Truth in a Name

Today we pick up where we left off at Ash Wednesday, we are back in Ordinary Time.  Our time for intense celebration and reflection on the works of our Lord gives way to learning how to be His disciples. But first, we attend to two great celebrations next week we celebrate Corpus Christi, and today we celebrate the Holy Trinity.

The Feast of the Holy Trinity is unusual, indeed singular, in the celebrations of the Liturgical Year.  Whereas other feasts celebrate actions of Lord such as the Nativity, Good Friday, Easter; or the result of His action such as feast days for saints and our blessed Mother; today we celebrate the very mystery of God.  Today, we celebrate who God is, we celebrate the central mystery of the Christian Faith. CCC states:

The mystery of the Most Holy Trinity is the central mystery of Christian faith and life. It is the mystery of God in himself. It is therefore the source of all the other mysteries of faith, the light that enlightens them. It is the most fundamental and essential teaching in the “hierarchy of the truths of faith”. The whole history of salvation is identical with the history of the way and the means by which the one true God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, reveals himself to men “and reconciles and unites with himself those who turn away from sin”’[1]

That is what we are celebrating – the central mystery of our whole faith – it is that important.  Out of the infinite aspects we can reflect on – three points come quickly to mind.

First. God has chosen to reveal Himself to us.
He chose to reveal himself to us– this not something we can figure out ourselves. It is God who brought to us who He is. Through history He started to make us aware of who he is. But it is Christ, who makes whole the revelation of who He is.

Second – And reveals to us that He is a Trinity.
‘The Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Because that is who He is; One God three persons. There is no other name by which He can go by. Creative as we can be there nothing we can do to repackage this.  God is a Holy Trinity, 3 persons in 1 God; He Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Christ said so, the whole bible speaks of this in hidden ways until Jesus proclaims it openly and clearly.

From the meeting of Abraham in Mamre:
The Lord appeared to Abraham by the oak of Mamre, as he sat in the entrance of his tent, while the day was growing hot. Looking up, he saw three men standing near him. When he saw them, he ran from the entrance of the tent to greet them; and bowing to the ground, he said: “Sir, if it please you, do not go on past your servant.[2]

To the words of Christ in John: ‘Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.[3] And today’s Gospel and of course Christ’s great commission ‘Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit…[4]

Three – He is relational.
As creatures we are limited in our ability to explain the unexplainable; but we try. There have been some rather clever attempts throughout history to try and explain what a Holy Trinity is like. We have all heard the comparison credited to St. Patrick of a three leaf clover; or the likening of the Trinity to a piano chord and so on.  These comparisons are good as far as they go to describing the unity within the Trinity; but recently, in past 60 years or so, there have other attempts to describe the Trinity; attempts that actually do damage to our understanding.

Creator, Redeemer, Sanctifier or Creator, Liberator, Sustainer have been used. They have not only been used to explain the Trinity but they have, sadly, been used in the Sacrament of Baptism to replace Father, Son and Holy Spirit. These are very disturbing because they reduce the Trinity to actions or jobs, and most importantly, they erase the Trinitarian reality of God. For instance the Father is creator, and so is the Son and the Holy Spirit; The Son is the redeemer and so are the Father and Holy Spirit and the same goes with Sanctifier. Though we attribute some attributes to each of the persons for convenience, as in our opening prayer when we heard ‘the Spirit of sanctification[5], in truth all three hold all attributes, as evidenced by the prayer over the offerings we are about to hear: ‘Sanctify by the invocation of your name, we pray, O Lord our God.[6] These attempts have caused grave damage to the faithful to the point that Holy Mother Church is requesting those who went through a baptism with these ‘labels’ to be found, for they were not baptized. No, these names are not the same as what God Himself revealed to us – and for that reason alone we should not use them.  But, there is a deeper import, revealed to us, for using Father, Son and Holy Spirit. 

God is love!!!!!!
Love is relational!  God, in His very being is self-giving total love, to be that means to love others just because they are other. The Father loves the Son, He does everything for the Son. The Son likewise, does everything for the Father. And this is so perfect that it is the third person the Holy Spirit. God’s revelation to us as Father, Son and Holy Spirit allows us into the inner part of our creator – not what He does but who He is – Love.

Brothers and sisters, this is why the Catechism says the mystery of the Holy Trinity is central: ‘It is the most fundamental and essential teaching in the “hierarchy of the truths of faith”.[7] God is Love, He offers Himself totally, and all of His revelation and His actions towards us should us bring us to the realization that this is what we should do as well. God has revealed His nature to us to allow us to strive for and participate in it – we are made in His image after all.  So, as we start into the great school of discipleship, Ordinary Time, let’s look within and ask ourselves how we are doing in trying to understand the great and central mystery of our faith.

