All for One and One for All

Homily, Trinity Sunday C

One single prayer has probably been said more often than any other in the history of the world. This prayer is so powerful, that it has saved countless souls from sin and death and from the dominion of demons in Baptism and Confession, and in the Church’s exorcisms. This prayer is also so simple that it is likely the first prayer that we learn as Catholics. “In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” As I say the words of this prayer, your hand probably moves without thinking, because most often, we pray this as the Sign of the Cross. We might not even think of the Sign of the Cross as being a real prayer, because it is just something we do before and after saying other prayers, or as we come into the church, but the Sign of the Cross is one of the simplest and most powerful prayers that we ever say. 

A good practice that some people have is to make the Sign of the Cross before and after almost everything they do, when they wake up in the morning and before they go to sleep, as they begin driving their cars and in thanksgiving for safe travels when they reach their destination, when they begin their work or any task and when they complete it. How would our lives change if everything we did and everything we said would be said or done in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit? I’d never really thought much before of what this phrase means in English, to do something in the name of someone or something else. To stop in the name of love, or to experiment in the name of science, or to command in the name of the law. The phrase usually means to do something on another’s behalf or by their authority. It seems incredible that we would be able to do anything on behalf of God or by his own authority, but this is what we are called to do as Christians, to work more and more according to God’s will for our lives, to become coworkers with God, to cooperate with him in a real sense, as he works within us and around us, according to his power, wisdom, and love. 

The theology of the Trinity can seem difficult to understand, one God in three Persons, and as a mystery, we can never fully comprehend God’s own inner life, but by revealing himself to us as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, as three Persons always in mutual relationship with one another, God invites us to share in that relationship, in that love and fellowship, so that we all might become one in him. The doctrine of the Trinity teaches us that genuine cooperation is possible, that distinct persons can work together as one, without rivalry and without ceasing to be who they are, without the destruction of one in favor of the other. The unity that we see in God is the model for unity in all creation and especially in the human family. No matter how different we are from one another, and some of us are really different, as a Christian, I am called to love my neighbor as myself, to love my neighbor as another self, to know we’re all on the same team and that your good and health and happiness are bound up with my own, that we are in relationship to one another, whether we acknowledge it or not, and whether we like it or not. 

When Jesus was asked in the Gospels to specify, “Who is my neighbor?” he replied with the parable of the Good Samaritan. At that time, for the Jews, the Samaritans were their sworn enemies. In our own day, we might think of ISIS or terrorists, North Korea, or, closer to home, illegal immigrants or corrupt politicians, or anyone with views or practices that differ from our own. No matter who it is or what group of people we can’t stand, we are called to love them, to love them “in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” because it is only by the power of God that we can overcome the divisions that exist within the human family.  

As we heard in our first reading, all things were made through the Wisdom of God, through his eternal Word, who found such “delight in the human race” that in the fullness of time, he became human, to restore to humanity the unity that had been lost through sin. Genuine cooperation and peace, within ourselves and within the human family, is only possible through the “love of God…poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” When we are tempted to judge, to condemn, to gossip, and to sow seeds of division and hatred, may we pray often “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” to dispel the divisions of our own hearts and to transform everything we say and do into an instrument of God’s own work of reconciliation, that all the human family may be gathered one day into the Unity of the Most Holy Trinity. 

Forever Young

Homily, Pentecost C

During this past week, Fr. Cimpl and I each got haircuts. We’ve been taking a survey to find out which is more noticeable, his or mine. So far, I seem to be in the lead. When Fr. Cimpl first saw me after my haircut, he said it made me look 50 years younger. He probably needs to check his math again because that would put me several years or even decades prior to being born. I don’t think I look quite that young, but I did wait to get my haircut until after taking our sixth graders to Alexandria on Friday, so that I wouldn’t be mistaken for any of them because some of them are already as tall as I am. I also wanted to cut my hair especially for this great Feast of Pentecost as a visible reminder of what Blessed Pope Paul VI and other popes have said, that the Church is always young and always new. New life and youth and vitality is breathed into the Church most especially through the gift of the Holy Spirit which we celebrate today, that gift of God’s own life, which is the same as it always has been and yet able to renew all things. 

