Tuesday, June 28, 2011

"True Religion"

"Keep us, we pray, steadfast in your true religion..."
(Collect for the feast of St. Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons)

In a discussion today on our Order of Julian Affiliates' network, someone mentioned "accidentally" seeing part of televangelist Joel Osteen's message, broadcast on Sunday, as I'd also done. Osteen,in touching upon prayer, urged his congregation to "marshall their evidence, and make their case to God", promising that their petition would be "granted". Osteen proceeded to grab phrases from here and there, e.g., from Proverbs 31, speaking of one's children "rising up and calling her blessed", and another phrase from the Psalms: "He makes the woman of a childless house to be a joyful mother of children." The televangelist seemed to believe that all one needs to do is to cite chapter and verse, reminding God that "you promised me ______, now keep your promise.
Osteen cited stories of people doing this and getting what they wanted: children; a better relationship with a spouse, or a grown child, etc.

My colleague who viewed all this went on to say: "This stuff gives religion a bad name, yet it is undeniably popular. I remember someone giving me a copy of The Prayer of Jabez, either written by or advertised by Robert Schuller of the Crystal Cathedral... telling me, 'This is brilliant, you'll love it!' I couldn't make it through, so offensive did I find it. More of this same thing, more specifically about gaining personal wealth. God cannot be manipulated, and the answer is sometimes 'no.' 'No' is still an answer... Doesn't this simplistic kind of preaching, in the first place, set people up for failure and unbelief following, and in the second, do violence to the text of Scripture? This guy was saying, 'God says to YOU, this is what I will do for you, and all you have to do is ask for it.'" My friend then quoted Archbishop of Canterbury WilliamTemple's famous comment: "When I pray, coincidences happen. When I don't, they don't.

I sent my colleague an email, commending him on his observations. I'd also caught a few minutes of Joel Osteen's message, as much as I could stand of his version of the "prosperity Gospel". I made the observation that I find it interesting that Osteen often seems to be preaching to the ceiling, eyes fluttering constantly, as if he's unable to look at the camera or the congregation straight in the face! Please understand that I don't question Osteen's sincerity or his right to preach what he conceives the Gospel to be in any way that he wishes. My comments are, I suppose, simply a personal reaction to what I perceive to be "this" kind of religion. 

While praying the Office this morning, I was wondering about the phrase in the Collect for the feast of St. Irenaeus, cited above: "Keep us, we pray, steadfast in your true religion...", challenging myself to try to articulate what I myself understand by "true religion". I may not have it, any more than Joel Osteen may not. But it seems to me that our job in praying and in being "steadfast in your true religion" has something to do with being faithful, not necessarily being "successful" or "prosperous", as Osteen seems to understand it.

It all gets a bit sticky because we're dealing here with human beings and their finite perceptions of the Holy God and the bond which exists between them and this God. Certainly, "true religion" is intimately bound up with being familiar with and having seriously studied the Scriptures, especially the words and actions of Jesus, and recognizing that this is a process which goes on continuously until the end of our human lives. There can be no pat answers; there's always more mystery to comprehend. I believe, too, that one must be attuned to what the Church has discerned through many minds and hearts, in many centuries of reflection, discussion, debate, and prayer. Finally, I believe that one must be open to what all our human experience, individual and corporate, continually reveals to us about the living God. 

In the end, can anyone of us claim to make a definitive statement as to what constitutes "true religion"? No, and perhaps that's why the Church, on this feast of one of the truly great teachers and theologians, Irenaeus, reminds us to constantly pray that God may keep us "steadfast" in our ongoing pursuit of what is truly true in our relationship with the Holy God. It surely has to be much more than presumptuously thinking that we are the ones calling the shots, that we have the right to remind God of his promises, as if God needed any reminding, and, like petulant children, to demand that God deliver!   

