The Conway Communiqué, 7.27.2018

“Return, rebellious children, says the Lord, for I am your Master…” – Jer 3:14a

“Among the fruits that ripen in the law of God is resolutely obeyed, the most precious is certainly this, that married couples themselves will often desire to communicate their own experience to others.  This it comes about that in the fullness of the lay vocation will be included a novel and outstanding form of the apostolate by which, like ministering to like, married couples themselves by the leadership they offer will become apostles to other married couples.  And surely among all the forms of the Christian apostolate it is hard to think of one more opportune for the present time.”  -Pope Paul VI, Humanae Vitae, 26.

This past Wednesday was the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of Pope Paul VI’s landmark and prophetic encyclical on human life, Humanae Vitae.  If you’ve never read it, you should – it has not lost anything with the passage of time.  Indeed, it’s all the more relevant now.  (And it’s not that long, either; it’s an easy read.)

Pope Paul reminds us that our adherence to the law of God doesn’t diminish our freedom, but rather sets us free: free from sin, free from the disordered affections of the world, and free from fear, and allows to grow into full stature as children of God.  God is love, and we are made in His image and likeness; thus, we are called to be people of love.  Resolutely obeying God’s law gives us a path to follow that allows us to love more perfectly.  This is why He uses the prophet Jeremiah – and so many others – to call us to return to Him.

Let us resolutely obey God this week and return to Him!

Some news and notes:

PRAYERS:  Please keep in your prayers Lauren Sundo and Matthew Elliott, who will be married tomorrow; Stella Christine Gazzo, who will be baptized on Sunday; and our soon-to-be ninth graders who will be making their Confirmation retreat this weekend.

CATECHISTS NEEDED:  We are in dire need of catechists for our upcoming Faith Formation year.  Both the Sunday morning and Wednesday evening programs need catechists, and there are openings in pretty much every grade level.  It’s doesn’t matter if you’ve never done anything like this before – we’ll train you, equip you, and support you all year.  You can do this!  Contact the faith formation office for more details.

ROSARY: As this is the 5th Sunday of the month, the Knights of Columbus will lead the Rosary before the 10:00 AM Mass, beginning at 9:30.  Join us as we honor our Blessed Mother and beg her intercession.

SCRIPTURE STUDY:  Don’t forget to join Deacon Mingwei on Thursday night as he leads a Scripture study focusing on next Sunday’s readings.  7:30 in the Charity Room.

CONFIRMATION:  We have recently received word from the Diocese that Bishop Zubik will be here to celebrate the Sacrament of Confirmation on Saturday, October 6, at 10:00 AM.  More information will be forthcoming.

PIG ROAST:  Don’t forget to support our Guatemala Mission group next weekend at the annual pig roast, from 4-7 PM in the Social Hall.

Well, that turned out to be quite lengthy, but there’s a lot to think about, and even more to do.  Have a great weekend, and know that you are loved.  See you at Mass!

Peace,

Fr. Mike

A lesson in Greek – 14th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Readings are available here.  I really only worked on the second reading, as you’ll see.

Another week, another set of really rich Scriptures for us to consider.  But this time, though, rather than try to work all three together, I want to focus on just what Saint Paul has to say to the Corinthians today, because in these few verses, he gets at quite a lot.  He deals with a question that we’ve all struggled with at some point, and he gets to another issue that might be even more important, but one that we probably rarely actively think about.

First, we need to contextualize a little bit.  For the first bit of chapter 12 of this letter, Paul has been boasting.  He’s boasting about the revelations that he’s received from God – consider, for example, his conversion experience on the road to Damascus – but also some of the experiences some of the other members of the Church, particularly in Macedonia, have had.  And here’s the thing – he should be boastful.  I know, we tend to think of that as a negative trait, but in this case, Paul’s boasting is actually him praising God for bestowing these gifts upon mankind.  But because these are gifts from God,  one needs to carefully pray about them, and discern how they are to be best used for the praise, honor, and glorification of God.  And while that sounds nice in theory, it’s really hard in practice.  There’s very much a tendency in our world to charge full speed ahead into things, and sometimes that’s not what we’re being called to.  What belongs to God to do, and what belongs to us?  That’s the question Paul is grappling with here, and that’s the question we don’t like to consider.  He’ll come back to this, and so will we.

So to keep Paul in his lane, as it were, he writes,

A thorn in the flesh was given to me, an angel of Satan…

That’s a problematic phrase.  The Greek reads,

ἐδόθη μοι σκόλοψ τῇ σαρκί

There’s no preposition there, so a literal translation is, a thorn in flesh was given me.  What does that mean?  What is this thorn?  And who gave it to him?

