Archive for May, 2010|Monthly archive page

THE MOST HOLY TRINITY – C

Proverbs 8:22-31

Romans 5:1-5

John 16:12-15

Today is a doctrinal feast.  So also will be next Sunday’s.  We celebrate the core mysteries of our faith.  On these two Sundays we are invited to stand in awe and rejoice in what we believe even as we live in the hope of one day being caught up in the glory in which we now live.  Paul said that what we see now dimly, as in a mirror, we shall one day see face to face and we shall know even as we are known.

What do we believe about this mystery of the Trinity that no human mind can ever comprehend?  We believe in God as a three-person community of love yet one God.  The Father loves the Son and the love that binds them is the Holy Spirit.

There is a legend about St. Augustine that is often told when the mystery of the Trinity is discussed.  It is meant to console the one who ponders and remind all that the finite cannot grasp fully the infinite.  One day, Augustine was meditating on the mystery and beginning to conclude that he was ready to write the definitive treatise on the Trinity.  He looked out his study window toward the sea and watched as a lad ran to the water’s edge, scooped up a pail full of water and ran back to a hole he had dug and poured the pail full into the hole.  Then he ran back to the sea, filled his bucket again, ran back to the hole and dumped in the contents.  This kept on for some time until finally Augustine walked out to the boy and asked him what he was doing.

I am going to pour the ocean into the hole I have dug, the boy said.

That’s impossible, said the saint, the ocean is vast.  You will never be able to put that huge expanse of water into that little hole.

It is no more impossible for me to pour the ocean into this hole than it is for you to comprehend the Trinity.

Whether that ever happened, is beside the point.  The story illustrates well for us that the Trinity is a mystery beyond the ability of our minds to grasp.  We may have flashes of understanding, momentary insights into the reality, but we will never be able to say that we fully understand the mystery.  That is what we will spend eternity doing, getting to know God.

In the lush poetry in the first reading from Proverbs, Wisdom speaks to us.  There are many scholars who say that Wisdom in the Hebrew Scriptures is the Holy Spirit.  Others say that Wisdom is a manifestation of the Son.  It is possible that in some settings, Wisdom is the Spirit, in others, that she is the Son.  Hearing Wisdom speak of being with God from the very dawn of creation and long before, we ought to be reminded of the opening words of John’s Gospel: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  The Word was present to God in the beginning.  Through the Word all things came into being…through the Word the World was made. That is the imagery that we hear in the first reading as God sets about forming the heavens and the earth, the mountains, the sea and the sky, Wisdom is beside God as the craftsman.  And when creation is complete, Wisdom plays with God all the while and finds delight in the human race.  That sounds like a child delighting its parent and all the while knowing the parent’s love.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. The mystery of the Incarnation puts before us the wonder that the Father sent the Son into the world to take on the human condition.  The only Son now has two natures, human and divine.  The chasm that has separated the human from the divine has been bridged.  God has entered in the human never to be separated from humans again.  We hear God’s pleas in the Hebrew Scriptures: Let me be your God and you will be my people. When the Word becomes flesh, that union between God and people is realized.  Jesus is the full revelation of God.  Remember the words Jesus spoke: Philip, those who see me see the Father. What God does is what Jesus does.  Through Jesus we learn that God is a God who heals, forgives, and longs for all people regardless of gender or race to know they are loved.  And God is a God who serves.  Remember Jesus washing the feet of the disciples at the Last Supper?  That is the depth of service God wants to lavish on people.  God wants to serve, not to be served.  That’s why the Church is called to be a servant church.  If the Church is the Body of Christ, then the Church must do what Jesus does.

In the Easter Season we have just completed we spent 50 days rejoicing in the redemption that is ours in Jesus’ dying and rising.  We are washed clean in the Blood of Christ.  Through Christ, sin and death no longer hold sway over us.  Baptism is at the heart of the Easter experience.  Those who are baptized are baptized into Christ.  The clothing of the newly baptized in white baptismal robes reminds us that in Baptism we put on Christ.  We live in Christ and Christ lives in us.  And because of that identification, God looks on the baptized with the same love God has for Christ.  Extraordinary, isn’t it?  That is how God acts in our midst.  That is how God’s love embraces us.

Remember Pentecost, the feast we celebrated last Sunday?  We rejoiced in the out-pouring of the Holy Spirit.  In John’s Gospel it is clear that it is impossible to understand who Jesus is and the meaning of what he preaches and teaches.  So, Jesus goes back to the Father in order to send the Holy Spirit who will guide the Church in all truth.  That means that those in whom the Spirit dwells will be enlightened and so be able to know and believe in the risen Christ and act as he does.  Jesus commands the disciples to love others as Jesus loves them.  By this will all people know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. If they, if we do that then just as Jesus is the full revelation of God, so are we the full revelation of Christ.

