Saturday, May 29, 2010

The Most Holy Trinity

(Trinity Sunday, C)

Trinity Sunday is absolutely one of my favorite days to be a priest. Why? Because I don't have to listen to any Trinity Sunday homilies! In the fifteen Trinity Sundays from my baptism to my ordination, I heard a good homily pretty rarely.

It usually goes like this: 'O.k., it's Trinity Sunday. God is a Trinity. He's three, he's one, you can't really understand it, but that's how it is. Please stand for the Creed.' Maybe if you're lucky you at least get the amusement of some limping analogies, or the excitement of a little heresy, usually modalism or Arianism.

I always wanted to stand up and say no! Let us not pass over the central mystery of the Christian faith with mystifying arithmetic or the dullness of obnubilating analogies!

Here's the thing: We can have an understanding of the Blessed Trinity. Not a comprehension, mind you, but some understanding. This is so for two reasons. First, that we are made in the image and likeness of God, and second, God reveals himself as Trinity in the Scriptures.

Let’s start with ourselves. If we are created in the image and likeness of God, and this is what is distinctive about us human beings among all God’s creatures, and if God is a Trinity, then we are created in the image and likeness of the Blessed Trinity. Therefore, if we look at ourselves when we are most happy and most the creatures God made us to be, we should see in ourselves some vestige or reflection of the Blessed Trinity. And when are we happier than we are in love? Indeed, love makes us happy because God himself is Love, and our experiences of love are a taste of divine joy. But there is no such thing as a love that doesn’t love someone; love is always specific—we fall in love with this particular person, or place, or ideal. So for God to be Love itself, God must be at once Lover and Beloved. Indeed, this is what we are talking about when we reflect on the Blessed Trinity. From all eternity, the overflowing Love we call God self-expresses into a perfect and complete reflection of Himself. God is Lover and Beloved, Father and Son, Source and Eternal Word, or, as we hear in the first reading today, Lady Wisdom at play with the Creator at the beginning of time.

There you have it. God is not some static ‘supreme being’ sitting on a throne somewhere far away. God is a super-creative set of loving dynamisms. Lover, Beloved, and the Love they share, Father and Son with the Holy Spirit, this is who God is. But here’s the really good news: because God is a set of loving dynamics, “persons,” as we say in theology, it means that God is a reality that can be stepped into.

In fact, this is what we celebrate by our Christianity. In Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit has stretched the love of God the Father and God the Son into the world, that we might have the opportunity to be included in this original Love. This is what we mean in the Creed when we say that Jesus, the Word made flesh, was conceived ‘by the power of the Holy Spirit.’ The Spirit—the Love between Father and Son—has made a home for that love in our humanity through the mystery of the Incarnation. In Jesus, our humanity has the opportunity to be caught up into the eternally creative, utterly delightful, and perfectly happy divine Activity we call the Blessed Trinity. As St. Paul writes in the second reading today, Jesus is our “access” to the grace of God.

This is the joy of the Holy Communion we receive here at Holy Mass—we receive the sacrificed Body of Christ into our bodies, and so are caught up by the Spirit into the love of God the Father and God the Son. We begin to live in God. This is the good news Jesus announces in the gospel today: The Spirit will guide us “to all truth.” This Truth is God himself, the Blessed Trinity himself, in whose image we are created, and whose divine life is our destiny in heaven. As we are caught up anew into the Blessed Trinity through our Holy Communion today, let us give thanks for the chance to begin to live the life of heaven while we are still on the pilgrimage of this life.

Saturday, May 22, 2010


(Pentecost Sunday)

Jesus breathed on his disciples and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

Brothers and sisters, this is an act of creation. The breath of the Spirit which Jesus breathes on his disciples is the same wind that swept over the waters at the very beginning of time. That wind is the breath that carried the creating Word of God: “God said…and it came to be.” This same Spirit breathed in Mary and brought forth Jesus, the Word made flesh, the first fruits of the final harvest of love which is the destiny of all created being.

