The Holy Trinity Icon by Andrei Rublev
Jesus had just spoken to them about the importance of avoiding sin and therefore leading other people into sin. He had spoken to them about admonishing the sinner. He had spoken to them about the importance of forgiving those who had hurt them. Knowing how difficult it is to live up to the expectations of discipleship they responded with the request of the Lord, “Increase our faith” (Luke 17:5). To this he basically said, “If you truly want an increase of faith, you simply need to be faithful.”
I decided that it would be interesting to look up these two words in the dictionary. In the New Oxford American Dictionary I found some interesting things. First of all, I remember that when a word has multiple meanings or uses the first definition listed refers to the most common use of the word. The definition of “faith” reads “complete trust or confidence in someone or something: this restores one’s faith in politicians.” The first definition of the word “faithful” is “loyal, constant, and steadfast: he exhorted them to remain faithful to the principles of Reagenism . . . or . . . faithful service . . .”
Neither of these definitions has anything to do with religion. According to this dictionary, “faith” and “faithfulness” only secondarily refers to religion. But these definitions reveal to us an important thing about faith. We apply faith to someone, or something. And so faith is about relationship. And so, if we want to increase our own faith, we need to be faithful in our relationship with the Lord. This is not rocket science. If you want to become a great athlete you have to practice the sport. If you want to become a great musician you have to practice your music. If you want to become a great Christian, you have to practice your faith. In other words you need to nurture and deepen your relationship with Christ.
This is at the heart of what it means to be a disciple. This is also what it means to enter into the heart of the God. And this makes absolute logical sense. We, who are created in the image and likeness of God, are created to be like God. It has been revealed to us Christians that God exists as a Trinity of persons; one God, three person; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In other words, God exists in relationship. Therefore we were created, in God’s image to exist in relationship; not simply with others. We were created to exist in relationship with God. When we live in relationship with God, our faith will increase.
So, for the Christian, how does this work? How do we enter more deeply into a relationship with God? To assist our reflection I invite you to pick up the Worship Aid that you received when you came to mass today. On the back of the Worship Aid is an image of “The Holy Trinity,” an icon painted by a 15th century Russian artist by the name of Andrew Rublev.
An icon is a sacred image upon which we gaze as a form of prayer. In silence we gaze upon the image to enter more deeply into the mystery which it is trying to reveal. By emptying our minds of the clutter of words that try to explain the essence of God, and focusing only on the image represented, one can move from head to heart allowing God to speak to us in the silence of our hearts. By so doing, one enters more deeply into union with God.
In this icon the Trinity is portrayed as three angelic figures, seated around a small table, engaged in an intimate conversation. In the background is a tree and a house. In the center of the table, right in the middle of the three figures, is a chalice containing the Eucharist.
The three figures and the tree remind us of the visit which angelic messengers paid to Sarah and Abraham at the oak of Mamre. As the three enjoyed the hospitality of Sarah and Abraham, the messengers announced the unexpected birth of Isaac, whom Abraham would later be asked to sacrifice to prove his fidelity to God. Because of the deep faith of Abraham and Sarah they are considered the father and mother of Judaism. It was through their generous welcome, and their obedience to God, that the Judeo-Christian faith came into being.
Our faith teaches us that the story of Abraham, Sarah, and Isaac, prefigures the great event of our salvation; God’s sending His only beloved Son who willingly offers himself as a sacrifice for our sins and give new life through the Holy Spirit.
When first looking at this icon you notice the three figures. They appear to be in intimate conversation as their heads lean in towards each other, the Son and Holy Spirit both looking at the Father.
The figures are each making a gesture with their hands. Each of them holds a staff of authority in their left hand. The Son points to the chalice indicating his mission to be the sacrificial lamb. The two fingers symbolize his two natures, human and divine. The Father’s hand is stretched in blessing towards his Son offering His encouragement to fulfill His mission. The Holy Spirit points to the opening in the front of the altar, indicating that the divine sacrifice is given for the salvation of the entire world.
This brings us to the opening. This space is rectangular in shape representing the created order which stretches north, south, east, and west, including all people. Its position, directly beneath the chalice, signifies that there is room around the divine table only for those who are willing to become participants in the divine sacrifice by offering their lives as a witness to the love of God.
Thus a cross begins to emerge. The vertical beam is formed by the tree, the Son, the chalice and the opening in the altar. The horizontal beam includes the heads of the Father and the Spirit. The outer edges of the three figures form a circle, at the center of which again is found the Blessed Sacrament.
This brings us then to the deeper meaning of the icon, and the truth about the Trinity that is being revealed to us. Just as Christ had two natures, human and divine, we are called to live in two worlds, the physical (human) and spiritual (divine). The physical world is filled with fear and hatred. It is often difficult to have joy and hope in the face of the difficulties that this world has to offer. Some would say that the world is the household of fear.
The narrow opening in the altar is God’s invitation for us to enter into the spiritual world, the household of love formed by the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We can enter this house only by our willingness to offer our lives, like the Son, for the sake of others. When we offer our lives for others we know the love of the Father who gave us his only Son. We know the love of Christ who offered his life for us. We know the love of the Holy Spirit, who invites us, strengthens us, and encourages us to do God’s will.
Every time we celebrate the mass we enter in the mystery of the Holy Trinity. In our communion we become united with God and with one another in that community of love. In other words, we enter into the midst of the Holy Trinity so that we might begin to understand how to be committed to the struggle against hatred and fear in our world, as we dwell in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in the household of love.
Next weekend, beginning Sunday evening, I will be giving three evenings of reflection on the three persons of the Holy Trinity. This mission is a sort of kickoff to our year as we take the journey into the heart of the Holy Trinity. I invite you to reflect on this icon this week as you prepare to enter in the journey. Then I invite you to come to our mission. I promise you, if you enter this journey with us, your faith fill be increased. You will know more deeply the love of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit as you dwell in the household of love.
Belief in eternal existence after death dates back to the earliest teachings of our Jewish ancestors. Even the Jews, at the time of Abraham and Moses had a primitive understanding of the soul existing forever in a place called Sheol. Sheol is referred to in scripture as the deep depths of the earth (Deut. 32:22); a place from which no one escaped (Psalm 89:49). It was not a concept of eternal paradise like heaven but rather a state of eternal inactivity. One simply existed but did nothing forever. Not a particularly hopeful state of existence.
However, the question, “What happens when you die?” began to take on a new hope-filled significance for the Jewish people due to the gradual understanding of a belief in the afterlife. This belief is reflected as early as 750 B.C. in the writings of the prophets Ezekiel and Isaiah. The concept of the afterlife became very important to the Jewish people during the period of persecutions 100-200 years before Christ. During this era we received the great writings of Job, Daniel, and Wisdom. During this time we also received the writings entitled Maccabees, from which we just heard the story of the mother and seven son.
The Apostles Creed, which tradition has taught was formulated by the Apostles on the day of Pentecost, while still under the direction of the Holy Spirit, outlines the basic tenets or beliefs of the Church. Among these beliefs are the concluding words “I believe in the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting. Amen.”
Jesus, in his teachings spoke of eternal life and eternal damnation, and so the basic belief in heaven and hell has been an undisputed fact throughout the entire history of Christianity.
Heaven: The favorite image of biblical authors is the banquet (Isaiah 25:6). This implies that heaven will be an entering into an eternity of relationship, not only with God, but with all who are saved, for we will all be guests at that banquet. This is consonant with our belief in a Trinitarian God who exists in an eternal relationship of Father, Son and Spirit. Created in God’s image and likeness we are created to be in relationship with God and others. And so heaven is aptly described as an eternal banquet.
Heaven also, from the Catholic perspective, has always been taught as a possibility for everyone. Each and every person, at some point in his/her existence, is extended the invitation to enter the kingdom. For believers, the invitation is extended to us in this world. For non-believers we speak of the particular judgment, when each of us comes to face to face with Christ at the moment of our death. To those not called in this world, the invitation is extended to the individual soul at the moment of death. In that moment the individual has the opportunity to accept or reject the invitation.
To this some would say, then why believe if in the end we are all going to heaven? This is the great misconception that is one factor in the great decline in practice of faith in the modern world. Political correctness, inclusion of all people, and the misunderstood notion of not judging others has led to this lack of proper response to Christ’s invitation.
For those of us who have been given the invitation in this world, something is being expected of us in return. If we accept the invitation to believe, then we are to live our lives accordingly. We must follow and obey the commands and teachings of Christ as revealed to us, not just in the scriptures, but also in his Church here on earth. If we do not live our lives as we are expected to we will be held accountable on our day of judgment.
This leads us to one of two options. The first is Hell.
