Fr. Alex’s Corner, May 27, 2018
The HOLY TRINITY
“In the Name of the Father
and of the Son,
and of the Holy Spirit”
I once knew a professor who fully understood – and could explain – Einstein’s theory of relativity AND the Blessed Trinity. The more intoxicated he was, the deeper his understanding and more verbose his explanation. I won’t even go there!
Many young preachers dread days like today. “How am I going to explain the Trinity to the people in simple, every-day language that they can understand?” After many, many years of this conundrum, I say to them: “Forget about it. You can’t, you won’t, and they won’t!” This is a MYSTERY, and not the “who-dunnit?” kind. It is not like coming up against a wall and being stopped. This mystery is like swimming in the ocean: there is always more depth, more to see, more to feel, more to experience. (Just watch out for the sharks!).
Atheism is a relatively new idea. It has come about as we human beings think we are so smart that we can understand everything, and wise enough to bring harmony, peace, understanding, and a good deal of satisfaction to everyone. So, how are we doing?
In the ancient worlds, people concluded that there must be SOMEONE or SOMETHING that holds the clues to the universe. And so they had all kinds of gods as answers to their questions. They didn’t have all the answers, but at least they had the questions. The Jewish people concluded that there was only ONE God, and that ONE God had spoken to them. Yahweh-God was a personal God who knew them, who loved them, and cared for them. Although a “personal” God, that doesn’t mean it was a person like we are. In time, Yahweh-God sent His Son Jesus Christ into our world to confirm and deepen His family relationship with us. It was Jesus Himself who told us that He and the Father “are ONE.” When Jesus completed His very own mission among us, He promised His apostles that He would send them the “God-Spirit,” who would dwell IN them (and IN us, too), so that we all would be ONE as He and His Father are ONE. Whatever happened on Pentecost day convinced those Apostles that SOMETHING or SOMEONE had come into them that just was not there before.
For me, that’s what I know, that’s what I believe, and that’s what I can share: our God is REAL; our God has entered our life and experience; and our God binds us to one another in a family bond so that we can call God “Father” and Jesus “Brother.”
If you need more explanation, I’ll try to resurrect my old professor-friend. (You bring the brandy!)
In the meantime, I pray for you and bless you “in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”
This is MEMORIAL DAY weekend. In the USA, it also begins the summer season of rest, relaxation, and travel. All that is good. God wants us to relax and rest from our burdens, and to enjoy family time together. But let’s not forget the purpose of “Memorial Day” as a time to remember those who gave their all so that we –and others – could enjoy the freedoms that we all-too-often take for granted. I fondly and proudly recall the tender Memorial Day Ceremonies we had at my parish assignments. I will be privileged to offer the Memorial Day Mass at the beautiful Old Mission Cemetery in San Luis Obispo.
There has been a lot of comment about how people should behave when the National Anthem is played at public events. I hope and pray that each of us will offer a Memorial Day moment of silent respect - and prayer – for those who gave their lives for our freedom. Make it REAL!
And, yes, also pray for PEACE.
Fr. Alex’s Corner, May 20, 2018
PENTECOST: THE COMING OF THE HOLY SPIRIT
“Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful,
and renew the face of the earth.”
Pentecost is said to be the BIRTHDAY of the Church. Will you find a birthday cake at your parish this Sunday, or a Birthday Party? If you do, let me know. Somehow it doesn’t translate that way for most of us. It is a BIG DAY! So, HAPPY BIRTHDAY!
A little bit of history: The Jewish people celebrated Pentecost more than 3000 years ago as a harvest festival on which they offered the first fruits of the earth to God in gratitude for His goodness. Later it commemorated God’s giving of the Law to Moses, celebrated on the 50th day after Passover. “50” is the meaning of “PENTE-cost.” The Jews in Jerusalem were celebrating Pentecost on the day that the Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles who were gathered together in the Upper Room.
It was dramatic! There was a sudden rushing wind and tongues of fire appeared over each Apostle. You can read that in Chapter 2 of the “Acts of the Apostles” (in place of singing “Happy Birthday”). Thus, a group of fearful, tongue-tied followers of Jesus Christ were filled with “a Holy Spirit,” which propelled them out into the streets of Jerusalem and preach so boldly that thousands of people were converted to the faith of Jesus on that Pentecost dayl That’s the Birthday!
