Saturday of the Thirteenth Week of Ordinary Time

Today's readings

There’s an old saying, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”  And that’s fine, as far as it goes.  But the danger is that sometimes we get so attached to that principle that we fail to recognize when something is, in fact, broke.

That’s what the prophet Amos has been complaining about, isn’t it?  Today’s reading is much more conciliatory, because it comes after the punishment, after Israel had already felt the consequences of their sinfulness.  But Amos’s theme has been to prophecy against the way Israel’s leaders had been so focused on the laws that they had missed taking care of the poor, needy, oppressed, and widows and orphans.  They had convinced themselves they could cheat the poor if they just paid attention to the laws governing worship.  Their practice of their faith was, well, broke.  Only they didn’t want to fix it.

And that’s what Jesus is saying in today’s Gospel: stop trying to fit everything new into the old wineskins.  God is trying to fix what’s broke, trying to do something new, only the religious authorities keep trying to make it fit with what they already saw as important, or else throw it out.  And for the disciple, that’s just not acceptable.

We do that too.  How often have you heard around the church: “but we’ve always done it that way?”  Our traditions are certainly important, but we can’t be so focused on them that we miss the movement of the Holy Spirit.  If God is trying to do something new in our lives, who are we to try to stuff it into old wineskins, old ideas of what works, old ideas of what our relationship with God must be?  When we try to do that, well, the whole life of faith just falls apart.

We have to be open minded to what God is doing in our lives.  We have to be good discerners.  We have to be open to the possibility of God doing something new in us and in our community.  We have to be ready to meet all that fresh wine with brand spankin’-new wineskins, so that God’s activity in our lives can be preserved, and our faith can be freshened.  So for those things in our lives that are, in fact, broken, let us let God fix them.

St. Thomas the Apostle

Today's readings

[display_podcast]

caravaggiodoubtingthomas.jpgYou know, sometimes I think we don’t know what we believe until we’re called upon to explain it.  Especially for those of us who are “cradle Catholics” – the ones who were baptized Catholic and have grown up in the faith all our lives.  We just accept the things the Church teaches, and never really stop to question them.  And that’s okay, but it’s also okay when we’re called upon to explain our beliefs, if we have to do a little research.  Because there’s always more to learn, and there is always more believing to be done!

“Do not be unbelieving, but believe” is what Jesus tells St. Thomas today.  He might as well say that to all of us.  Because we should never stop exploring our beliefs, never stop learning about our faith.  We’ll never know it all anyway – at least not on this side of heaven.  On that great day when everything is revealed, things will be different, but until then, we have to renew that call to “not be unbelieving, but believe!”

I had a couple preparing for marriage in my office the other day.  The bride is not Catholic, but they are preparing to have their wedding here at St. Raphael, so they have of course been going through our marriage preparation program.  He remarked when we met the other day that “this might sound bad, but I’ve been learning more about the faith in explaining it to her.”  I told him that didn’t sound bad at all, and that moments like that are an opportunity for us to grow in faith.  So many spouses of people going through RCIA have said the same thing: they learn as much as their non-Catholic spouse when the attend RCIA with them.  Learning about our faith is a life-long, joy-filled process.  Do not be unbelieving, but believe!

And so we are going to give poor Thomas the doubter a break today.  Because we all need to grow in our faith.  And what a wonderful invitation we have from our Lord: “Do not be unbelieving, but believe!”

Friday of the Twelfth Week of Ordinary Time

Today's readings

[display_podcast]

Today’s readings represent some of the deepest longings of the human heart, and expose one of the deepest wounds of the human heart.  The deep wound is the feeling of abandonment that we experience in the midst of trial.  Just as the Jews must have felt abandoned by God when the walls of the city fell, the Temple was burnt down, and everyone was marched off to exile in Babylon, so we can sometimes feel abandoned from time to time when we struggle with the many trials that come to us.  Whether it’s illness, death, or even a wayward family member, whether it’s unemployment or underemployment, or whatever the trial may be, it can be so devastating, and gives us the feeling that we are all alone.

It can be easy to forget God in those times when it seems like God has forgotten us.  And so the Psalmist expresses one of the deep longings of the human heart: “Let my tongue be silenced if ever I forget you!”  The Psalmist meant Jerusalem, but Jerusalem was really for them a symbol of God himself.  When people get to the place of forgetting God, all hope is really lost.  Remembering God in adversity at least gives us the light of faith, the glimmer of hope.  How people get through the hard times in life without faith, I’ll never know.  The Psalmist today desperately prays that no one would ever have to find out.

The leper in the Gospel reading expresses the second of the deep longings: “Lord if you wish, you can make me clean.”  When we have sinned and fallen from God, we often don’t know whether God would want anything to do with us.  We can feel unworthy of salvation, which of course is what Satan really wants to have happen to us.  Because when we’ve turned away from God in shame, again we lose that light of faith and that glimmer of hope.  But the answer to the Leper’s question is what we sinners all have to hear today: “I do will it.  Be made clean.”

God would rather die than live forever without us.  We have to remember that those deep longings of our heart were put there by our God who never wants us to forget him, and who desperately wills that we be made clean.  We may from time to time in our lives have to sit by the streams of Babylon and weep.  But we must never lose hope in the One who always wills our salvation.