Most of us would admit that we each deserve some punishment. None of us is perfect, and as the scriptures say, only the perfect will enter the heavenly kingdom. Hell, however, is not just about divine judgment and punishment. Hell is about our choices. Since each of us is invited by Christ, either in this world, or on the day of our particular judgment, each of us has the opportunity to accept or reject that invitation. The choice is ours.
Every choice we make turns us toward God and neighbor or away from them. One day our life will end, and with it comes the end of the future ability to make any other choices. We die who we have become over a lifetime of loving or unloving choices. Because of this we can reject God’s mercy. It is probably more accurate for us to say we damn ourselves to Hell than to say God condemns us to Hell. And so the unrepentant sinner, no matter whether he/she was Christian in this world or not, on the day of judgment will be condemned to Hell for rejecting God’s mercy.
And so, some of us are extended the invitation to follow Christ in this life. With this comes the hope of the heaven that is to come, and the responsibility then of making heaven happen here on earth (feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, making right that which is wrong, etc.) Our refusal to do this just might be our condemnation. Non-Christians will be given the invitation at the moment of death and those who refuse the invitation at that time will be condemned for all eternity.
But, what about those of us who believe, but fall short of the mark? After all, only the perfect can enter heaven. But only the evil will be condemned to Hell. And is it really fair that those who never knew Christ, and lived awful lives in this world, can go straight to heaven just because they receive the invitation? This seems incredibly unfair and it is unfair by human standards, but not by God’s standard. And so, enters the Church’s teaching on purgatory.
Purgatory is best described as a place, or period, of purification (hence purging). This is attested to by Peter (1 Peter 1:7) and Paul (1 Corinthians 3:15). When a person sins there are two consequences that arise: spiritual and temporal. This is because we are both body and soul. The spiritual consequence of sin damages the soul and oftentimes the souls of others. The temporal consequence of sin damages the body and the material world in which we live. When we receive forgiveness of our sins, whether it be in this life, or at the moment of our particular judgment, the spiritual consequence of sin is washed away. This happened once for all time, through the blood of Christ poured out for all on the cross. Hence all can be saved, but only those who accept this invitation will enter heaven.
Although the spiritual consequences of sin are washed away, the temporal consequences still remain. That is why in this life, we need to atone for our sins insofar as we restore what we have damaged in this world through our sin. Sometimes this might be done by a particular penance given in the Sacrament of Reconciliation (i.e. if a person confesses having stolen something, they may be given the penance to give back whatever it was that was stolen). Atonement for our sins might be done in the form of prayers for those who have offended. It might be done by seeking out to apologize and reconcile with those we have offended. It might come in the form of fasting or abstinence, or some other act of mortification, by which we allow ourselves to feel a little of the pain our sin has caused to others.
At the moment of death, when we accept the final mercy of God for the spiritual forgiveness of our sins, we may have still left behind a lot of temporal damage in this world as a result of our sin. (An extreme example may be a child molester or rapist, who receives God’s mercy in the next life, while his/her victims are still damaged in this life as a result of the abuse; A less dramatic example might be the chronic gossiper who has left behind a trail of damaged reputations due to his/her own tongue. Spiritual forgiveness is granted, but the temporal world remains damaged). We carry this with us into eternity and so this temporal damage needs to be purged from our souls. This state of purification the Church calls purgatory.
When a soul is in purgatory there is great suffering, but there is hope. This is because the soul knows without a doubt that heaven is the destiny. The suffering of Hell is probably much like purgatory, but it is amplified by the awareness that the soul knows that heaven exists, but it will never enter there.
The Church discipline of praying for the dead is actually a praying for the souls in purgatory. This is because those in heaven no longer need our prayers. And for those in Hell, any prayer is useless. Our prayers help the souls in purgatory to go through this purification and enter into the final reward of heaven. Prayer transcends time and space. The prayer we breathe today for a loved one powerfully places us with that loved one. Because prayer transcends time, any prayer we utter today is present also for the person at the moment of death when that person comes face-to-face with God.
And so today, in this Eucharist let us give God thanks for the hope of eternal life. Let us then pray for the grace to live our lives on earth, so that all our choices will be made through the hope of heaven that is to come.
Prayer is one of the most important parts of our faith. It is through prayer that we nurture our relationship with God. It is through prayer that we keep moving in the right direction. No one can truly grow in their faith without a good and healthy prayer-life. For the past several weeks we have been hearing about important characteristics of prayer. Two weeks ago we heard the story of the healing of the ten lepers and the importance of gratitude and thankfulness in prayer.
Last week we heard the parable of the widow who pestered the unjust judge until he finally gave into her demands. This teaches us the importance of persistence in our prayer.
This week we learn about the importance of having the right focus in our prayer. The parable of the Pharisee and the tax-collector teaches us that God is to be the focus of our prayer. This parable is really quite eye-opening when you really understand it. The Pharisees at the time of Jesus were looked upon as the holiest of people. They were the spiritual leaders of the community. People looked to them for direction when they had questions about their faith. People saw them worshipping in the temple weekly. People recognized as those who followed the letter of the law to its perfection. They were the model Jews.
But the Pharisee in this parable had what you might call an attention disorder. Most of his attention was focused on what he had done, and what he had accomplished. His prayer started out perfectly with the words, “I give you thanks O God . . .” The Pharisee started his prayer with right focus (which was probably a formula he learned in his religious upbringing). But no sooner are these words out of his mouth than he shifts the focus to himself. Five times he uses the word “I”. His prayer of faith is more in his accomplishments than in the source of his success, God.
The tax-collector, a known sinner, on the other hand recognized his own sinfulness, his own limitations, his own brokenness. He came to God humbly, asking only for God’s mercy. His prayer recognizes that it is only by the grace of God that he can hope to be saved.
This parable, as in all parables, then is teaching us about the relationship we ought to have with God. In order for a parable to have true meaning in our life, we have to put ourselves into the shoes of one of its people. We have to ask ourselves, “Am I more like the Pharisee, or am I like the tax-collector?” For most of us who are here I would venture to say that we are more like the Pharisee. His big problem was that he was distracted with himself. He was allowing himself to get in the way of his prayer. This is not necessarily intentional, and we probably don’t even realize we are doing it.
As a Pharisee our prayer might go something like this. I thank you Lord for the gift of faith you have planted in my heart. I pray every morning and every night. I never miss mass on Sunday. I serve on the Altar Society. I am a member of the Knights of Columbus. I teach religious formation. I always help at the Fall Supper. I give my fair share to the Sunday collection. I always do good things for my neighbor.
All of the things in this prayer are good things for they are outward signs of our faith. But they are focused on us, and what we have done. God asks that we have a faith which is focused on God. The prayer might then be, “I thank you God for the many gifts and talents you have given me. I thank you for the many opportunities to serve this community. In spite of the good I do in your name, I still sin against you. Forgive me Lord, of my sins, and give me the courage and strength to always do your will.”
This is a prayer which is focused on God, and what God does for us.
There are other ways we may find ourselves distracted in our prayer. For instance, we may find ourselves pre-occupied with our job. We may have concerns about the workplace and our relationships with our co-workers. We may be concerned that we are not making enough money to adequately provide for our families. We may be concerned about excessive rain or heat, or insects or disease, which are destroying our crops. We may be concerned with problems within our family. And so we come to worship God, with these concerns on our mind, and by focusing only on these issues it is easy to forget what God has done for us.
Other distractions may be the areas of recreation or entertainment in our lives. We may be caught up in the thrill of a successful basketball team, or setting new records. Or we may be thinking about that deer, or goose, that got away. Or we may be thinking about the day awaiting us at our lake cabin, or the card party which we won last night, or the craft project, or building project waiting for us at home. Once again our mind becomes pre-occupied with ourselves, and our activities, and we forget we have come to worship God.
Today’s parable speaks to us of the difficulty we can have with focusing our prayer. True prayer must always be directed to God. True prayer must always be open to the power of God’s transforming grace. If we are pre-occupied with ourselves, then we cannot truly be open to God in the way that faith really demands. There are so many things in our life that can preoccupy us and become obstacles to our faith. While the things in themselves may be good, while they may be a sign of our own giftedness, they can block us from the basic truth that these, and all, good things came to us from God.
The real hallmark of true prayer is to come before God humbly, and empty of self. We must come to God with hands and hearts empty of self, so that God can fill us with his grace. As we celebrate this Eucharist this day, let us empty ourselves of our personal needs. Let us empty our hearts and minds of the things which are distracting us. Then as we receive the Eucharist, the body and blood of Christ, let us ask God to fill us with the life-giving presence of his Son; a presence which grants us forgiveness of our sin, and fills us with God’s grace for the life of the world.
