Saturday, May 31, 2008


(9th Sunday in Ordinary Time, A)

Today we resume our reading of the gospel of St. Matthew, which we interrupted way back after February 3rd to enter into the journey of Lent and Easter. As we return to Matthew, today we hear Jesus’ words at the conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount. Having offered all of his beautiful moral teaching on loving our enemies and avoiding retaliation in anger, on praying earnestly from the heart and avoiding the false religion of human righteousness and pride, and on our need in all these things to be light for the world, Jesus simply leaves the decision in our hands. We can accept and try to follow his teaching and be like the wise one who built his house on rock, or we can let Jesus’ words ‘go in one ear and out the other’ and be like the fool who built his house on sand.

This is exactly how God behaves. God does not ‘lord it over’ the world. He does not dominate us against our will. God does not bark out his orders or his will. God speaks softly to the heart (and if we’re never quiet we will never hear his Word!) and waits patiently for us to turn to him. God gives us the ultimate respect of personal freedom, and though it must give God great pain of heart to see what we often do with it, God would never take it away. Our freedom is part of our imitation of our Creator; part of how we are created in God’s “image and likeness.” God lets us choose. Will we seek him and try to follow his Word? Or will we quietly decide in our hearts that “God” really has no bearing on our lives and become at best “cultural Catholics”?

In his divine and perfect humility, God leaves the choice to us. We hear the same thing in the first reading today. Having given to the people the whole of the Law that God revealed to him, Moses sets the Law before them as a decision to be blessed or cursed, of choosing Life or death.

The choice to seek God and to listen to his Word is not something we can do once and for all. We must do it anew each day. If we practice hard and get good at it we can do it at every moment. We must train ourselves to choose to see things from God’s perspective—and we can do this because the divine Life lives within us through faith, through prayer, and especially through the Holy Communion we celebrate in this Eucharist. These empower us to see the world around us from God’s own blessed perspective rather than from our own, which is both limited in scope and often blurred in perspective by our sins.

Here’s one of my favorite examples. Before I entered the religious life I worked in a group home with adults who had so-called mental retardation and developmental disabilities. One day I was out with a co-worker and a couple of the clients taking a walk in the park. The four of us were just quietly enjoying the day. Someone going by the other way was staring at my co-worker’s client and we heard him say, “That’s so sad.” Well, my co-worker got right in the guy’s face and said about her client, “This woman works hard and is living at, like, ninety-eight percent of her potential as a human being…how do you stack up that?” And the guy was speechless.

This story from my old job just makes the point that we can decide how we look at things. We can look at ourselves, each other, and our society as limited, broken, and in a dire condition, or we can decide and train ourselves to see ourselves and each other from God’s infinitely positive and eternally gentle perspective.

The poet Gil Scott-Heron famously proclaimed, “The revolution will not be televised.” What we meant was that what can bring about real change in our society can never be seen out there, because it has to happen in here first [in the head and heart]. He says, the real revolution happens, “when we change our minds, about how we look at things.” And this is something we can do each day and each moment. We can choose to see things from the perspective of the kingdom of God. That is why the Word of God became one of us in Jesus Christ and why Jesus brings us into communion with his humanity in the Eucharist, so that the divine perspective might come of live inside us and give us the power to see things from God’s point of view.

This is the perspective that can change the world, if only we accept it. If only we let go of all the self-hate and condemnation of each other that we have trapped ourselves in with our selfishness and sin, and accept the kind and generous perspective that God has on the world.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Corpus Christi

(The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, A)

Each year the Church gives us this feast of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, better known as Corpus Christi, as a special opportunity to reflect on and rejoice in the inestimable gift that God gives us in the Eucharist. This gift is a mystery of God’s infinite love, and so there will always be more for us reflect upon. The readings we hear today provide three ways we can begin our reflection on this perfect gift of the Lord’s Body and Blood.

The Gospel we hear today is from the part of the Gospel John often called the “Bread of life discourse.” Jesus identifies himself with the “living bread come down from heaven,” proclaiming that he himself is the “true food” that places the nourishment of eternal life in the one who receives it. Each week we stand in awe at the fulfillment of these words in the holy Eucharist. The whole life, goodness, love, and blessing of almighty God, revealed for us in Jesus Christ, is poured out over this altar, hidden “under the little form of bread.” This is what St. Francis called the “sublime humility” and the “humble sublimity” of God.

On this feast of Corpus Christi, let us appreciate anew this great gift of the humble and self-sacrificing God. The same God who called forth the whole creation with just his Word gives himself to us as our true food. This is not a God who lords it over the world or who is controlling in any way. No, the original and perfect Life and Blessing and Goodness—this mystery we call “God”—is happy to sit in our hands as our bread, and to sit quietly in all of the tabernacles of the world. And in how many of those tabernacles is the real presence of Christ totally ignored! And yet, even though we ignore God so much of the time, he is not a God who pushes himself on us or is going to strike anybody down. Instead, God only wants to nourish us quietly—to nourish our spirits in Holy Communion, to strengthen our hearts in prayer, to illumine our minds in contemplation.