The Church is always young and always new through the power of the Holy Spirit. This is meant to be true for all of us, even for those who have grown old in body, we are called to be young at heart, to be children of God, not falling back in fear and in slavery to sin, but calling out to God with courage and boldness, “Abba, Father.” How often do we really pray with confidence, with the boldness of a child, of a child who won’t beat around the bush but simply says what he’s thinking and asks for what he wants? Do we really believe that God hears us when we pray, and that he will answer us, because he loves us as he loves Jesus, his own Son? Do we conduct ourselves and treat others as heirs of God, as royalty, princes and princesses, entitled to the same everlasting inheritance as Jesus himself? 

I really am convinced that most often, when our prayers seem to go unanswered, it is not because we are asking God for too much. It is because we are asking God for far too little. We often ask God to change our circumstances, to remove the crosses and difficulties from our lives, to remove from us any temptations and trials. Instead, God is wanting to transform our hearts, to give us new life and strength to endure temptation while clinging to him, to accept and to carry our crosses in union with Jesus, to be able to suffer without losing the peace and the joy that comes from him. A truly Christian life is not an easy life, because Christ himself did not live an easy life. But a Christian life, when it is authentic, is never a boring life. It is always new.

On Friday, I went with the sixth graders to visit the Carmelite sisters in Alexandria. We had the great privilege of visiting with a couple of the sisters before leaving. Now if there was ever a way of life that seemed boring, you might think that these cloistered nuns were living it. Separated from the world, living the same schedule day in and day out, seeing the same five other people every day, praying the same psalms and Scriptures over and over, walking the same acre of land within the same walls, year after year. And yet, these sisters are some of the most genuinely happy and joyful people that I’ve ever met. We might think it would get old, living in the same convent for 40, 50, or 60 years, but each day is a new gift from God, each passage of Scripture is a renewal of God’s love for his people. Even if a new bride could grow tired of hearing and seeing and experiencing the love her husband has for her, these brides of Christ never tire of immersing themselves in the love of God and being reminded by the Holy Spirit of everything that Jesus has said to us. What are the ways that our life has grown old for us? Where do we need most desperately for the Holy Spirit, the Fire of God, to breathe new life into us, into our relationships, into our work? Come Holy Spirit, make us young, make us new; make us Yours, now and forever. 

More than Human

Homily, Ascension C

If you could have one and only one superpower, what would it be? I’ve heard this question used several times as an icebreaker, and while I’ve always enjoyed superhero movies and shows, I’ve never been very good at choosing just one superpower or special ability as my favorite. The first superheroes that I remember watching were the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, but Turtle Power doesn’t sound very impressive, and it consists mainly in a voracious appetite for pizza and a protective shell. More recently, the movie Big Hero 6 caught my attention as it explored how technology can help us to overcome limitations and become more than simply human. Essentially, Batman operates in the same way, using his utility belt and special effects to become more than a man. 

There’s a philosophy that’s probably hundreds of years old called trans-humanism that tends to think or hope that through science and technology, even perhaps through contact with aliens from outer space, humans will be able to transcend and go beyond our own humanity and become something more. For example, you’re probably familiar with the idea that in modern times we have greatly extended our life expectancy through advances in medicine and technology. While there probably is some truth to that, especially when it comes to childbirth and care for young children, many statistics and popular ideas concerning life expectancy can be very misleading. It’s generally thought that people used to die at a much younger age, even in their thirties or forties, until fairly recently, but, in a very old collection of books, called the Bible, Psalm 90, which was written well over 2000 years ago, perhaps even 3000 years ago, Psalm 90 says that “seventy is the sum of our years, or eighty, if we are strong.” So there is evidence that even in the ancient world, those who lived beyond infancy often lived to be 70 or 80 years old. That really hasn’t changed much in 3000 years, despite popular belief. 