Creation is not just something from the past, as if God made the world and then stepped back when it was all set. God is not “set it and forget it.” God—because He is love—is a Creator by nature, and he is always creating and offering us a renovation of ourselves and the world, drawing all to a perfect fulfillment of love and joy.

The Holy Spirit, just as He is the breath by which the creation came to be through God’s Word, just as He conceived Our Lord in the womb of Mary to make an indestructible marriage between humanity and divinity, now breathes himself on us so that we may become re-created, renovated citizens of the fulfilled creation.

We see examples of this renovation in the scriptures today. In the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles the Holy Spirit reverses the prideful and arrogant divisions we bring upon humanity, represented by the confusion of languages that began at the Tower of Babel. In the second reading, St. Paul teaches us about the particular manifestations of the Holy Spirit that each of us will have. ‘Grace builds on nature,’ after all, and because each of us has a nature that is a unique and unrepeatable creation, the Christian each of us becomes through the Holy Spirit will be a unique, unrepeatable, and precious manifestation of God’s grace. From the larger contours of our life’s vocation to the smallest ways in which our personalities become redeemed for the sake of goodness and gentleness toward each other, all of these are the ways that the creating, Holy Spirit of God works to renovate the creation through us.

Let us rejoice today in this beginning. “In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth…a mighty wind swept over the waters.” That wind is here now, calling us into the fulfilled, new creation. Let us accept anew the gifts of grace and love that the Spirit brings to birth in each of us, and take up our new citizenship with joy.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

The Spirit of Unity

(7th Sunday of Easter, C)

To celebrate this Seventh Sunday of Easter is a special privilege. In most of the world, the feast of the Ascension has been transferred to today, but not here in the stalwart ecclesiastical province of New York where we maintain the traditional celebration of Ascension on the biblical fortieth day of Easter. So it is our privilege to hear in the gospel today one of Jesus’ most beautiful and spiritually rich prayers. At the end of the Last Supper in St. John’s gospel, Jesus prays for unity. He prays for his disciples and for those who will come to believe through them—us—that we “may all be one.”

Now when we start to talk about the unity that Jesus desires for us, and the catholicity of the Church from which it is inseparable, sometimes the first thing we hear is how we have to be in unity with our pastors and obedient to our bishop in union with the Holy Father. That’s true, but if it’s all we talk about, we risk missing the original good news of the gospel from which it all derives. In fact, when we begin to speak of the unity and catholicity of who we are as the Church, we are talking about the Holy Spirit, Whose coming we celebrate in a special way in these days between the Ascension of the Lord last Thursday and Pentecost next Sunday.

After all—or better, before all—the Holy Spirit is the unity of the Father and the Son. In our collects or ‘opening prayers’ for Mass we typically pray in the classic manner of Christians: through the Son to the Father, who live and reign in the unity of the Holy Spirit. Hopefully this language will be clearer once again when we have the joy of the new and improved English translation of the prayers for Mass.

The Holy Spirit—Who is the unity of Father and Son in the Blessed Trinity—is also about the work of unity in creation. We see the dawn of this great work of unity in the mystery of the Incarnation, which we celebrate at Christmas. As we pray in the Creed, “by the power of the Holy Spirit he was born of the Virgin Mary.” By the consent of our Blessed Mother, the Holy Spirit conceives the Eternal Word of God in the human life of Jesus of Nazareth. By this conception the Holy Spirit accomplishes the work of unity that is our salvation: in Christ our human nature is united to the divine life of the Blessed Trinity. As the Spirit is the unity of Father and Son, so He also works to unite us to God.

During the Easter season, we celebrate the completion of this work of unity; the joining of humanity with God is fulfilled in Jesus’ death and resurrection, such that each of us who consent to be baptized into his death and resurrection becomes also a conceiver of the Holy Spirit within. We heard this in its simplest and most sublime form during the proclamation of St. John’s Passion on Good Friday. John describes Jesus’ death on the Cross: “And bowing his head, he handed over the Spirit.”