God is with us, nourishing us, leading us on our way. This is what we hear in the first reading from the book of Deuteronomy. To be freed from the slavery of Egypt was only the first step for the people of God; a long journey was to follow. And it is the same with us! Once we leave the slavery of sin behind and commit ourselves to a life of prayer and devotion to the will of God, we have only begun to become the Lord’s disciples. It isn’t easy, the Christian life: fighting our sins as well as the sinful structures and ways of our society, working to bend our minds and hearts to the will of God, it’s enough to wear you out, and many times we’ll feel like we are traveling in a desert. Just as God fed the Israelites with the miraculous manna, so now God gives us food for the journey in this “bread come down from heaven.” For we are a people on pilgrimage through this life and this world, and the Body and Blood of Christ is our food for that journey until that day when, whether we know it or not, we receive Holy Communion for the last time. Our final Holy Communion we call our viaticum, by which we mean quite literally our provision for our final journey of passing through the door that is Christ and passing over to the Father.

The Body and Blood of Christ we receive is our sustenance on our pilgrimage, but it is also our mission. As our mothers told us, “you are what you eat.” That’s the purpose of our Holy Communion: that we might become the Body of Christ. Just as Jesus Christ’s body was broken on the Cross for our salvation, the Eucharist we receive will help us to allow our hearts to be broken by the suffering of the world. And just as the Blood of Christ is poured out in the ratification of the new and eternal covenant, so we are meant to become that blood of God, learning to pour out the best of ourselves for each other and for the reconciliation of not only every injury that scars our own relationships but even the healing of the wars that scar the history of the world.

Let us receive the great gift of God, the Body and Blood of Christ, the food for our pilgrimage. And let us become what we receive.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

The Most Holy Trinity

(Trinity Sunday, A)

Each year the Church gives this special Sunday as a chance to reflect on and rejoice in the Most Holy Trinity. But when it comes to the Trinity and our faith in the God who is One in Three, we often give up too fast in our reflection. As the old mnemonic for theology students goes, in the Trinity there are “five notions, four relations, three persons, two processions, one nature, and zero understanding.”

But if all we say is that the Trinity is a mystery and we throw our hands up and say there’s no understanding it, we make a mistake. True, we will never be able to fully understand who God is, and how one God can be the Lover, the Beloved, and the Love they share all in one. But we can get some sense of what it means to say that God is a Trinity. Why? Because God created the world, and the imprint of God is on the world. This is especially true of us ourselves, who are created in the “image and likeness” of God.

Think about it. If God is a Trinity, and we are created in the image and likeness of God, then we ourselves should bear some imprint of the Trinity in ourselves. Thus one of the classical approaches to understanding the Trinity is to look at the human person as made in the image of the Trinity. Here’s my favorite way to approach it:

Let’s think about ourselves when we’re at our very best as human beings—when we fall in love. And when two people are falling in love there comes that moment when it’s time to say it for the first time, to pronounce the words, “I love you.” When this happens, and we know it to be true, all of the love and passion that’s hidden in the heart gets breathed out and formed into those little words. At that moment the ‘I love you’ contains all of the feeling of the heart.

This is one way in which we imitate the Most Holy Trinity and show forth in ourselves how we are created in his image. The passion of love in the heart is like God the Father. The words ‘I love you’ that are breathed forth are like the Eternal Word, God the Son. The breath that carries the word is like the Holy Spirit

From all eternity the Love Who is the Source of all overflows and pronounces an Eternal Word, the divine ‘I love you’ that we call the Son. The breath that carries this Word we call the Spirit.

And as we hear in the Gospel of John today, this same breath of God, the Holy Spirit, in the fullness of time, pronounces God’s ‘I love you’ in our world and the Son is born as one of us. “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son.” That’s who Jesus Christ is: the ‘I love you’ of God the Father to the world, pronounced in such perfection that the Word itself is just as much God as the Speaker.

The Trinity reveals to us that God is at heart a self-expression. In fact, God is a perfect self-expression of love. Therefore, let us strive to be those who express and incarnate the love of God in the world. Let us rejoice in our call to breathe forth the love that God has put in our hearts and make it real in our world. By doing so we are fulfilling our truest identity as human beings—those who imitate the Most Holy Trinity with their lives.

Saturday, May 10, 2008


(Pentecost Sunday)

(N.B. There are alternate endings for the vigil Mass and the Mass during the day)

Today is the fulfillment of all the mysteries of the Lord we have been celebrating all year, from his Nativity and his ministry to his Passion, death, and Resurrection. They all lead to that most wonderful of gifts to us, the Presence of the Holy Spirit in our hearts, our minds, our families, and in us assembled as church.