Monday, June 27, 2011

The Pastor of Majdanek

For those unfamiliar with the name, Majdanek was a German Nazi concentration camp on the outskirts of Lublin, established during the Nazi occupation of Poland. "Majdanek", derived from the nearby Majdan Tatarski area of Lublin, was unusual in being situated near a major city, rather than hidden away at a remote rural site. Local people, aware of its existence, began using the name. Nazi documents referred to Majdanek initially as the "Prisoner of War Camp of the Waffen-SS in Lublin". In 1943 it was renamed "Konzentrationslager Lublin" (Concentration Camp Lublin). Majdanek operated from the fall of 1941 until mid-July of 1944. The advancing Russian Army captured it nearly intact, before the Nazis had time to destroy any evidence.  It was established as a forced labor camp, rather than as an extermination camp, yet over 79,000 people perished there, over 59,000 of them being Polish Jews. It was here that Blessed Emilian Kowcz died on March 25, 1944, a little over three months before the camp was liberated. 

Emilian Kowcz was born August 20, 1884, in the Galician region of the Ukraine. His family belonged to the Greek Catholic Church. Son of Father Gregory Kowcz, a local Greek Catholic Church pastor, other married priests in his family include his father-in-law, three brothers-in-law, two of his three sons and a grandson now living in Canada. The tradition of a married priesthood has deep roots in the Ukrainian community

After completing his early studies in Lviv, Emilian studied theology at the Collegium Ruthenum in Rome from 1905-11. In 1910 he married Maria Anna Dobranska. Maria bore him six children, and together they cared for many orphans during a very turbulent. The following year he was ordained a Catholic priest. As an assistant priest, he did pastoral work in Przemyślany,  a small town 30 miles from Lviv until 1919. Between 1919-1921 he served as chaplain of the Halych Army, fighting for Ukraine's independence. He promoted the peaceful coexistence of Poles, Ukrainians and Jews. As a military chaplain, Emilian ministered to dying men in the heat of battle. He once wrote: “I know that the soldier on the front line feels better when he sees both the doctor and the priest there.” 

After the First World War the region where Kowcz lived was ceded to Poland. That country attempted to integrate the Ukrainian people into Polish society, and Ukrainian church members into the Roman Catholic Church. The Free Ukraine Movement advocated for Ukrainian independence, as well as for the education and welfare of Ukrainian children. Because he supported this, Emilian ran aground of the Polish authorities. He came under suspicion and his house was searched more than 40 times. He was fined and imprisoned for a short at a local monastery, but upon his release he was appointed as a pastor, eventually serving the parish near Przemyślany. After the outbreak of World War II, the Soviets exiled thousands of Polish people in the region to Siberia. Emilian took up their cause, especially that of orphans and widows. He rebuked his own people for looting the homes of those who had been sent away, and demanded that they make restitution.

Ukrainians were hopeful when the Nazis arrived in 1941, and anticipated being liberated from the Soviets. On the contrary, they were soon treated as bad, or worse, and many were deported to Nazi factories and labor camps. The Jews, particularly, who at that time constituted a majority in Przemyślany, bore the brunt of Nazi cruelty, and Emilian urged his own followers not to have any part in the Nazi's crimes.

Witnessing the firebombing of a synagogue by SS troops, Emilian and a group of parishioners rushed in, blocked the doors, and assisted people caught in the burning building. Some Jews even came to Kowcz, asking him to  baptize them. He not only did so, but even wrote a letter to Adolf Hitler denouncing Nazi atrocities against the Jews. Predictably, in December, 1942, Emilian Kowcz was arrested. Having admitted to baptizing Jews and refusing to sign a letter promising not to repeat such action, the Nazis sent him to Majdanek, near Lublin. 

At Majdanek Emilian continued his pastoral ministry of comforting and seeing to the needs of prisoners, regardless of race or religion. His daughters tried to gain his release, but he wrote to them: I thank God for His goodness to me. Apart from heaven, this is the one place where I wish to remain. Here we are all equal: Poles, Jews, Ukrainians, Russians, Latvians and Estonians. Of all these, I am the only priest. I can’t even imagine what it would be like here without me. Here I see God, who is the same for us all, regardless of our religious distinctions. Perhaps our churches are different, but the same great and almighty God rules over us all. When I celebrate the Divine Liturgy, they all join in prayer...He came to be called "the pastor of Majdanek".

