Mystical Word  |  Weekly Reflection
Mystical Word is a weekly reflection on the Sunday Gospel reading by L.J. Milone, Director of Faith Formation, Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle

Illusions that Prevent Us from Knowing God

For the Second Sunday of Advent, we reflect on the illusions that prevent us from knowing God.

We go through life with many illusions.  One of these illusions is that we are supposed to get upset.  It’s not true.  We don’t have to get upset, yet we do get upset over so many things.  Truly, there is never a need to get upset, but we feel this way because of an attachment.  Every negative emotion we experience can be traced back to an attachment, to a false belief that we need something to be happy.  This is our problem. 

John the Baptist proclaims that Jesus intends to baptize us in the Holy Spirit.  This means enlightenment.  Jesus wants to expand our consciousness, to allow us to break free from our attachments.  What’s devious about these attachments is that they can be so subtle.  John of the Cross says, “It makes little difference whether a bird is tied by a thin thread or by a cord. Even if it is tied by thread, the bird will be held bound just as surely as if it were tied by a cord, that is, it will be impeded from flying as long as it does not break the thread” (A. 1.11.4).  Thus, it doesn’t matter whether we’re attached to money, fame, and power, or a bath, or a beer at the end of a long day.  Little or big, we all have attachments, which keep us from being enlightened and happy in the now.

The early church called baptism “photismos,” which means enlightenment.  It means seeing the world differently.  Specifically, we see with the eyes of Jesus.  St Paul calls it putting on the mind of Christ, which is one with the mind of God.  This is the mind of enlightenment in which we are eternally happy because we’re connected to God in the here and now.  According to today’s Gospel story, the desert is the route to take into enlightenment.

The desert in the Gospels is almost a major character.  It shows up at key times.  John the Baptist appears in the desert.  Jesus goes into the desert for silent prayer and to be tempted by the devil.  Jesus heads to deserted places to pray.  The final desert is the cross.  In the Gospel of Mark, the desert stands for silence, solitude, transcendence, mystery, and the nothingness of God. 

Briefly, the desert stands for silence.  Spiritual awareness deepens through silence.  Indeed, the mystics often see so close a connection between God and silence that they are practically the same.  Silence is vast, flowing, and luminous Divine Awareness.  St. John of the Cross ties the Trinity to silence: “The Father spoke one Word, which was his Son, and this Word he speaks always in eternal silence, and in silence must it be heard by the soul.”  Silence is the abyss of the Father’s nature.  The Word, Jesus, emerges from this primordial and transcendent silence.  The Spirit, dwelling in each one of us, silently anchors us in the Silence of the Father.  This is baptism in the Holy Spirit.

Baptism in the Holy Spirit means enlightenment, awakening.  The way is prepared by silence.  The paths to God are straight and sure in silence.  This is not simply external silence.  Although, we all need a large portion of external silence these days.  There is far too much noise pollution crowding our heads, making us deaf to sound, to the plight of our neighbor, and to God’s Word.  More deeply, the sure path of silence is interior.  The ancient desert monk, Evagrius of Ponticus, says it like this: “Stand guard over your spirit, keeping it free of concepts at the time of prayer so that it may remain in its own deep calm.”  Interior silence is free from thinking.  And, thinking is precisely where our attachments work.  To let go of our thinking is to let go of the root of our attachments.  Another desert monk, Abba Poemen, once said, “If you are silent, you will have peace wherever you live.”

The silence we are talking about links to repentance, which is best translated as “going beyond the mind” rather than just “to stop sinning.”  The repentance preached by John the Baptist and Jesus himself has to do with going beyond the mind.  Our minds get too focused on the things, experiences, and people falsely thought to bring happiness.  These are attachments.  We go beyond our minds and put on the mind of Christ through interior silence.  Anthony De Mello’s story, “Emptiness,” says as much.  “Sometimes there would be a rush of noisy visitors and the Silence of the monastery would be shattered. This would upset the disciples; not the Master, who seemed just as content with the noise as with the Silence. To his protesting disciples he said one day, ‘Silence is not the absence of sound, but the absence of self.’”  Silence is the absence of the self’s attachments and the eruption of joy.