Tuesday of the Tenth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

As many of you know, I enjoy cooking. And so our Gospel reading’s reference to seasoning resonates with me quite a bit. Sometimes you can under-season a dish: when you’re cooking, if you don’t add seasoning as you go along, at the end you can never put in enough salt or pepper to make it taste right. Sometimes you can over-season a dish, too. And then all you get is salt taste, and you’ve ruined what you were hoping for. But when you get it just right, the salt you’ve added brings out the other flavors in a dish and everything tastes just right. I love to go over to Penzey’s downtown here, because all the wonderful spices and herbs they have on display give me wonderful ideas of how to cook with just the right seasoning.

And Jesus wants us to think about that today in terms of the Christian life. Jesus doesn’t want us to be under-seasoned. We need to add seasoning all along the way: during the journey of our life, we have to be seasoned with the sacraments and with scripture so that we can come to the banquet just right. And we can’t be over-seasoned either. We have to, as St. Benedict teaches us, pray and work. Otherwise all our prayer and scripture end up all in our heads and never in our hearts, and that’s not right.

I don’t want the next two weeks to be a whole Fr. Pat retrospective, but I do feel like today’s Gospel says a lot about how I’ve experienced my time at St. Raphael’s. You have been salt and light to me. I have learned a lot along the way as you have seasoned me with your wisdom, your prayerfulness, and your willingness to serve and grow. I found that I couldn’t help but get caught up in all that, and have really loved how much I’ve learned and experienced in three too-short years. Remember then, to be salt and light for the new guy – and I say that knowing that you will be, because you can’t help it, that’s who you are as a parish.

When it comes right down to it, we are all here to season each other’s lives. We will never regret what we have given to others in terms of sharing time or experience, in terms of praying or working together. The grace of being salt and light for each other is so preferable to being the bland consumers our society would have us be. Who in our lives needs our salt and light today?

The Most Holy Trinity

Today’s readings

Today’s feast has us gathered to celebrate one of the greatest mysteries of our faith, the Most Holy Trinity. Today we celebrate our one God in three Persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. You have probably heard me tell one of my favorite stories about Saint Augustine with regard to the Trinity. The story goes that he was walking along the beach one day, trying to figure out the nature of the Holy Trinity. As he walked along, he came across a little boy who had dug a hole in the sand right next to the shore. With his little hands he was carrying water from the ocean and was dumping it in the little hole. St. Augustine asked, “What are you doing, my child?” The child replied, “I want to put all of the water of the ocean into this hole.” So St. Augustine asked him, “But is it possible for all of the water of this great ocean to be contained in this little hole?” And the child asked him in return, “If the water of the ocean cannot be contained in this little hole, then how can the Infinite Trinitarian God be contained in your mind?” With that the child disappeared.

Indeed, the greatest minds of our faith have wrestled with this notion of the Holy Trinity. How can one God contain three Persons, how could they all be present in the world, working among us in different ways, and yet remain but one? Even the great Saint Patrick, who attempted to symbolize the Trinity with a shamrock, could only scratch the surface of this great mystery.

I think the Trinity isn’t the kind of mystery one solves. And that’s hard for me because I love a good mystery! When I have the chance to just read what I want to read, it’s almost always a mystery novel. I read Agatha Christie all the time growing up, and I’ll often go back to some of her stuff even now. My love for mysteries probably explains why I like to watch “Law & Order” and “CSI.” It’s great to try to figure out the mystery before the end of the book or the end of the show. But, if you like mysteries too, then you know that the mark of a good mystery is when it doesn’t get solved in the first six pages. It’s good to have to think and rethink your theory, right up until the last page.

The kind of mystery that is the Holy Trinity is a mystery that takes us beyond the last page. This is one we’ll take to heaven with us, intending to ask God to explain it when we get there, but when we get there, we’ll most likely be too much in awe to ask any questions. And so we are left with the question, who is this that is the Holy Trinity? How do we explain our one God in Three Persons? Who is this one who is beyond everything and everyone, higher than the heavens, and yet nearer than our very own hearts?

