Venite Adoremus! The subject of this letter is veils. No, I do not mean the kind of veils that ladies wear in church, although there is a comparison to be made in that regard. (That ladies are to wear veils in church should hardly be controversial to our readers. This is, after all, a staple of Christian tradition and Catholic culture.) The veils I speak of are those which both reveal and conceal divine mysteries.
In the high school religion class that I teach, we have just begun studying the parables of Our Lord, so I am very “parable-minded” lately. According to the Scriptures, parables are meant to reveal divine truths: “All these things Jesus spoke in parables to the multitudes: and without parables he did not speak to them. That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying: I will open my mouth in parables, I will utter things hidden from the foundation of the world” (Matt. 13:34-35). Yet, paradoxically, Our Lord’s parables also conceal divine truths (cf. Matt. 13:11-15; Mark 4:11-12). It is plain that the words from Isaias quoted in those latter passages speak of the ill-willed, for whom Isaias’ preaching is not a help, but a hindrance. And the same was true of those who heard the preaching of Christ, yet refused to believe.
Jesus taught the meaning of the Parable of the Sower to his Disciples in private. He deliberately concealed the meaning from the multitudes. However, in sending His Disciples to preach with the “key” to the parables, Jesus was allowing the good-willed to learn from the teaching Church. “How shall you know all parables?” (Mark 4:13). Go to Jesus by going to His Church; that’s how.
There are simple teachings of Jesus that sectarians miss, e.g., the necessity of good works as expressed in the Barren Fig Tree; the inequality of merit as expressed in the parable of the Talents; the important role of the Church as expressed in the parable of the Good Samaritan; that the good and wicked exist side-by-side in the true Church, as taught by the parable of the Wheat and the Tares. That these and other things are passed over by “Bible-only Christians,” who prefer to spend their time on more difficult passages in Saint Paul or the Apocalypse is no surprise. The “key” to the parables has been given to the Church, and that is where those of good will can find it. The Catholic Church lifts the veils of Christ’s parabolic teachings.
The parables are not unique in this quality of simultaneously revealing and concealing. Poetry, too, puts a veil on what it expresses. Besides the aesthetic pleasure derived from the rhyme, meter, assonance, alliteration, and so forth, the joy of reading good poetry consists in trying to lift the veil that the poet has placed over the object of his own poetic contemplation. When the reader’s mind sees what lies under the veil, he and the poet are in solidarity, even in a sort of “communion” with one another.
God is a poet. He is an artist. The very best of human art can but haltingly express the grandeurs of His divine artistry. Brother Francis used to marvel over how well God keeps Himself hidden in creation so that the Act of Faith can remain meritorious, and yet: “The heavens shew forth the glory of God, and the firmament declareth the work of his hands” (Ps. 18:2). This is divine hide-and-seek.
Many of God’s works have this same double character. We often speak of the sacramental accidents of the Eucharist as “veils.” The priest holds the chalice and host aloft for our senses to behold and our minds to adore, yet we see only the veils — things that conceal. Faith and grace but partly lift the veils; vision and glory will remove them entirely in Heaven.
But the ultimate divine veil was the one with which the Word of God was clothed in the Incarnation, when He veiled Himself in human flesh. At once, this veil revealed the Son of God and concealed Him. It was an epiphany (a “manifestation”), but one so obscure that it could easily be missed.
When we behold the Madonna and Child — as we no doubt will on many a stamp and Christmas card this year (and perhaps a creche or two, where such things have not yet been outlawed) — we ought to remember that innumerable martyrs shed their blood to profess that Baby to be God, and that Mother to be the Theotokos: the All-Holy God-Bearer. As society tilts ever closer to neo-pagan tyranny, let us take comfort in the thought that we have the same blood coursing through our veins, and the same Faith enlightening our souls. The kingdom of heaven, hidden in plain view, is within us.