In mid-July, on the sixth anniversary of his pastoral visit to the Italian island of…
‘Mysterion’: New book explores what it’s like to truly live in Christ
Sometimes, it all suddenly makes sense. And sometimes, it changes your life.
I’m talking about that moment in the life of a believer when in the mind and soul it all gets put together; like pieces of a puzzle, it’s that moment when finally you see, even if still incomplete, its final form. Plato talked about something like it, calling it the insight of recollection. Christians, though, do not mean quite what he meant; for us, it’s seeing all things in and through the light of God in Christ, a matter of illumination. Indeed, it often happens in something like a flash, an “aha!” moment, sensing sublimity; yet we believe the experience to be of a Person rather than forms.
In his Gospel, John often used the word theōrein to describe this experience. This is a deeper seeing of what’s fully real, what’s really true. To have eternal life, Jesus said in Capernaum, one must see the Son and believe in him (cf. Jn 6:40). To his Father, Jesus prayed that his disciples would “see my glory” (Jn 17:24). This different, deeper seeing is, of course, seeing with faith — seeing that Jesus is not some mere Galilean rebel but the Son of God and Lord of all, that his crucifixion is not inglorious defeat but divine revelation (cf. Jn 8:28). It’s the sort of seeing that causes you to see everything else differently, now in the light of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Title: “Mysterion: The Revelatory Power of the Sacramental Worldview”
St. Maximus the Confessor said to see like this was to see the “reasons of things.” As G.K. Chesterton said of St. Francis of Assisi, it’s to give “a sort of halo to the edges of all earthly things.” Really, it’s simply what happens to believers when the penny drops, when all the disparate things of faith we’ve gathered over the length of our experience becomes a symphony, all fitting together, when faith draws close to understanding. It almost exclusively happens within the lived experience of the Church, very often within the experience of the liturgy. For me, it happened in seminary only after years of celebrating the Ascension. I can even remember where I was and what I was doing, the words of the liturgy and the words of Scripture all suddenly geared together, allowing me to perceive more deeply the dogma of the Trinity (to feel it almost) and the reality of eschatology and prayer. That’s when I began to see in John’s sense of theōrein, and I’ve never been able to see differently since.
Such is what Father Harrison Ayre calls the “sacramental worldview” in his wonderful new book “Mysterion: The Revelatory Power of the Sacramental Worldview” (Pauline Books & Media, $22.95). It’s the vision a believer gains by faith when finally he or she realizes fully what it means to live in Christ — seeing the world as created and redeemed in him, seeing the world in and through Christ’s eyes. It’s to see, as David Bentley Hart talked about, not just nature but creation. It’s to see everything liturgically, as liturgy does, gaining a share thereby, as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger put it once, of “heaven’s mode of existence.”
In this book — itself materially a beautiful thing — Father Ayre walks us through the familiar basics of the Faith, really quite simply. Thinking through our understanding of the sacramental, of the Church, of Mary, of liturgy, of the Eucharist, of prayer, the book can be read almost like a primer. Yet it’s more than that: Like an experienced docent, he invites us to see these familiar things again, but this time more intentionally in Christ. In this sense, it’s a genuinely refreshing read, a perfect book for Lent, or for someone in RCIA, or a priest or seminarian, or for anyone you might think on the cusp of seeing.
One thing though: I’ve never liked the term “worldview.” For me, it’s too sociological sounding, like a “plausibility structure” or what Mary Midgely called simply “myth.” This, I accept, belongs to our postmodern conceptual handicap, that we can’t just simply talk about living and seeing all things in Christ but that we must call it a worldview; that we can’t help but see “modernism,” much like Charles Taylor’s “immanent frame,” as a rival view of reality. But because of this seemingly inevitable postmodern stance, all we’re left able to say is that our worldview just happens in fact to be true, which it is; but which also risks reducing evangelism to mere philosophy.
Which, however, is not an error on Father Ayre’s part, especially given how he beautifully, and personally, ends his beautiful book: by reminding us of the beauty of ordinary charity. Introducing us all to our brother, Christopher (really, read the book if only for the chance to meet him), Father Ayre shows us what the sacramental worldview really is, how it applies. That it’s love in Christ for all things until all things are finally love — love that includes you and all you see.
Father Joshua J. Whitfield is pastor of St. Rita Catholic Community in Dallas and author of “The Crisis of Bad Preaching” (Ave Maria Press, $17.95) and other books.