How is our participation in this mystery doing?
How are we in living a life of self-giving love?
Our answers to these questions are the only and true gauge of our understanding this mystery of the Trinity.

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[1] Catechism of the Catholic Church ¶234
[2] Genesis 18:1-3
[3] John 14:9
[4] Matthew 28:19
[5] Collect from the Mass of the Solemnity of the Holy Trinity
[6] Prayer over the Offerings from the Mass of the Solemnity of the Holy Trinity
[7] Catechism of the Catholic Church ¶234

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Making People Hungry

This weekend we are back in Ordinary Time; but in spite of the change in liturgical seasons we are still contemplating what was started in the Christmas season – the great epiphanies of Christ. Today, we finish with the last of the four great events that, by the way, the Feast of the Epiphany originally celebrated. The Nativity of our Lord, the Visit of the Magi, the Baptism of our Lord in the Jordan River, and now the Wedding Feast at Cana.

We are also one month into the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy called by Pope Francis. There has been quite a lot of interest and activity already, which is a good thing. My worry, however, is that if we are not careful this celebration of the Year of Mercy might cloud the great initiative already in progress – The New Evangelization. This would be a tragedy because they fit so well together – indeed they have the same goal. The initiative of the New Evangelization is to bring Christ to those who have forgotten Him; to bring the Face of Mercy Himself to those who have forgotten what God has to offer His creation.

With any ministry and mission we are always looking for ways to implement them; the New Evangelization is no different. As faithful disciples we should always look to Jesus and see how He accomplished His mission on earth; in order to gain insight into how we should participate with Him. In this case – how do we continue to bring His face of Mercy, and what it involves, to those who have forgotten or never knew Him. With these celebrations of the four Epiphanies we can go back and look at how Christ brought Himself to the world.

The Nativity in Bethlehem.
Christ comes first to a family. His presence, the presence of divine mercy enters mankind through a family. It is true that the love and mercy of a mother and father to their child was always there, and Mary and Joseph come to know what this love and mercy is about.  They feel it well up in them and pour it forth on this little and defenseless baby. They knew He was God – but I have to believe that in Bethlehem that realization took a back seat to the love of a parent for their child.  But Christ’s presence brings a holiness to this relationship of parent and child, as well as to the relationship of a family. His presence, His love and mercy, elevates the dynamic of a family to something different, something holy, sacred.

The Visit of the Magi.
The world, in the personage of the Magi, comes to the great king, announced by an amazing cosmic display. But when the meeting happens, I can’t help but believe it is just three tired, worried and worn out journeyman visiting a poor rural family with a toddler. And yet their hearts are moved by what they see; they are fulfilled. The world comes face to face with Mercy Himself as they enter this house of a family filled with sanctity.  These outsiders are affected by what radiates from a family, they are changed; or as St. Matthew states more poetically: ‘they departed for their country by another way[1] Mercy is introduced through a normal encounter– not the extraordinary.

The Baptism of the Lord in the River Jordan.
Christ, now an adult, is shown to those at the river as a chosen one of God. Mercy is made known by God Himself. And though it comes in the form of a profound mysterious event it comes during an event with the townsfolk of the region. Christ comes to the river with them and comes out of the river as they do; He is one of them. Mercy is made known through a neighbor and human social activity.

The Wedding Feast of Cana.
Christ, now with a few followers makes His first outward act of a miracle. His changing the water into wine wipes away doubt from His disciples who came with Him that He is special. But, just what was the event that He used. Christ, used the event of a wedding, a special but still common occurrence; and not only that but He used six relatively common vessels used to hold water, to show that Mercy was among the people.  He took the ordinary and raised it to the Holy.

Our Model and Our Turn
Brothers and sisters, as we try to contemplate our part in this much needed New Evangelization let’s look to Christ’s actions in these epiphanies as our model. Christ, in all of these moments, took what he was experiencing, took His daily events and raised them, sanctified them by His actions.  Now, some you might be thinking that – well, He was God and He had special gifts that allowed Him to do this; but, I urge you to reread the second reading today. St. Paul tells the Corinthians and us that we too have been given talents to help the face of Mercy be made known. ‘There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; there are different forms of service but the same Lord; there are different workings but the same God who produces all of them in everyone.[2] St. Paul proclaims and then goes on to list a few of the inexhaustible gifts given to us. God has not left us without tools to reintroduce the face of mercy.

My friends – what these epiphanies show us is that our part of Christ’s mission to bring His face to everyone is to take normalcy and raise it to holiness – to always sanctify every moment of our day. This is our task, this is our obligation to He who showed us mercy first; not by clever words but by holy action. Sanctify the workplace, sanctify the home, sanctify the public square; with fearlessness and love. By these actions the people around us will hunger for what we have.