Getting back to our movie, Big Hero 6 is a children’s movie, and one scene in particular has been the source of a lot of discussion when it comes to the trans-humanist ideas that it seems to communicate. The scene is a montage of the main character and his friends using technology to make themselves into superheroes. The music playing in the background continues to repeat the phrase, “We could be immortals.” To some, this scene seems to send a clear message that technology can enhance us beyond our normal human limitations, but I think the movie as a whole and the struggle of the main character makes it clear that technology is not able to enhance the most important human qualities, like love and forgiveness. And the rest of the song in the background says, “We could be immortals, immortals, just not for long.” Technology has limits of its own.

We all have desires to be more than what we find ourselves to be in our weakness. We all want to be immortal in some sense, to live forever, but Pope Benedict XVI pointed out in his letter On Christian Hope that we really don’t want to live forever as we do on earth, amid pain, suffering, and the loss of loved ones, in an endless succession of days. That would actually be unbearable. We long for life beyond this world, where death has no domain, where thieves do not steal and fire cannot destroy. Where supreme joy does not fade in the next moment, and where our best days are neither behind us nor still to come, but always present. Today, we celebrate the Ascension of our Lord Jesus, who opens heaven for us and raises our humanity into the glory of his divine life. Recently, I spoke to the Holy Spirit students about the properties of the resurrected and gloried body of Jesus. Much of what I described made them think of superheroes. Perpetual youth and strength, super speed, the ability to pass through solid objects, the inability to suffer or to die, and perhaps the ability to fly; with all these, the humanity of Jesus enters into the surpassing glory of God himself, but the road to that glory was the Cross.

Where do we place our hope, our hope for ourselves and for all humankind? Do we hope only in the advance of science and technology, or do we realize that as good as these advances can be, true human progress is never guaranteed by better technologies? Love, forgiveness, peace, justice, patience, and all those qualities that make life truly worth living require continued personal effort, and can only be received, in their fullest sense, as gifts from God himself. St. John Paul II and Blessed Teresa of Calcutta were able to transcend their human limitations and began to love even as God loves. They became real heroes, not through technological enhancements, but by the grace of God and a determined will to follow Jesus, even to the Cross. In this Eucharist, Jesus feeds us with his own heavenly Body and Blood, giving us the grace and strength to be heroes of his infinite love. Where do we place our hope? What can truly change our lives and change our world for the better? The answer is and has been, and will continue to be, the love of Jesus Christ. May we have the strength to follow where our King has gone before us, through the Cross and suffering of this life even to the unending glory of heaven. 

May, Our Mother’s Month

Bulletin Article, Ascension C

This month of May is dedicated in a special way to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Mary is the New Eve and the Mother of all the living. As new life and flowers are blossoming in the sun, we thank God for the Mother that he prepared and chose for his own Son, Christ our Life, to enter the world. I’m glad to see that the first week of May was also a week of sunshine. I hope you’ve been able to get outside and drive out any lingering seasonal affective disorder. This Sunday we also celebrate Mother’s Day and give thanks to God for the mothers that he prepared and chose for each one of us.

Mothers can fill many roles in our lives. In my younger years, my own mother served as my pillow in church, allowing me to sleep through many wonderful homilies. Throughout my childhood, she resembled a cook in a small restaurant as she endeavored to keep fed a husband, two daughters, and seven very hungry sons. She was my teacher, counselor, and confidant whenever I had questions or a story to tell. In schoolwork and sports, she was my most devoted fan and encouragement. As I grew in my faith, she was a spiritual guide and fellow disciple and friend of Jesus Christ. As I ventured out, she would worry for me when I wouldn’t worry for myself. She served and still serves as the heart of our family, constantly wanting to give life to all the members and to unite us all in love.