Emilian developed serious stomach problems around Christmas of 1943. The Nazis sent him to the infirmary, where doctors would often accelerate death, either by injection or starvation. Officially, the records indicate that Kowcz died of infection and inflammation to his right leg. It's been suggested that a more likely scenario is that he was gassed and cremated in the ovens at Majdanek. 

The night before he died, Emilian wrote to his wife and six children: I understand that you are trying to get me released. But I beg you not to do this. Yesterday they killed fifty people. If I am not here, who will help them get through their sufferings? They would go on their way with all their sins and in the depths of unbelief, which would take them to hell. But now they go to death with their heads held aloft, leaving all their sins behind them. And so they pass over to the eternal city.” Emilian Kowcz's date of death is listed as March 25, 1944. 

On June 27, 2001, Emilian Kowcz was declared Blessed by Pope John Paul II, along with other martyrs of the Greek Catholic Church. The ceremony was held at the Hippodrome in Lviv. Emilian had previously been declared a “righteous Ukrainian” by the Jewish Council of the Ukraine.

65 years later, on March 26, 2009, the anniversary of Blessed Emilian's death was celebrated at the Majdanek Museum in Lublin, Poland. Students of the Ukrainian Catholic University in western Ukrainian Lviv were among  those present for the event. A memorial tablet honoring Blessed Emilian was unveiled during the ceremonies. It contains words which Blessed Emilian had written in a letter to his relatives: "...Here I see God, God who is the same for us all, independent of our religious differences.” The obelisk with the tablet was unveiled jointly by the Ukrainian Vice-Premier Minister and the Polish Vice-Minister of Culture and National Heritage. In a letter of greeting sent to those participating in the event, the president of Poland compared Blessed Emilian with 
contemporary martyrs Edith Stein [Sister Teresia Benedicta of the Cross, OCD] and Father Maximilian Kolbe. 

Sunday, June 26, 2011

"Patience, Lord,...We're Coming!"

O God, you direct our lives by your grace, and your words of justice and mercy reshape the world. Mold us into a people who welcome your word and serve one another, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. (Lutheran Book of Worship, Proper 8)

Between that magnificent prayer from the Lutheran Book of Worship and Matthew’s Gospel passage today (10:40-42), there’s a whole lot of “welcoming” going on! “Mold us into a people who welcome your word and serve one another”, we pray. Jesus reminds us that to welcome him is to welcome the Father who sent him, and to welcome one another, even the least of us, with as simple a thing as a cup of water, is to welcome Jesus himself: the Prophet, the Righteous One. The promise is that our lives will be directed by God’s grace, and that our world will be reshaped by justice and mercy.
Jesus spoke a lot about love. We talk a lot about love in the Church, the Body of Christ. But when it comes to actually being a loving person, that’s not always so easy, especially for us who preach about it. Imagine a not untypical situation: a sermon, three points and a poem, has just been eloquently delivered on the topic of  Christian love, its obligation to love even the unlovable, and how to apply that in practice. At the end of the service, exiting parishioners say all sorts of nice things to the preacher:
- “I enjoyed your sermon.
- “Your sermon was so uplifting.
- “I wish my spouse had heard that sermon”, and you’re thinking “I wasn’t preaching to your spouse!
Then, just as the preacher is heading home for lunch, the Sunday paper, and a nap, a stranger approaches him. Now, he knows from previous experience that he’s going to hear the 973rd “creative” version of a sad story. 
So, what does he do? What would you do? Plan A might be to do a 180º turn when you see the person coming and leave by the back door. If you do, unless you’re heartless or cynical, phrases of your beautiful, “meaningful” sermon on love will come back to haunt and convict you of hypocrisy!
Plan B would be the option to practice “charity by referral”, but you’re already quite aware that the soup kitchen, the Salvation Army, and all the social agencies are closed on Sunday! Besides, you’ll probably feel guilty later for whatever you might have done, but didn’t do.
In Plan C you suck it up and listen sympathetically to the person’s plight, then, perhaps, you hand over the only currency you have in your wallet, which is, of course, a $20 bill, then you smile, with a bit of a wince, and send the person off with a hurried blessing!
You stand there wondering if you did the right thing, or if you simply contributed to the economy of a professional panhandler, who makes similar rounds to all the churches in town. Are you helping or hindering that person?? Is that what "Christian love" really is??
We all feel this sort of tension between the rhetoric and reality of Jesus’ words. There’s perhaps no more agonizing problem for us as followers of Jesus than the gap between what we hear, sing, and pray here in church, and then the decisions we make in our homes, our neighborhoods, our community, etc. The reality of justice, mercy, and love often means choosing between difficult alternatives, and never being quite sure if we’ve made the best decision or not.
St. Paul grappled with these same issues back in the first century, based on his experience as a missionary and a community-builder, as we see in the passage today from Romans (6:12-23),  Romans is Paul’s earliest epistle, dating from c. 55-58 CE. It’s also the longest and most systematic of his epistles. Usually his letters are solutions given to problems within the various Christian communities. This letter, however, is Paul’s introduction to the Roman Christian community. He’d never been there to visit. So, Romans is really a letter wherein Paul works out in his own mind problems that he’s experienced in other places recently at firsthand. You could describe Romans as a theological essay in which Paul tries to spell out what the Gospel really is.