One of the best minds of our faith, Saint Thomas Aquinas, has described the Holy Trinity as a relationship. The Father loves the Son and the Son loves the Father, and the Holy Spirit is the love between the Father and the Son. And this makes sense to us on some levels, because we all have been taught, and we all accept, that God is love. And not just the kind of paltry love that our pop culture and society calls love, but love in the deepest of all senses, the kind of love that is self-giving and that intimately shares in the life of the other. God is love, but God is better than the best love our feeble human minds can picture. The love that is God is a love so pure that it would wholly consume us if we gave ourselves to it completely. Just as difficult as it is for our minds to describe the Holy Trinity, so that love that is God is impossible for our minds to grasp.

But this picture of God as a relationship is important to us, I think, because we need to relate to God in different ways at different times. Because sometimes we need a parent. And so relating to God as Father reminds us of the nurturing of our faith, being protected from evil, being encouraged to grow, and being corrected when we stray. If you’ve had difficulty with a parent in your life, particularly a father, then relating to God as Father can also be difficult. But still, I think there is a part of all of us, no matter what our earthly parents have been like, that longs to have a loving parental relationship. God as Father can be that kind of parent in our lives.

And sometimes we need the Son. Relating to God the Son – Jesus our brother – reminds us that God knows our needs, he knows our temptations, he’s experienced our sorrows and celebrated our joys. God in Christ has walked our walk and died our death and redeemed all of our failures out of love for us. God the Son reminds us that God, having created us in his own image and likeness, loves what he created enough to become one of us. Our bodies are not profane place-holders for our souls, our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, and that very body was good enough to become the dwelling place of God when he came to earth. Maybe you’ve never had a brother or sister or never were close to yours, but in Christ you have the brother above all others who is present to you in all your joys and sorrows.

Sometimes, too, we need a Holy Spirit. Because we often have to be reminded that there is something beyond ourselves. That this is not as good as it gets. As wonderful as our world and our bodies can be, we also know they are very flawed. The Holy Spirit reminds us that there is a part of us that always longs for God, no matter how far we have strayed. The Spirit reminds us that our sins are not who we are and that repentance and forgiveness are possible. It is the Holy Spirit that enables us to do the really good things we wouldn’t be capable of all by ourselves, the really good things that are who we really are before God.

It might seem like this mystery of the Trinity is a purely academic discussion. Does the Trinity affect our daily lives or make a difference in our here and now? Is all this discussion just talk, or does it really make any difference? Obviously, I don’t think it’s just talk. Instead, as our Gospel suggests today, the Most Holy Trinity must be shared with people in every time and place. God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit wants to relate to all of us, be present to all of us, and call all of us to discipleship through common baptism, and it’s up to us to point the way to that Trinity of love that longs to be in loving relationship with all people.

Sometimes the hymnody of our faith can express what prose alone can’t get at. The great old hymn, “Holy, Holy, Holy” by Reginald Heber sums up our awe of the Trinity today. Join me in praising God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit by singing that last verse:

Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty!
All thy works shall praise thy name, in earth and sky and sea.
Holy, holy, holy! Merciful and mighty,
God in three persons, blessed Trinity.

St. Boniface

Today’s readings

Boniface was a Benedictine monk in England. He gave up the real possibility of being elected abbot of his community in order to reach out to the German people. Pope Gregory II sent Boniface to a Germany where paganism was a way of life, and where the clergy were at best uneducated and at worst corrupt and disobedient. Reporting all of this back to Pope Gregory, the Holy Father commissioned him to reform the German Church. He was provided with letters of introduction to civil and religious authorities, but even so met with some resistance and interference by both lay people and clergy. Yet, he was extremely successful, centering his reforms around teaching the virtue of obedience to the clergy and establishing houses of prayer similar to Benedictine monasteries. Boniface and 53 companions were finally martyred during a mission, in which he was preparing converts for Confirmation. The success of Boniface’s mission was that he helped the people and the clergy to see how far they had strayed from God’s plan for the Church.

In his blindness, Tobit came to see what was important, too. If we remember all the way back to Tuesday, we heard about Tobit being made blind by cataracts caused by bird droppings, and later in that same story, he scolded his wife for accepting a goat as a bonus on her labor, because he did not believe her story. I mentioned then that Tobit had to learn that charity – for which he was quite well known – begins at home. His period of blindness gave him that very insight, I think, and in today’s story he rejoices in his cleared vision.

