Saturday, May 26, 2018

God in Three Persons, Blessed Trinity


Many years ago, the Jesuits and Franciscans were offered a large, beautiful church in Rome, but didn’t know how to decide who should get it. So, they held a debate to settle the issue. Each Order sent their greatest theologian and to make it more interesting, they decided neither theologian would be able to speak. When the debate began, the Jesuit went first. He raised his hand and showed three fingers. The Franciscan looked back and raised one finger. The Jesuit waved his fingers in a circle around his head. The Franciscan pointed to the ground where he sat. Then Jesuit pulled out bread and a glass of wine. And the Franciscan pulled out an apple. Finally, the Jesuit said, “I give up. You are too good. The Franciscans win!”

The Jesuits asked their man what had happened. He said, “Well, first I held up three fingers to represent the Trinity. He responded by holding up one finger to remind me that there was only one God. Then I waved my finger around me to show him that God was all around us. He pointed to the ground to say God was right here with us. I pulled out bread and wine to show the power of the sacraments. He pulled out an apple to remind me of original sin. What could I do?”

Meanwhile, the friars also asked their man what happened. He said, “First he played hardball and said we had three days to get out of here. I told him not one of us was leaving. Then he told me that this whole place would be cleared of Franciscans and I let him know that we were staying right here.” “And, what happened next?” the friars asked. The friar said, “I don't know. He took out his lunch, so I took out mine.”

Today we celebrate the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity – the mystery of God as three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and still one God. It is a challenging mystery of faith. How can three things be one? St. Patrick famously explained this using the image of the shamrock – three leaves, yet one shamrock. The Catechism has this to say, “The mystery of the Most Holy Trinity is the mystery of God in Himself…The whole history of salvation is identical with the history of the way by which the one true God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, reveals himself to people.” Does that clear things up for you? Probably not. And yet, we can come to a better understanding of the Trinity in our lives – spiritually and intellectually.

We all remember what we did at the beginning of Mass today. It is the same thing we do at the beginning of every Mass. We did this and please join me. + In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. It is a familiar gesture that we do often more as a reflex than a conscious movement. But it is a gesture that points to today’s feast. When we are conscious of what we are doing in that act, it is a simple act of faith in the complexity of God who is revealed to us in the mystery of Trinity – Father, Son and Spirit.

I say “revealed to us” because we wouldn’t have a clue about the Trinity if Jesus didn’t tell us about it. Jesus talked about His Father in Heaven. He talked about Himself as the Son. He talked about sending us His Holy Spirit. This is what the Catechism means when it says, “The history of salvation is identical with the history by which God reveals himself.” God reveals Himself precisely as Trinity; as three Persons in one God. Although the Trinity is a mystery, it doesn’t mean it is mystifying; rather it is a mystery that God wants us to be drawn deeply into.

So, let’s think about that sign of the cross and how it draws us into mystery. First we touch our forehead and say, “In the Name of the Father…” When I hear those words, I think of the beauty of the trees, and flowers and plant life coming into bloom; I recall beautiful red sunsets at the beach as the setting sun shimmers on the water; the grandeur of the mountains; the feel of a warm breeze. I think of all the beautiful children who received First Communion a few weeks ago; the giggling and crying babies baptized; and the pride and happiness on the faces of their parents. I think of these things because God the Father is the Creator of a beautiful world – something that should always cause us to marvel. That finger on my forehead is a reminder of a God so in love with us that He sent His only Son to draw us back into His embrace. This same Father we speak of as “Our Father who art in Heaven.”

Next we move to our chest, to the place where our heart resides and say, “and of the Son.” Here I think of the love the Son of God showed us when He multiplied the loaves for the hungry, when He reached across social and racial barriers to Samaritans, when He made room at His table for outcasts and sinners, when He chased the scavengers away from woman caught in adultery hungry for her blood, when He gave the ultimate and agonizing proof of His love for us on the cross. “No one can have greater love than to lay down his life for his friends.”