God is not someone who just sits there. It’s not like God just holds court in heaven enjoying his own perfection and the company of his angels and his saints. No! God is a dynamic movement, a perfect process of Love. This is part of what we mean when we say that God is a Trinity, trying to describe this God who is a dynamic movement of Love.

Anyone of us who has been in love knows that love wants more than anything to share itself with the other. And so it is with the perfect Love that we call God. From the most perfect charity which desires nothing more than the pure benefit and good of another all the way down to the most basic sexual desire in which our very bodies seem to reach out and long for the other, in all of these experiences of love we come to know a hint or a shadow of the tremendous passion of God to share his very self with the world.

The overflowing of the love of God, this stretching forth as it were, of God’s love for his creation, we call the Holy Spirit. This Spirit was present in the very beginning: as we read in Genesis, before God even began to create the heavens and the earth, the breath or spirit of God hovered over the waters. From the very beginning it wasn’t as if God sat aloof from his creation. Instead, God was intimately present, loving the creation into being.

This is also what it means when the gospels say that Jesus “was conceived by the Holy Spirit.” The same Spirit, the same divine Love which embraced creation from the very beginning, now accomplishes the perfect unification between God and our humanity in Jesus Christ. God desires so much to be present to us, to love us as we are, that he gives up all the power and prerogative that goes with being God and becomes one of us, vulnerable for sure, but able to relate to us perfectly as our brother.

And now this same Spirit which hovered over the waters in the beginning, which conceived Jesus Christ in the womb of Mary, and which most perfectly of all, raised Jesus from the dead, is given to us. The Spirit is given to us so that we too might be lifted up with Jesus. The Spirit both bids us and helps us rise from all of the violence , depression, anxiety—from all of this approximation of death that we have brought upon ourselves with our sins. The Spirit gives us true freedom. The presence of the Spirit which we have by uniting ourselves to the humanity of Christ in prayer, faith, and sacrament, rolls us up into the dynamic movement of love which is the Trinity of God. In this great Gift we become—obscurely, mysteriously, sacramentally—part of the very inner life of God.

This great gift leaves us with a mission, a mission with which we are sent forth at the end of this Easter season. And this mission is nothing less than the healing of all of human civilization.


In the first reading from the book of Genesis we heard the story of the tower of Babel, and how the language of the people working there became so confused that they could no longer work together and were “scattered all over the earth.” So what went wrong with their project? Think back to the beginning of the reading. They said to themselves, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the sky, and so make a name for ourselves.”

This is the original sin of every politics and human effort at leadership that leaves God out of the picture. For when we try to build a family, a community, or a civilization for our own glory, it only ends in confusion and alienation. We must learn to run our communities, our society, and our countries for the glory of God rather than ourselves, and according to the Spirit of God rather than the wisdom of this world. That is why the very last scene in the whole of the Bible is the New Jerusalem coming out of heaven and joining itself to the earth.

God entrusts us with the mission of building up this civilization of the Spirit. And when we begin we will find that our differences are no longer confusing and scattering. We will find a new unity for humanity in the love and the Spirit of God, and we will let the Holy Spirit create the world anew.


Jesus gives to his disciples this power to heal the world in the Gospel we hear today. He breathes on them and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” This is the same Holy Spirit which hovered over the waters at the beginning of creation. It is the same Holy Spirit which overshadowed Mary and conceived Jesus in her womb. And now this Holy Spirit is on us. It is an empowering Spirit, and Jesus describes the power that it gives: “Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain and retained.”

Today the power of divine forgiveness is put into our hands, yours and mine. And this is power to stop all of the cycles of violence which hinder and injure our personal relationships and break out into the wars which scar all of human history.

After all, the real power of violence lies not in its ability to hurt, but in its ability to reproduce and to grow. You hit me, I hit you harder. Nations retaliate against each other and wars escalate. Those who suffer abuse as children often grow up to be abusers. And murderers are executed to make the point that killing people is unacceptable.

The Holy Spirit empowers us to stop these cycles of violence in their tracks by forgiveness. And this is nothing less than an imitation of Christ’s own Passion, in which he takes to himself on the Cross all the violence and hate that we can dish out, and gives nothing back but the blessing and kindness of the Resurrection.

Let us gladly accept the power to forgive with the very forgiveness and compassion of God. By forgiving let us let go of every bitterness of heart that injures our personal relationships with gossip, detraction, and betrayal. And if we start there, let us have confidence that we are allowing the Holy Spirit to heal the world with the soothing forgiveness that will end all violence and war, and will create the world anew in the love that is the Spirit of God.