Over the last two evenings we have reflected on the Holy Spirit and the Son. In this we have learned that faith begins for us as an action on God’s part. God takes the initiative and calls us into faith. Without God taking this first step, we cannot come to know God. This action on God’s part is through the person of the Holy Spirit. We received the gift of the Holy Spirit through the sacraments of baptism and confirmation. It is God the Holy Spirit who then reveals to us God the Son. We most fully experience the presence of the Son through the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. In the Eucharist we receive the body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus, the second person of the Trinity. Each time we celebrate the Eucharist we enter into the great paschal mystery whereby Christ became human, suffered and died, and rose from the dead. This action, on the part of the Son is the way we come to know the depth and the breadth of the Father’s love for us.
I have mentioned also the journey we will be taking as a parish; a journey which brings us to the heart of Holy Trinity. The icon of the Holy Trinity which stands in front of me is the focal piece for Fr. Michael Gaitley’s book, The One Thing is Three. To enter this journey we will be invited to personally consecrate our heart to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. This 33 day mini-retreat will be directed through Fr. Gaitley’s book 33 Days to Morning Glory. Each of you will be receiving a copy of this book at Christmas this year. You can use this book as a part of your personal devotion, dedicating 5-7 minutes each morning with reading and then meditating on a single thought for the day. On March 25th, the Solemnity of the Annunciation we will come together for a special prayer of consecration.
Then you will be invited to take the journey to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. This 10 week process will be directed by a third book by Fr. Michael Gaitley, Consoling the Heart of Jesus. This consecration will take place next June on the Feast of the Sacred Heart. These first step of the journey then prepares us to delve more deeply into The One Thing is Three. On this journey we will come to know and appreciate the divine mercy of God and we will experience more deeply, perhaps in a way we have never known it before, the Father’s love
The Father’s love. What a beautiful thought. What a hopeful thought to know we are loved by God. In fact we exist as an act of Divine love. We do not have to even exist. God does not need us. But has chosen for us to exist as a pure act of love. Another word for love is mercy. With God, the two words are interchangeable with each other and so it is always right to speak of the Father’s love AND mercy. And just what is this Divine Mercy? To answer this question I share with you, once again, some reflections from Fr. Gaitley’s book.
Divine mercy, as Fr. Gaitleys says, gets to the heart of Sacred Scripture. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (1849) teaches, “The Gospel is the revelation in Jesus Christ of God’s mercy to sinners.” Pope Benedict, in his Regina Caele Address on Divine Mercy Sunday, April 23, 2006 says, “Divine mercy is not a secondary devotion, but an integral dimension of Christian faith and prayer.” In his Divine Mercy Sunday address of March 30, 2008, he says, “Mercy is the central nucleus of the Gospel message.”
Fr. Gaitley goes on to say, “Divine Mercy is when God’s love meets us and helps us in the midst of our suffering and sin. . . It is always the Lord stepping out in compassion to help us poor, weak, and broken sinners” (The One Thing . . . Pg. 335)
Today most people associate Divine Mercy with the mystical visions of a Polish nun who died in 1938. St. Maria Faustina Kowalska received extraordinary experiences of the Lord while in prayer. In speaking of the great graces being poured out on Divine Mercy Sunday, our Lord said: “On that day, the very depths of My tender mercy are opened. I pour out a whole ocean of graces upon those souls who approach the fount of My mercy . . . On that day, all the divine floodgates through which graces flow are opened” (Diary of St. Faustina, Pg. 699).
In His appearances to Faustina Jesus was not revealing a new gospel. Rather he was reminding us of the heart of Sacred Scripture. He appeared to her in between the time of the two great Wars, a time when the world needed to know the depth of God’s mercy. Especially when you realize that he appeared in Poland during the time of the rise of the Third Reich and on the threshhold of the holocaust. In his appearances he was saying, “Now is the time of mercy. Now is a time when I want to give especially great graces to the human race” (cf. Gaitley, pg. 334).
Why would God want to give us these great graces in our time? Pope John Paul II seems to have explained it best. First, he points out that there are all kinds of blessings in our contemporary society. Modern technology has done so much to make life easier for us. Yet in the midst of these blessings and in some ways, because of these very same advances in technology (I.e. cell phones, internet, etc.) John Paul would say that “evil has a reach and power in our day like never before.” To this John Paul would say, “Be not afraid.” God is not outdone by evil. So, in a time of great evil, God wants to give even greater graces. Paul, in his letter to the Romans wrote, “Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more” (5:20).
Because of this Pope John Paul declared that the Second Sunday of Easter would be officially named, Divine Mercy Sunday. The Second Sunday of Easter is the Eighth Day, it is the culmination of the Octave (eight days) of Easter. In declaring this John Paul was not doing something new. Rather he was reclaiming an ancient Feast Day from the early Church. The Early Church Fathers wrote of this Feast.
St. Gregory of Nazienzen, (d. 390 AD) taught that the Easter Octave Day is the “New Sunday.” He said, “that Sunday (meaning Easter) was the day of salvation, but this Sunday (Octave of Easter) is the birthday of salvation.”
St. Augustine in his sermons calls the whole Octave of Easter “days of mercy and pardon” and the Octave Day itself “the compendium of the days of mercy.” In his Summa Theologiae, St. Thomas Aquinas echoes the early Fathers when he describes the Octave Day as the goal and the second perfection of Easter. (See footnote 317 from Gaitley, Pg. 374ff).
The Prodigal Son
The Sacred Scriptures are filled with stories of God’s Divine Mercy. In fact the entire bible, the story of salvation, is the story of God’s mercy and love for sinful humanity. In all the scriptures there is no more profound story of the Father’s mercy than in the story of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32). This story, like all parables reveals to us a fundamental truth about God and our relationship to God. Very often we hear the story told from the perspective of the younger son, or the older son. This is because these two figures represent us and our response to God.
I would suggest that for tonight’s purpose we look at the person of the father, who obviously represents God the Father. The father had two sons. One, a younger son, was rebellious and self-centered; the older son was faithful and steadfast. But the father loved both sons equally. This is the way it is with God’s love. God loves all people equally, no matter how holy and faithful, or how sinful and self-centered we are.
The son came to the father with what must have been a heartbreaking request. Give me my share of the inheritance. By these words the son was telling him that his father was as good as dead to him. That is what we humans do every single time we sin. Everything we have, and everything we are, belongs to our Father in heaven. God has chosen to share this great world with us. When we use the things of this world, with no thought of the Father, with no gratitude in our hearts, we are saying God is as good as dead to us.
So many people in our world seem to be living their lives this way. How many times do we go about their daily lives, our work and play, and never give a thought to God? It is as though God doesn’t even exist. It doesn’t help matters that society has taken God so much out of the public arena. It seems that we give no thought to God until we want or need something. Living this way we soon find that our resources simply are not enough. That is what happened to the son in the parable. This is what finally brought him to his senses. This is what caused him to return to his father.
Here comes the very important part of the parable. The son returned to the father, and while he was still a long way off the father saw him and ran out to greet him. That is the way it is with God. No matter how far we wander from God, the Father is always there waiting to take us back into his loving arms. Even before we come to our sense, God the Father is ready, watching and waiting for us. That is a God of love who gives us the absolute freedom to choose whatever we will, even if our choices are wrong. That is a God of love who is always ready to forgive us and bring us back to life.
And it wasn’t enough that the father ran out to greet his son. He threw a party for him. That again is the way it is with our Father in heaven. Every time we return to the Father he blesses us, he graces us. The primary source of these graces is the sacraments of the church, especially the sacraments of Holy Eucharist and Reconciliation. In these sacraments God the Father is lavishing us with His grace. He puts on us the new clothing of holiness through the grace of forgiveness and mercy. He feeds us with the choicest of food, not a fatted calf, but the body, blood, soul, and divinity of His Son.
He does this because He knows that by our sin we die and through his mercy we are brought back to life; a life lived in the loving embrace of our Father in heaven.
But the parable doesn’t end there. There is the problem of the older son who refused to come to the party out of jealousy. He was unable or unwilling to forgive his brother for what he had done to them. And so what did the father do? He went outside to his son. Again that is how God the Father is with us. God comes to us, wherever we are. That is what the Lord does for us every time we sin. He comes to us and moves our hearts so that can return to Him. It is the Holy Spirit, and the death and resurrection of the Son, which moves our hearts to seek the Father’s mercy. And we have the absolute assurance that we will receive that mercy every time we ask.
God the Father accepts us, wherever we are. But He doesn’t want to leave us where we are. He doesn’t want to leave us in our sin. No, God the Father wants to bring us back into the loving embrace of the Trinity. This is why Jesus, when he forgave the sins of others, so often spoke the words, “your faith has saved you. Now go and from now on avoid this sin.”
The ultimate sign of the Father’s love for us hangs before us. The cross shows us the extent that God the Father was willing to go to redeem us. Would one of you offer your child’s life for the sake of someone else. No! Absolutely not! But that is what the Father did for us.