The Father creates.  The Son redeems.  The Spirit sanctifies.  Yet it is one God who does each and all.  Three persons.  One God.  That is the mystery we celebrate today.

A final note: If the Spirit empowers us to believe, the Spirit will enable us to act as Jesus does.  We will do that if we get the message right.  At present the Church struggles with division and scandal.  Vitriolic tirades lash out at the Church.  Some people are leaving the Church because the scandals have broken their faith.  Maybe this time of turmoil is necessary in order for the Church to be purified, to do penance and to reform.

At the same, the Church thrives in various parts of the world, especially in those places that know oppression, poverty, and disease.  Lay people, Sisters, Brothers, and Priests serve in those communities, risking their health and their lives in order to do among those people what Jesus does.  Some are killed in the process because their witness infuriates the oppressors.  They witness to the dignity and worth of the lowly ones.  They build schools and teach in them.  They erect clinics and treat patients there.  They shelter orphans and protect vulnerable girls and women.  They stand before those in power and tell them this oppression must cease.  The poor they serve, they say, have a right to live in dignity, freedom, and peace.  And those who witness their service know that they are seeing Jesus act.  People recognize God’s love revealed through these ministers.  And through them the Spirit inspires the nearly broken to live in hope.

Ask any of those many serving in Africa and India, in South America and in Asia what keeps them going and they will tell you without hesitation, it is prayer that inspires them, that time of being silent and open to the Father, the Son, and the Spirit.  They will tell you it is the Eucharist that sustains them.  As they gather in small communities often in poverty and even squalid conditions to break bread and share a cup they are strengthened and experience the revitalization that comes with grace.

I doubt they spend much time dwelling on the scandals.  But I will wager they pray for the Church, for her awakening, her healing, her renewal, and her peace.  And their prayer and the pouring out of self that is the fruit of the Eucharist gives us the confident assurance that in, with, and through the Trinity living and acting through them among the human family, the deliverance will happen and the renewal will begin.

Don’t you think that it is apt that next Sunday we celebrate the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ?  Plan ahead.  Then imagine if we enter into that celebration and are vulnerable before it how we might be transformed.

Sincerely,

Didymus

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04-BLESSED ARE THE LOWLY; THEY SHALL INHERIT THE LAND

The first part of this beatitude is variously translated.  Regardless of the translation, those who heard it in the telling would be perplexed.  Who would aspire to be “lowly”?  The teaching is not easier to swallow if you hear in place of lowly, meek and humble of heart.  Judged by contemporary values and standards, where do you think meekness and humility fall?  Aren’t the most sought attainments power, prestige and wealth?

Jesus claimed to be meek and humble of heart and so told even the most timid that they had no reason to be reluctant in approaching him.  The worst sinner could also approach him and so could the shunned, the unclean, and every other looked-down-upon outcast member of society.  None had anything to fear.

The most obvious question that would rise in the minds of the audience would focus on the coming Kingdom Jesus proclaims.  How will a bunch of lowly, or meek and humble people overthrow the current regime and so usher in the restoration of the kingdom to Israel?  It doesn’t make sense.  It didn’t then.  It doesn’t now, unless you are going to buy into the Gospel and believe in the power of God.  What Jesus is inviting us to become part of is something completely new.  Don’t expect “worldly” values to hold sway here.

What does it mean to be lowly or meek and humble of heart?  The answer depends on perspective.  How does one see him/herself in relation to other people?  We never get the impression that Jesus ever looked down on anyone.  The opposite is the truth.  Jesus is constantly upholding the dignity of every person.  Look at the trouble into which his table-fellowship practices got him.  This would become a primary reason for his being rejected and why he whould be crucified.  “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”  The rejected, those deemed to be sinners, prostitutes, tax collectors, even gentiles would have the experience of reclining at his table to be served by him.

In the Lord’s time, physical suffering was seen as a punishment by God for sins committed either by the ones suffering or by their parents or grandparents.  “Whose sin was it, this man’s or his parents, that he should have been born blind?”  Leprosy, paralysis, epileptics, the deaf and the mute, the disabilities all these endured gave evidence of sin in their lives.  Consequently contact with them should be avoided lest one incur Ritual Impurity and not be able to go to Temple without first being cleansed.  Lepers did the courtesy of ringing a hand bell and crying out, “unclean, unclean” to make sure they would not accidentally contaminate anyone in the community.  And they were relegated to the outposts of the city, the garbage dumps, there to await the kindness of strangers to assist in giving them the basics necessary for survival.

