Most Holy Trinity 2011 A

This weekend we celebrate the most Holy Trinity.  We recall how God is one in every way and yet God is three persons.  The Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God and God is one.  Math and logic fail and cannot explain this great mystery.

St. Thomas explains the Trinity in this way:

There is one God.

There are two processions: The generation of the Son and the breathing of the Spirit.

There are three persons: Father, Son and Spirit.

There are four relations: The Father has Paternity, the Son has filiation, the Father and the Son actively breathe the Spirit, and the Holy Spirit is passively breathed.

There are five notions:  the Father has no origins, is generative and breathes, the Son generates and breathes, and the Spirit is breathed.

Aquinas says, “So there are five notions, four relations, three persons, two processions, one nature, and no proof.”

The Trinity cannot be approached through speculation or thought; the Trinity is approached only through a bond of love.  Just as the persons of the Trinity are completely united in love with one another, so too are we supposed to make their love a reality in our own relationships.  Rather than knowledge, St. Paul continually reminds his readers that the effects of the Trinity are knowable despite the Trinity being unknowable.  This is what allows St. Paul to write, “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the Love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you.”  This relational God is radically open to all creation.

The Trinity is the pattern of our families, our workplaces, and our community.  We gather at this Eucharist to praise all three persons.  We pray to the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit.  We ask to be joined to them while on earth, and pray to be joined with them with the saints in heaven. 

Feast of Pentecost A 2011

There are many images of the Holy Spirit provided by the Scriptures.  The Holy Spirit is called the Paraclete, the Advocate, and the Consoler.  The Holy Spirit is associated with tongues of fire, with a dove, and with wind.  Each image in its own way reveals something about the Spirit.  The Spirit defends us in the midst of danger, strengthens us when we are weak, supports us in the midst of desolation, consoles us in the midst of loss.  The Spirit gives us words of wisdom which confounds human wisdom.  The Spirit allows us to utter Jesus is Lord when we cannot comprehend this truth.  The Spirit dwells in us so that we can share in the gifts and the fruits of the Spirit.

There are a number of t.v. shows out about people recreating themselves.  The Biggest Loser is about people trying to discover their inner thin self.  People go on Dr. Phil to seek advice and to modify their behaviors. Continually we seek to recreate ourselves by going to school, by dieting, by exercising, by taking on a new hobby, by volunteering, and numerous other ways. Rather than merely recreating ourselves, we must ask for the Holy Spirit to recreate us.

At baptism we were given this Spirit and at confirmation we received the sacramental fullness of the Holy Spirit.  The Spirit is near to us even closer to us than we are to ourselves.  How often do we call upon the Spirit or remind ourselves that we and others are temples of the Spirit?

When Jesus breathed the Holy Spirit upon those who believed in him, this gift transformed their innermost being. They went from residing in a locked room due to fear fear to boldly preaching the good news.  Believers could work miracles of healing, bring forgiveness to the lost, and provide assistance to the destitute. 

The Holy Spirit wants to come upon us and recreate us but it is difficult to let God work in us.  It means we have to let go of our own dreams and our own hopes while trusting that his plan is greater than we can fathom.  It’s not always easy, even the apostles probably thought to themselves this is absolutely crazy.  They brought others good news and in doing so they put their lives at stake.  Perhaps this should remind us of the many people who want to bring freedom to others only to lose their lives in the process.  In the end, they remained faithful because the presence of the Holy Spirit gave them peace and joy.

Feast of the Ascension 2011 A

Today’s Gospel has that fascinating line about the disciples seeing the risen Lord.  They worshiped Jesus and yet at the same time the doubted.  It seems paradoxical; how can we worship what we doubt?  And yet isn’t the majority of our life full of doubt?  