The passion and death of Christ is the Father’s Divine Mercy.
Every time we sin we add to the suffering of Christ. When Christ hung on the cross he knew us. As he died on the cross he died for the sins we committed yesterday and today. He died for the sins we will commit tomorrow. And so every time we sin we add to his suffering.
But now I want to really blow your mind. Are we not the Body of Christ? That means that as Christ suffered on the cross, and still suffers because of sin, then we, too are suffering with Him. Sin does have that effect in our lives. This means that every time we sin we are causing our own personal suffering. That means that we are a bit psychotic if we continue to sin because we are adding to our own personal suffering.
It doesn’t have to be that way. This is why God wants to show us love. This is why God does not want to leave us in our own sin. He wants us to know how much He loves us.
This is why Catholics go to confession. Our sin is real and it has a very real effect in our lives. God’s Divine Mercy is real, and where our sin abounds, God’s mercy abounds all the more. And so we come to confession to experience, very really, the Father’s mercy and love. When the priest speaks the words, “I absolve you of your sin,” he does so, “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” And so once again, it is the action of the Holy Trinity, that grants this mercy, through a humble, unworthy, human priest. By hearing the words, and by the laying on of hands we very really experience the mercy of God.
In a little while, each of you will be invited to receive the grace of this sacrament. We have eight priests with us tonight who have given themselves to the Lord so that you can experience the Father’s Divine Mercy.
Last night we reflected on the person of the Holy Spirit. In this we learned that faith begins for us as an action on God’s part. God chooses us to know Him. It is through the action of the Holy Spirit, given to us in Baptism and Confirmation, that we come to know the Son. The Son then brings us to Father, revealing to us the depth and breadth of the Father’s Divine Mercy.
I also spoke about the journey we will be taking to the heart of the Holy Trinity. This journey begins for us with a Consecration of our hearts to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. At Christmas each household will be receiving the book, “33 Days to Morning Glory,” by Fr. Michael Gaitley. I am inviting each one of you to experience this 33 day mini-retreat which will culminate on March 25th, the Solemnity of the Annunciation, our parishes secondary feast day. After this consecration to Mary each of you will be invited to then consecrate your lives the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The book that will be our guide is Fr. Gaitley‘s “Consoling the Heart of Jesus.” This consecration will happen on the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
This evenings reflections on the Son will be focused primarily on the Son’s Eucharistic Presence in the Church. I took this approach because I am making the grand assumption that you who are here are already familiar with the details of Jesus’ life here on earth. As the Church of the Nativity we ought to be very familiar with the story of his virgin birth, his mother Mary, the angels, shepherds and wise men. We also are familiar with the stories of his ministry: his sermons and parables, his healings and miracles, his constant reference to forgiveness. We are also familiar with the opposition by the Roman and Jewish authorities which led to his death. We are most familiar with the details of his arrest, passion, crucifixion and death. And of course we are familiar with the stories of His resurrection and ascension to heaven where He returned to His father.
We also are familiar with the Mass and the other sacraments in which Christ himself is present, through the ordained minister, who administers the grace of the sacraments. In the mass we pray the Nicene Creed in which we speak the words “God from God, light from light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father; through him all things were made . . .” In these words we are professing, week after week, our belief in the Son’s eternal presence and action with the Father and the Holy Spirit. Because of this familiarity I felt it would be best to reflect on the Son’s abiding Eucharistic presence in His Church. While Jesus rose from the dead and ascended body and soul to heaven, He did not leave us alone. He has left us His very self through the Holy Eucharist.
As Catholics we believe in the doctrine of transsubstantiation; the belief that the bread and wine are changed into the body, blood, soul and divinity of Christ. This means that once this bread and wine have been blessed they remain, in very substance, the body and blood of Christ. This is why we have always, from the very beginning, brought the “bread that has been blessed” to those who were sick or unable to come to Church. This “holy bread” would be set aside in a special place of reservation which eventually became the tabernacles of our churches. Over the ages we became aware of the sacredness of this real presence of Christ in the eucharist and so the entire devotional practice of prayer and adoration came into being as an extension of our celebration of the mass.
The Vatican II documents refer to the Eucharist as the “source and summit of our faith”
In the ancient Church the mass was referred to as the mysterion or mystery.
This is not magic. Magic is something that is not real that can be seen (Making an elephant disappear, cutting a woman in half). These things appear to be happening, but they are not real, they are illusion.
Mystery is something that is real that cannot be seen. Catholics have always believed the Eucharist is the Body and Blood of Christ. This is what we call the real presence. Christ is really present, we simply cannot see him (other than in the form of bread and wine)
The Orthodox Churches also believe this.
Our Protestant brothers and sisters believe many other things. Some say it is only a symbolic meal. Lutherans teach “consubstantiation” (body & blood and bread & wine). Christ is present in his divinity in the gathered assembly (Wherever two or three are gathered) but bread and wine remain bread and wine.
Martin Luther himself even began by saying the meal was only symbolic. But by the end of his life he stated “the text is simply too strong to say that it is not the body and blood of Christ.” (cf. John 6;22-68 & 1 Cor. 11:23-25). It is important to note that it was not until the time leading up tothe reformation that anyone officially begin to teach anything else.
And so the Orthodox and Catholics alone believe the Eucharist is the body and blood, soul and divinity of Christ.
Having said that, it is only Catholics who have a devotion to the blessed Sacrament. Othodox Churches reserve the blessed sacrament in tabernacles, but only for the sick. Catholics have had a devotional practice of praying to Christ in the Eucharist outside mass. Tis practice dates back as early as the 8th century.
What does “real presence mean?”
Transubstantiation means the ordinary bread and wine , which is prayed over using Words of scripture, through the outpouring of Holy Spirit through prayers of priest and people becomes body and blood. What this means for us is that Christ becomes very really present to us, not only in his divinity, but also in his humanity. The matter of the Last Supper, bread and wine, transports us back in time to Nazareth. Through our celebration of the Eucharist we enter into, and become a part of the great Paschal Mystery, Christ’s passion, death and resurrection. We are fed then by the bread that comes down from heaven, the body, blood, soul and divinity of Christ’s risen body in heaven.
Sacred Scripture attests to this. Let’s look at the words of institution (“This is my body. This is my blood.).
Scripture: “This is my body” – 1 Cor 11:23-25 – Paul was not present at the last supper, and yet he gives us the earliest written account of the Lord’s supper. He wrote this letter 10-15 years after Christ. Where did he hear these words, if he was not at the Last Supper? In the mass. These words are also found in Matthew 26:26-28; Mark 14:22-24; Luke 22:19-20. These gospels in their present written form date back to 70-85 AD (forty years after Christ). Again Mark and Luke were not at the Last Supper (as far as we know from scripture). The author who wrote the gospel of Matthew probably was not the actual apostle but rather a disciple of Matthew. Jesus did speak these words in the presence of the of the Twelve apostles
The one Apostle to actually write a gospel was John who wrote nearly 60 years after Christ. His account of the Last Supper, found in John 13:1ff, has no words of institution. Instead gives a model of service. Jesus washed feet of disciples and said, “I have given you a model to follow, so that what I have done, you should also do.” John 13:15. John is teaching us that there are consequences of believing in real presence.
Let’s look at the earliest writing of these words of institution.
1 Corinthians 11:23-25 “For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus, on the night he was handed over, took bread, and after he had given thanks, broke it and said, ‘This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes. Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord. . . . Anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself.”
These were the very words that Martin Luther said were simply too strong for the Eucharist not be the body and blood of Christ.
In recent centuries the exact interpretation of these scripture passages has come into question as a direct result of the reformation. Sadly, even the reformers do not agree amongst themselves what these words mean. And so, if we want to know what these scriptures truly mean, does it not make sense to go to the source who gave us these scriptures. That would be the Catholic Church, and we did not even form the Canon of Scriptures, known to us as the bible until the 4th century. The books that are in the New Testament, while written in the first century of Christianity, were not officially declared the canon of scriptures for another 200+ years.
So what was the Church teaching about the Eucharist for those first 300 years? To this we can look to the writings of the Early Church Fathers.
Church Fathers – The Eucharist of the Early Christians, Pueblo Publishing Company, @1978
Didache ca. 90 – “Teachings of the apostles”
Chapter 10:3 “All powerful Master, you created all things for your name’s sake and you have given food and drink to the children of men for their enjoyment . . . Moreover, you have bestowed a spiritual food and drink that lead to eternal life, through Jesus your servant.”