As for what the thorn actually is, Paul is being deliberately vague.  There are 4 main theories that scholars kick around; the one that I like most and seems to have the most traction is the one proposed by Saint John Chrysostom: that the thorn are all the adversaries that Paul faced and the persecutions he endured.  It’s not one big thing attacking Paul; it’s a combination of things.  Sure, some are fairly big in their own right, but it’s not different than some of the stuff we face.  A terrible manager or awful colleague at work.  The loss of a loved one.  A chronic or severe illness.  Being bullied and excluded at school.  Doubts and uncertainties over your future.  These are thorns.  ἐδόθη μοι σκόλοψ τῇ σαρκί.  A thorn in flesh was given me.  But not by God.  Here’s some grammar: the verb there, ἐδόθη, is aorist passive.  That usage makes it clear it was given by someone else.  But God is permitting it.  And that raises the question we’ve all asked:  WHY is God allowing this to happen?

That’s certainly Paul’s question.  Notice what his response was – not just that he turns to God in prayer, but how he turns to him in prayer.  He begged the Lord to take this away from him.  That’s a very good translation of the verb παρεκάλεσα.  Paul is very active with this request; there’s no sense of resignation here.  Notice, too, that he prays about this multiple times.  He doesn’t just whine about it and give up; he keeps calling on the Lord.  (Notice, too, that he prays three times about this – just like Christ prayed three times in the garden that this cup might pass him by.  But not my will, but yours be done.  God is not unaware of our suffering.)  And to this bold, Christ-like, persistent prayer, Paul gets an answer.

The answer is no.

Instead, he is told,

“My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.”

καὶ εἴρηκέν μοι, Ἀρκεῖ σοι ἡ χάρις μου, ἡ γὰρ δύναμις ἐν ἀσθενείᾳ τελεῖται.

There’s a shift in the verbs there, from the perfect indicative to the present indicative.  He said to me is in the perfect. Meaning that the action is not completed, but ongoing.  He has been saying to Paul, is telling him now, and will continue to tell him that his grace is enough.  And that verb is in the present, because his grace will always be enough.  It is HIS grace that he gives Paul, and it is sufficient.

God is not going to take Paul’s suffering from him – at least not at this point – because he wants Paul to understand something.  Paul’s life is very much changed by the presence of Christ.  You suffer, but you are also protected.  You live, if you will, in two environments: the environment of the Cross, but also the environment of the Resurrection.  In your sufferings, in your weaknesses, you are united to Christ crucified, but in your strength, you are united to Christ raised from the dead.  But the two cannot be separated.  The Resurrection needs the Cross.  Power is perfected in weakness.

Finally we get back to Paul and his boasting.  He’s not going to boast about those gifts he has received any longer, but from now on he will boast about his weaknesses, because they represent an opportunity for God to act.  They are a chance for God to fill him with grace.  In fact, he says he will boast so that the power of Christ may dwell in him.

ἵνα ἐπισκηνώσῃ ἐπ’ ἐμὲ ἡ δύναμις τοῦ Χριστοῦ.

That’s the only time in the entire New Testament that verb (ἐπισκηνώσῃ) is used.  The literal translation would be to put up a tent.  That may seem like a strange image, but consider that in the Old Testament, the meeting tent was the place where the community encountered God.  Without that tent, the community would fall apart.  Paul’s not afraid of his weaknesses, because he wants to be reliant on Christ.  He needs Christ to dwell in him.  And he rejoices at the fact that Christ loves him enough to do just that.

A last point to consider.  Paul concludes by saying he is content – he is happy – to deal with weaknesses, and then he lists 4, specifically.  Insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints.  The fact that they’re all in the plural means something.  It’s a style trait that runs through Paul’s writings; he uses singulars when he talks about abstract concepts, but plurals when he refers to life lived.  In other words, this is very real for Paul.  He’s thinking of specific moments, places, and people that cause him to suffer and be weak.  But he suffers those weaknesses for Christ (ὑπὲρ Χριστοῦ) – that’s the key to this whole thing – and in his weakness, he is strong.

So we have to consider a few things today.  How much of our lives are for Christ?  Are we just for Him when we’re at Mass, or when we’re saying our prayers, or is everything we do – whether we’re at home, at school, at work, wherever – for Him?  Do we boast about weaknesses, or only about our strengths?  Are we able to acknowledge our weaknesses?  Are we using the gifts God has given us to build up His kingdom here on earth?  That’s what our task is, and we are not strong enough to do it on our own.  As we receive the Eucharist today, let’s ask God to help us grow in humility so that we can admit our weaknesses…but also so He can strengthen us to do the work He has given us here on earth, and one day come to be happy with Him in the kingdom of heaven.