Jesus’ passing over—through the corruption of our human death into the new life of the Resurrection to a place at the right hand of the Father—makes the same Holy Spirit through which he was conceived available to us in our humanity.

This is the good news of the fulfillment of Jesus’ great prayer “that they may all be one.” The Holy Spirit, Who is the Loving Unity of Father and Son, stretches the divine unity into creation through the Incarnation of the Word of God, and makes that unity with God available to each of us. The Spirit then empowers each of us to take up our particularly Marian vocation: to conceive spiritually by the Holy Spirit and make a place within for the Word of God to grow, that we may bear the joy and new life and God’s own unity to the world.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Letter to Parishioners

Fr. Pastor asked me to write a letter to our parishioners to be included in this weekend's bulletin. Here it is:

Dear Parishioners,

Last fall the Order asked me to consider applying to Boston College to pursue the degree of Doctor of Sacred Theology. I made the application, have been accepted, and will begin studies there this fall. Over the course of the month of July I will be making the transition back to full-time study and my new home at St. Francis Friary in Boston. I hope that in my last couple of months with you I have the chance to thank each of you personally for your encouragement and support these past three years. It was a special privilege to be ordained priest in the course of my assignment here, and my priesthood will always belong to you in a special way. As I enter into this transition and a new set of challenges, I will take encouragement from the knowledge of the prayers and good example of the people of Sacred Heart who have been so good to me.

God's Dwelling

(5th Sunday of Easter, C)

In a very real way, brothers and sisters, the scriptures we hear today describe the joyful fulfillment of everything we have been celebrating and meditating upon since Christmas. At Christmas we rejoiced in the Word made flesh, in Emmanuel, ‘God with us.’ In the gospel today Jesus brings out for us the full implication of ‘God with us,’ that we should be able to love one another with the very love with which God has loved us first. That’s the privilege and joy, the mission and the challenge, of being a Christian after all: to be a little home, a little dwelling for the love of God in the world.

But before we get to all that, I think we as Christians always need to step back and remind ourselves what we really mean by ‘love.’ The world we live in is sometimes very confused about this. Greeting cards, sitcoms, those silly wedding shows, the increasing normalization of pornography; all of these things confuse our sense of love. To love someone is first of all not about our feelings, although it might include our passion. It does not necessarily depend on whether we like someone, or even appreciate them. To love someone in the spiritual sense simply means that we desire the best for that person, and organize our behavior toward them in light of that desire. It just means that I want the best happiness and flourishing for your soul, and I’m going to relate to you out of that desire.

This is exactly what the love of God is like. God is, after all, a dynamic, passionate Desire for the good, blessing, and flourishing of His creatures. The Word of God became flesh and dwelt among us so that we might not only know about this love, but that we might know it, as we say, in the ‘biblical sense,’ as something which has come to penetrate and dwell within us. After all, this is what we celebrate in Holy Communion; that the love of God in Jesus Christ should make a home in our bodies and our lives.

By our baptism into the death and resurrection of Christ, and our communion with his humanity here at Mass, the whole love of God comes to dwell in us and empowers us to love each other with God’s own love. Those who consent to this blessing and plan of God in Christ become that new heaven and new earth, the New Jerusalem that John the Seer sees coming out of heaven in the reading from Revelation today. We form that new city which is also, by the way, the Kingdom of God.

Now, perhaps it’s something we don’t always think about, that our Christian life consists in loving our neighbor with the love of God dwelling within us. But this too is important. God is a very humble character. God is happy to dwell within us as our love for each other, without having to make a big deal about his Presence. But He is there. He is the Spirit of desire for the good of one another that dwells in our hearts. “Behold, God’s dwelling is with the human race.” This is the joyful good news that comes from the throne of God as the New Jerusalem appears. This is the payoff and the fulfillment of everything in our faith. God, in his sublime humility, decides that his home will be our little hearts. It is there that his Love dwells, reaching out in divine passion for the salvation of the world.