Clement of Rome – ca 95 – Pope
44,2 – Apostolic succession & priesthood
Only those validly ordained can offer the sacrifice of the mass
Ignatius of Antioch – ca 110 – Bishop (cf. Office of Readings, Tuesday Week 27)
Wrote letters to his community on his way to execution
Urged them to remain closely united to Christ and the Church
To maintain the bonds of faith and love,
Under the leadership of the bishop
And around the one altar whereon the one bread,
Which is the flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ
Is broken in the Eucharist, the sacrament par excellence
“My earthly love has been crucified and there is in me no fire of earthly love . . . I take no pleasure in corruptible food or in the delights of this life. I want the blood of God which is the flesh of Jesus Christ who is the child of David and when I drink I want the blood of Jesus which is his incorruptible body.”
Ignatius also reaffirmed the necessity of apostolic succession.
“Where there is no bishop, or priest or deacon there is no Church.”
Justin – ca 150 – historian and martyr
First Apology – Chapter 65-67
66,2 “For we do not receive these things as though they were ordinary food and drink. Just as Jesus Christ our Savior was made flesh through the word of God and took on flesh and blood for our salvation, so too (we have been taught) through the word of prayer that comes from him the food over which the thanksgiving has been spoken becomes the flesh and blood of the incarnate Jesus, in order to nourish and transform our flesh and blood.”
He wrote this because some pagan religions were beginning to imitate what Christians were doing. These cults, which do not center on the life of Christ, were false religions. Justin says that we receive the flesh and blood of Jesus “in order to nourish and transform our flesh and blood”
Other Church Father’s also give us significant writings: Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons – ca 130-200; Clement, Bishop of Alexandria – ca 200; Terrtullian – ca 200-220.
The doctrine of the real presence of Christ even precedes the official pronouncement of the doctrine of the Trinity, defined at the Council of Nicea, and the Canon of the New Testament, defined at the Council of Chalcedon.
We have always taught that the Eucharist is the real presence of Christ. So what does real presence mean? Let me give you a few examples.
There is a well in Nazareth that dates back to the time of Christ. When one visits that well today you can recall that Jesus would have come to this well as a child. The feeling of Christ’s presence there is very palpable.
I think of also when I traveled to Rome and entered St. Peter’s Basilica. I was able to go down into the crypt where St. Peter’s bones are kept in an ossuary. I remember the very profound sense of being in the presence of the one whose feet were washed by Jesus. The one who denied Jesus, but was also chosen by Jesus as the first pope. I was very really in the presence of the fisherman.
You might have had experiences like this when you have visited the grave of a loved one. Or when you look at the picture of a loved one who lives far, far away from you. I remember visiting a woman in a nursing home. When I entered her room she was sitting looking at the wall smiling. When I asked her what she was doing she said, “I am looking at my family, and they are smiling at me.” On her wall where snapshots of her family covering the entire wall, and they were all smiling. The pictures were for her a very real experience of being in the loving presence of her family.
This is real presence and this is why Catholics have the devotion of Eucharistic Adoration and praying in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament. There is no place where we get closer to Christ than in the Eucharist. You can go off by yourself in your room and pray and he will be there in his divinity. But in the presence of the Eucharist, Christ is with us in both his humanity (body and blood) and in His divinity.
Let us continue our walk through the history of Eucharistic Adoration.
– St. Augustine, in the 4th century wrote these words
“The bread that you see has been sanctified by the word of God and it is the body and blood of Christ.”
In another place he wrote about Eucharistic devotion with these words,
“No one should ever approach the Eucharist without either a prostration (genuflection) of a profound bow. We do not sin if we adore him, but, we do sin if we do not adore him.”
– It was at the Cathedral in Lugo Spain where people began to pray before the Eucharistic presence of Christ in approximately 750 A.D.
– The first Eucharistic Procession was on Palm Sunday around the year 1000 A.D. in England.
– 200 years later, during the 13th Century, St. Francis of Assisi gave us the first 40 hours devotion, commemorative of Christ’s 40 hours that he was in the tomb. In this he promoted veneration and adoration of the Eucharist. Sacrament / Sacrifice / Real Presence have always been a part of Franciscan spirituality.
– Mideval Fathers began using the image of the Ark of the Covenant (Ten Commandments), which was a covenant sealed with the blood of the Passover lamb, as a sort of prefiguring of the tabernacles in our Churches, the Ark of the New Covenant (which sealed with the Body and Blood of Christ, the Lamb of God)
– In the 14th Century Sr. Julian of Mt Cornelion received a mystical vision calling for a new liturgical feast honoring the body of Christ, for which she was banished from her convent. She told of this vision to a parish priest, Fr. Jacques Pantaleon. After her death Fr. Jacques thought nothing would ever come of this vision. He went on to be named the Archbishop of Jerusalem. Called to Rome to report to the Pope he arrived only to find that the pope had died while Fr. Jacques was traveling to Rome. The Cardinals who convened elected Fr. Jacques as the next pope, Urban IV (1261-1264). It was then that he knew this vision of Sr. Julian was a message from God and so he instituted the Feast of Corpus Christi as a universal feast for the Church. The timing was important because many were beginning to doubt the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. This was just two centuries before the reformation.
Pope Urban asked Thomas Aquinas to write a mass for the feast of Corpus Christi. The hymns Aquinas wrote are still being sung today, Pange Lingua (Down in Adoration Falling).
Finally, let us look at the Liturgical Texts
The earliest dated Eucharistic Prayer that resembles ours today goes back to the year 225 and comes from the Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus. This is the prayer that was used for the basis of Eucharistic Prayer II
Eucharistic Prayer II
“Make holy, therefore, these gifts, we pray, by sending down your Spirit upon them like the dewfall,
so that they may become for us the Body and Blood of our Lord, Jesus Christ.”
Eucharistic Prayer I (Roman Canon) – Council of Trent (16th century)
“Be pleased, O God, we pray, to bless, acknowledge, and approve this offering in every respect;
make it spiritual and acceptable so that it may become for us
the Body and Blood of your most beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.
Eucharist Prayer III – Vatican II (20th Century)
“Therefore, O Lord, we humbly implore you:
by the same Spirit graciously make holy these gifts we have brought to you for consecration,
that they may become the Body and Blood of your Son our Lord Jesus Christ,
at whose command we celebrate these mysteries.”
So, why a belief in real presence? What difference does it make?
Flesh and blood relationships are essential to life. No one wants an invisible relationship with loved ones. We need to be able to see and hear and touch them.
I read once of an infant who lost both parents in a house fire. The trauma moved child into fetal position and so the child was rushed to a Pediatric Intensive Care Unit. The nurses in that unit gave round the clock loving attention to this child. Through talk and touch the nurses were able to bring child out of the self-protective fetal position. This is real presence.
I think of a father going to son’s ball game, at great personal sacrifice; leaving work early, travelling 3 hours to the game, and then returning home late at night only to have to rise early the next morning for work. He could simply call and say I’ll be thinking of you. It means so much more, to both of them, for him to be there. This is real presence.
I think of a mother who stays vigilant at the bedside of her comatose daughter. She know she needs to be there in case her daughter should wake up. This is real presence.
If a father, or a mother, are willing to make such great sacrifice to be with their children, would not our heavenly Father also desire such a relationship with the children He has created. This is central to our celebration of Christmas (incarnation). The spirit dwells within us in order that we might experience God and have a real relationship with God.
God’s desire for us is that we have a body and blood relationship with Him. And, as God’s children we need that relationship. This relationship is made possible in Christ who became incarnate (enfleshed) in the human race. He then, before leaving this world, left us His enduring presence in the form of bread and wine in the Eucharist. Even his last words to his disciples before he ascended to heaven were, “And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age” Matthew 28:20.
Believing in the real presence of Christ is notsomuch a physical phenomenon.
It is a spiritual (psychological) phenomenon.
You can sit next to a stranger on a bus and say nothing. There is no real presence between the two of you.
Or, you can call someone in another country and speak with them. Although you are not physically present there is a real connection, a real presence with them in your conversation.
Remembering a loved one who has died invokes a real feeling within us, This is a real felt presence.
To be present to another person requires a response on our part, especially when that presence is invisible like God.
This is where Eucharistic Adoration can be such a tremendous blessing to us. Although we cannot see God, God has a chosen a way for us to see Him . . .
In the body and blood of Jesus, who became incarnate and dwelt among us . . .
And who in turn gave us a way to continue to see him . . . the Eucharist.
The bread and wine are not simply like the body and blood of Christ, they are the body-and-blood presence of Christ. This is because our relationship is that concrete, that real. Jesus is God revealing himself to us.
This then requires a response on our part. The first response is faithfully receive our Lord in Holy Communion on a regular basis. Minimum of once a week. As a Spiritual Director I often encourage people to attend daily mass at least one time a week. By so doing, you are receiving the grace of the Eucharist more than one time a week.