All mothers share mysteriously in God’s creative and life-giving work. Despite faults and shortcomings, in us and in them, they often reflect in a marvelous way the unconditional love of God. Still, God’s love for us far surpasses even the best of mothers. “Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget, I will never forget you. See, upon the palms of my hands I have engraved you; your walls are ever before me” (Isaiah 49:15-16). 

God proves his love for us in a special way as we celebrate the Solemnity of the Ascension of our Lord Jesus and the glorification of our humanity in him, as Christ is enthroned at the right hand of the Father. Sharing in our humanity through his own Mother Mary, Jesus embraces all that is authentically human and raises it up into the glory of his divinity. During this month, may God continue to pour out his blessings upon us and our mothers through the intercession of Mary, Mother of God and Mother of all the faithful. 

Longing for Peace

Homily, Eastertide Sunday 6C

You may have heard or noticed by now that this is an election year. Living in Italy for the past four years, it was harder to keep up, or maybe just easier for me to avoid politics back home, but as I understand it, this year in particular has been a very interesting one for American politics. I’ve heard various reactions to the debates, campaigns, and nomination process. At best, some are finding the whole thing to be very amusing and entertaining, if not completely ridiculous. Others find the process to be very frustrating and upsetting, or even alarming at times. No matter what your political stance, I don’t think I’ve met anyone recently who would say that our country and its government is in really good shape and that we should be proud of our current political process. Very few would say that peace and security is the prevailing sentiment in our country today. Peace is not just the absence of all-out war or military conflict. Peace needs to include confidence that those who lead us actually have our best interests at heart.

Confusion and conflict at the national level of politics is not surprising, though, when there is a much deeper confusion in our culture concerning the most basic aspects of our humanity, about life and our souls and bodies, gender, and our identity, as being gifts to us from God or subject to individual choice. Now I don’t want to simply dismiss the real questions and struggles of so many who really are confused about who they are, but real peace and security, in our own person and as a nation, can only come from God. Jesus says in the Gospel today, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.” And in our second reading, John watches “the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God.” At the level of the heart to the level of society, peace is God’s work. God is the only one who always has our best interests at heart.

Peace comes from the acknowledgement that all that we are and all that we have is a gift to us from God, that life and what follows from it is not something that we chose for ourselves, but our life and identity have been entrusted to us by the God who made us and who, in redeeming us, calls us his own sons and daughters in Christ. If we are conflicted within ourselves, or if we have desires that don’t correspond to God’s will and his plan for humanity—and we all have disordered desires from time to time, even my desires to eat too much or sleep too little—this conflict does not come from God but from the reality that we are still part of a fallen creation, a world that individually and collectively has rebelled and continues to rebel against its Creator and to move away from God and his plan. 

The Good News is that our redemption has been accomplished and the world raised up by Christ, and we participate in the saving power of Jesus even now, especially through the Sacraments, but our experience of this new life in Christ this side of heaven is always in mystery, always veiled in some sense and requiring faith. In Christ himself, that work of redemption and healing is already complete, and his peace is perfect, but the rest of us continue to struggle on the way. In our struggles, struggles in our faith, in our relationships, in our identity and sexuality, no matter what conflicts or confusion arise within our hearts or within our society, Jesus does not come to condemn us, but to set us free, and to continue to invite us to draw close to God and his plan for our lives, in prayer and in the Sacraments. 

Christ wants to be the answer to the questions of who we are and what we are called to do. Please, do not settle for the peace of this world. We were made for much more. We were made for God himself, and true peace can only come from God, from acknowledging who we are in relation to God. In this Eucharist, Jesus continues to invite us into Communion with himself. He says to each one of us, “I have told you this so that you might have peace in me. In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world.” Come, Lord Jesus, be the peace that our hearts desire, and help us to bring that peace to our society and into our world today.