Paul outlines for the Roman Christians his take on what God is doing for humankind, despite the insensitivity of both the Gentile Greeks and the Jewish people. At the beginning of Romans, Paul declares: “...I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the [Gentile] Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written, ‘The one who is righteous will live by faith.’” Paul understands Jesus’ appearance in human history as a revelation of God’s righteousness. Humankind’s need, he says, is evident in both the selfishly corrupt society of the pagan world, as well as in the Jewish people’s clinging to an insufficient, lifeless Law, all the while remaining blind to recognizing the presence of the Messiah, God’s Anointed One. In Paul’s mind, steeped as he was in the Hebrew Scriptures’ Psalms and prophets, righteousness or justice and salvation are intimately connected. Psalm 71 says: “My mouth will tell of your righteous acts, of your deeds of salvation all day long…” (v. 15) Isaiah proclaims: “...There is no other god besides me, a righteous God and a Savior” (45:21)
The righteousness/justice which characterizes God differs from the way we understand it. For Paul God’s justice is always a saving reality. It’s the trait by which God delivers or restores God’s people, frees them from slavery to sin and draws them back to Godself. It is, as Paul says, “the power of God for salvation.” Well, why not just call it salvation? Because in the Hebrew Scriptures, for God to be just or righteous evoked the idea of rectitude (from the Latin, meaning a ruler/guide/tutor/governor, which leads in a straight forward/right/appropriate/ virtuous direction), the idea of measuring up to a norm. If God is “just”, the only norm God can be measured against is Godself as God has revealed Godself. For the people of the Hebrew Scriptures, this could only be the God of the Exodus who chose a people bound to Godself in Covenant. God is “righteous/just” in that God is faithful to God’s promises and sworn word, and in fulfilling them. Amazingly, throughout history, even after humankind’s continuous failure to keep Covenant, God never ceases to intervene to save us, and it’s precisely this that we understand as God’s righteousness/justice/salvation. For the very reason that, in our human nature, we’re continually susceptible to selfishness, to self-centered sin, and consequently death, God’s saving action, God’s righteousness, freely delivers us from this most fundamental of our alienations. In being saved, we’re set “right”, “straightened out”, so to speak.  
God’s acting in human life through Christ, Paul says, is directed at human selfishness and self-centeredness, what we traditionally call sin. Rather than liberating us, humankind’s moral sense alone (law, conscience, the moral imperative) convicts us. Paul’s message is that God’s gracious gift in Christ is true liberation, and that it’s readily available to any and all of us. The self-sacrificing love of Jesus’ words and actions is God’s love, and it’s our assurance of being able to share it.
When we respond to God’s love in Christ, and open our minds to his teaching, we have what Paul calls faith: the setting of our mind and heart on Jesus and on his way of living. Faith is the essential preliminary to new life, to a new start. That’s the Good news. The Bad news is the fact of sin, of failure, of slipping back into self-centeredness, as well as the reality of suffering and death, which we’ll all experience. For Paul, God frees us, in the love of Christ crucified and risen, from both of these, and in that freeing we come to share in a new humanity. We’re reconciled with God, emancipated from sin and death, empowered to live in love, and made to share in eternal life. Nevertheless, Jesus doesn’t shield us from the fact that there is a cost in human terms.
If you and I are troubled by the contrast between rhetoric and reality, between Christian ideals and practice, if you and I are often puzzled about what the truly loving thing to do is, then we should thank God for our troubled conscience! The most devastating disease which can afflict us is “no conscience”, the inability or the unwillingness to recognize where we fall short, or worse, the decision not to care at all, to feel no agony of decision.
Jesus’ message isn’t one of self-satisfaction and non-caring, nor of easy answers. His way is a way of loving, but one that costs. “Don’t think that I’ve come to bring peace on the earth; I’ve come not to bring peace, but division.” We might ask ourselves, in light of today’s reflections on Matthew and Romans:
- Am I able on any given day of my life to separate rhetoric from reality?
- Am I committed enough that I’m willing to learn to live with the ambiguities which arise out of my putting Christ first in my life?
- When, in my relationship with both God and others, I fail to love, when I get rhetoric and reality mixed up, am I still able to humbly confess my inadequacy, to pray for God’s mercy, and to expect that God in Christ will forgive me, help me amend what I am, and direct me to what I can be?
It’s hard to be the Church. It’s hard to consistently carry on the mission and ministry to which Christ calls us. It’s hard to allow ourselves to be ever more deeply drawn into the Body of Christ, dying his death, but also living his life. When I was serving as the chaplain of Sacred Heart College in Wichita, KS, one of my dearest colleagues, Shirley Mallott, the Director of Students, constantly inspired me. She was extraordinarily patient, she was kind and loving and welcoming, she gave constantly of herself to the whole college community, while always remaining in the background. I’ll never forget the little ceramic turtle which Shirley kept on her desk. On the turtle’s shell was written: “Patience, Lord, I’m coming.” 
Mold us into a people who welcome your word and serve one another, through Jesus Christ…but be patient with us, Lord, we’re coming.”      