Through the intercession of St. Raphael, Tobit regained his sight and was able to see his son safely returned from a long and dangerous journey. He saw also the return of his family fortune. And he saw the union of his son Tobit with his new wife Sarah. There was great cause for rejoicing in all that he was able to see and Tobit didn’t miss a beat in placing the credit where it belonged. He said,

Blessed be God,
and praised be his great name,
and blessed be all his holy angels.
May his holy name be praised
throughout all the ages,
Because it was he who scourged me,
and it is he who has had mercy on me.

And so we praise God today for angels who help us to see what’s really important. We praise God for angels who clear up our clouded vision and help us to see past the obstacles we’ve put in God’s way. We praise God for saints that point us back in the right direction – toward Jesus Christ. We praise God for all those witnesses who help us to overcome our pride and self-righteousness so that God’s way can become clear to us. May we rejoice along with Tobit and Anna and Boniface and his companions, and all the rest that God has brought us back to him, time and time again.

Invocation for Loaves and Fishes

This prayer was for the opening breakfast for the Loaves and Fishes “One Day Without Hunger” event.

The story about Jesus multiplying loaves and fishes, from which this wonderful organization takes its name, is present in all four of the Gospel narratives that we have. The early church obviously talked about that event quite a bit, and for them it was one of the most important events in the whole Jesus story. I think it’s an important story on many theological levels, but at its most basic, it tells us of Jesus’ concern for the people who followed him.

These people had been amazed at his mighty deeds and convincing words and couldn’t tear themselves away even to eat something. So they all arrived in one place hungry, and without anyplace to go find something to eat. All they can scrounge up is five loaves and two fish which is hardly anything for so many people. But in Jesus’ hands it is enough, and the line that leapt out at me as I was reflecting on this story the other day was this: “They all ate and were satisfied.”

That’s what this day is about. One day without hunger. One day without hunger in one small place on the earth seems like hardly anything in the face of such great hunger for so many people. But maybe in the hands of God, it is enough. Enough to raise awareness, enough to increase donations, enough to provide a resource for people who had no idea they could receive it. In the hands of God, may this day be a great blessing to so many and accomplish the needs that seem so great. This day, may all eat and be satisfied.

And so we pray, loving God, God who knows the needs of your people, be with us on this day and bless this community. May our taking part in the events of this day make us ever more aware of the needs of those who hunger. Bless, dear God, this time together and this meal. Bless those who have prepared it and provided for it, and bless all of us who partake of it. May we all eat and be satisfied, this day and every day. Amen.

Tuesday of the Ninth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Today Tobit finds out that charity begins at home. All his noble deeds of burying the dead are worth nothing if he does not know how to honor the living who are with him. The blindness he develops in today’s first reading is really on two counts. First, and most obviously, there is the physical blindness caused by the cataracts and the doctors’ treatments. But second, and perhaps more seriously, there is the blindness that is caused by cataracts of the heart. His physical blindness is beginning to embitter him, and he cannot “see” past his own suffering to see that others may be hurting too. He doesn’t even take time to listen to his wife, who has been laboring faithfully to support the family during his disability.

The Pharisees and Herodians in today’s Gospel had their own kind of blindness. They wanted to trap Jesus into being either a tax evader or an idolater. If he said don’t pay the census tax, he was an anarchist. If he said pay it, he was blasphemous. But Jesus isn’t going to fall for that. He sees that their blindness is a lack of generosity. Giving Caesar what belongs to Caesar is easy. The hard part is giving to God what belongs to God. That requires true generosity, a willingness to reach out to the poor and needy, a desire for union with God that requires prayer to burst forth into service.

If we would be people of the Gospel, we need to break free of the blindness that sometimes overwhelms us. We have to see past our own needs, and perhaps past our own suffering, to see the needs of those around us. We need to see past getting caught up in trivialities and instead open ourselves up in generosity to our God who is the most generous of all. We need to be the kind of people our Psalmist sings of today: “Lavishly he gives to the poor; his generosity shall endure forever…”