Jesus was not embarrassed by any of these.  He spat and touched the tongue of the mute man and put his finger into the deaf man’s ears, commanding the tongue to be loosed and the ears opened.  He made mud with his saliva and anointed the blind man’s eyes, telling him to go and wash.  The man went and washed and saw.  At first he resisted gentiles, but when the gentile woman challenged his attitude by reminding Jesus that even the dogs ate the scraps that fell from the master’s table, he responded, cured her daughter and began to see that his ministry was meant to embrace the gentiles.  Even Jesus had to let go of presuppositions and had to stop thinking that he had come solely for the lost sheep of the house of Israel.  He came to see that even the gentiles would have a place in God’s Realm.

Blessed are the lowly, blessed are meek and humble of heart.  Jesus said it.  We have to deal with it.  I went to my dictionary to look up the definition of “meek.”  The first definition read: “characterized by patience and long suffering.”  Since that was the first definition, I stopped with that.  There were other definitions you can find if you wish.  This is the one I think Jesus had in mind.  The meek endure.  They are good teachers because they know it takes time for students to develop and to master the intricacies of difficult subjects.  They endure because they believe that in the end, truth and justice will prevail.  They may not live to see the desired goal themselves.  Even Moses did not enter the Promised Land.  But the meek know that someday “it” will happen.  Someday the people will enter the Promised Land.  Someday the dignity and worth of each human person will be acknowledged.  The meek do not give up.  The Kenyan Martyrs sang Jesus’ praises as the flames crept up the reeds in which they had been wrapped.  Not one screamed out or cursed their persecutors.  They knew they were going to the Kingdom the Lord had prepared for them.  Anne Frank said it well: “In spite of everything that has happened, I still believe that people are basically good at heart.”

I went back to my dictionary for the definition of “humble.”  The first definition read: “not haughty nor pretentious.”  That’s fine as far as it goes.  But there is a more basic element to humility that might be overlooked.  Humility is truth.  One cannot feign humility.  If you take the lowest place at the banquet table with the secret hope that the host will raise you to a loftier position thus impressing your friends with your dignity, you might be disappointed.  You just might sit through the entire festivity unrecognized.  The “truth” in humility is the recognition that all is gift.  Even the most gifted had nothing to do with amassing their gifts.  God is the giver and so are the parents’ genes.  Humility demands that we recognize that it is God who gives dignity and worth to every creature, to every human being that is made in God’s image and likeness.  That fact holds true for each representative of every race, color, or creed, of both genders, for heterosexuals and homosexuals and for whatever other human category we can come up with.  All are God’s children.  We are all brothers and sisters in the Lord.  Believe it or not, God loves even the most despicable among us and wills their salvation.  And where there is the will, there is the way.  Believe it.

All that being said, does “milquetoast” best describe the character of the humble person?  I think not.  Again, look to Jesus.  He chastised the scribes and the Pharisees for their haughty ways and for putting the Law before people.  He commanded the evil spirits to go out of the man.  He silenced the wind and the waves.  He made a whip out of a leather belt and drove the moneychangers from the temple.  He stood in silence before Pilate.

Do you remember the bitter exchange between Jesus and Peter as they came down the mountain after the Transfiguration?  Jesus began to talk about going to Jerusalem where he would be rejected and suffer and die and on the third day rise again.  Peter flew into a fury and rebuked Jesus harshly for such thoughts.  Why?  Because Jesus’ being condemned to the death of a common criminal did not fit in with Peter’s image of Messiah that he had come to believe Jesus to be.  Where would be the power and the glory, to say nothing of the prosperity of the kingdom the Messiah will bring and in which Peter wanted to share?  I doubt Peter had ever before felt such rage unleashed upon him as Jesus said to him: “Get behind me, you Satan, and learn from me!”  Learn what?  Learn what it means to be a servant.

In John’s Gospel, in the Last Supper sequence, there is no Eucharist narrative.  Instead, there is the great challenge to those who celebrate Eucharist.  Jesus, clad as a servant, kneels at the feet of each of his disciples at table with him and washes their feet.  Again, Peter protests only to hear Jesus say, “If you do not let me wash your feet you can have no part in the inheritance.”  Peter’s response?  “Then, Lord, wash not only my feet but my hands and face as well.”  Then, when all the disciples’ feet had been washed, Jesus said, “What I have done for you, so you must do for one another.”  With that one sentence Jesus defined the Church as a servant Church.  The greatest office to which any member of the Church can aspire is to be a foot washer.  The faithful exercise the priesthood of the Baptized when they wash one another’s feet, when they serve each other.

