For Sunday Liturgies and Feasts
Homilies for June, 2012
The Trinity and its effect on daily life and ethics
Purpose: 1) To demonstrate the nature of the Trinity and 2) the fact that this doctrine has everything to do with daily life and ethics.
The Feast of the Holy Trinity—June 3, 2012
“B” Readings: Dt. 4:32-34, 39-40; Rom. 8: 14-17; Mt. 28: 16-20
In one of her works, the English Anglican author, Dorothy Sayers, lamented the poor state of catechesis in the Anglican church in the early part of the 20th century. She claims that many people reject Christianity with not having a clue about what it teaches. For example, to the question: “What is the Holy Trinity?”, many modern Christians would probably respond something like: “‘The Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible, and the whole thing incomprehensible.’ Something put in by theologians to make it more difficult – nothing to do with daily life or ethics.” (Dorothy Sayers, The Whimsical Christian, 25) Sadly, this same response might easily be made by an ordinary Catholic today because, as Pope John Paul II often lamented, the Church is dealing with at least two generations of uncatechized adults even in countries traditionally Catholic.
This is not true only of the laity. One hears, so often, homilies preached on this Sunday which echo the same theme. The preacher will say: “Today is the day when we cannot really say anything because it is all a mystery.” This is the feast of the Holy Trinity. This is nonsense.
It is true that we cannot define the Trinity, or ever understand fully that there are three distinct and equal persons in God, all infinite and eternal, without there being three Gods. St. Augustine was once walking along the sea trying to understand it fully, and he saw a little boy going to the ocean, bringing the water to a hole he had dug. Augustine, puzzled by this, asked the boy what he was doing. The child responded that he was trying to put the ocean in the hole. Augustine responded that this was impossible, because the ocean was too big, and the hole was too small. The boy responded: “So it is with the mind of man, trying to understand the Trinity.”
Yet, our whole religion centers on this dogma. This is because God created the human race to enjoy society with persons, and the Trinity are persons par excellence. A person, according to Christian tradition, is: “An individual substance of rational nature.” Since God has an infinite nature, is completely spiritual, and so has a mind and a will, personal distinction in him leads to both the most unique and individual of persons, and also to the most social of unions. Being a person includes giving self away to another. The Father, Son and Spirit spend all eternity giving and receiving to each other, through perfect truth, perfect love and perfect joy because they are infinite in being. There is no possibility of power plays, domination or extortion in this perfect society. They do nothing without the other. All they do is give and receive in love. They are the perfect society.
This delightful mystery is true not only in their eternal society, but the world was created to draw others to share in this delight. God called human beings especially to be particularly his own as subjects of truth and love. This call was begun in Israel, a chosen people. In shadow, God prepared this people by special acts of his love. “Know therefore […] and lay it in your heart, that the Lord is God in heaven above and on earth beneath; there is no other” (Dt 4:39).
Yet, all the favor God showed Israel was nothing compared to the fulfillment of the shadow. Israel revered God as one. The Old Testament was to prepare them to also revere God as three in one, to identify the creator of the universe, and the lover of Israel, with the Father of the Messiah.
The special union with God in the Old Testament, is now a union with the persons of the Trinity. In the New Testament, this relationship is interior. By grace, the very life of the Trinity is in our souls, sharing the same life with the Father, which the Son does in the Spirit. “The spirit you received was not the spirit of slaves bringing fear into your lives again; it is the spirit of sons, and it makes us cry out, ‘Abba, Father!’” (Rom 8:15). We, on earth, in our everyday lives, now can know as the Trinity knows, and love as the Trinity loves.
Christ himself fulfilled his mission on earth by sending the Holy Spirit, giving a share in this mission to the Church, in order to introduce each person into a personal union with him, and the other two persons of the Trinity, through baptism. “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, make disciples of all the nations; baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Mt 18-19). It was to experience loving union, and exchange of life with these persons, that each human being was created. To see others, our world, and ourselves as the Trinity does, is the culmination of what it means to be human.
The Trinity has everything to do with daily life and ethics. By union with these persons, in truth and love, we come to be transformed to know and love as they do. We see the world as God sees it, which is the right way since he made it. “Happy the people the Lord has chosen to be his own” (Responsorial Psalm).
Our Food for the Journey
Purpose: 1) To celebrate the nature of the Eucharist; 2) To show why the Eucharist is necessary to live the life of grace, and, so to be our food for the journey to heaven
Eucharistic Procession on the Feast of Corpus Christi
The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ—June 10, 2012
Ex. 24: 3-8; Heb. 9:11-15; Mk. 14:12-16, 22-26
There is probably no doctrine which has caused so much difficulty in the last 40 years as that of the nature of the Eucharist. I can recall, personally, during my studies in the seminary in Berkeley in the late 60s, a theology professor who later became the president of the Catholic Theological Society of America. He explained to an assembled group of Catholic seminarians that, according to the doctrine of transubstantiation, if one put the consecrated Host under a microscope, one should see the molecules of Jesus’ body. Since they did not have microscopes in the Middle Ages, they did not know that was not true. Now, since we have microscopes, we know that is not true, and so the Church must change this teaching, saying instead that the bread only changes its meaning or purpose, but not its substance, in the consecration. What was fascinating about this lecture was the reaction of the Catholic seminarians who all thought this was profound and true. The Sisters taught me this was not true in the fifth grade.