Deacon Steve gave an excellent homily last weekend and in the midst of his homily he spoke about the earthly presence of Jesus vs. the spiritual and heavenly presence of Christ.  The limited earthly presence of Jesus ended so that he could be everywhere for all generations.  The great saints and mystics and the learned church fathers all make this same point.  I think it shows how great these men and women are and how I am not there yet.  Rather than letting the earthly presence of Jesus go, I am like Mary Magdalene who longs to hold on to the physical presence of Christ.  As storms go through areas leaving behind devastation, I think of Jesus who calmed the storms.  As loved one die, I want to cry out those words of Martha and Mary, “if you Jesus had been here, my relative would still be alive.”  I think of the hungry that Jesus could feed.  I think of the father who lost his two children in the tornado.  At least if Jesus had been here, such tragedies would not happen.

Dr. Eleonore Stump writes these words about Mary Magdalene: In these circumstances (i.e. the death of Jesus), she forms a plan.  She watches till he is taken down dead from the cross, and she marks where they put his dead body.  She gathers the necessary things and waits, as she must, till the time is right and the coast is clear.  Then she goes to the tomb to anoint him.  If she could not comfort him in his dying, she can anoint his body after his death.  It must have been her heart’s desire to do so.  How much she had her heart in that plan is shown by her reaction to its failure.  When she came to the tomb and found his body missing, she wept hard…there is no other biblical story in which angelic visits have so little impact on the person being visited.  In her heartbrokenness over not being able to anoint the body of Jesus, Mary Magdalene brushes off even angels.”

And so we return to the Gospel, and the apostles of Jesus have seen the glorious Christ and yet they still do not believe.  Jesus returned time after time and yet they still do not understand; rather they doubt.  Instead of Jesus answering questions, or somehow proving that he is alive and glorified, Jesus assures his disciples that he is with them always.  That invisible presence is difficult for us to believe in because we are bodily.

On one of the walls at Auschwitz, there is a poem inscribed on a wall.  This poem reminds us that sometimes faith and grace are difficult.

There is grace, though,

And wonder, on the way.

Only they are hard to see,

Hard to embrace, for

Those compelled to

Wander in darkness.

May the Eucharist give us hope and courage to believe even in those moments of doubt and discouragement.  Jesus promises us that we are never alone.

Fifth Sunday of Easter A 2011

Last week, a good priest friend of mine attended a conference on Hispanic ministry.  He informed me how different gestures suggest completely different things in a different cultural context.  For instance, when we signal for someone to come here, we make a gesture with our hands.  That same gesture means something completely different for the Hispanics; it means wanting to know someone in the biblical sense of knowing.  A Hispanic person would never extend their hands to say that a person is growing like we do.  That gesture is reserved for inanimate objects, but not people or animals. 

Besides gestures assuming different meanings in different cultures, so too do words.  Even literal translations often fail.  Famously, Pepsi’s “Come alive” campaign was misunderstood in Chinese.  Pepsi was understood as saying, “come out of the grave with Pepsi” or “Pepsi will bring your ancestors back from the dead.”  Now if it were true, I think Pepsi would win the coke wars.

I say this because today’s first reading shows the complexity of diversity.  The Book of Acts begins with a message of hope.  The earliest Christians were united in mind and spirit.  But we know how quickly the ideal was lost.  In today’s reading we hear how two groups were fighting with one another – the Gentile Christians fought against the Jewish Christians.  Tensions arose because they followed different customs, spoke different languages, and had different histories.  The oneness that they had in Christ was divided. 

The Gentile Christians felt as if their widows were neglected as the Jewish Christians were in charge of distributing the food, so they called upon the apostles who appointed seven men to serve these tasks.  .  Often, these seven are thought to be the first deacons; however, there is another tradition that dates back to St. John Chrysostom who believed these were the first priests.  After all, even though they were appointed to carry out rather mundane tasks, several of them left the area and became missionaries in their own right.  We know nothing about Steven’s service to the widows but we hear how he boldly proclaimed Jesus Christ and was crucified.  We hear about how Philip left and started evangelizing non-Jewish people.  These first deacons or priests recognized that there was an injustice that had to be corrected.