Friday, June 24, 2011

Prophesying In The Spirit Of John the Baptizer

"Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son. Her neighbours and relatives heard that the Lord had shown his great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her.

On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him Zechariah after his father. But his mother said, ‘No; he is to be called John.’ They said to her, ‘None of your relatives has this name.’ Then they began motioning to his father to find out what name he wanted to give him. He asked for a writing-tablet and wrote, ‘His name is John.’ And all of them were amazed. Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue freed, and he began to speak, praising God. Fear came over all their neighbours, and all these things were talked about throughout the entire hill country of Judea. All who heard them pondered them and said, ‘What then will this child become?’ For, indeed, the hand of the Lord was with him...The child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness until the day he appeared publicly to Israel." (Lk 1:57-66; 80)

We notice a sense of rejoicing in this Gospel passage over the fact that God extends and shares God's mercy. Zechariah can exclaim: "God has looked favorably on [God's] people and redeemed them. He has raised up a mighty savior for us...as he spoke through the mouth of holy prophets..." (1:68), or as the old Douay version reads, "God has visited and wrought redemption on his people..." We are daughters and sons of the Holy One, prophets. The Word has returned with a showing of signs!

The name John means "God has granted a favor/prayer". He initiates the time of the Promised One. All the signs are there: joy, rapidly-spreading news, astonishment, a time of fruitfulness, the prophetic word is again heard, and God's presence responds to every human need.

In earlier centuries, Israel had experienced the mighty acts and powerful influence of their great prophets. Later, it seemed, God became silent and the prophets were mute. Israel was a "non-prophet" organization (!), so to speak, even though there was hope that the word of God would make itself heard in the time of the Messiah's coming. Luke sees that John, precisely, is fulfilling all the preceding prophetic vocations: Hosea, Jeremiah, Ezechiel, and Isaiah. He is the prophet of the final age, inaugurating a new line of prophets: the members of the Church of Pentecost.