Today, we celebrate Corpus Christ, the feast of the Body of the Lord. Some preachers say that we are celebrating ourselves in this feast, since we are the body of Christ. While there may be a sense in which we are members of the Mystical Body of Christ, we are not celebrating this body, but the body of Christ in the Eucharist. We are celebrating transubstantiation.
When the priest says the words of institution, “This is my Body,” over the bread, it changes its substance. Though natural changes of substance in nature involve changes in chemical structure, this is not true of the change in the Eucharist, which is miraculous. A substance, in the sense it is used here, means a being which exists in its own right. A dog or a cat is a substance. This is opposed to accident, which is not an unforeseen event, but means a being which cannot exist in its own right, but must exist in something else. Color, shape, size or in this case chemical structure, is like this. The Church has tried to capture the meaning of a miraculous change, which Christ himself instituted while he was personally present on earth. When the priest says the words: “This is my Body” and “This is my Blood” over the bread and wine, they cease in all respects except their appearances, which include their chemistry, to be bread and wine, becoming the body, blood, soul and divinity of Christ. The risen and ascended Body of Christ becomes present on the altar.
In this gift, this miracle of miracles given by the Lord, a rite is completed which was begun in shadow on Mount Sinai by Moses. After the Book of the Covenant with Israel was read, and the people agreed to obey it, Moses celebrated a sacrifice by the shedding of blood of animals on the altar. The consecrated blood was then sprinkled on the people as a sign of their union with God. He said: “This is the blood of the Covenant that the Lord has made with you, containing all these rules” (Ex 24: 8).
In the New Testament, the blood is not that of a bull or goat, but of Christ. He performs the ultimate sacrifice and act of atonement. He does this first by reversing the unloving disobedience of Adam and Eve in his obedience on the cross, embracing one of the punishments for our sin: suffering and death. In this, he accomplishes, in fact, what the Old Testament sacrifices looked forward to, only in shadow, in the purification of “our inner self from dead actions so that we do our service to the living God” (Heb 9:14). In this, Christ accomplishes the work of redemption for which he came to earth.
The Eucharist celebrates all the actions in Christ’s life which are directly connected to this atonement, bringing it present to us in our day, not as a new bloody sacrifice. That was offered only once in time. However, the fruits of that sacrifice must always be applied to each generation. This fruit is an interior renewal by a purification of conscience. This purification of our consciences through this accepted sacrifice, takes place in our union with the Risen Lord, who now reigns in heaven.
In the Eucharist, we worship him in heaven, making his way of life our own. The Eucharist was instituted at the Last Supper. Though the Last Supper is present in the Eucharist, it is much more than a meal. The Eucharist brings to the present, the risen Christ, and the whole Paschal event, including: the Supper, the Cross and the Resurrection, in order to make them all our own. In all other food, the food becomes us. In this food, we become the food. So, this mystery is truly the “Food of Pilgrims, and the Bread of Angels”.
Walking in humility by faith
Purpose: 1) To explain the nature of humility as a virtue; 2) To encourage Catholics to walk in humility by faith and not by sight.
Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time—June 17, 2012
Ex. 17:22-24; 2 Cor.5:6-10; Mk. 4:26-34
Pride is a very difficult sin because it attacks even the good desires people have for excellence. The proud are not generally weak people, who vacillate driven by their passions or ignorance. Instead, the proud are usually quite good people, except for the fact that they want to attribute all their accomplishments to themselves. This is not only true of people who have earthly kingdoms, but, sadly, can also characterize those who embrace the Kingdom of God. Today, the Lord teaches us, through parables, that this Kingdom can only be embraced in humility.
Many Christians embrace the spiritual life, expecting spectacular and persistent religious experiences. Some people claim they cannot grow in prayer because of the humility or suffering of their surroundings. Others really want to find some method or proof that God loves them, beyond the passion and resurrection. In the parable of the mustard seed, the Lord teaches the Church that his kingdom has small, almost imperceptible, beginnings. One normally does not experience the presence of God in triumphal and spectacular events. The growth of all seed takes place almost without the grower being aware of the plant growing. Nature is brought to perfection gradually, in gentle stages. The same is true with the life of grace.
Ezekiel speaks in his prophecy of the shoot which shall “sprout branches and bear fruit and become a noble cedar” (Ez 17:23). This is the Savior who will come from the little shoot which is Mary. Jesus is the vine in whom all receive life, and in whom all rest. His grace, virtues and gifts are the source of true human greatness, increasing in the secret of the soul by Gospel living. Gospel living is easy to express but hard to live. It encompasses the rooting out of faults, and the assiduous desire to grow in the virtue of one’s state. This is normally done in the secret of the soul, and accomplished not by our works, but by grace. As Paul says: “we walk by faith and not be sight” (2 Cor. 5:7).