The Most Holy Trinity

Today's readings

[display_podcast]

What is God like?

rublev_trinity_iconToday’s celebration of the Most Holy Trinity reminds us of the fact that God loved the world he created so much that he was determined to remain in relationship with it.  “God so loved the world,” the Gospel tells us, “that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.”  That very familiar quote from John 3:16 has often been described as the entire Gospel all in one verse, because it tells us the reason for Our Savior’s coming, and the purpose for our existence, which is eternal life.

God wishes to remain in relationship with us, his creatures, because God himself is a relationship.  We will never really understand the Trinity in this lifetime, we know that, but we also know that in the Blessed Trinity, our Church has described God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  We recall this deepest of our beliefs every time we make the sign of the Cross, every time we receive a blessing, indeed every time the priest greets us at Mass with those familiar words: “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you.”  God is a relationship: the Father with the Son and the Holy Spirit, the Son with the Father and the Spirit, and the Spirit with the Father and the Son.  Three persons, one God, all in relationship.

But make no mistake, I don’t come before you today to define the Holy Trinity for you as if I’ve figured it all out.  This deepest of our beliefs remains perhaps the deepest of all our mysteries.  A story about St. Augustine tells us as much: The story goes that he was walking along the beach, 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.

But just because the Trinity is a mystery, that doesn’t mean that we can’t talk about it.  In many ways, the mystery of the Trinity is a great blessing.  If we could really figure God out and define God in a neat set of explanations, it would be way to easy for us to simply file God away and never give a second thought.  Because we have to struggle with the mystery of the Trinity, this means we must constantly call God to mind and try to wrap our minds around God in new ways.  I had the great pleasure of preaching about the Trinity to our school children on Friday.  The fourth grade was preparing the Mass, and I asked them to write down questions that they had about God.  I was so deeply touched by the questions they wrote to me, and it was one of the greatest thrills of my priesthood to be able to speak to them about those questions.

The questions they had were wonderful:  Why can’t we see God?  Why did God create the world?  If God created life, then how did God become God?  Why does God love us?  Was God there when Jesus was dying?  Why does God forgive us after we’ve done something wrong?  How do we know the Holy Spirit is with us?  But there was one question that seemed to get to the bottom of it all for me:  What is God like?  And I realized that Adam’s question was where the rubber meets the road in our faith, and that question was the whole reason for celebrating this feast of the Holy Trinity: we have to every day examine what God is like so that we can remain in relationship with our God who is a relationship and who longs to remain in relationship with us.

Again, I’m not going to stand here and tell you the definitive answer to Adam’s question.  And that’s because there really isn’t one definitive answer to what God is like.  We could pass out cards right now and everyone could write down one thing that God is like.  And every one of us would be right in some ways, and every one of us would be wrong in some ways.  We could say that God is love, and we’d be right, but we’re wrong if we think of love in the limited way that we humans can conceive of love.  We could say that God is good, and we’d be right about that, but we’d be wrong if we think of God’s goodness in the way that a candy bar is good or a new car is good or even a new baby is good.  Our limited vocabulary can’t even come close to describing God.  As the song goes, our God is an awesome God, more so than any lyrics or other words could ever describe.

So I want to go back to this idea of God as a relationship.  I do that because it’s one of a million ways I could talk about the Trinity today.  But I do it also because I think that God as a relationship is such a very appealing way to think about God.  We all know how much our good relationships mean to us, and so it is very desirable to think of our relationship with God, and of the relationship that is God. 

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 part of all of us, no matter what our earthly parents have been like, long 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 soul, 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 know they are also 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 ena
bles 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.

Maybe God comes to us as Trinity because one face of God is not sufficient to be God for us creatures who are constantly changing, and constantly struggling.  One day we need the Father, tomorrow we may need the Son and down the road the Holy Spirit.  Whatever we need, the point is that God is there.  Always was, always will be.

So back to Adam’s question:  What is God like?  Well, that’s a reflection I think I’ll leave you all with today.  What is God like?  I hope you struggle with that question your whole life long.  I hope I do too. 

Tuesday of the Fourth Week of Easter

Today's readings [display_podcast]

When people ask you where you are from, the way that you answer that question probably depends a lot on the context.  For instance, if it was a stranger who asked you that question when you were on a vacation out of the country, you might answer, “I’m from the United States.”  If you’re at a business meeting at your corporate headquarters in another state, you might say, “I’m from the Chicago area.”  If you just move into a house and you’re meeting your new neighbors for the first time, you would tell them where you used to live.  If you are at a ministry function with people from other churches, you would probably say “I’m from St. Raphael’s.”  If the person asking isn’t someone you want to know details of your personal life, you might say, “I’m sorry, that’s classified information.  Witness protection, you know…”

But seriously, today’s Scriptures ask that question in the context of our faith.  Where are you from?  In the first reading, we find there are Christians in Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, but all of them had their hearts – their true citizenship – in the new Jerusalem, the city of God.  They may have been from all over the known world at the time, but they were one in faith, united as brothers and sisters in Christ.  The Gospel reading has some Jews gathered around Jesus in the Temple, asking if he was the Christ.  They wanted to know where he was from.  And it was obvious – they had seen his works and heard his words.  But they could never be united, because even though they were in the same place, their hearts were from different places.

So where are you from?  We could answer that one all kinds of ways.  But spiritually, at our core, we are citizens of heaven.  Our life’s journey takes us all sorts of places, but its source and its destination are one and the same: our true home is in the City of God.  And right now, we are not home yet.  As always, the Psalmist says it so well: “One and all were born in her;” – that is, the City of God – “And he who has established her is the Most High LORD.”