FAITH MATTERS: Mystagogical connections

Earlier this year I noticed Gilbert Ostdiek OFM promoting his book, Reweaving the Ministries: The Emmaus Paradigm, on Facebook and I asked Mandy Greaves our Diocesan Librarian to purchase a copy. My initial thought was it should be a relevant addition to our diocesan collection as we are currently traveling through a synodal process and reconsidering new ways to approach ministry is part of the ongoing conversation.

As I began to read the book, I was stuck with echoes from our Lenten contemplative dialogue experience as we were delighted with Michael O’Connor’s writings of Our Christian Story, and we watched his words come to life as a visual liturgy.

Michael’s words, much like Gilbert’s, speak of an early church where ministries were shared among the community, they were united with a common mission of building the Kingdom of God together.

Another aspect which resonated with me when I began reading was of Bishop Bill’s reflections days from earlier in the year. Bishop Bill pointed out as does the book, the need to look to the future with fresh eyes as the face of ministry has changed dramatically over the last 50 years.

Entering into a synodal process is about journeying together and the Emmaus story is a perfect example of how the mystery of our Christian faith is revealed through significant points on the journey and of how we make meaning from these connections.

To fully understand the Emmaus story, we must start with the end in mind and work backwards. The disciples would have never spoken of the experience if Jesus did not reveal something to them.

Timothy Radcliffe in his book, Alive in God: A Christian Imagination, uses the analogy of the Gospels being like fireworks. When they explode in the sky, they illuminate everything that is hidden in the dark. It is this revealing that brings meaning as does the practice of mystagogical reflection, which is a focus of Ostdiek’s writings.

For the disciples it was the signs, symbols, rituals and the way these things made them feel that made them realise that it was Jesus who had been their companion on the road.

It was the process of mystagogy that revealed this, as they were able to name this burning desire they had in their hearts.

They had gone through a kaleidoscope of experiences, a bitter tale of lost faith and hope, a stranger’s heart-warming retelling of the story, now ending in glory attested by Moses and all the prophets, and then a meal prayer revealing the stranger to them as the Lord, alive and table host for them.

Only now could they look back and put into words, in one brief yet powerful sentence, how the stranger’s story had set their hearts burning on the way. That verse is a perfect description of what mystagogy does. It helps people to name their experience and see more deeply into what it means.

Naming the fire in their hearts would have not been possible for the two disciples if they had not recognised him in the breaking of the bread and their hearts would not have been set on fire if they had not joined him on the way, listened to their story and given them a new ending from it. Mystagogy builds on what has gone before, on word and table and adds a richness to our life experiences.

As we continue our synodal journey we invite you to experience mystagogical reflection.

I personally have been exposed to this type of prayer and formation for only approximately 18 months, it has brought me so much joy each time I have entered this space with the beautiful people of the RCIA forum. I encourage anyone to embrace this experience as it nourishes the soul and allows you to look at scripture, your life, and the world at large with fresh eyes; it reveals connections and will set your hearts on fire.

As Louise Gannon wrote in Liturgy Matters last week, there are several opportunities to learn and experience mystagogy throughout November in preparation for Waiting with Purpose this Advent.

We hope many of you will join us in this next stage of our journey.

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