 

The Conway Communiqué, June 29

I can’t get this out via email for reasons that our IT people think are related to the Comcast outage, but I can get it posted here.  Go figure.  Anyway, with the hope that it will be able to hit a wider distribution later…

“O God, who on the Solemnity of the Apostles Peter and Paul, give us the noble and holy joy of this day, grant, we pray, that your Church may in all things follow the teaching of those through whom she received the beginnings of right religion.” – from the Collect Prayer, Solemnity of Ss. Peter and Paul, June 29

I may have used this example before, so forgive me if I did, but the best definition I ever heard of what religion is came from Sister Idelfonse, my ninth-grade religion teacher.  She defined it (meaning we also defined it) as the daily process of bringing ourselves closer to God.  There are, of course, plenty of ways of doing that: the sacraments, prayer, scripture, and acts of charity, and so on.  The point is that all of these things require action.  There is nothing passive about religion.  God is always acting on our hearts, but we need to act, too.

Peter and Paul were both men of action, and bold action, at that. They weren’t afraid to preach the truth to unsympathetic crowds.  They weren’t afraid to travel to new places to do the work of evangelization.  They weren’t afraid of the court of public opinion.  They weren’t afraid to be religious: to engage in the daily process of bringing themselves closer to God.  Through their intercession, may we all have that same courage.

Some news and notes:

PRAYERS:  Please keep in your prayers our eight graders who will be making their Confirmation retreat this weekend.  Please also pray for Ethan Turkovich and Macallan Maramonte, who will be baptized this weekend.

DEACON MING:  As you know, Bishop Zubik has assigned Deacon Ming to be with us for the remainder of this summer and during his breaks this school year.  While his assignment does not officially begin until July 9, he will be here to assist and preach at the noon Mass this Sunday.  Following Mass, a reception will be held in his honor in the social hall.  All are invited.  We are also in need of cookies for this event.  They can be dropped off Sunday morning.

JULY 4:  Parish offices will be closed for the Independence Day holiday.  Mass will be celebrated at 9 AM that day; there will NOT be evening Mass or confessions on Wednesday.

RENEW THE I DO:  Next Saturday, July 7, join other couples for some summer fun at the pavilion in the upper lot for some backyard games.  It’s a fun and easy date night.

PARISH PICNIC:  Don’t forget: the parish picnic is Sunday, July 15, following the noon Mass.  You should have received your raffle tickets in the mail this week.  A picnic and a chance to win $3,000?  What a deal!

And that’s all the news that’s fit to print this Friday.  Enjoy the weekend, and try to stay cool.  Know that you are loved, and I’ll see you at Mass.

Peace,

Fr. Mike

The Conway Communiqué, June 22

“But store up treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor decay destroys, nor thieves break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.”  – Mt. 6:20-21

“If honor were profitable, everybody would be honorable.” – attributed to St. Thomas More

Don’t misunderstand: St. Thomas More was well aware of the fact the honor is indeed profitable; his rather wry comment was referring to the fact that many of his peers apparently no longer thought so.  I won’t rehash his entire life story here, as compelling as it is, but those of his social and political circles judged it to better to ignore the laws of God and His Church so as to gain favor with the King.  More was given several opportunities to do so as well, but he decided that it was more honorable – and profitable – to store up his treasure in heaven.  He suffered greatly for it, but won a martyr’s crown.

How honorable are we?  Are we working towards profiting in this world or the next?  Where do we keep our treasures – or our hearts?  This world often makes it tough to focus on anything other than the here and now.  It’s so full of noise and distraction, and it doesn’t seem to accept that we choose to live for something greater.  We must continue to pray for the Holy Spirit’s gift of courage, then, so that we might keep our focus on the things of heaven.

Saint Thomas More and Saint Richard, pray for us!

Some news and notes:

PRAYERS:  Please pray for the repose of the soul of Raymond Sands, whose funeral will be celebrated on Monday.  Please also pray for the 4 men to be ordained deacons tomorrow morning.  Finally, pray for the couples who will be doing the marriage preparation program this weekend.

DEACON MING:  Speaking of the 4 men to be ordained deacons, one is our very own Mingwei Li.  Deacon Ming will make his triumphant return to Saint Richard on Sunday, July 1, to assist and preach the noon Mass.  Following Mass, we will host a reception for him in the social hall.  We need your help in baking cookies for this event.  Call the office for more details.

FAITH FORMATION:  It’s never too early to start thinking about the next faith formation year, and it’s never too early to start praying about whether or not God is calling you to serve as a teacher or a teacher’s aide next year.  See the bulletin for more info.