For forty days after His Resurrection, Jesus appeared to his disciples reminding them of all He had said and done; He confirmed their faith in Him as the Son of the Most High God; and He promised to send the Holy Spirit upon them so that they, filled with the God-Spirit, would go out and proclaim to the whole world that CHRIST HAS DIED; CHRIST IS RISEN; AND CHRIST WILL COME AGAIN! There are hints to the Genesis creation narrative in the Pentecost story: wind - breath of life; fire - light that enlightens; the foreign tongues that confused and separated the people at Babel are now spoken by the apostles and understood by the crowds, making all things (and people) one. This is a new creation. God is once again with His people. And together, they will renew the face of the earth!
One point to remember: the Holy Spirit came upon the apostles as they were gathered together – a sign of the Church. Yes, each one had gifts, God-given and unique, but the Spirit united them to act as One Body: the Body of Christ. Remember how, at the Last Supper, Jesus prayed “that they may be ONE, as you and I, Father, are one” (John 17:11). No lone rangers here! Either we do it together or it just doesn’t get done.
That might inspire an examination of conscience for our faith community, be it a parish, school, Catholic hospital, or a mission. How is our neighborhood “renewed” by the presence of the Holy Spirit – in God’s people – in its midst? Does our faith community “renew the face of the earth”? How do we treat one another? Do we recognize in EACH PERSON the face of Christ? He did say, “whatever you do to others, you do unto Me” (Matt 25:40). How do we settle our grievances, because grievances are there. Catholics are known (and vilified) for our stand against abortion. But do we recognize the sanctity of human life in those who have been born, those we like and don’t like; those whose names, colors, and wrinkles (or tattoos) are different from ours? Is there a difference? Or are we just another private neighborhood club with its own unique membership privileges and prejudices?
Our Church has its share of sinners. But that should not stop us from proclaiming the Gospel by our words and works, because it is not we who are the energizing force. It is God. And God is no sinner. In each century the Church has suffered problems that cause people to predict that “the Church is going to the dogs.” The century ends, the dogs die, and the Church lives on! That’s Pentecost!
WE CAN’T! HE CAN! WITH HIM, WE CAN! Let us welcome the Holy Spirit into our midst. He is our Life, our Unity, and our PEACE.
Fr. Alex’s Corner, May 13, 2018
THE ASCENSION OF THE LORD
“God couldn’t be everywhere,
so He gave us MOTHERS!”
[So sorry for not posting a Blog last week. I attended our Franciscan Provincial Chapter in Buffalo, NY. My current California constitution was no match for the Arctic Blast which hovered over Buffalo’s “Spring.” I returned to the Friary with a bad cold. I tried to write, but I was distracted. Even though it’s late, I chose to post what I had written, just for the record….]
We have TWO major celebrations this Sunday. In some places, The Ascension of the Lord is still celebrated on Thursday (the 40th day after Easter), as it should be. But in much of our country, it is moved to Sunday to make it possible for ALL CATHOLICS to participate at Mass. This is a big event and a major “mystery” of our Faith. When Jesus was teaching about “eternal life,” many wondered just what this was, and where it would be lived. When the Apostles actually SAW Jesus “taken up” into Heaven, they began to understand that Jesus, Son of God, was returning to His Home in Heaven. And since this Son of God was also the “Son of Man,” His home was Heaven, too. Jesus’ promise to return and take them with Him now began to make sense.
The primary punishment for the sin of our First Parents was separation from their friendship with God in the Garden of Paradise. Now, Jesus had reconciled the world with the Father-Creator, and so it was understandable that, once again, created human beings will “live in friendship with God.” Listen to the hints of that teaching at Mass today, particularly in the beautiful Preface: “Mediator between God and Man…, He ascended, not to distance Himself from our lowly state, but that we, His members, might be confident of following where He, our head and founder, has gone before. (“Preface I of the Ascension,” Roman Missal).
After the Ascension of Jesus, the Apostles were instructed to return to Jerusalem, to the Upper Room, and await …. Await WHAT? The Coming of the Holy Spirit! Let’s leave that for next week.
Today is also MOTHER’S DAY. Some advise against “sanctifying” a secular holiday, and I just disagree. Would you believe that several times I’ve written to the Congregation of U.S. Bishops that both Mothers and Fathers Days should be formally recognized in our Liturgy. (Like if they need to hear from me!)
But parenthood is a sacred vocation. Today, more than ever, we need to recognize that and shout it from the housetops (steeples, too!).