John helps us understand that a prophet isn't primarily one who foretells the future. Rather, a prophet is one who stands in God's stead and witnesses to the life-giving presence of God's Word, through preaching, or witness, or obedience to that Word which is uttered by the Spirit of God: the powerful, creative Word.

For the New Covenant prophets, vision lies in examining the present event, wherever and whatever, and lucidly grasping the relationship of love which God intends to have with humankind in those circumstances. All of us share in the gift of prophesying, according to the place and role each has in the Body of Christ, according to how each develops her or his talent. We're each called to interpret the events, "the signs", as Jesus called them, of our times, through the eyes of faith. Authentic faith is dynamic. It always helps the Church to act as a light to the nations, as Zechariah implies. Many holy women and men through the centuries and down to the present have prophesied in the spirit of John the Baptizer. Unfortunately, their "batting average" may seem to be a bit low at times. Nevertheless, through our living faith we still go on, move forward, bearing in mind the words of one of the great modern prophets, Blessed John XXIII, who said: "Ever ready to love people, I stand by the law of the Gospel.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

"Living Bread & Bread Life-Bringing"

The immeasurable blessings of divine favor, which have been showered upon the people of God, confer on them an inestimable dignity. What great nation is there, or ever was, that has a God so near to it as the Lord our God is to us! For the only-begotten Son of God, willing that we should share in his divinity, assumed our nature. He was made man, that he might make man divine. And what is more, he gave back to us for our salvation, all that he had assumed belonging to us. For he offered to God the Father, for our reconciliation, his own body as a victim on the altar of the cross. He shed his blood, at one and the same time, a ransom and a purification, that being redeemed from wretched slavery we might be washed clean of all sins.

But that the remembrance of so great a favor might remain with us, he left to be taken by the faithful, under the appearance of bread and wine, his body for food and his blood for drink. O precious and wonderful banquet, health-giving and full of all delight! For what can be more precious than this banquet, in which not the flesh of calves and goats, as in the old law, but Christ true God, is set before us to eat? What is more wonderful than this Sacrament? For in it the substance of the bread and wine is changed into the body and blood of Christ, and therefore Christ, perfect God and man, is contained under the appearance of a little bread and wine.

He is therefore eaten by the faithful, but in no way is he mangled. Indeed when the Sacrament is divided, he remains whole under each particle. The accidents, however, remain here without any subject. And this, in order that faith may be exercised when what is visible is invisibly received, hidden under another appearance; furthermore, that the senses, which judge of the accidents according to appearances, may be preserved from error. No sacrament is more health-giving than this one, in which sins are cleansed, virtues increased, and the mind enriched with abundance of all spiritual gifts. It is offered in the Church for the living and the dead, so that what was instituted for the salvation of all, may profit all.

Finally, no one can adequately express the sweetness of this sacrament, in which spiritual sweetness is tasted in its source, and the memory is recalled of that most excellent love that Christ showed in his passion. Therefore, to impress the immensity of this love more deeply on the hearts of the faithful, at the Last Supper, after celebrating the Passover with his disciples, and about to leave this world and go to the Father, he instituted this sacrament as a lasting memorial of his passion. It fulfilled the foreshadowing of ancient rites, and was the greatest of the miracles he worked, which he left as a unique comfort to his disciples saddened by his absence.

(Sermon of St. Thomas Aquinas, the 57th of his Lesser Works, used in
the 2nd Nocturn at Matins for the feast of Corpus Christi)

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For the devotion of the faithful, it is good solemnly to recall the institution of such a saving and wonderful sacrament, so that we may venerate the ineffable divine presence in a visible sacrament, and praise God's power which works so many miracles in the same sacrament, and give God due thanks for such a medicinal and tasty benefit. Even though on Holy Thursday, when this sacrament was instituted, there is special mention of it in the solemn celebration of the Mass, the whole remaining part of the day's office is about the passion of Christ, which the Church is busy venerating at that time.