In our own day, division in our church is widespread.  One hundred years ago, ethnic churches were widespread.  It was not enough to be Catholic, but one was an Irish Catholic, a German Catholic, a French Catholic, an English Catholic, a Polish Catholic, or a Lithuanian Catholic.  These groups often mistrusted one another.  Today we are blest in the United States with many immigrants from Asia, Africa, and the Central and Southern America’s and there is still widespread mistrust among various groups.  Even when all people have the same language or culture, we segregate people and forget that the Holy Spirit is involved in the diversity as much as the Holy Spirit unites all people together.  We still need reconcilers to bring people to a greater understanding and respect for one another and to foster unity in the midst of diversity.  The Catholic Church can embrace any language or culture because God is at work in them.  At this Eucharist, we pray to be open to the Gentiles in our own day. 

Fourth Sunday in Easter A 2011

“Save yourself from this corrupt generation” says today’s first reading from the Book of Acts.  This is good advice, but can we focus on saving ourselves if we see our brothers and sisters or our children going astray?  Doesn’t love entail that we cannot only seek our own salvation?  We cannot merely say that the world can collapse and go with the devil as long as I am saved. 

One of the problems in the Christian tradition is balancing salvation.  Is salvation something that we receive as individuals or as members of communities of faith?  At different times we focus on one often to the exclusion of the other.  Simply, we need both but the balancing act is difficult.

Prior to Vatican II, salvation was something experienced as individuals.  Even when we came to mass, we read privately from our missals or individually prayed our rosaries.  At Vatican II, something happened; many of the bishops had been in concentration camps or prisoner of war camps.  In these troubled places, they began to minister to all people regardless of their religious beliefs.  This experience taught them that the church has a social mission and they began emphasizing the communal aspect of salvation.

As a result, when we pray the mass, we do so as a community.  The mass is no longer the prayer of the priest or a select few individuals.  In the years following Vatican II, we saw many neglecting the private devotions which sustained the faith of ordinary Catholics prior to the council.  Even theologians who were considered more liberal began questioning the optimism of the council as well as the confusion it created because the world and the church were no longer distinct entities.

So what does this all mean?  We as church must worry about our own salvation.  We should pray to be saved and attempt to live in accordance with God’s plan.  At the same time, we cannot neglect the larger community.  We cannot say that as long as I am saved, it does not matter what happens to you.

Jesus cares about his sheep and that is why he is the Good Shepherd.  Shepherds in the time of Jesus, would bring their sheep into an area with a rocky fence at night to protect them.  As the sheep slept, the shepherd would lay across the entrance; the shepherd is literally the gate keeping out the wild animals and protecting the sheep.  The shepherd lays down his life for his sheep.

If Jesus watches over the flock, including sheep that do not belong to him, then we too must be concerned with those who are not members of the church.  Even if we cannot agree with them, we must pray for them, provide for them, and show them God’s love. May this Eucharistic celebration help us to urgently work towards our own salvation and the salvation of others.

Third Sunday in Easter A 2011

If you look for the village of Emmaus on a map, you will probably be disappointed because the biblical Emmaus will not be listed.  Several towns claim to be the authentic village of Emmaus, but scholars have taken each claim to task.  Outside of the New Testament, there is no record of a town named Emmaus that close to Jerusalem.  So why does Luke recount the name of the village?  Perhaps, Emmaus is not supposed to be the name of any town.  We could substitute Evansville or Walsh or Sparta or Washington D.C. or Rome or Lourdes for the name Emmaus.  Each of us are on a journey and this journey is often disheartening. 

Imagine, you see Cleopas walking with his wife away from Jerusalem; they are downcast since they left their families, friends, jobs, and possessions to follow Jesus.  They saw him hang upon the cross and die.  Now they were returning home; they were thinking to themselves how foolish they had been.  Jesus was going to be the savior of Israel; he the Messiah would liberate his people from the Romans who occupied their country.  It was all over.  Perhaps they stayed by the cross just to see Jesus manifest his power there and convince all people that he was God.  But Jesus didn’t; rather, the breathed out his spirit and all that remained was his dead, lifeless, body.

