we communicate with one another. And I’ve really enjoyed writing these scripture reflections on a monthly basis. One thing that’s come out of the pandemic in my own faith life is a need to slow down and be more contemplative. I hope I can help others with that in the writing that I do.
Favorite Christmas recipe? I make cookie plates for friends and neighbors and hands down, the one everyone talks about is the Ricciarelli, which is an Italian almond cookie I first sampled in Rome. I’ve been trying to hack a recipe that tastes even a little like those Roman ones and this one comes pretty close (thankfully Costco sells almond flour, because otherwise it is very expensive). The trick is to let them dry out for a full hour before baking.
Favorite Christmas photo? Levon the cat contemplating the mystery of fire, Christmas, 2015.