We move to our shoulders and say, “and of the Holy Spirit.” We recall a Spirit who gives so widely of Himself that it takes the full span of our shoulders to remind us – left to right, from one side of the world to the other. And I think of God’s desire to be close to us; to be our friend, to be in our hearts; to be in here in Buzzards Bay, in Boston, Los Angeles, Afghanistan, Jerusalem, Rome, Tokyo and every corner of the world all at the same time. I think of the Holy Spirit as a the power in my life – as a great force for goodness and holiness, as one to turn to when decisions are to be made, as one who consoles us through difficult moments in our lives. With the Holy Spirit, we are never alone. God is always with us. What we span in blessing, the Holy Spirit strengthens in life so that we can shoulder our burdens and responsibilities.

And so, we come to the end of the blessing – the joining of hands and the concluding, “Amen.” And we remind ourselves that word “amen” means “so be it;” it is an expression of agreement, in is an act of faith in all that has gone before. And with that “amen” we renew our faith. I believe in you Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

My friends, may all the signs of the cross we make be a proclamation of our belief in a God who has revealed Himself to us as as Father, Son and Spirit. May it signal our acceptance of God’s love and our willingness to share that love with others. May the hands we join in faith be generous in giving and eager in helping others. May the life and love of the Trinity be reflected in our lives too. This is true meaning of the Most Holy Trinity in our lives.

May God bless us all + Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

What's in a name?


The Navy Chief noticed a new sailor and asked, “What’s your name?” “John,” the young man said. “Look,” said the Chief, “I don’t know what they’re teaching in boot camp nowadays, but I don’t call anyone by his first name. It breeds familiarity, and that breaks down authority. I refer to you by last name only; Smith, Jones, Baker, whatever. And you call me as ’Chief’. Am I clear?” “Aye, Aye Chief!” the sailor said. “So let me ask again, what’s your name sailor?” The man sighed and said, “Darling. My last name is Darling.” Without skipping a beat, the Chief said, “Okay, John, you’re dismissed.”

What’s in a name? We heard Jesus say, “Holy Father, keep them in your name that you have given me.” Keep them in your name. That phrase brings to mind the famous question pondered in Romeo and Juliet, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet.” Our Gospel invites us to ponder the same question, what is in a name? Just think of your family. One of the outward signs that unites a family are the common names we share. Last names and their meanings are important. First names are also important. For myself, every time someone tells me they are pregnant, I remind them what a beautiful name Thomas is. No takers yet. But, isn’t it a source of pride when the newest member of your family becomes your namesake?

Time Magazine recently had an interesting article about names. You know, not too long ago, Catholics always gave their children religious names – naming them after Biblical individuals or saints. Why? Because a name says something, means something. It says something about who we are, and it says something about who we hope to be. Today, though, we live in an age where names come from different sources – movies, television, sometimes just made up.

But, the good news, according to the Time article is that in the last 10 years, people are returning to Biblical names for their children. Among the top 10 boys names last year were Jacob, Michael, Noah and Anthony – all good Biblical or saintly names. Popular girls names are not necessarily Biblical, but definitely spiritual. Girls are being named things like Destiny, Genesis, Trinity and perhaps the most interesting one I saw, Nevaeh. That’s Heaven spelled backwards.

So, what’s in a name? We hear in Acts of the Apostles that it was in Antioch that the disciples were first called Christians; a name which means literally “little Christ.” This is a name that each of us has been given through the grace of our Baptism. We too are called Christians. We are called to be little Christ’s going out into the world witnessing to the One in whose Name we have been claimed. As we sing in the familiar hymn, “They will know we are Christians by our love.” It is up to each of us to claim the name we have been given, the name of the daughters and sons of God. It is up to us to live up to that name and all that it challenges us to and all that it promises.