We all have precious memories of our Moms. My brothers and I were lucky to have our Mom until she was 99+. Saying goodbye was hard, but a longer life may have been uncomfortable. Our belief that, following Jesus, she ascended after Him into Heaven, soothes our pain of loss. And on days like today, we have good memories.
We lived at a time when Mom was usually home when we came home from school. Any house could have been a home, but Mom being there made it “our home.” No one in the world made salmon patties or cheese blintzes like our Mom. No one understood our problems, cared for our needs, or healed our wounds like she did. Mom taught us to say our prayers and that God was always good, even if we weren’t. Our family and neighbors were to be respected. “Thank you,” “please,” and “I’m sorry” were part of our family language.
Family was all important. Even after her stroke, among her last understandable words to my brother were, “and how are the kids?” The last time I saw her smile was when her three great-grandchildren stood around her wheel chair. Oh, how we miss her! But oh, how we thank God for her. Really, God CAN be everywhere. But He gave us MOTHERS because we need to love and we need to be loved. HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY TO ALL YOU MOMS. God loves you and SO DO WE!
Fr. Alex’s Corner, May 6, 2018
THE SIXTH SUNDAY OF EASTER
“This is my commandment:
Love one another as I have loved you.”
(Jesus of Nazareth, John 15:12)
This week we will celebrate the Ascension of Our Lord into Heaven and next week, The Coming of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles. These central mysteries of our Faith mark the final departure of Jesus Christ from the Apostles, and His return to them in the God-Spirit, the Holy Spirit.
Today’s Gospel relates Jesus’ “Farewell Discourse” at the Last Supper, on the night before He died. The disciples were quite clueless about Jesus’ message. But the message was that without Him, they would crumble into mush. His death was a devastating separation for them. Even apparitions of the Resurrected Christ confused them. What they needed was the SPIRIT OF JESUS WITHIN THEM. That’s what happened at Pentecost, and that’s when everything changed.
The Apostles were not really an impressive bunch on Good Friday or the days thereafter. We can understand that. Bereavement knocks you out. But the Acts of the Apostles shows the dramatic change in the Apostles’ behavior before the Coming of the Holy Spirit (Pentecost) and immediately thereafter. A group of frightened and frazzled men suddenly became fearless proclaimers of the story of Jesus, what He meant to them, and what He could mean to all who would accept Him.
Suddenly, they were brave, wise, fearless, and ready to change the world. You don’t get that just by meeting Jesus or hearing about Him. His Spirit must dwell within you. That’s why Jesus gave us the Sacraments. Through them we not only experience Jesus, but we are filled with His Spirit.
And so it is a legitimate question: why do so many people consider themselves “followers” of Jesus Christ, but are not followers of His Way. In today’s Gospel Jesus makes it quite clear: “If you love me, keep my commandments (John 14: 15).” How we respond to the very real people of our day is the measure of how much God’s LOVE is in us? Do we love each other – and others - as Jesus loved us? That’s the criterion. There is no other.
Do you remember Mahatma Ghandi (1869-1946)? He was the Hindu pacifist who worked peacefully to free India from England and to develop democratic ideals in his country. Although a fervent Hindu, he was so impressed by the Christian Bible that he considered converting to Christianity. One Sunday he went to a Christian Church in Calcutta to speak to the minister. The usher told him that he’d have to wait until after the worship service, and he said he would. Then he was told that he could not remain for that service because he was of a lower caste and was not white. He left that church, never to return. “I like your Christ,” he often said, “but I don’t like your Christians. They are just like everyone else….”
I wish I could have spoken to Brother Mahatma, but I was just a little kid then. I could have shown him Christians who were NOT like everyone else.
One of his sayings intrigues me: “You Christians look after a document (the Bible) that contains enough power to change the world and to bring peace to this planet. But you look upon it as nothing more than a work of literature.” (quote not exact, but the meaning is.)
Is that true? I think we need to constantly ask ourselves what “being” a follower of Christ means in our EVERYDAY world. Just being in a church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than being in a garage makes you a car – or sitting in Dunkin’ Donuts makes you a cream puff!
The Apostles learned that once Jesus left them, things were not the same. The memories were great, but what they needed was His presence. That happened at Pentecost. And that’s when everything changed. My friends, PENTECOST is coming. Let us pray for that change. PEACE!