Along the way comes this stranger who catches up to them.  After all, they were depressed and in no hurry to return to the scoffs of their former friends and family.  Jesus slows down and begins to speak with them but they cannot recognize him.  Sometimes in our own sorrow and grief we cannot recognize the people we love are there next to us.  After expressing disappointment, Jesus begins to teach them the scriptures.  Finally, as they were stopping for the evening, they begged this stranger to join them.

It was when Jesus took the bread that they realized who he was.  Jesus was gone, then he appears, and then he immediately departs.  Amazed and on fire, they had to return to share this news with others.  They left the safety of their lodging to travel as darkness approached.  It was risky to travel then but the news was so important that danger could not detain them. 

Today we hear the word of God and celebrate the breaking of bread.  Like these two, we are sent forth to share the wondrous deeds of God with others.  Each of us are walking and awaiting that encounter with Jesus; perhaps he is right beside us but like these disciples, we cannot see.

Holy Saturday 04/27/2011
Holy Saturday 2011

We meet this Great Day of our Lord’s victory over sin and death with the paschal fire lit; we have lit the Easter candle—Christ's light—from the fire and proclaimed his Resurrection in the song of the Exsultet. Then we entered, by means of a series of readings, the history of salvation.  God liberated his people from slavery and gave them true freedom.  God rose up the prophets who continually called his people to conversion and a new way of life.  Tonight we celebrate the victory of good over evil, of Life over death. It is not possible to grasp the mystery of the Resurrection except by returning to the beginning and understanding how God has lead his people to salvation.

Finally, we arrive at the moment in which the two Mary’s were at the tomb.  It was there that they heard the message that Jesus was raised from the dead.  Instead of remaining, and celebrating, they were sent to share this good news with others.  Tonight we are at our own tombs of doubt, despair, sadness, death, addiction, sickness, and so much more.  Tonight we are sent for Jesus Christ’s victory is now our victory.  Christ not only revealed to us the victory of life over death, but brought us, with his Resurrection, the New Life. He gave us this new life.

Tonight we renew our promises that we made in baptism.  May the use of this water dispel evil from our midst.  May the sacrament of the Eucharist allow us to partake in Christ’s victory here and now.

Passion Sunday A 2011

The controversial theologian Jacques Pohier published a book some years ago entitled, God In Fragments.  He states that our understanding and our experiences of God is rather fragmentary.  According to Pohier, we try to assemble these fragments into some meaning.  With today’s Gospel being so long, I wish to just give you some fragmentary thoughts.

Jesus goes to the Mount of Olives.  This is where King David went as he flees from his son Absolom.  David weeps there when he finds out his own advisor sold him out.  Jesus goes and weeps because he was betrayed by Judas, his own friend.  Like Jesus, we weep over betrayal and loss.

A follower uses a sword to defend Jesus.  Those who live by the sword shall perish by it.  We live by the sword.  We trust in guns or the tanks or bombs more than angels or God.  The weapons in our heart which we use against our neighbor are so often used on us.

The crowd chooses Barabbas.  The name Barabbas means son of the father.  Jesus is the true son and yet another claims his position.  Maybe we make claims that we cannot fulfill.  Perhaps we believe that we can save the world.  Or we believe the claims of others which are not true and only keep us from the truth.

God hangs on the cross.  Not much changes over time.  God is stuck in-between two criminals.  I lack such abasement and humility.  I want the throne and the scepter but his throne is the cross, his crown is thorns, and the scepter is the nails.  I want to be in the company of honest, wealthy, reputable people, but not Jesus who is in the midst of sinners, tax collectors, the sick, and the possessed.

The Jews call for the blood of Jesus to be on them and their children.  They do not know what they ask.  Some use this passage to condemn Jews as forsaken by God, yet it is the blood of Jesus that brings forgiveness.  Even though they do not understand, they ask for salvation.  If the blood of Jesus is on them then they are forgiven, they are washed clean.

Jesus fails completely.  He began full of hopes and dreams but he failed.  Few people listened and acted on his words.  The people he was sent to save rejected his message and killed him.  We too are failures.

The centurion recognizes who Jesus is only after Jesus died.  Maybe we only recognize the greatness of others until it is too late.  The centurion is an outsider but he makes a confession of faith.  Perhaps we exclude other people as outsiders but their confessions of faith can be greater than ours.