So, what is in that name? Well, in the name of Jesus, the Son of God, since the day of our Baptism, we have been claimed for eternity; named for the Savior, welcomed into the family of God. In the name of Jesus, in this Church today, bread and wine will become His Body and His Blood. In the name of Jesus we will be blessed at the end of Mass. In the name of Jesus, sins are forgiven, the sick are healed, the blind can see, the deaf can hear, demons are driven out, the dead are raised. In the name of Jesus, we can pray for what we need with a confidence that what we ask for in His Holy Name will be granted. In the name of God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit, we were welcomed into this community of faith and it is in this same name that we will be commended to the joy of Heaven when our final day comes.

“Holy Father, keep them in your name.” Let us allow ourselves to be kept in God’s Name. Embrace the name of Chistian that has been given to you. Live as a daughter or son of God; as a little Christ in the world. We pray, in the words of the Divine Praises, “Blessed be God, blessed be His Holy Name.” And may we be blessed in the name He has given us.

May the Lord give you peace.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

"You were made for greatness!"


There is such a beautiful symmetry in our celebration today of the Ascension of Jesus. As we gather in this Church today, it has been 40 days since we celebrated the Easter Resurrection of Jesus from the dead. We know that God does great things in 40s. The world was renewed through the 40 days of the flood. God’s Chosen People were prepared to enter the promised land through 40 years in the desert. Jesus Himself spent 40 days in the desert before beginning His public ministry. We just spent 40 days of Lent preparing for Easter and now today, 40 days later, we celebrate the Ascension of Jesus. As a side note, is it just me or do the 40 days of Lent feel so much longer than the 40 days from Easter to today?

Jesus appeared to His disciples for 40 days after rising from the dead. Forty days of teaching them, 40 days of being with them, and now He has returned to be seated at the right hand of His Father. And because Jesus likes to spoil us there is still more to come; 10 more days of the Easter season; 10 more days to sit and pray with the wonder of Resurrection; 10 days to ready ourselves to celebrate the arrival of Christ’s promised gift of the Holy Spirit at the Feast of Pentecost which will then bring our Easter season to a close.

Let me say a word about ascension. In the Church year, we celebrate two feasts that sound similar – the Ascension of the Lord, and in August the Assumption of Mary, when she returned bodily to Heaven. So, what’s the difference between Ascension and Assumption? Well, it all comes down to who does the heavy lifting. Since Jesus is God, He does not need to be taken up – or assumed – into Heaven. He has the power to do this on His own, so under His own power, He simply ascends to Heaven. Mary of course, is not God, and does not have that power to ascend on her own. Someone else must bring her to Heaven and so God assumes her body and soul into Heaven. The same activity, but a different active party. But, they both point to the same reality – that we are all destined for Heaven; that Heaven is our truest home; that when we are saved, when we achieve the Kingdom that God has prepared, we will all be re-united in Heaven.

There is a story about the famous Trappist monk Thomas Merton. After his conversion to Catholicism, a friend of his asked a simple question, “Now that you are a Catholic, what do you want to be?” Merton said simply, “I guess I want to be a good Catholic.” His friend said, “What you should say is that you want to be a saint!” Merton said incredulously, “How do you expect me to become a saint?!” His friend responded, “By wanting to. All that is necessary to be a saint is to want to be one. Don't you believe that God will make you what He created you to be, if you will consent to let Him do it? All you have to do is desire it.”

My friends, we don’t gather here tonight to simply commemorate Jesus journey to the Father. We gather tonight in anticipation of our own sainthood. In one of his last statements before retirement, Pope Emeritus Benedict reminded us of just this. He said, “You were made for greatness!” Pope Francis has also picked up the theme, saying, “Do not be content to live a mediocre Christian life: walk with determination along the path of holiness.” If we believe all that we have heard these last 40 plus days – the trial, death and resurrection of Jesus – if we believe that He did those things for us then we must also believe that just as He returned to the Father in Heaven, we will too. And if we believe that we will return to Heaven; then we believe that God desires to make us saints because that is all that a saint is – someone who’s worthy of life in Heaven. Let us desire to be saints!