Christ talks about rooting out pride in the parables by emphasizing the small and hidden growth of his Church. Faults are normally rooted out, not so much by gritting one’s teeth and just bearing it, but by the more positive road of practicing the contrary virtue. The contrary virtue of pride is humility.
What is humility? Strong men telling themselves they are weak? Beautiful women telling themselves they are ugly? Intelligent people telling themselves they are stupid? This cannot be so, since this is not true, and God is never served by a lie. Humility does not mean thinking less of yourself—not self-deprecation—but thinking of yourself less. In other words, the seed and the bush are very lowly things, but they serve much higher purposes, with the force of the seed already within it when it is planted in the soul. That force must produce fruit silently, and slowly. So grace serves the good of self and others.
How does the fruit of humility grow? Some people think it is humility to be a doormat to other people’s tyranny. This looks like it; but it is not, because it is born more of fear of getting into trouble, than of desire for the good of others. Thomas Aquinas once wrote that humility is a good, but not in all circumstances. “So it is not proper to humility, but to stupidity, for a man to accept every kind of humiliation, but what must be done for the sake of virtue a person does not reject because of humiliation” (Thomas Aquinas, Summa contra Gentiles, III, 135).
For the sake of virtue, people may expose themselves to humble tasks to control their own desire to dominate others, or even to encourage people who have to do humble tasks in their importance. Teresa of Avila said that when she was accused of a fault of which she was innocent, she never protested, because she thought she had deeper more hidden faults, which no one knew about, and was glad they did not accuse her of them. The little mustard seed imperceptibly becomes a great tree because of the power given from above. “Lord, it is good to give thanks to you” (Responsorial Psalm).
Imitating the devotion to Christ of John the Baptist
Purpose: 1) to explain the mission of John the Baptist; 2) to encourage Christians to imitate his devotion to Christ
The Nativity of John the Baptist—June 24, 2012
Is. 49: 1-6; Acts 13: 22-26; Lk. 1:57-66, 80
“What, then, will this child be?” (Lk. 1:66). Today, the Church celebrates one of three birthdays in the liturgical calendar. They are: the birth of Christ, the birth of Mary, and the birth of John the Baptist. The Birth of John the Baptist is celebrated on June 24, near the summer solstice, to emphasize his mission in proclaiming the coming of Christ, the light of the world, and to conform to Holy Scripture. The date is significant because it is three months after the Annunciation, and six months before Christmas. The sun is at its zenith in summer, because all the longing of the human race, throughout time, reaches final dramatic resolution in the coming of Christ with the birth of his precursor. He is set apart as the immediate precursor of Christ. He is given this grace, even in his mother’s womb. “The Lord called me before I was born; from my mother’s womb he pronounced my name” (Is. 49:1).
In imitation of King David, John the Baptist leapt in the womb of Elizabeth before Mary, the Ark which carried the Covenant written, not on tables of stone, but on the human nature of Christ. This is his moment of cleansing from Original Sin. His preaching is the immediate preparation for the public ministry of the Lamb of God. He practices a baptism of repentance, a testimony looking forward to the sacrifice of Christ. John’s baptism does not confer grace, but prepares the recipient to welcome Christ, the light now come into the world. So, the early preaching of the Church always connects John with Our Lord. Paul declares: “To keep his promise, God has raised up for Israel one of David’s descendants, Jesus, as Savior, whose coming was heralded by John when he proclaimed a baptism of repentance” (Acts 13:23-24). Christ himself submits to John’s baptism, not because he needs it, but to approve of this rite which will later be intimately connected to his passion, and in itself, give grace. He touches the water, and there is a revelation, given from heaven, of his person as the Word made flesh; not because he needs it, but because we do. His touching the water begins the process by which they will healed. John is a witness to all this. From his birth to his death, John witnessed to Christ. As he leapt in the womb for joy of the baby Jesus, he innocently dies the death of a martyr to the truth, in anticipation of Christ’s death.
John still preaches to each of us today. As he prepared for the coming of Christ in humility, he now prepares for the coming of Christ in glory, by being a model to us of grace—the “tender compassion of our God” (Lk. 1: 78). In the face of a world darkened by the rejection of the truth, and made cold in heart by the lack of interest in grace, John stands as a true solstice of the summer of divine truth and grace. His fire must enkindle grace in our souls, so that the human race can again discover what gracious and virtuous living means. “To turn the hearts of fathers back to their children” (Lk 1:17). Even in his humble disavowal of being the Messiah, he shows us the true path of disinterested love. His cry—“He must increase, but I must decrease!” (Jn. 3:30)—must be the example of our daily experience of grace.
“What shall this Child be?” He is the man who “directs the hearts of the faithful into the way of salvation and peace” (Preface for John the Baptist).