Out part is to make people hungry – Christ will feed them.

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[1] Mt 2:12
[2] 1 Cor 12:4

God’s Gift

Fifty-seven years ago, on the Feast of St. Bruno, (founder of the Carthusians) I was offered by my family into another, the family of Christ. October 6th, 1957 I was baptized and from that time forward, whether I knew it or not I was now surrounded by the eternal family of God.  Not that God’s family didn’t care for me prior, they did – but on that day I became a member. Today’s Gospel gives us a powerful vision of what happened on that day, for what happened to Jesus happened to each of us. ‘And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens opened and the Spirit descending upon him like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, “Thou art my beloved Son; with thee I am well pleased.”[1]  Not that we saw the physical manifestation of the sky opening and the Holy Spirit descending but it happen that way nonetheless.  God, and along with Him His family, rejoiced as I became a member.

But in addition, God didn’t just take notice of me at my baptism; He has forever known and loved me, or as Pope Francis puts it: ‘we were personally chosen even before the creation of the world…[2] Wow! I was important prior to the creation of the world. The first line of Genesis could be rewritten: ‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth, [but before that He chose me]’[3]

And so with each of you.

This inclusion into the Family of God should bring great joy and peace.  Knowing that we are never alone and that our brothers and sisters are watching out for us is a great blessing. It should, but it doesn’t always; life and our shortcomings have a way of clouding our vision to what is really important – we need reminders.

So, here we are on the last day of the Season of Christmas, it winds down after Vespers; and how does Holy Mother Church finish the season of the Nativity of the Lord? With a celebration about being part of Christ’s family.  For me this Feast of the Baptism of Lord is a perfect closing to Christmas; it takes all that we have celebrated and reflected on and launches us into the rest of the year by reminding us that we are not alone – we belong.  Not only did Christ come down to us and enter our existence within a family; but He allows us to become part of His eternal family.

St. Paul, in his beautiful opening to his letter to the Ephesians puts it poetically: ‘He destined us in love to be his sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace which he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.[4]

God gives great Christmas gifts!

Merry Christmas!!

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[1] Mk 1:10-11 (RSV)
[2] Pope Francis – Homily October 6, 2014 at Domus Sanctae Marthae
[3] Genesis 1:1 adapted  (RSV)
[4] Ephesians 1: 5-6 (RSV)

Do I Like To Do Laundry?

Most every Sunday evening, as we have just done, Holy Mother Church proclaims Revelation 19:1-7, for her Vesper Canticle.  It is known as the ‘Wedding of the Lamb’ and we celebrate the feast and hope that we can also take part.  Of course we take part in its anticipatory celebration, the Mass, but we look to eternity in hope that we can be there as well.

The first reading from Isaiah[1] beautifully describes this hope.  We hear a wonderful vision of the eternal banquet, the wedding banquet of the Lord; where rich food and wine flows, the veil of sin is no more and death is destroyed – tears will be wiped away. We will finally see what our hearts have yearned for: “Behold our God, to whom we looked to save us! This is the LORD for whom we looked; let us rejoice and be glad that he has saved us![2]

And the most important thing we hear from Isaiah today is the first line: ‘On this mountain the Lord of hosts will provide for all peoples…[3]  God offers this feast to all.

However, Jesus’ parable[4] to the Pharisees, that we hear today, points out to us that not everyone decides to accept this invitation – a very sad but true actuality.  Just as Adam turned his back to God in the Garden of Eden – mankind turns their back on His perpetual invitation to the heavenly wedding banquet.   Jesus’s parable gave me 2 points of consideration:

In the parable we see that personal possessions and temporal desires can blind us to the importance of this invitation.  Some of the invitees went back to their farm or businesses.  Their narrow and shallow field of vision kept them from seeing what was really of value. Or maybe they felt they had more immediate pressing issues and that they could always accept another invitation in the future.

I have to wonder:
What is my attitude towards this invitation? Do I disregard it for my own self-perceived desires and possessions?  Do I wave it off thinking that I can always accept the Lord’s invitation sometime in the future?