Pomposity is a scandal in the Church.  The pope’s title, right next to “Bishop of Rome” is “servant of the servants of God.”  The ordained are ordained to serve and not to be served.  The times of greatest corruption in the Church always occurred during eras when the Church knew wealth, when the Church wielded power.  The Church was rich and powerful during the period of the Spanish Inquisition.  When St. Francis followed the Lord’s command to him to “rebuild my Church” he did so by traveling to Rome to challenge the pope to restore simplicity and poverty to the Church.  It took until the example of Pope John XXIII before his successor removed the Triple Crown from the papal investiture and banished that symbol, donating it to the United Nations for peace.

The dominant attitude of the meek and humble of heart is to stand with the oppressed, to be one with them.  One day, late in the Holocaust, a group of men were being led off to the gas chambers for extinction.  One of the men wept.  As a young husband and father he wanted to be spared so that he could be reunited with his family.  Maximilian Kolbe stepped forward and offered to take the man’s place in the line.  And it was granted him.  Three college students went to Mississippi to help black people enroll for voting.  They were murdered for their efforts.  The recently canonized Damien of Molokai lived among the lepers he served and rejoiced when he could address them as “My fellow lepers.”

The examples are extreme even as they are heroic.  Not everyone will have to make decisions that will result in their having to give up their lives.  But everyone who is meek and humble of heart does have to serve as vulnerable servants.  Jesus is the one to be imitated.  “What I have done for you so you must do for one another.”  The Eucharist we celebrate is the prime example of the service to which we are called.  The message that must go out from each celebration is, “All are welcome here.”

All are called to exercise the priesthood of the Baptized as we live in such a way that we proclaim the Church to be the People of God.  That was the vision of Church promulgated by Vatican Council II.  Service is our vocation as we work for truth, justice, and peace; as we work to extol the dignity and worth of every human being; as we look forward to kingdom of God come to full stature.  We may not live to see the full realization of the vision of the Second Vatican Council.  But if we are willing to be meek and humble of heart, if we are willing to pour out our lives in humble service, one day it will happen.

THE FEAST OF PENTECOST – C


Acts 2:1-11

1 Corinthians 12:3b-7, 12-13

John 20:19-23

Think about the Pentecost event sometime as you stand on the brow of a hill overlooking the sea and a storm rages.  Or, watch the flames leap from tree to tree in the midst of a forest fire.  The images are violent and awesome are the forces unleashed.  Now, imagine yourself in a room with others similarly terrified and imagining yourselves in mortal peril.  Those are the ingredients put before us as the reading from the Acts of the Apostles is proclaimed.  The sound of a violent wind.  Tongues of fire bursting over the heads of the gathered ones.  Those are the chaotic images put before us so that we might appreciate the magnitude of the moment when faith begins.

Do you remember how the creation narrative in Genesis begins?  Roaring winds blow over the waters as God sets about transforming the wasteland and separating the light from the darkness.  Pentecost initiates a new creation as The Holy Spirit rushes upon the first disciples to fill them with the Spirit’s presence and they will never be the same again.  In that instant the Christ experience makes sense to them.  They understand the meaning and the significance of what happened in their midst.  Now they must tell others about it so that new believers can share in the experience of God’s bountiful love.

The once fearful ones rush out into the open and begin proclaiming the Good News.  The streets are filled with Jews from distant and near lands and they have come to Jerusalem for the celebration of the harvest festival.  They speak various languages and are amazed to hear the story in their own tongues.  The Spirit empowers the foreigners to hear and understand and to believe.  The Church begins.

Sit beneath the Word as it is proclaimed this Pentecost.  Let the images wash over you and find a resonant place in your heart.  Perhaps you are struggling with doubt this day.  You might feel overwhelmed with issues in your own life or in the life of the Church.  So much that surrounds you may seem like chaos.  This is your feast.  Be reminded that God brings order out of chaos.  Christ has conquered all those things you fear and has redeemed you out of whatever darkness threatens to stifle you.  The Spirit has seized you and will never let you go.  You are God’s beloved in Christ forever.

Paul is chastising the Corinthians and us in the second reading.  The historical occasion for the letter was the fact that the Corinthian church was being fractured because some of the members were exulting in their gift of tongues and deriding those in the community not similarly gifted.  Paul attempts to put the reigns on the chaos by reminding them that everything is gift and the greatest of the gifts just might not be tongues.  That is what he will say in a later section of the letter.  Here he wants the Corinthians to remember that they are not even able to admit that Jesus is Lord unless the Holy Spirit animates that faith.  No one can come to faith simply by reasoning his or her way to it.  Even those who were present for so many of the major moments in Christ’s ministry did not understand what they had witnessed until the Spirit came upon them.