Jesus shows us what is possible if we live in His love, live in His ways. He gives us a command, “Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature.” It is as simple as that. Our mission is to bear witness to the Good News of Jesus Christ to everyone. We’re called to remember our commission; we’re called to be renewed in that mission today; to evaluate our lives in the light of that mission. After all, that is the only criteria for a successful life that matters. It doesn’t matter how much money we make or things we accrue. God’s only question will be how have you loved? How have you lived the Gospel, preached the Gospel in word and in deed? Have you desired to be a saint? Let us walk with determination on the path of holiness so that where Jesus has gone, we too may follow.

May the Lord give you peace.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Jesus is what God's love looks like


A little girl was showing her mother her collection of dolls one day. The mother asked, “Which one do you love most?” The girl pointed to a miserable, tattered looking doll and said that was her favorite. “Why do you love that doll most?” the mother asked. The girl answered, “Because that one needs my love more than the rest.”

Our second reading the First Letter of John reminded us, “Beloved, let us love one another because love is of God.” In fact, our Scriptures today and all week have focused on the nature of love – God’s love for us and His command that we love each other.

But, language is such an imprecise thing. Just think of how imprecise the word love is. We use the same word to talk about ice cream, music, spouses, and even God. Surely the way we love ice cream is different from the way we love God. In Greek, which most of the New Testament was written in, there are actually different words for love. The two used in the New Testament are philia or the love between friends; and agape, which is love in its highest form. Agape is the word used most often and it’s the one that St. John is using today when he speaks of the love from God that we are called to imitate in our own lives.

John today paints for us a picture of God’s love tells us why we should love, what love is about, and how we are to love. So, why love? Then John tells us why. “Because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.” John reminds us that love is from God, it finds its origin, its starting point in God. Living a life of love, therefore, is the way to be sure that we know God and that we are children of God; born of God. On the flip side, he tells us that if you don’t have love for others then quite simply you cannot know God. It is this simple: If we have love in our lives, we have God in our lives; and if we do not have love in our lives, we cannot have God either. God and love are two different words that mean the same thing. You cannot separate one from the other.

For example, we cannot claim to love God and have no care for the hungry, the homeless, the poor, the needy, the sick, and so on. To love God is to love them – all of them; in fact, especially those who are often difficult to love; or who have no love in their lives. To grow in our knowledge and love of God, we must endeavor to grow in our knowledge and love of our brothers and sisters, especially those most in need.

So, what does God’s love look like, and how does it differ from natural human love? John gives us a practical example. He says, “God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him.” So, Jesus is what God’s love looks like. Unlike much of human love, which is driven by self-interest, God is moved to love us not because He needed something but because we needed something which only He can give.

Human love starts with the question, “What is in it for me?” God’s love begins with the question, “What can I do for you?” Human love comes because we want to receive something, something like feeling good in the other’s company. God’s love it is about giving. That is why God’s gift of His only Son on the Cross becomes a climactic sign of the way God loves us and the model for the way we should love one another.

Finally, John brings his point home, “In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins.” My friends, God loves us unconditionally, God love us perfectly, completely, personally, and generously; God gives Himself to us in His Son; God’s love is freely, eagerly given.

We can sometimes view the command to love as just one of many things that God asks of us. Today John teaches us that love is, in fact, the only commandment; it is the source and motivation for all the other commandments. It should in fact be what defines our lives as believers. As they said of the Christians in Antioch so many centuries ago, should be said of us today, “See how these Christians love.”

May God, our loving Father, who is love itself; love incarnate, help us to purify our love for Him and multiply our love for one another, so that we can love as generously and as unconditionally as He loves us.

“Beloved, let us love one another, because love is of God.”

May the Lord give you peace.

Changing the impossible

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