Welcome to CatholicPreacher! I use this page as a type of archive of my thoughts for my Sunday homily.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Solemnity of the Holy Trintiy

"Batter my heart three-person God"
--John Donne, "Meditation 14"

Preaching on theological-theme-Sundays is particularly challenging because it invites abstraction and can quickly turn into a lecture; even in a seminary, seminary professors want to hear a homily and not a lecture at Mass.

The Holy Trinity is difficult because the official declaration of God's identity as "three persons one God" seems to run contrary to our understanding of what it means to be a person.  For many, such language brings up popular images of "multiple personalities" in a single person suffering from a mental disorder.  There is a quotation from the spiritual masterpiece The Imitation of Christ by Thomas a Kempis that gives us a great place to start:

What good does it do to speak learnedly about the Trinity if, lacking humility, you displease the Trinity? Indeed it is not learning that makes a man holy and just, but a virtuous life makes him pleasing to God. I would rather feel contrition than know how to define it. Book 1, Chapter 1

The first thing we should recognize is that any theological understanding finds its ultimate meaning in the goal of all Christian life: to allow God to transform us daily into becoming more the Christ that has dwelled in us since baptism. With that in mind (and heart), let's consider Scripture and how the blessed Trinity is revealed, and the implications for our life in Christ.

One of the essential characteristics of the Trinity is relationship, and God's "aseity", or uncreated, perfectly actualized being. Wow, that sounded like the beginnings of a seminary essay!  Scripture implies not only God's uncreated nature, it also gives us an experience of God as moving away from self into humanity in the form of revelations (the Prophets) and redemptive action (Jesus as Christ), and acting within human nature in such a way to recognize in oneself, and one's neighbor, the Divine.  This three-part structure: God-self, God-revelation, God-within humanity becomes the basis to reflect our experience of God's relationship to humanity.

Deuteronomy speaks of God's existence in both heaven and earth, acting in both revelation and redemption.

...fix in your heart, that the LORD is God in the heavens above and on the earth below, and that there is no other . . . . that you and your children after you may prosper, and that you may have long life on the land . . . ."

In Paul's letter to the Romans, he explicitly writes of God in terms of Father, Spirit and of being "heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ"
The text takes an interesting turn, then, and suggests that this relationship is only fully recognized (The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit) "if only we suffer with him".  Paul is suggesting that we will be led by the Spirit into the the sufferings of Christ to enter into the glory of the Father.  How often do we regard God as aloof and incapable of suffering because of the attribution of "perfect".  Something perfect does not suffer, but God as the Christ, did suffer (contrary to the rather insipid claim of the Gnostics) and does suffer.  The reason God suffers, for Paul, is clear: we are all God's children.  God suffers because of His great love of his creation and his perfect love expressed in our free will to walk away from our inheritance like a petulant child walks away from Disneyland to play in the backyard on a dry, brown lawn with broken toys in the summer heat to spite his parents.

In Matthew's gospel, the Trinity is explicit in the triadic baptismal formula with the promise that the role of the disciple is to teach the world "all that I have commanded you".  If you remember three weeks ago, Jesus commands his disciples: "love one another".  The mission, then, of both the Church and the individual, is one of "going out" into the world, as Christ and the Father "went out"of themselves---God in creation, revelation and redemption, Christ in perfect obedience to the Father. This centrifugal force of the Spirit, though, is only possible as a fruit of loving one another--the centripetal force of the inwardness of God's presence within us and Christ's presence in the community of the faithful.  What draws us together, leads us to mission. 

The mission will "batter" us, to quote the epigraph from Donne, but we live because we are embraced by God's Spirit in following the battered Christ resurrected.  Donne's pleading seems masochistic until one realizes that to join in this family of God's children, the way of life and glory is also the way of suffering and death for love of the other, embodying the practice of the Trinity.  Who could ever understand such love?  

(re-posted from 2012)

Saturday, May 18, 2013


The Language of the Holy Spirit
". . . they were confused
because each one heard them speaking in his own language."

