God alone is. Simply is. By His own infinite exercise of existing.
Everything else that exists, exists because God gives existence.
To understand this is to understand all, the inner truth of everything—the mystery, so to speak, of the cosmos. God has given existence to all these things that are not Him, but exist like He exists, as opposed to not existing—things like the earth, us, trees, the sun and moon, water, etc.—He has given being to all these non-divine things; He has shared being with them, for a reason.
To communicate with us. To draw us to Himself, lift us up to Himself, make us His friends. His intimates.
We worship Him for His awesome majesty. We cannot imagine the power and beneficence that possesses being absolutely and shares it generously. We respond to His love with love.
He Who is is: the infinite communion of eternal love. His Son, meek and humble of heart, revealed the divine love, the tri-unity. Everything that He has made draws us into that communion.
The Lord spoke to Moses from the burning bush, revealing Himself. God had revealed Himself before–to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. But, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church puts it, the Lord’s revelation of Himself to Moses “proved to be the fundamental one.”
He is one God, living and true, almighty, everlasting, and infinitely wise. He is faithful, compassionate, rich in mercy. God made the heavens and the earth; He reigns over all things; His sublime beauty and goodness give meaning and purpose to everything.
The Catechism goes on to point out that believing in God has five basic implications. I reserve the right to give a quiz on this at some future time.
We believe in one God Almighty; therefore, we must seek to know Him and serve Him.
We must give Him thanks for everything.
We must acknowledge that all human beings share in equal dignity as His children, and that the entire human race is fundamentally one family.
We must make use of created things only as means by which to get closer to God. We must detach ourselves from any created thing that estranges us from Him.
We trust God in every circumstance.
Easy to say. Semi-easy to memorize. A lifetime of daily work to put into practice.
Moses encountered God at the burning bush, and the Lord revealed His own name. The tetragrammaton. A word which pious Jews will not pronounce. Obscure ancient Hebrew, with a practically indecipherable meaning. God’s ancient name…how do we put it in Latin? Ipsum esse per se subsistens. In English? He Who Is. Of old, God declared His name: “I am Who am.”
Now, if anyone else said something like this, we might wonder about his or her social skills. “Hi. Nice to meet you, I’m Father Mark. And you are?” “I am Who am!” “Okay…”
But God rightly taught Moses a very important truth by saying this incomprehensible name. We cannot comprehend God. We cannot claim to know the ‘god-ness’ of God. He is He Who is. Which makes exactly as much–and as little—sense to us as it should.
Who are we to demand more information from the One Who made us out of nothing? After all, if He were not Who He is, we wouldn’t be who we are. We wouldn’t exist, if God did not freely give us existence. There wouldn’t be any air, much less trees, and the earth, and milkshakes and snow and stuff. God is Who He is, namely He Who is. And comprehensible things, like chickens and hamburgers, can and do exist because God the incomprehensible gives life and being to everything that exists and lives.
The obscurity and incomprehensibility of the name God gave to Moses confirms the wisdom of the religious skeptic, the agnostic. The one who doubts human assertions about God. The one who doubts pagan charlatans, soothsayers, snake-oil salesmen, and all the other irrational frauds who spout endless nonsense, claiming to have a divine mandate to do so. Teaching us to make deals with the Almighty, or even play little tricks on Him. So that I can get rich or healed or find a new boyfriend or girlfriend—all through my astute negotiations with the Lord.
To all the mega-church prattle about getting rich quick through faith healings and emotional exuberance, the religious skeptic or agnostic responds: Why should anyone believe any of that? Why should anyone believe a single thing Pastor Paula White says? How can anyone claim to know so much penny-ante trivia about the great and majestic God? Like that if you give somebody a high-five at the right moment during a praise song, you’ll then certainly become the president of your own company? Please! says the skeptic. Give the unknown God a little more respect than to think He can be manipulated to conform to our own selfish dreams!
When God said, My name is Yahweh, He meant: Don’t claim to know what you don’t know about Me. If you think I make sense to your small-time mind, you’re on the wrong track.
God makes perfect sense to the holy angels. But we human beings don’t have the intellectual wattage to grasp just how much God makes sense. God makes so much sense that He makes the things that make sense to us seem like they don’t make any sense at all. Remember: Blessed are the poor, the hungry, the thirsty, those who mourn, the meek, and the persecuted.
Now, if God had stopped speaking to mankind after He told Moses His ineffable name, then every intellectually honest person would have to be an agnostic. We would have to regard religion skeptically. We would hesitate to accept anyone’s claims about the unknowable God. We would distrust all the pagan priests and fortune tellers and tea-leaf readers of this world.
But the unknowable God did not stop teaching us about Himself after answering Moses’ question about His name. To the contrary, that episode at the burning bush was just the beginning.
The ancient Israelites who followed Moses held fast to their faith in the unknowable, transcendent God. And they did what honest agnostics must do: They waited for a moment when the Unknown might make Himself more known. No honest agnostic can deny to God the prerogative to reveal Himself if He so chooses, when He chooses, in the way He chooses.
So the Israelites waited, eschewing the pagan nonsense of their worldly neighbors. And then God did what no one expected. He Personally became a human being. He Who is is a man, born of a woman, the Blessed Virgin Mary, of Nazareth in Galilee, whom the magi visited in Bethlehem. The Unknown made Himself known by becoming Jesus.