As Jesus continues we learn that just because the people were invited didn’t mean that they could come as they are.  We see that one man hadn’t gone through the custom of wearing a wedding garment; he didn’t prepare.   This might seem a bit harsh to us but Jesus was trying to point out that we need to participate in this invitation. This garment isn’t something that we need to find, it was given to us a baptism. When we are baptized we hear (or at least would if we weren’t infants):

You have become a new creation, and have clothed yourself in Christ.See in this white garment the outward sign of your Christian dignity. With your family and friends to help you by word and example, bring that dignity unstained into the everlasting life of heaven.[5]

This is our participation, to keep this garment pure. It can most certainly be done, it is not impossible – just look at the saints.  Pope Benedict XVI, in a 2008 homily made note of this: ‘In Baptism they received the wedding garment of divine grace, they kept it clean and purified it and made it radiant during their life, through the Sacraments. They are now taking part in the wedding feast of Heaven.[6]

And we can follow them by also participating in the sacraments; Pope Benedict XVI went on telling us: ‘Should it happen that we soil or even tear this garment with sin, God’s goodness does not reject or abandon us to our destiny but rather offers us, with the Sacrament of Reconciliation, the possibility of restoring the wedding garment to the pristine state required for the feast.[7]

God has made sure that we can sit at the feast He invites us to with the wedding garment needed.  All we need to do is participate.

Which leads me to the final point: Do I like to do laundry?

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[1] Is 25:6-10a
[2] Is 25:9
[3] Is 25:6
[4] Mt 22:1-14
[5] Rite of Baptism
[6] Pope Benedict XVI, 10/12/2008 Homily at a canonization Mass for 4 saints
[7] ibid

Our Participation

Today’s feast of the Solemnity of the Baptism of the Lord does more than close the Christmas Season.  It does more than point out to us how Christ, by His action, witnessed to the importance of Baptisms. It gives us a great lesson in our importance, and therefore our obligation as followers of Christ; we are integral in His salvific plan. We hear in today’s Gospel that as Jesus came to John the Baptist: ‘John tried to prevent him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and yet you are coming to me? Jesus said to him in reply, “Allow it now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness”’.

Christ, the eternal Word of the Father; God Himself; wanted John to baptize Him. John was needed by God to further His mission.  God desired to work not through John as much as He desired to work with John; and He desires to do the same with each of us.  We are not to sit back, hear the great message of God and expect Him to work out our plan of salvation for us.  If that is our understanding of our relationship with God then, in all honesty, we fail to understand. God intends us to be active participants in the Gospel message of Love.

In the second reading St. Peter announces to those at Cornelius’ house that ‘In truth, I see that God shows no partiality. Rather, in every nation whoever fears him and acts uprightly is acceptable to him.’ If by our actions we don’t put in practice the Gospel then we pass judgment on ourselves.  By His actions Christ made the statement that He would participate in our lives so that we can participate in His.  By His example we see that His life isn’t just sitting in glory at the heavenly banquet with the Father; it is also lowering Himself and working with us to affect our salvation.  This is what St. Peter speaks about at Cornelius’ house, and what God showed us at the River Jordan through John the Baptist.

If one can make the statement (which I do) that Christ’s baptism starts His ‘Via Dolorosa’ from the river to cross, then let each one of us start today as well and prepare ourselves for Holy Week.  Let us start to search our hearts as to how well we are returning God’s gift of His Son at Christmas by looking at whether, like John, we are actively allowing God to use our talents and our energies in His eternal plan.By doing this we can start our Lenten observance in full stride and make it all the more fruitful.

After Vespers – in place of the Salve Regina

In light of my Vesper reflection – instead of chanting Salve Regina; tonight, please sit, listen to, and make your own this beautiful prayer of veneration to Mary, written by His Holiness Pope Francis for the feast of the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, this past December.

Virgin most holy and immaculate,
to you, the honour of our people,
and the loving protector of our city,
do we turn with loving trust.

You are all-beautiful, O Mary!
In you there is no sin.

Awaken in all of us a renewed desire for holiness:
May the splendour of truth shine forth in our words,
the song of charity resound in our works,
purity and chastity abide in our hearts and bodies,
and the full beauty of the Gospel be evident in our lives.

You are all-beautiful, O Mary!
In you the Word of God became flesh.

Help us always to heed the Lord’s voice:
May we never be indifferent to the cry of the poor,
or untouched by the sufferings of the sick and those in need;
may we be sensitive to the loneliness of the elderly and the vulnerability of children,
and always love and cherish the life of every human being.

You are all-beautiful, O Mary!
In you is the fullness of joy born of life with God.

Help us never to forget the meaning of our earthly journey:
May the kindly light of faith illumine our days,
the comforting power of hope direct our steps,
the contagious warmth of love stir our hearts;
and may our gaze be fixed on God, in whom true joy is found.

You are all-beautiful, O Mary!
Hear our prayer, graciously hear our plea:
May the beauty of God’s merciful love in Jesus abide in our hearts,
and may this divine beauty save us, our city and the entire world.

Amen.

Merry Christmas!