YOUTH MINISTRY:  There are still a few spots left for the Steubenville Youth Conference, July 13-15.  Call Taylor in the youth ministry office for more details.

PARISH PICNIC:  Mark your calendars for the parish picnic, July 15.  The fun starts following the noon Mass.  This coming week you’ll receive in the mail your tickets for the parish raffle, as well.

And I think that’s everything for right now.  I’m sure I’m forgetting something, but that’s just because I’m too distracted by the World Cup.  I’ll get my corrections in next week’s email.  Have a great weekend and know that you are loved!  See you at Mass!

Peace,

Fr. Mike

The Conway Communiqué, June 8

“By encouraging devotion to the Heart of Jesus, [Pope Pius XII] exhorted believers to open themselves to the mystery of God and of his love and to allow themselves to be transformed by it…it is still a fitting task for Christians to continue to deepen their relationship with the Heart of Jesus, in such a way as to revive their faith in the saving love of God and to welcome him ever better into their lives.” – Pope Benedict XVI

We often talk about the love of God, about God being love, and I think we have at least an intellectual grasp of the fact that God loves us.  As the Church celebrates the Sacred Heart of Jesus today, we are called to enter into that knowledge more fully.  I think sometimes we’re afraid of God’s love, because it’s so powerful.  And so we admit that God is love, and that He loves us, but we build walls around our hearts to keep that love out.  It seems safer, or perhaps easier, that way.

Ask God to tear down those walls today.  Ask Him to fill your heart with the love that is in the Sacred Heart of Jesus.  Surrender your heart to His, and see what beautiful things happen as a result.  Know that you are loved.

Some news and notes:

PRAYERS:  No baptisms this weekend, and no recent funerals, but if you want a couple to pray for – or at least be inspired by – then pray for Charles and Lena Cannoni.  Yesterday was their 71st wedding anniversary.  And if you need a place to pray, remember that Eucharistic Adoration is available from now until 8 AM on Saturday.

RUMMAGE SALE:  The Rummage Sale is upon us!  The sale is open from 9-5 today and 9-noon tomorrow.  Come by and browse; there are tons of treasures available.  My sincere and very profound thanks to all the volunteers that have already put a ton of work into this project.

APPALACHIA:  Please keep the Appalachia Mission Group in your prayers in the coming week.  Most of the team will depart Sunday morning after the 8 AM Mass for a week of service and prayer in Mullens, WV.

SUMMER FAITH FORMATION:  This coming week is the last week to register for Vacation Bible School.  Also, time is running short to register for Marantha.  See the bulletin for details.

DEACON MING:  Seminarian Ming will become Deacon Ming on Saturday, June 23.  The parish will have a bus going to the cathedral that morning so we can celebrate and pray with him.  If you are interested in joining us, please call the parish office.  Also, Deacon Ming will be preaching the noon Mass at St. Richard on July 1, and there will be a reception for him afterwards in the social hall.

PARISH PICNIC:  Save the date for the annual Parish Picnic – Sunday, July 15.  More details will follow.

I kept this short, and I got it out early today.  Hopefully this is a sign of a great weekend to come.  Enjoy your weekend, and know that you are loved.  See you at Mass!

Peace,

Fr. Mike

Corpus Christi Homily

So I want to start with a quick history lesson about this feast.  In 1264, Pope Urban IV declared this a universal feast, although it took until about 1317 before it really became celebrated universally.  But where did it come from?  That’s the real question, and it’s a fun question.

The legend of this feast starts in 1263, in a little Italian village called Bolsena.  A parish priest there had been suffering from a crisis of faith, a crisis that was getting progressively worse.  His spiritual director advised him to make a pilgrimage to Rome, to pray at the tombs of Saints Peter and Paul, but to no avail; he returned to Bolsena perhaps worse than when he left.  He was starting to doubt everything; even the Eucharist itself.  That is, until one morning.  He was celebrating Mass that day, and as he fractured the host, it began to bleed onto the corporal.  Crisis of faith averted.  He finished Mass, then immediately took the corporal to his bishop and explained the whole matter.

Now, all of that is true.  You can go to the cathedral in Orvieto – which is one of the most magnificent cathedrals in Italy, and that’s saying a lot – and see the blood-stained corporal.  The part of the story that is legend is that the bishop took the corporal to Pope Urban IV and he immediately declared Corpus Christi a feast day.

Instead, the feast came about because of the influence of Saint Juliana of Liége.  (Don’t ever let people tell you women have no influence in the Church.)  Juliana was orphaned at a young age, and raised by the sisters of a Norbertine monastery.  Juliana had a deep devotion to the Eucharist. She would eventually enter the monastery herself, and much later in life become the prioress.