A second step for us to most fully experience the presence of God in our life is to worship and adore his body and blood, soul and divinity in the Eucharist. The consecrated host, enthroned in the monstrance on this altar, is the very real presence of Christ in our midst. We never get closer to God than when in his Eucharistic presence. And so we encourage all of you, if you do not already do so, to make a commitment to worship the Lord in this Holy Sacrament. I urge you to take part in the days of adoration set aside each Monday from 8 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. and Tuesday from 4 – 7:30 a.m.
This devotion will enrich your experience of the celebration of the mass. It will bring you graces over and above those we receive in the sacraments. It will give you peace, when all the world is crashing down around you. It will give you hope, when all the world seems to be moving towards self-destruction. It will help you to know the love of God as you have never known it before. May you the love of God as you have never known it before.
The Holy Trinity Mission
Day One: The Holy Spirit
Last weekend in our homilies, Fr. Chris and I spoke about the Holy Trinity. This was the precursor to this parish mission in which we will be embarking on a journey to the heart of the Holy Trinity.
During these three nights my reflections come from several sources. The primary source is a book that has been revolutionary to me in my personal relationship with the Holy Trinity. This is a book entitled, “The One Thing is Three: How the Most Holy Trinity Explains Everything.” The author, Fr. Michael Gaitley, has created an entire parish renewal process which he calls “Hearts Afire.” This renewal takes three stages, each of which I will be addressing over these three nights.
Gaitley refers to Stage One as “The Two Hearts.” In this he takes us through a personal renewal process in which we journey to the Immaculate Heart of Mary and the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
Stage Two Gaitley entitles “Wisdom and Work of Mercy” in which we will be provided opportunity to enter into a group-study program based on his book, “The One Thing is Three.”
Stage Three, entitled “Keeping the Heart Afire,” is a wide range of group parish renewal opportunities, some of which we are already doing like, Christ Renews His Parish, MACH I, Eucharistic Adoration and a Life in the Spirit Prayer Group.
Over these three nights we are going to reflect theologically and spiritually on this great mystery of One God, who exists as a trinity of person. We will do so through music, prayer, dance and sacred artwork. Tonight, as our opening prayer ritual revealed to us we are reflecting on God the Holy Spirit. Tomorrow night we will focus our reflections on God the Son. Tuesday evening we will reflect on God the Father.
Now at first one might say, “Isn’t this backwards? Shouldn’t it be Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?” I am presenting this mission in this order because this is the order with which we come to know God. We cannot know God unless God chooses to reveal himself to us. That explains why not everyone in the world is Christian. God has simply not chosen all people to know Him as the Triune God.
God does this through the movement of the Holy Spirit. For most of us that first encounter with the Spirit happened on the day of our Baptism. Through water and the Holy Spirit we were baptized. This Holy Spirit opens our hearts and our minds so that we can know the Son. This is one of the best arguments I can see as to why be baptize infants. Through our action of presenting our children for Baptism we are saying to God that we want Him to reveal himself to our children. We are also accepting the responsibility of raising our children in the faith so that they can come to know and love the Father. It is a beautiful thought, that before our children can formulate a thought about God, that God has already chosen them, through us.
Once having received the Holy Spirit, our hearts and minds are opened so that we can come to know the Son. This is why historically, for 1900 years, Baptism and Confirmation were always celebrated before receiving First Eucharist. After one comes to know the Son, only then can we fully come to know the Father. In the words of our Lord, “No one comes to the Father, except through me” (John 14:6). And so it is by the pour of the Holy Spirit, and through the Son, that we come to know the depth and breadth of the Father’s love.
With this prelude, let us now look more deeply at the mystery of the Holy Spirit.
“Veni, Sancte Spiritus”
In the name + of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
How often do we perform this simple gesture while never really thinking of how profound a gesture it is? How often do we speak these words without realizing that we are calling upon God?
These are the words through which we were baptized. This is the sign by which we have been redeemed. And this name makes all the difference in the world for when we speak these words we are calling upon the name of God.
But, who is this God . . . this Divine Spirit . . . who chose to create us in His own image and likeness? This is the question that is as old as humanity itself. This is the question that has eluded theologians for the entire history of our Church. Perhaps we can learn a little from St. Thomas Aquinas. Who, after completing his great treatises on the Divine Nature of God found everything that he had written as “nothing more than straw.” He said this because, one day in prayer, he had a mystical experience of God. After this experience nothing was ever the same for him. This is because he had encountered the very real presence of God. The God, who had loved Thomas into being, brought Thomas more deeply into the Divine relationship.
To delve deeper into this mystery we need to start at our beginning.
“In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless wasteland, and darkness covered the abyss while a mighty wind swept over the waters” (Genesis 1:1).
In the beginning the Spirit of God hovered over the dark void of nothingness
And God said, “Let there be. . .”
and from that time onward, the Spirit of God hovered over all of creation.
But before there was a beginning, God was. God is not a being. God is being itself. And God is the one who gives being to everything. The ancient story of creation speaks to us the truth of God who, as our creed states, “. . . brought all things into being.”
The story of creation reveals to us this fundamental truth. God gave form to the earth, which was a formless wasteland. As our Christian faith teaches God has existed for all eternity as a Trinity of persons. This is something that was unknown to the ancient peoples. It is only when the Son of God, the second person of the Holy Trinity, became human that the truth of the Trinity was revealed to us. But because of this Christian doctrine we can now read this belief back into the ancient scriptures. For Christians this is a valid reading of the books of the Old Testament for Christ came as the fulfillment of this ancient story and so the books of the Old Covenant are now a part of the story of the New Covenant.
Saying this it is accurate to say that it was God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit who brought all things into being. Genesis 1:26 give us the first hint at the reality of God existing as a Divine relationship of persons.
“Then God said: ‘Let US make man in our image, after our likeness‘” (Gen 1:26)
God speaks of self in the plural. The Holy Trinity, acting together, created the universe in all its wonder. At the end of each day of creation God then said, “It is good,” reminding us that everything God makes is inherently good.
Then God did the most wondrous thing of all. God created us.
“God created man in his image;
in the divine image he created him;
male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:27)
As the story of creation continues we read that God created the man and the woman out of the dust. God molded and fashioned them from the clay, and then God breathed the Spirit into them. God then lived with us and walked among us in the Garden of Eden.
This speaks to us of our two natures, body and soul. God created the spiritual universe, the choirs of angels. But angels are pure spirits. They have no material form. God created also the material world: the sun, moon and stars; the oceans and rivers, mountains and hills; the plants and animals. These creatures have no spiritual form. In the human race God united matter and spirit. Formed from the clay (matter) God breathed life (spirit or soul) into us. We are the one and only creation of God that is created in God’s image. In God’s image we were created to love; we were created with free will; we were created to live our lives in loving service.
And so to appreciate who this God of three persons really is we can use human images. (LIKE WHAT? Loving relationship of a mother and daughter, father and son, spousal (harlot), agape, eros, philios; scriptures are filled with such images)
Michael Gaitley, in his book The One Thing is Three, gives the image of the Trinity as a sort of dance. This divine dance has gone on for all eternity. This has been a dance of love. Think, therefore, of two lovers dancing. In the rhythm and movement of the dance the two become one, gazing lovingly into each other’s eyes. Occasionally the one partner swings the other outwards. As they hold hands at arms length they do not lose eye contact but keep their loving gaze. But the movement is not complete until the two are back in each other’s loving embrace.
When God created the human race it was as though God swung the Holy Spirit outward and created us. Holding us at arms length God kept his loving gaze upon us. At first, through the power of the Holy Spirit, we did likewise, gazing upon God with love.
But then something tragic happened. We looked away from God, and we let go of God’s hand. And we stopped dancing with God. (EXPLAIN TEMPTATION)
The man and woman sinned,
. . . and we sin . . .
separating ourselves from the loving embrace of God.
But the divine dance continued.
God had a plan to bring us back into the dance. When the time was right God would bring humanity back to Himself. Through the centuries, while it seemed like we were all alone, God did not abandon us. The Spirit of God was present when Noah built the ark to stave off the great flood. The Spirit of God moved upon the waters to part the Red Sea as Moses led the people out of Egypt. The Spirit of God was upon Abraham and Sarah, Zechariah and Elizabeth, Anne and Joachim, as they gave birth to their children. The Spirit of God guided and spoke to the prophets as they preached to the people of Israel.
When the time was right God did something that brought us back into the dance. God, through the power of the Holy Spirit, swung his Son outward and the Son became one with the human race, and was given the name “Yeshua,” “Jesus,” which means “God saves“. God held his Son’s hand, at arms length and gazed upon him with love, and through him gazed upon us with love. God did this so that God could “love in us, what (he) loves in his Son” (Preface VII for Sundays in Ordinary Time).
To accomplish this the Holy Spirit chose a young woman, who had been created without the stain of sin, to be the perfect vessel for the perfect son to come into the world. The Holy Spirit guided this woman to the point of trust where she could say, “May it be done to me according to your word” (Lk 1:38).