The tomb is a sign of death.  There is no hope because the dead do not rise.  As the psalm says, “neither do those who go into the pit await your kindness.”  It is over so we should return to our old way of living.  Or is there another chapter to be written that will change death into a promise of hope?

Fourth Sunday of Lent A 2011

People want simple answers to complex questions.  Why does God allow pain and suffering in this world?  Why does God permit that earthquakes and tsunami’s to kill off entire villages and cities?  These questions lack a simple resolution.  Theologians distinguish between God’s will, which is absolute, and God’s consequential will in which God permits these evils but without willing them.  Theologians also distinguish between natural evil, in which lions eat zebras, from moral evil in which humans sin.  These are complex distinctions that one can spend a lifetime attempting to resolve.  The opponents of Jesus want a simple answer to a complex question.  Why was this man born blind?  He was born in sin.  He is a sinner.  His parents are sinners.  Now we can move on and eat lunch or so they thought.  Case closed!

Jesus will have none of that but instead says something ambiguous.  Jesus says this man was born blind so that “the works of God might be made visible through him.”  That may be true for this man, but what about the thousands of people who are blind today and are not healed?  Why are they blind O Lord?  There is no simple answer.

This man born blind is then healed by Jesus and yet many did not believe that such an event could happen.  How could Jesus heal when he broke the laws regarding the Sabbath?  Moreover, this Jesus took credit for this miracle instead of God.  Who did this Jesus think he was?  He was making himself into God!

Finally, the opponents of Jesus summoned this man’s parents.  The text says that his parents were afraid of the Jews.  More than likely they were Jewish.  Even if they were not, they would have been living in a predominately Jewish area.  That would be like someone living in Washington DC being afraid of the American’s.  They were afraid because to be kicked out of the synagogue meant that they would lose everything dear to them, their social standing, their religious faith, and even their livelihood. 

This man born blind had nothing to lose.  He lived his life begging but now Jesus healed him and gave him a chance to live.  The one who had no sight now was able to see that Jesus was God.  It was the ones who could see that were blind and the ones who were blind that could see.  At this Eucharist we ask God to open our eyes that we abandon our simple answers to encounter Jesus who transcends what we can say or think.

Let’s stay with the woman at the well a bit longer and reflect on her experience.

I went about my daily routine of getting water from the well around noon when Jesus came.  It seems like a small detail to mention the time of the event, but it is an important detail.  Respectable women went to the well early in the morning or late in the day when the temperatures were cooler.  I could not go during those times because I was an outcast.  The other women had threatened me, warning me to stay far from their husbands. 

Then a strange man came up to me and began speaking with me.  First, this man was a Jew so he should not speak to me a Samaritan.  Secondly, a rabbi or a holy man would never speak with a woman he did not know.  He had no business speaking with me but he did so.  I was surprised but soon his words began to puzzle me.  He began telling me about this water that he gives.  I wanted to have this water so I did not have to return to the well.  Jesus then told me to get my husband.  In the midst of our conversation I forgot who I was.  What could I say?  I did not want to lie but I could not tell the truth.  No one would accept me if I was honest.  So I told him that I do not have a husband.  Little did I know that he already knew I was married five times and was now living with another man.

I was scared so I asked him where I could legitimately pray.  Since I was a Samaritan I prayed where Jews used to pray before the temple was constructed in Jerusalem.  Jesus assured me that we must worship in spirit and truth.  Little did I know that I was speaking to the Messiah.  When he revealed to me who he was, I ran off into town and began telling other people what I witnessed.  I was an outcast but now I was a messenger of the greatest news in town.  The people were skeptical and initially only a few people went out to see Jesus.  Word began to spread and more and more people came to encounter Jesus.  Many believed in Jesus and our lives were never the same again.  This encounter with Jesus was an existential moment that changed how I understood my life.
At this Eucharist we have an encounter with Jesus Christ who gives us the food and drink of eternal life.  May this sacrament strengthen us so that God may transform us as he transformed this sinful woman.