Saturday, February 10, 2007

Almost a hundred years ago, the philosopher Friedrich von Hügel described how we progress towards God. He wrote of an initial institutional stage, followed by a critical stage, and culminating in what he called a mystical stage. By 'mystical' he didn't mean magic or heavenly voices, but rather this: age makes us realise that we have seen it all, and brings us to know that good and evil, like the wheat and cockle of the parable, coexist not merely in countries and institutions, but in each of us. Pitch darkness and pure light are seldom the order of the day, but we learn to live with both, light emerging out of darkness. We do the best we can, and are ready to renounce the seductions of having the perfect formulation of reality, or the perfect formula for everyone's life.

In the mystical phase we still carry with us the institutional phase: we still love the sights and sounds of worship well carried out, and the sense of participating in a great body of believers. We have not left the critical phase behind, but carry it with us: we use our heads about our religion, and have no illusions about the weaknesses of Jesus' followers - after all, Peter, the first Pope, had to live with the memory of denying the Lord publicly, again and again. But when we have argued about all the great questions of human existence, especially the mystery of evil, we realise that we rely more on the gift of faith than on clear-cut reason.

From today's

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