At age 16, she had her first vision, one that would repeat many times.  In it, she saw a magnificent church, bathed in the light of a full moon, but there was something off about the moon.  There was a large dark spot on it.  Juliana didn’t understand what this meant at first, but came to understand that the dark spot on the moon represented the fact that the Church didn’t have a feast specifically in honor of the Eucharist.

She took the matter to her confessor, who was a pretty well-connected guy.  He took it to the local bishops and leading theologians, all of whom came back and said, “Well, why not have a feast for the Eucharist?”  And so it became a local feast in that part of Belgium…and eventually, one of those bishops was elected as Pope…and took the name Urban IV.  And, as mentioned, he declared that Corpus Christi was to be celebrated by the entire Church.  And so here we are.

Whichever story you prefer, there’s something to take away from each of them, and I would say that they are equally important takeaways.

First, the Bolsena story teaches us that this is real.  That when the priest consecrates the host and the wine, he stands in persona Christi – in the person of Christ – and it is through His authority and at His command that we do this.  And although the bread and wine retain their accidents – that is, they continue to look, taste, feel, and smell like bread and wine – they become substantially different, in that they are no longer bread and wine, but the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ.  We are witnesses to a miracle every time we come to Mass, whether we see the Host bleed or not.

But not just witnesses.  We are participants.  We take this miracle and consume it.  We literally internalize it, so that we in turn might be internalized into the heart of God.  The Catechism, paragraph 460, quoting St. Thomas Aquinas, says “The only-begotten Son of God, wanting to make us sharers in his divinity, assumed our nature, so that he, made man, might make men gods.”  To be a sharer in divinity, as St. Thomas understands it, means to share in the communicable attributes of the divine.  Things like goodness.  Holiness.  Love.  The Eucharist is what draws us into these things.

This segues nicely into the takeaway from the Liége story:  That this is worth celebrating.  Saint Augustine says, “God in His omnipotence could not give more; in His wisdom, He knew not how to give more; in His riches He had not more to give, than the Eucharist.”  What an unmerited gift!  What a tremendous act of love!  You can’t just sit on that.  You can’t act like it doesn’t mean anything, doesn’t do anything for you.  This is the shortest way to heaven.  This is the everlasting memorial.  This is love.  And it should be celebrated in our prayers and our liturgies, sure; but it should also be celebrated in how we live our lives.

Because we’re nothing without the Eucharist.

This is everything.  And it’s worth celebrating.

The Conway Communiqué, June 1

“To obey the commandments of our Savior Jesus Christ is worthy neither of blame or condemnation…no right-thinking person falls away from piety to impiety.”  – from the account of the martyrdom of Saint Justin

The story of Saint Justin is one that remains relevant today.  Justin was not, it seems, born into a Christian family, but he was a Roman citizen, and while not perhaps fabulously wealthy, comfortable enough that he was able to afford an education.  As such, he was exposed to a variety of cultures and ideas as he came of age, and was influenced by all of them.  Above all, though, he sought the truth, and would adhere to this or that philosophy until he realized it was lacking something.  Only in embracing the Church did he find Truth itself, and he ended his search.  Then he began his real work – sharing that Truth with others, which he did eloquently and in all circumstances, even when he knew it would cost him his head.

Justin wasn’t a bishop or a priest; he wasn’t a great theologian; he wasn’t a visionary mystic.  He was just a guy who sought after the truth and shared it with others.  What are you seeking in your life?  What do you share with others?

Some news and notes:

PRAYERS:  In your prayers, please remember Ann Mech, who was buried this morning.  Please also pray for Michael Ignatius Myron, Samantha Beverly Brown, and Aiden James Burke, all of whom will be baptized this weekend.

APPALACHIA:  Thank you for your generosity to our Appalachia Mission Group last weekend.  As a reminder to those going on the trip, there is a mandatory meeting this Sunday night.  Call Taylor or Don in the Youth Ministry Office if you have questions.

WEDNESDAY:  Couple of things to draw to your attention for Wednesday.  First, there will not be an evening Mass nor confessions.  Mass will be at 9 AM that day.  Also, please pray for Fr. Tom that day; June 6 is the anniversary of his ordination.

SEMINARIAN MING:  On June 23, Bishop Zubik will ordain 4 men to the order of deacon, including our very own Seminarian Ming.  The parish will be taking a bus down to the cathedral so that we can celebrate, and more importantly, pray with him.  To reserve a spot on the bus, call the parish office.

FAITH FORMATION:  Parents, if your child is returning for another year of faith formation in the fall, please pick up your packet of information in the narthex after Mass this weekend.  If you will be registering for the faith formation for the first time this year, then don’t worry about anything yet…your time will come.