Therefore, to let the faithful people solemnly recall the institution of such a great sacrament with a whole Office of celebration, Pope Urban IV, out of devotion to this sacrament, decreed that the memory of this institution be celebrated by all the faithful on the first Thursday after the Octave of Pentecost. For, even though we used this sacrament for our salvation throughout the year, we can specially call to mind its institution at that time when the Holy Spirit taught the hearts of the disciples fully to understand the mysteries of this sacrament. For at that time this sacrament came into use among the faithful. For we read in the Acts of the Apostles that "they devoted themselves to the teaching of the Apostles and communing in the breaking of bread and in prayer" right after the sending of the Holy Spirit.

(Taken from the Breviary of the Order of Preachers, Dublin, 1967)

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Trying To Understand the Holy Trinity

Today we celebrate both Father’s Day and Trinity Sunday.  Many preachers, including me, feel quite uncomfortable trying to preach on the Trinity.  It’s like rushing in to where angels fear to tread. The Holy Trinity is such a mystery; who can understand it even a little bit? In forty-seven years as a priest I don’t believe that I’ve ever given a truly satisfactory sermon about the Holy Trinity, which is probably a good thing for one’s humility!
There’s a story about an Asian gentleman to whom a well-meaning missionary was speaking about God the Father who created us, about God the Son who died and was raised up for us, and about the Holy Spirit of Love who appeared as a dove over the head of Jesus when He was baptized.  After the Asian gentleman had listened politely to the explanation, he said:  “Honorable Father -- ah, very good.  Honorable Son -- also very good.  But Honorable Bird -- I do not understand at all.”  So, I suppose I could also say: “Honorable Holy Trinity -- that I do not understand at all.
If we look closely at today’s readings from Scripture, we might notice that they help us understand better the most important truth about the Holy Trinity: namely, that to know God as Three and, at the same time to know God as One, has to do with responding to God’s invitation to be in relationship with Godself: and not simply about having information about God.
Let me tell you two stories:
First, there was a man who lived in a city in the Eastern United States.  When he was young he decided to devote his life to God with the religious Brothers of the Sacred Heart in New Jersey.  After awhile, he decided that God wasn’t calling him to this vocation, and so he left the order of the Brothers.  He later married a woman and they had two children, a boy and a girl. A few years later his wife contracted  tuberculosis and died. The man’s circumstances forced him to put his two children in the care of the nuns at a local Catholic orphanage.  
After a few years he married a second time and this wife bore him a son.  By this time the man had set up shop as an orthopedic therapist, and began treating peoples’ ailments.  Though no one seems to know exactly what happened, the man disappeared one day, leaving behind his young wife and his son, now two years old.  For 11 years the wife and her son didn’t know where the man had gone.  Eventually he was found, arrested and jailed for failing to provide  support for his wife and child all those years.  He paid for a short time, but then disappeared once again.
The second story is about this man’s only son from the second marriage.  This boy grew up fatherless, without ever knowing or remembering his father.  He had only a few pictures of his father from long ago: some photos of his father in his white therapist clothes and shoes; several pictures of the boy sitting in the car with his father on the day when the boy had his first hair cut; another picture, a happy one, at a lake, showing the father, the mother, and the boy, holding up a string of fish; and finally a picture, also, of his father when he reappeared after 11 years: in prison clothes.   
The boy grew up to be a man, and as the saying goes: “Like father, like son.”  The man also married and had two children,  just like his father: a boy and a girl.  He loved them both, and when they would ask him, “Who do you love the most?”, he would say: “I love you both the most because I love each of you differently, just as you are.”  
The man’s relationship with his own son was particularly unique, in that he could be for that boy the father whom he never knew.  He made sure to say to the boy “I love you” and to hug his son.  The man enjoyed it when his son asked to do things with him and for him,  things which the man had not be able to do with his own father.  Just to be called “Daddy” was so magical!
This man in the second story, when he had his own daughter and son, experienced a love which eventually turned his loneliness and separation into wholeness.  His experience taught him about creativeness, expressiveness, and oneness.  And so you might say that this man was taught in a rudimentary way what the Holy Trinity is.