You know the old adage: Pride comes before the fall. It is to that that Paul alerts us in this reading.  But he is also challenging us to recognize our gifts as blessings and not begrudge others for their gifts because they are not ours.  So much time is wasted wishing we had gifts that others have.  If only I could sing the way she does.  If only I could play the piano the way he does.  If only I could do this or that or the other thing the way that they do. And another curiosity: isn’t it true that when we think about our own talents we tend to think of them as ordinary, imagining that almost everybody can do what we do.  Alas.

I believe that every parish has in its members all the gifts necessary for its success.  There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit. In the membership there will be those gifted as lectors and those as extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist.  You will find those who have the talent to be ministers to the homebound and to those who are grieving.  If an analysis is run to determine the ministerial needs in the parish, you can be sure that there are those present who will excel in those ministries.  The parish just has to gather in prayer and invoke the Spirit to inspire those so gifted to make their gifts available for the good of the Body of Christ.  The needs will be met.

I remember a Thanksgiving morning.  The church was filled with people gathered not out of obligation but out of a need to give thanks in Eucharist.  I was seated listening to the readings when I noticed a lad moving through each pew down one side of the church.  When he made his way to the last pew, he started up the other side and continued to venture through each pew there.  The boy had Down syndrome.  He made sure on that morning that he greeted every person in the church with the peace of Christ.  No one told him to do that except the Spirit that prompted him.  There was no need for a homily.  Every person got the message his gift imparted.  And there wasn’t another person in the assembly that could have done what he did.

Sometimes the obvious escapes us.  Paul reminds us of the human body.  The body has many parts and the parts have different functions.  There is unity and there is diversity, all of it occurring in the one body.  How sad if the ear resented that it can’t do what the eye does or vice versa.  That’s silly, we all know.  But it is no sillier than individuals who ignore their own gifts and pine after those of others.  Just as silly as it is for those with a particular gift to hold in distain those without their gift.  It is all gift and comes from the same gift giver.  All of that multitude of gifted individuals, because of the Spirit and Baptism, have become the one Body of Christ.  The mystery begins.

So, we come to the gospel and another version of the Pentecost event.  It is not fifty days after the Resurrection, but the evening of that first day of the week. The disciples are gathered behind locked doors for fear of some of the Jews.  In a moment they recognize a new presence in their midst.  They are not certain who it is even as they hear, Peace be with you. When they see the nail marks and the gash in the side, they know it is Jesus who says to them again, Peace be with you.  As the Father has sent me, so I send you. The greeting is an invitation to stop being afraid.  If they keep their eyes fixed on Jesus they will know that they have nothing to fear because nothing will separate them from the love of God that comes to them through Jesus.  And now they have work to do.

Don’t miss the Pentecost moment.  It stands in marked contrast to the one related in the first reading.  There is no mention of rushing wind or dancing fire this time.  Jesus breathes on them.  At the dawn of creation, God breathed into the clay the breath of life and humans became living beings.  Jesus breathes on the disciples and gifts them with the Holy Spirit.  The Spirit gives them new purpose and meaning.  The Holy Spirit transforms and empowers them.

The mission of the disciples and of the church is to proclaim forgiveness.  The chasm that separated God and people has been bridged.  Through Jesus Christ the human and the divine have been wed.  The unity that God meant for the human family was rent by sin.  Now the great proclamation of reconciliation begins.  Forgiveness of sins is a reality because of Jesus’ dying and rising.  The message needs to be told to give those shrouded in darkness and on the verge of despair a reason to look up and rejoice.

On this Feast of Pentecost the Holy Spirit will draw us together as one body to celebrate Eucharist.  The Spirit makes it a reality that whenever the Eucharist is celebrated the whole church is present.  One bread, one body/ One Lord of all/ One cup of blessing that we share/ And we, though many throughout the earth/ We are one body in this one Lord. All we have to do is live the faith as the church.  Each gifted individual united with the rest of the assembly in the one Eucharist and now filled with the Holy Spirit can go forth and be a sign of God’s dwelling among us and Christ’s living within us, each one in his or her own gifted way.  The message is love expressed in humble service.  And when we let the Spirit lead us and empower us to act in that way, all will hear the message in their own tongues and understand that God loves them and us.  We are forgiven.  We will live with God, in Christ and the Holy Spirit, forever.  Do you believe this?

Sincerely,

Didymus