RUMMAGE SALE:  Last day for drop-off is this Tuesday; the sale itself starts next Friday.

I have to be leaving something out, but that seems to be about it.  Sorry the email was so late today, but it was a crazy morning.  Enjoy the weekend, and know that you are loved.  See you at Mass!

Peace,

Fr. Mike

Bl. Sister Elisabeth of the Trinity

Just something I found in my notes from seminary that is appropriate to share today.  Sister Elisabeth was a French Carmelite nun known for her spiritual life of abandonment.  Born in 1880, and dying in 1906, she was beatified by Pope St. John Paul II in 1984.  Her writings focus on the experience of the Three Persons of the Trinity inhabiting her soul.  This is her prayer to the Trinity:

O my God, Trinity whom I adore, help me to become utterly forgetful of myself so that I may establish myself in you, as changeless and calm as though my soul were already in eternity. Let nothing disturb my peace nor draw me forth f from you, O my unchanging God, but at every moment may I penetrate more deeply into the depths of your mystery. Give peace to my soul; make it your heaven, your cherished dwelling-place and the place of your repose. Let me never leave you there alone, but keep me there, wholly attentive, wholly alert in my faith, wholly adoring and fully given up to your creative action.

O my beloved Christ, crucified for love, I long to be the bride of your heart. I long to cover you with glory, to love you even unto death! Yet I sense my powerlessness and beg you to clothe me with yourself. Identify my soul with all the movements of your soul, submerge me, overwhelm me, substitute yourself for me, so that my life may become a reflection of your life. Come into me as Adorer, as Redeemer and as Saviour.

O Eternal Word, utterance of my God, I want to spend my life listening to you, to become totally teachable so that I might learn all from you. Through all darkness, all emptiness, all powerlessness, I want to keep my eyes fixed on you and to remain under your great light. O my Beloved Star, so fascinate me that I may never be able to leave your radiance.

O Consuming Fire, Spirit of Love, overshadow me so that the Word may be, as it were incarnate again in my soul. May I be for him a new humanity in which he can renew all his mystery.

And you, O Father, bend down towards your poor little creature. Cover her with your shadow, see in her only your beloved son in who you are well pleased

O my `Three’, my All, my Beatitude, infinite Solitude, Immensity in which I lose myself, I surrender myself to you as your prey. Immerse yourself in me so that I may be immersed in you until I go to contemplate in your light the abyss of your splendor!

 

Homily for Trinity Sunday

Ah, Trinity Sunday.  Quite possibly, this is the hardest Sunday of the year on which to preach, because it gets at the inner nature of God, and God is, of course, an ineffable mystery.  Remember what Saint Anselm said – God is that of which nothing greater can be conceived.  If you can understand it fully, it’s not God.  And yet here we are, trying to preach on the Trinity.  They say that today more heresy is inadvertently preached throughout the world than on any other Sunday.  (Does that presuppose that on some Sundays heresy is preached on purpose?)

The easy solution, of course, is to make the deacon preach.  But I am merciful.

Bernard Lonergan, a Canadian Jesuit priest and longtime professor at the Gregorian University, said that

“in the Holy Trinity there are 5 notions, 4 relations, 3 persons, 2 processions, 1 nature, and 0 problems.”

Cute.  It would take us days to unpack all the theology in that statement; and since he says there are 0 problems, I’m tempted to just walk away.  We’re done, right?

Saint Augustine offers more hope.  About halfway through his work on the Trinity, which is appropriately called De Trinitate, he encourages his readers with these words:

We are indeed seeking a Trinity, but not any trinity at all, but that Trinity which is God, and the true, the supreme, and the only God.  Keep waiting, therefore, whoever you are, who hear these words.  For we are still seeking, and no one rightly blames him for engaging in such a search, provided only that he remain firmly-rooted in the faith, while he seeks that which it is so difficult to know or to express.

In other words, Augustine is telling us that we can in fact speak in a meaningful way about the Trinity, but that our attempts to do so have to be motivated by faith.  It was either Pope Francis or Pope Benedict XVI that said that theology is only fruitful if it’s done on one’s knees, that is, in prayer.  It’s in prayer that we can learn the Trinity, and it’s in a prayer we all know.  We say it every week.  The Nicene Creed.

Properly called, it’s the Niceno-Constantinople Creed, because it was formulated at both those councils.  The Nicene Creed ultimately explains the Church’s teachings about the Trinity, but it also affirms historical realities of Jesus’ life. Even though the creed does not directly quote Scripture, it is based on biblical concepts. I’m not going to break down the entire creed line-by-line, but I want to point out a few things.  I hope you’re ready for a relatively intense, albeit brief, theological and philosophical lecture.