The first action at Pentecost had to do with the paradox of a single group of men from a particular region speaking so that others who spoke many other languages heard them in their own language.  Perhaps the message was one of universal salvation.  Scripture simply says the Spirit ". . . enabled them to proclaim. . . .  the mighty acts of God." What could be mightier than the gathering of all nations to the loving call of God?

Too often the call one hears in one's own language can lead one to assume God's call is exclusively to him or herself; that the others couldn't have got it right because God is speaking so personally to me! But the language of the Holy Spirit which is heard in all languages is the language of the Cross and the Empty Tomb.  The language of the Holy Spirit is loving sacrifice and triumph over death.

The Spirit's long embrace of love is "as a flame of fire".  This simile suggests it is a passionate, dynamic and living presence.  Candles, "eternal flames" of remembrance, the sanctuary lamp, all mirror this reality of a living, present God.  Each of us, born like an unlit candle, becomes a light with God's touch at baptism, and is the sustaining presence that burns brightly in dark places where light is sorely needed.  As Jesus proclaimed "I am the light of the world"(John. 8:12), so too we are called to live as "Children of the light"(Ephesians 5:8-19).

This light, as St. Paul reminds us takes the form of the many and various gifts of the Holy Spirit; yet, 

As a body is one though it has many parts,
and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body,
so also Christ.
For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body,
whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons,
and we were all given to drink of one Spirit.

And in "this one body" we work out our salvation-light's gift of God.  Too often diversity is looked upon with suspicion by the institutional church and among Christian denominations.  Instead of looking at one another with a sense of mystery and awe at the diverse workings of the Holy Spirit, we assume error because of the difference.  Very often this difference is mistaken for a lack of unity; what, in fact, it is is a lack of uniformity.  What living system exhibits uniformity?  When, then, is difference error?  The Spirit is also our teacher and what is not of God will always manifest itself as a force pulling people away from the peace, love and hope of Christ.  St. Paul writing to the Galatians (Gal.5:22) declares: "...the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”  
 In 1 Corinthians, Chapter 13, after discussing the “many gifts, one Spirit”,  Paul writes elegantly of the primacy of love as evidence of the Spirit’s presence:

If I speak in the tongues[a] of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast,[b] but do not have love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

Love is the language of the Holy Spirit and the sure sign of God’s dwelling and the source of our comfort, instruction, healing light and salvation.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Sixth Sunday of Easter

Keeping Our Word

Jesus’ farewell address has the curious phrase “Whoever loves me will keep my word”.  We all understand how to keep our word, but how is it that Jesus is asking us to keep his word.

In the Gospel of John, Jesus is the Word, in Greek, the Logos, of God.  The Son in the Trinity is the Word of God; the son proceeds from the Father as God’s Word, his expression of perfect love for all creation.  Just as words that come from us reveal ourselves to the world, so the Word (Jesus) proceeded from God the Father as a revelation of God’s true nature.

Keeping Jesus’ word is nurturing God’s promise of salvation that Jesus’ life embodied as a sign of grace, God’s great love for His creation in general and humanity in particular. The world can know God most intimately through Jesus the Christ, though God reveals Himself in many other ways and to many other peoples; however, it is our faith that tells us God’s preeminent and perfect revelation of Himself is through Jesus.

The second part of today’s gospel anticipates the gift of the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit.  Jesus refers to the Holy Spirit as The Advocate, or someone who acts on another’s behalf.  The Spirit, then, is the means by which we can keep Jesus’ word to us and God’s Word to humanity.  Jesus’ reference to peace in declaring “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you.”  The world gives us a peace that can only be temporary; the peace of Christ is an eternal peace, but it isn’t a peace that leaves us in a type of protective spiritual bubble that inoculates us from the difficulties of life.  The Reverend A.J. Muste, a famous American clergyman who preached peace said "There is no way to peace. Peace is the way."  

 We stand upon the foundation of peace that allows us to face the world in all its chaos and turmoil, because keeping Christ’s peace means venturing into a violent and broken world with Good News when all around us is falling apart.  William Blakes’s famous line from “The Second Coming” “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold” is the bad news of the peace the world gives.  The peace of Christ is the center that holds for eternity and extends out into the world and draws everyone in like foundlings drawn from a storm into a warm, protective loving home. Alleluia, Christ is risen!