Consistent agnosticism requires a lot of intellectual discipline. But believing in the Incarnation requires much, much more. We believe in the God-man. If it hadn’t happened, we’d be agnostics and skeptics. But it did happen. God revealed His own divine light, a light brighter than ten million gazillion suns. And that light shines on the face of Jesus. That light shines through Jesus’ eyes.
God has eyes and hands and feet. God has what we have—all of it, except sin. God could have continued to dwell in mysterious obscurity, remaining the ineffable “He Who is” forever. But He chose to become a child, a boy, a carpenter, a rabbi, an innocent man wrongly condemned, a victim of cruel crucifixion, a dead man, and a man who rose from the dead.
The unknowable God reveals Himself. So the agnostic discovers true knowledge of God. The skeptic discovers something to believe in.
We don’t believe in empty promises. We believe in Jesus, and His promises. God became the son of a pauper couple, Who took up His bitter cross, because His kingdom is not of this world. Nothing could be more intellectually demanding than believing in this incarnate God. Which, to any true skeptic, makes it all the more certain that it’s absolutely true.
No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father, except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal Him. (Matthew 11:27)
The bush burned, but the flame did not consume it. Moses grasped immediately: I am looking at something divine. I think we can understand the burning bush as a symbol of: the other human being. Any other human being. Any human being with whom I come into contact.
All of us have mysterious, practically unfathomable depths. I know that, within me, mysteries dwell. Ugly ones, and beautiful. The same goes for every other burning bush of a human soul.
I was reading a little essay by an interesting college-educated young man. He wanted to see “how the other half lived,” so to speak. So he got a job at a falafel joint not far from where I grew up.
Problem is, the young man could never quite relate to his Honduran co-workers as fellow human beings. To him, they simply represented a “class.” The young man was stuck in his own vision of the world, in which two fundamentally different species dwell, namely 1) Privileged white boys like himself, and 2) Other. So he gave up his experiment and concluded that the class divide cannot be bridged.
I give the young man credit for his honesty. What did he lack? What could have given him real success in his endeavor to get to know a fellow human being, a fellow human being who speaks Spanish and makes his living frying falafel? The young man never went down the one avenue that really does lead into another person’s soul: God. Revealed by Christ.
Our Holy Father Pope Francis practices a particular kind of spiritual life: the mysticism of the other person. He wrote in Evangelii Gaudium:
The only way is to learn how to encounter others with the right attitude, learning to find Jesus in the faces of others…a mystical fraternity, a contemplative fraternity. It is a fraternal love capable of seeing the sacred grandeur of our neighbor, of finding God in every human being. (91-92)
God will unfold the mystery of Himself before me, if I let Him move me to love my fellow human being, as a true brother or sister, to be loved as I love myself. Faith in the infinite mystery of God is the key. Faith in the eternal, mutual gaze of love that the Father and the Son exchange, the Holy Spirit.
Truly knowing another person, and truly knowing God, then, go together. If I want to know God, I must let Him meet me in my neighbor. And if I want to know my neighbor, I must abandon myself to the full, mysterious reality of the person who God made that neighbor to be. Which means simultaneously abandoning myself to the full, mysterious reality of who God made me to be.
Moses did not believe himself to be capable of executing this task. That troubled him.
But Moses did not have to trouble himself on another subject. The Lord made the answer to one important question perfectly clear.
Moses did not have to ask the Lord, “Lord, why should I lead Your people out of Egypt? I mean, sure, our life in Egypt involves bitter slavery. But if we march away, things will probably get even harder. We will leave behind the cucumbers and the melons and the leeks. Sure, we don’t have a whole lot of material resources these days. But if we march out, we will have even fewer.”
In these or similar words, Moses could have found himself asking the Lord, “Lord, why do this?” –if the Lord had left him in any doubt on that subject.
But the Lord left Moses in no doubt whatsoever as to why the Hebrews should march out of Egypt. The how was murky and daunting. But the why was clear. You will march out of Egypt and worship me here on this very mountain, saith the Lord.
I give you thanks, Father, Lord of heaven and earth. You have hidden the great mystery from the wise and the learned, and revealed it to the merest children. (Matthew 11:25)
Why should a parish church have four walls? Why should we heat and cool the building? We don’t show movies. At least not usually. We don’t peddle entertainment of any kind, really. Why pay the water bills, and gas and electric? Why keep the parking lot lined and paved? It’s no Wal-Mart. No merchandise lines the shelves. And no one teaches get-rich-quick-schemes, or yoga classes, or health-food diets.
In other words, we can’t find an earthly reason for all the fuss and bother over keeping a parish church going. Experts of all kinds could certainly teach us more efficient ways to run a community center, or a food pantry for the poor, or a support group.
But we keep the doors open and the lights on for one fundamental reason: Because we worship the Lord here. In Franklin County, Va.,* the good Lord made Scuffling Hill into the local Mount Sinai. This is where we are to worship God Almighty.
And when we do that, everything else falls into place. We who worship the living God can actually teach the “experts” a few things about coming together as a loving community, or about helping each other and the poor; we could teach the support-group facilitators a few things about supporting each other through thick and thin.
Because we do this: We do the most beautiful, most wonderful, most intimate thing that people can do together: We worship the one true God in the manner in which He Himself has directed us to worship Him.
The merest children know that everything begins with worshiping God. God is first. Everything comes from Him; everything is for Him. We worship Him; we worship Him alone; we do not worship anything else.
We do not worship money. We worship God; and God provides us with the money we need.
We do not worship each other. We worship God, and He gives us each other as brothers and sisters.
God first. The merest children know to put God first. When God comes first, everything else follows, just as it is meant to.