The Spirit of God came upon Mary as Jesus, the Son of God, took on our human fleshly existence. In fact you might even say that the Spirit took Mary as His spouse for it was through the power of the Holy Spirit that the Son was conceived in her womb. Just as the two become one flesh through the bonds of Holy Matrimony, the two natures of Jesus, His divinity as God, and His humanity through Mary, became one. From that moment onward the Son became one of us, to take away our sin.
Our Mother Mary
I would like to take us temporarily on a reflection on the role of Mary in salvation history. Mary was created, as our faith teaches, immaculately — that is, without sin. This was so that the perfect Son would be born through the perfect woman. This was God’s plan to correct what had happened through the Fall. Just as through one man (Adam) sin entered the world, through one man (Christ) redemption was won for all (Cf. Romans 5:12-21). But let us not forget the man was not alone. He and the woman sinned. For this reason God saved the world through a man (Christ) born of a woman (Mary). Mary is often referred to as the Second Eve.
And so our Mother Mary was created with an Immaculate Heart — a heart (soul) free from the stain of Original Sin. This is why the next step on our journey to the Trinity will be to reflect on the role of Mary in salvation history and to emulate her immaculate heart.
This year, as a Christmas gift from the parish, each of you will be receiving a copy of Fr. Gaitley’s book 33 Days to Morning Glory. In this, through the spiritual writings of St. Louis de Montfort, St. Maximillian Kolbe, St. Theresa of Kalkota, and Blessed John Paul, each of you will be invited to enter into a 33 Day Consecration to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. One thing each of these saints has in common is that they each consecrated their lives to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Pope John Paul consecrated his entire pontificate to our Holy Mother. His motto was “totus tuus” which means “totally yours.”
It is important to note also that today, October 13th, our Holy Father Pope Francis held a special ceremony in Rome in which he once again consecrated the entire world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. I had no idea of this happening today when we calendared this parish mission. These were simply the days that seemed to work for our parish.
Each day you will have about 5-7 minutes of reading which will give you a single thought or reflection to meditate on throughout the day. The 33 days culminate on March 25th, the Solemnity of the Annunciation, our parishes secondary Feast Day. The Solemnity of the Incarnation, Christmas, is our primary Feast Day. This means that the Annunciation, the moment when Christ was conceived in His mother’s womb through the power of the Holy Spirit, the moment when the Word became flesh, is our parish’s secondary Feast.
This journey to the Trinity begins through Mary to Jesus. There is no greater evangelist in all of history than our Mother Mary. She has been single-handedly responsible for the conversion of more souls than any other Christian. I have an image of Mary which explains why she is so successful at bringing people to Jesus. It is because she is a Jewish mother. And what does every Jewish mother want for her son? The perfect wife. “Let me introduce you to my son.” As the Church, we are the bride of Christ, and so Mary is the perfect one to bring us to the Church.
Now let’s get back to the Holy Spirit.
Throughout His earthly life Jesus, the Son of God, was guided by the Spirit:
as he was tempted in the desert,
as he performed his many miracles,
as he preached his life giving words.
The Spirit of God was with Jesus:
as he was betrayed and rejected by his friends,
as he died upon the cross out of love for us,
. . . because we sin.
In the final movement of the dance of salvation God swung his Son outward to us and held his hand tightly as Jesus was nailed to the cross.
It is important to note that throughout His entire life, and especially in the time of His passion, Jesus never stopped looking at the Father. It was only when the enormity of the weight of our sins became so great that the Son could not see the Father that He cried out, “Eloi, eloi, lama, sabachtani,” “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me” (Matthew 27:46, Mark 15:34). In this moment the Son realized what our sin does to us. The Son realized how our sin separates us from God, and so for us he spoke these words. But the Father never let go of his Son’s hand. For no sooner did Jesus speak these words He then said, “Father, into your hands I commend my Spirit” (Luke 23:46). And He breathed His last.
The SON speaks the words “FATHER, into your hands I commend my SPIRIT.” In this sentence we have another example of how the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit were acting as one in this final act of salvation.
But the dance was not yet finished.
The Holy Spirit was with Jesus in his most earth-shattering event of all, as he rose from the dead. God then swung his Son back into His loving embrace as Jesus ascended to heaven, leaving this earth for a while.
But the dance was not yet finished.
The Son returned to the Father nearly 2000 years ago and so God sent us the Holy Spirit on that first Pentecost Sunday.
That Spirit now lives with us and dances among us.
Until Christ comes again we are his body here on earth. And so through the Holy Spirit God holds our hand and brings us into the Divine dance.
That same Spirit comes to each of us in our Baptism and Confirmation. The Holy Spirit hovers over the ordinary gifts of bread and wine as our prayers transform them into the body and blood of Christ. The Holy Spirit hovers over the ordinariness of our lives and transforms our lives so that we can be Christ’s body here on earth.
The Spirit is with us in our work and our play.
The Spirit is with us in our homes, our families, and our friends.
The Spirit is with us every day of our life; guiding us . . . strengthening us . . . blessing us with God’s presence.
The Holy Spirit is with us
when we weep and mourn,
when we laugh and play.
The Holy Spirit is here to transform the ordinariness of our daily existence into something quite extraordinary as we live our call to follow the way of Jesus. The Holy Spirit is with us and works through us as we do God’s work on this earth. Because of this all things in heaven and all things on earth are sacred. And so the Father, Son and Holy Spirit have always been with us, and will always be with us here on earth until the end of time, and then we will be one with God for all eternity.
Until that time we have work to do . . .
Let us call on the Spirit to transform our broken world into God’s kingdom. Let us call on the Spirit to transform the ordinary into the sacred. Let us call on the Holy Spirit to transform our lives and make us holy. Let our hearts and voices sing out our prayer this day, and all days:
“Veni, Sancte Spiritus – Come, Holy Spirit”
Water is a very intriguing substance. It is one of the simplest chemical compositions known to us, and yet its composition has remained virtually unchanged for all time. It can be contained relatively easily and when it moves it takes the path of least resistance. It is the most plentiful substance on this earth composing 75% of our earth surface and 75% of our human bodies. It is plentiful and yet it can so easily be taken for granted.
On the Boundary Waters of northern Minnesota I remember sitting in the canoe and pondering all of the acres of water which I could see. I remembered that we had canoed through six different lakes, each of which was connected by a waterfall. It was then I realized that the water in which I sat had probably been in the same lake in which we had started our trip three days earlier. I had become aware of the waters massiveness but more importantly of its connectedness and sameness.
While water itself has a quality of connectedness and sameness, the waters in which I sat served as a barrier or division, for these waters form the boundary between the United States and Canada. Division is the message of today’s readings. The prophet Jeremiah, through speaking the word of God, was causing division in the land. He was speaking out against war and against the injustices of his day. Some people were able to hear and accept his words. But there were others who either could not, or would not, listen to him. Because they felt threatened by what he was saying, they plotted to destroy him . . . through water . . . by throwing him into a cistern. Fortunately for him there was only mud so he did not drown. But left there long enough, without food or water, he would have died in the muck of his muddy prison. Through the persons of Ebed-Melech, and the King Zedekiah, God delivered Jeremiah from his inevitable death and restored his life.
God has done the same thing for each of us. Through our baptism we have been delivered from the muddy prison of sin and death and have entered into the new life of Jesus Christ, a life which we celebrate every time we share this Eucharist. By our faith we can laugh in the face of death because we know it is not an end but rather a transformation into a new way of living. Because of our faith we have courage and strength to deal with the many horrible things which happen in this life on earth.
But because of our faith through baptism, we have a tremendous responsibility to live a life of faith. It is not enough to just come to church on Sunday. It is not enough to just pray alone for our wants and needs. This is minimal Christianity. To be truly Christian means to live each and every day according to the teachings and example Christ has given us. Living this way will be a cause of division for many of us. Because of faith, communities will become divided just as our Catholic Church became divided into many Christian denominations throughout the centuries. Because of faith, families become divided when children reject the values of their parents, or begin to form new values in different Christian and even non-Christian traditions.
It’s not easy to live a Christian life in today’s world. It’s even harder to tell the difference between many Christians and non-Christians in our society. That’s because many Christians are willing to compromise matters of truth for the sake of popular opinion. Some Christians are buying into the false attitude that if everyone else is doing something, it must be okay for me to do it. We have a tendency to believe that just because something has been made legal, it is also moral. We have legalized abortion. Because of an unwillingness to forgive an attitude of vengeance has permeated our culture and son once again capital punishment has become acceptable. It is legal to purchase and use pornographic material. We have even legalized gambling which causes hardship and financial strife in many families, but we ease our conscience by telling ourselves that its okay because the proceeds are going to charity. We tend to put our faith more in our government programs than in our God. If we truly call ourselves Christian then we have to open our eyes, and our hearts, and cry out against the injustices of this world:
We need to admit that it is a sin for people to go hungry when our nation has a multi-trillion dollar debt because of excessive government spending.