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Now, the first story which I told was about my own father, Robert.  The second story was about me and my own children, particularly my son, Andrew.
For many years it bothered me how very little I knew about my roots, my ancestors, and especially about my father.  Since my father left us before I was aware, I never really had the opportunity to call anyone “Daddy”. Luckily, I did, however, have two other very significant male “father” figures as I grew up:  my grandfather, Harry, for whom I was named; and my stepfather, Tom, who became my friend as well as my parent, until he died much too early at the age of 44.
My son, Andrew, had a great career as a professional ballet dancer and choreographer for 22 years, performing with some of the finest companies all over the world, and once even on Broadway.  So many times I stood and watched in awe as he danced on stage. In him I’ve been blessed to see fatherhood from the other side.  In my son I’ve been able to see what comes forth from the depths of a person and is expressed when that person creates with dedication and love.
I’ve also had some intuitions about the gift of love which binds people into one through relationships.  In 1988, fifty years after my father disappeared, I found my oldest stepsister, now 85, and she was able to tell me much that I didn’t know about my father. The most exciting thing I learned from her was that my father really did love me, and that he carried with him a childhood photograph of me for all those years that we were separated, and that he knew that I’d been ordained a priest. More exciting still, my sister told me that my father had married twice more, and that I had a total of 4 stepbrothers and three stepsisters: one who is now deceased, the others ranging in age from 85 to 43! Unfortunately, I also learned that my father had died in 1973 at age 69.
Through the years, I discovered that, though I didn’t know my father, I loved him and was very grateful that he had given me life, allowed me to exist. Without that I wouldn’t have had the chance to express all the potential goodness which he himself possessed.
I love my son, for in generating him and enabling him to go far beyond my own capacities and potential, I am, so to speak, “glorified”, and affirmed.
These very characteristics which have marked my personal story, and which, I’m sure, mark most of your stories, flow from the very life of God the Holy Trinity which today’s Scriptures proclaim: divine creativeness, divine expressiveness, and divine love which makes one.
The passage from Genesis (1:1-2:4a) for this feast affirms that the life-giving Word of the Father, by which the world and all creation came to be, is no other or different Word than that which was embodied and expressed in the human person of Jesus of Nazareth, and is now made continually present in the Mystical Body of the Church by the Holy Spirit.
St. Paul, in his second Letter to the Corinthians (13:11-13), concludes with a blessing proclaiming God’s creativeness, expressiveness, and unifying love.  “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
Blessing is, perhaps, the most unique way of proclaiming the Good News.  It reminds us that we have life and faith only because God is committed to us and is with us always: in Jesus and in the continuing self-gift of the Holy Spirit.  The late Catholic Bishop of Tanzania, Christopher Mwoleka, once said:  “The mystery of the Trinity is not a doctrine dealing with a division of power in the Godhead, but a statement about the way in which God shares [God]self with the creation and calls us who believe not so much to explain as to imitate that sharing by sharing our own lives with the creation.” That’s really the core of the “Great Commission” in Matthew’s Gospel (28:16-20).  It’s much more than a command to establish a few missions in foreign countries.  True discipleship means obedient sharing of the teaching of Jesus wherever we are.  Making disciples has nothing to do with proselytizing or increasing parish statistics.  It has everything to do with taking the message of Jesus so seriously that, in and through the name of the Triune God, we creatively, expressively, and lovingly share ourselves with all the people and things around us in creation: no exceptions.
Honorable Trinity -- that I do not understand at all.
But fatherhood, sonship, and love which makes us one: these have gradually begun to make some sense to me as I’ve grown older.  
This understanding was reinforced by a dream I had shortly after my first visit with my younger stepbrother and two stepsisters in 1989, sharing old photos and reminiscing, and after we had together visited my father’s grave. Not a word was spoken in the dream I later had, but in it my father and I came together, embraced each other, communicated with each other, then slowly walked off together.  I felt utter joy and peace.
So it is in the community of the Holy Trinity.
And so it can be in the community of our lives.