I Believe in One God

Christians, like Jews and Muslims, believe that only one God exists. The creed states the assumption of the ancient Shema: Hear O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord. The former English translation of the creed began with “we” believe, while the Greek, Latin, and current English translation begin with “I” believe. The latter is more accurate, because reciting the creed is ultimately an individual confession of belief, although the creed also expresses the collective beliefs of the Church.

The Father Almighty

Jesus frequently calls God “Father” in the Scriptures, and this usage tells us that God is a loving God active within His creation. God the Father is the first person (Greek hypostasis, “individual reality”), or distinction, within the Godhead. The Father is the “origin” or “source” of the Trinity. As such, God the Father is often called “God Unbegotten” in early Christian thought.

Maker of Heaven and Earth of All Things Visible and Invisible

Catholics believe that God created the visible world (created matter) and the invisible one (spiritual world of angels, etc). Thus, God created everything. Some early sects, the Gnostics and Marcionites, believed that God the Father created the spirit world, but that an “evil” god (called the demiurge) created the similarly evil material world. The creed dispels such a notion.

I Believe in One Lord Jesus Christ

Jesus Christ is the Lord of all. The title Lord means that Jesus is master of all, and has connotations of deity, since the Hebrew word adonai and Greek word kyrios (both meaning Lord) were applied to Yahweh in the Old Testament. However, unlike earthly rulers, Jesus is a friend to the oppressed and a servant.

The Only Begotten Son of God

Jesus is in a unique relationship with God the Father. While Hebrew kings were sons of God symbolically (see Psalm 2), Jesus is the only Son of God by nature

Born of the Father Before All Ages

Begotten has the meaning of born, fathered, generated, or produced. God the Son is born out of the essence of God the Father. Just as a child shares the same humanness as his or her parents, the Son shares the essential nature of God with the Father. Since God is eternal, the Son, being begotten of God, is also eternal. The Son is often called the “Only-Begotten God” in early Christian literature, including in John 1:18 in many manuscripts.

God from God, Light from Light

God the Son exists in relation to God the Father. The Son is not the Father, but they both are God. Just as a torch is lit one to another, the Father and Son are distinct, but both light. Some Christians, called Sabellians or Modalists, said that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit were one God who changes roles. So when God creates, he is Father, while on earth, he is Son, and so forth. However, the Scriptures have all three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, interacting at the same time, as shown at Jesus’ baptism. The language of Scripture also suggests that the Father and Son are somehow two as well as one. In John’s gospel, the Father and Son testify as two witnesses, not one (John 8:17-18). Related to this, St. Athanasius, writing during the Nicene era, reportedly said that the Father and Son are one as “the sight of two eyes is one.” Another illustration is the musical chord. Think of a C-chord. The C, E, and G notes are all distinct notes, but joined together as one chord, the sound is richer and more dynamic than had the notes been played individually. The chords are all equally important in producing the full, dynamic, sound of the chord, but the sound is lacking and thin if one of the notes is left out.

True God from True God

God the Son is not a half-god or inferior to God the Father. God the Son is fully and utterly God, distinct from the Father, yet not divided from the Father. The ancient Arians believed that Jesus could be called “god” but not true God. In other words, they believed the Logos (the “Word,” a popular title for Jesus in early Christian literature) was the first creation of God, necessary to mediate between the unknowable distant God (a concept borrowed from Platonic thought) and creation. Because God knew that the Logos would be perfect, the title god could be bestowed upon the Son “by participation,” but “true God” was a title reserved only for the unknowable Father. This is the Ante-Nicene “Logos Theology” of St. Justin and Athenagoras taken to an unintended extreme.

Begotten, Not Made

Some Christians today (Jehovah’s Witnesses) and in the past (Arians) have suggested that Jesus was a creation of God. The creed tells us that just as when a woman gives birth she does not create a child out of nothing, being begotten of God, the Son is not created out of nothing. Since the Son’s birth from the Father occurred before time was created, begotten refers to a permanent relationship as opposed to an event within time.

Consubstantial (Greek: homoousia) with the Father

God the Father and God the Son are equally divine, united in substance and will. Father and Son share the same substance or essence of divinity. That is, the Father and Son both share the qualities and essential nature that make one in reality God. However, sharing the same substance does not mean they share identity of person. While certainly an inadequate example, think of three humans: they share a common nature, the essential qualities and essence of humanity, but are not the same person (although unlike the persons of the Trinity, humans do not share one will).

I Believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of Life

The Holy Spirit is also called “Lord.” The Holy Spirit sustains our lives as Christians, illuminating us after the new birth. The original Creed of Nicaea simply ended with “We believe in the Holy Spirit.” The other additions were approved at the Council of Constantinople in AD 381. However, most scholars believe that the text of the full creed dates prior to this council, and that the bishops simply gave their approval to a local creed already in use. The reason these additions were included in the Nicene Creed is that some Christians of the 4th century denied the full divinity of the Holy Spirit. The names given to these heretics were Macedonians (named after a heretical bishop) or pneumatomachi (“fighters against the Spirit”).

Who Proceeds from the Father and the Son

The Son is said to be begotten, while the Spirit is said to proceed. Both words convey that the Son and Spirit are in special relationships to the Father, yet also fully divine. The phrase “and the Son,” in Latin, filioque, was not in the original text of the creed, but was added in many Western Churches. The addition likely developed over time as a tool against Arians in the Gothic lands. There are theological and historical justifications for the addition or exclusion of the filioque. The Eastern Churches oppose the addition of the filioque, while many Western churches accept it. Actually, despite current division on the matter, the issue has been pretty much theologically resolved. The Catholic Church acknowledges that the Father is the sole source within the Trinity, and admits that “proceeds from the Father and the Son” means “proceeds from the Father through the Son.” Catholics also acknowledge that the procession through the Son is not metaphysical, but economic (i.e. describing the Spirit’s actions). Also, Eastern Catholics (those Eastern Churches in communion with Rome) do not say the filioque, and remain in full communion with the Catholic Church. The Eastern Orthodox Churches seem willing to allow the interpretation “through the Son,” because it does not destroy the monarchy of the Father within the Holy Trinity. However, the filioque remains a major division between Eastern and Western Christianity, mainly because the Western Church added the filioque to the Nicene Creed without Eastern input. It is hoped that this issue will be resolved in the future, as the current environment is far less political than in the past.

Who With the Father and Son Is Adored and Glorified

Since the Holy Spirit is fully God, like the Father and the Son, He is worthy of the same worship and adoration.

Who Has Spoken Through the Prophets

The Spirit inspired the prophets of old, and inspires the Church today.

Well.  That’s quite a bit, isn’t it?

It all boils down to this.  God is Love, and the Trinity is a relationship of Love.  God has always loved His people, and loves us so much, that even when fail and sin, He continues to call us into relationship with Him.  The reason I, and Father Tom before me, end the weekly email by reminding you that you are loved is because you really are – and because your life must be a reflection of that reality.

 

The Shepherd’s Voice, May 27

This week’s column isn’t necessarily On Mission for the Church Alive! Related, but you could say it’s inspired by On Mission.  What I mean by that is, at the time of this writing, I don’t have any new information to share with you, but I do have a couple things for you to think and pray about.  Maybe these apply to you; maybe they don’t.  All I ask is that you give them your consideration anyway.

We know that when implementation happens in October, things are going to change.  The most immediate impact will be to the Mass schedule.  What the finished product will look like has yet to be determined, but we know it will be different, and that’s going to force some people to change their Sunday routine.  This will be true throughout the Diocese, not just here.  The second biggest change, I think, will be the change in clergy staffing the parishes.  And while it really shouldn’t matter who the celebrant is, or who the homilist is, I’m not naïve enough to think that is the case.  Those changes, too, could make an impact on people’s Sunday routines.

My point is this: you’re very likely going to encounter new people at your Mass come October.  Already, there are people doing some church-shopping in advance of what’s to come.  This, then, is an excellent time for us to work on our hospitality.  Please don’t think I’m accusing anyone of being inhospitable – that’s definitely not the case.  I’ve always found this parish to be very open and inviting, as have many, many others.  But we can’t allow ourselves to get complacent, and we can always improve.

Remember, going to Mass on Sunday is the most important thing you or anyone else is going to do that week.  So don’t let people feel like outsiders doing it.  When you get to church, move to the center of the pew so late-comers don’t have to climb over you.  If you can’t do that, step out of the pew and let them enter.  (The church seats roughly 750 people; I assure you, there’s room.)  Smile.  Greet people.  Smile.  Turn off your cell phones so they don’t disturb other people’s prayer.  Smile.  Be patient in the parking lot.  Smile.  Consider becoming an usher or lector or Eucharistic minister so you can interact with more people.  Smile.

On Mission is going to be hard for a lot of people.  As I’ve written before, I don’t think it will be that hard here, because this parish is strong, dynamic, and faith-filled.  Those are all gifts from God.  So let’s use those gifts to be models and examples of hospitality, and to help the bishop fulfill the vision of On Mission for the Church Alive!

Oremus…