We need to admit that killing the unborn is a moral issue, not a legal issue of personal rights and freedoms.
We need to admit that it is a sin to horde material wealth and go so far in personal debt that we can no longer be generous with the gifts God has given us.
We need to stand up for moral values and the truth even when others have rejected truth and morality.
We need to stand up against the evil of injustice and prejudice.
Living a Christian life means we have to reflect on and see the difference between good and evil. We then have to make a stand on the side of good and move ourselves to action against evil. It’s not easy. It will cause us some pain and suffering. It will cause division in our families, communities, and world and yet we have to do it. Through our baptism we have to become the instruments of truth even knowing that our action will cause division.
We do have the strength and courage to stand up and speak out against sin and evil because we have a God who loves us so much that he became human like us, died for our sins, and rose from the dead so that we might have life eternal. Eternal life is God’s promise to us. This is a promise which we accepted through the waters of our baptism. This is a promise we remember each time we celebrate the Eucharist.
So today, in this Eucharist let us ask for the gift of wisdom that we might know the truth. Let us ask for courage that we might live that truth. Let us ask for the presence of Christ in our lives, and in our world, the only presence which can end the divisions caused by sin and unite us in the love of God.
This coming Tuesday, as the Church celebrates the Feast of the Tranfiguration, the world remembers the anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, and three days later on Nagasaki. The Feast of the Transfiguration gives us pause to reflect on the events that happened in our world in 1945.
On the mount of the transfiguration the disciples saw a dazzling light, brighter than they had ever experienced before. They were amazed at the power unleashed that day. But the cloud that appeared soon overpowered them and they were filled with fear – a holy fear described by the word “awe.” It was an awe-full experience.
Fast forward nineteen centuries into the future and once again people saw a dazzling light. This time though the people were not on a mountaintop. Instead they were on an island in the South Pacific. The date was August 6, 1945 and the dazzling light was the atomic bomb that destroyed Hiroshima. As if this lesson were not enough, three days later the second bomb destroyed the city of Nagasaki. It was an awful experience.
When the smoke cleared and we began to see more clearly by the light of day we came to realize that 75,000 people died as a result of those blasts. We also came to realize that over 55 million people had already died as a result of the war. Statistics state that over 25 million soldiers and 30 million civilians died in WWII. Of these 30 million it is estimated that 5 million were Jews, most of whom died in Nazi prison camps. These numbers are so staggering that we cannot even begin to grasp their magnitude. They are as overwhelming as the devastation left behind in the wake of the bomb. It was an awful experience.
63 years after the events that ended WWII we are still left with puzzling questions. How could one man, Adolph Hitler, hold such power over an entire nation of people? How could an entire race be targeted for systematic imprisonment and extermination without anyone really knowing this until the war was over? We are left with the question also as to whether or not the atomic bombs were the necessary means to end this horrible war.
One thing we can say for sure is that these two events marked the beginning of the culture of death in which we now find ourselves. I say they mark the beginning because these events were truly the work of the evil one, who is the author of death. It was a diabolical thought that was planted in the heart and mind of Adolph Hitler. After all, as faith teaches us, salvation was to come from the Jews and that, by God’s promise, the Jewish people would remain on this earth until the end of time. And so, if the evil one wanted to mess with God’s plan for salvation, what better way than to destroy the Jews.
Just as the disciples were filled with fear on the mount of the Transfiguration, the destructive light of the atomic bombs also filled people with fear; but this time it was not a holy fear. It was the fear of what happens when we allow the evil one to unleash the full wrath of his destructive power on the human race. The evil one cannot take our lives but he can tempt us to take the lives of other. That is why the evil one is the god of the culture of death in which we now live. And every time we allow an innocent human life to be taken, we do the work of the evil one and participate in his culture of death.
And so, how can we Christian people, who uphold the sanctity of life, fight against this culture of death? Let’s learn a lesson from life itself. Science teaches that all material things, all matter, is composed of atoms. Every atom contains within itself at least one proton, one neutron, and one electron. The combination and number of these particles is the “recipe” that makes up each element. Science teaches us that the proton, neutron and electron are held together by energy. It was not until the discovery of how to split the atom that we truly began to grasp the magnitude of this energy.
As a Judaeo-Christian people we believe that God is the creator of all things; God is the author of life. This means it is God who packed all of that energy into the atom. This energy, when unleashed, has the ability to change matter. When controlled, the energy can be used to illuminate entire cities. When uncontrolled, the energy can destroy entire cities.
But if God put all of that power into the atom, and if this power, when unleashed, can change matter itself, then just imagine the glory and power of God, which is greater than any nuclear blast. And we contain within us the potential for all of that great power. This power is called “grace.” We received the power of this grace on the day of our Baptism and this power was strengthened on the day of our Confirmation. This power is nurtured and strengthened every time we receive our Lord in the Holy Eucharist. This grace has the power to change our lives, to resist the temptation of the evil one, and to even transform our world. We then, filled with this grace, are sent into the world as instruments of that grace. This is the power we need to unleash in our world-wide war on the culture of death.
And so today as we continue this Eucharist, let us pray that the power God has given us will be used wisely. Let us pray for the innocent millions who die every year. Let us pray for the families who have lost loved ones in war and in this culture of death. Let us pray that never again will we unleash the destructive power of a nuclear bomb. Let us pray that God, who has transformed us into the image of His Son, will strengthen us, and empower us, to transform our world into the image and likeness of God’s holy kingdom.
When the disciples approached Jesus with the request, “Lord, teach us to pray,” it was not as though they did not already pray. It was not as though they did not already know the many Jewish prayers they had been taught as children. They already knew the basic way to pray. Their request had a deeper purpose. They wanted to know how Jesus prayed, so that they could in turn pray like He did.
The words that Jesus spoke that day have become the centerpiece of Christian prayer for the last two millennia. The words of the Lord’s Prayer are so central that we pray them each and every time we gather together as a Eucharistic community. Therefore it is good for us today to reflect a bit on the deeper meaning of these words.
Jesus begins by telling us to pray to God who is Father. While the Jewish people were accustomed to addressing God as the God of their fathers (The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob), this new twist of referring to God as Our Father, places us in a more intimate relationship with God. Jesus, who lived in intimate relationship with God the Father, wants His disciples to commune with God as Abba (Papa or Daddy).
While calling God “Abba,” we, as disciples of Jesus, are also to reverence God’s name and accept God’s reign or dominion over our lives; “hallowed be your name, your kingdom come.” This familiar relationship with our Father ought to be so central to our lives that each time we pray, we are asking God’s vision for our world to become a reality. We are asking that God’s power be in control; that God’s wisdom guide events; that God’s justice would eradicate injustice. We are asking that all nations would so bow down to God’s rule that the earth would be indistinguishable from heaven. Of course, if we ask for these things, we need to also offer our efforts to make them happen.
The Lord’s Prayer is an acknowledgement of our common need. Such need is different from personal want. What we want is seldom what we really need? This prayer suggests three things; bread, forgiveness, and safety. That is, nourishment for the body, healing for relationships, and freedom from fatal harm. In asking for daily bread, we are asking that God keep giving and giving all we need for our physical sustenance on this earth . . . today, tomorrow, every day.
In the petition for forgiveness of sins, we are acknowledging that we who have been forgiven must also be forgiving. This does not mean that God’s forgiveness depends upon our human action. On the contrary, the Christian scriptures repeatedly state that forgiveness springs from the grace of God and not from any human merit. The thought reflected in Jesus’ prayer is that since even sinful people like us can forgive, we can confidently ask God’s forgiveness, who is the supreme source and example of mercy and forgiveness.
The final petition, “do not subject us to the trial,” refers to life both in this world and in the next. We are to pray for strength against the ordinary temptations of life as well as the grace to face the final tribulation that is expected to come at the end of time. So this prayer moves us beyond life in this world, to thoughts of the world that is yet to come.
Finally the Lord’s Prayer faces us with the idea of unity in the Church. It reminds us that there is no such thing as an individual believer; that without one another we cannot survive as Christians. It also reminds us that our common faith overcomes all divisions — we join hands with saints and sinners, virgins and prostitutes, liberals and conservatives, artists and addicts throughout all of history.
As we prepare ourselves to share in this Eucharist we will once again pray this Lord’s Prayer together. Maybe our focus today could be less on our private relationship with God than our equally real communal relationship with God. It is part of our faith that we are responsible to God both as individuals and as members of this community, which is the Mystical Body of Christ. So let us pray that God be praised; that we be fed, forgiven and freed; and that our earth may become, through God’s grace and our efforts, a reflection of heaven.