Saturday, August 6, 2016

The Power of Prayer

Is God all-powerful?  When he walked this earth was Jesus God?  Was Jesus all-powerful?  Most Christians would answer “yes” to these questions, and yet we have a scene in the Gospels where Jesus appears to have limited power.

Mark 6: 1-6 tells of Jesus’ return to his hometown of Nazareth where he is rejected.  The neighbors take “offense” at Jesus because he is too familiar to them.  He can’t be a prophet or a wonder-worker.  “Is he not the carpenter?”  As a result, “he was not able to perform any mighty deed there, apart from curing a few sick people by laying his hands on them.  He was amazed at their lack of faith.” 

It seems that Jesus’ power was limited by people’s lack of faith.  This makes sense.  God created humanity so that we—God and us—would work together tending the earth and caring for God’s human family. Being all-powerful, God could have done everything by himself.  But love involves sharing and so God created humanity to share in the work.  Children experience the love of their parents when they are invited to help them in the work that adults do.  They feel special and included.  And so it is with God.

Mary—whom the poet William Wordsworth called “our tainted nature’s solitary boast”—is the model for humanity.  She cooperated completely with God’s grace and became the “Mediatrix of Grace,” the means by which the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity became human.  She was a perfect channel for God’s grace to flow into the world.

Sin and lack of faith block grace’s flow.  Thus Jesus’ powerful love was blocked by his townspeople’s lack of faith.  Conversely, faith-filled prayer and action open channels for God’s powerful grace to enter the world.

When he met with Polish Bishops recently, Pope Francis told them: “We can all have an open heart and think of spending one hour in the parishes, an hour a week, of adoration and prayer. Prayer moves mountains!”  Open hearts, like the Immaculate Heart of Mary, allow the power that created the universe to enter the world. 

The message that Mary gave to three children in Portugal in 1917 was “prayer and penance.”  Mary said that if people prayed, especially a daily Rosary, and offered sacrificial actions like fasting, a greater war than the one that was currently going on could be avoided.  People did not listen and the world endured a second “world war.”

But many people did listen. They prayed and did penance.  In 1989 something happened that those of us who grew up in the 1950’s and ‘60’s never expected.  The Berlin Wall came down. A large portion of it is now on display at Our Lady’s shrine in Fatima.  Then, two years later, the Soviet Union broke up as the Communists lost power. 

But before that, as though to prepare the stage for what many thought was unthinkable—the end of the Soviet Union—prayer wrought another miracle.  On May 13, 1981 Pope John Paul II was shot in St. Peter’s Square.  By all accounts he should have died.  He didn’t and afterwards he attributed his survival to Our Blessed Mother.  He said that while one finger pulled the trigger, another finger guided the bullet millimeters away from certain death.  That bullet now rests in a crown used to honor Our Lady of Fatima.  In the millennial year 2000, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger wrote: “That here ‘a mother’s hand’ had deflected the fateful bullet only shows once more that there is no immutable destiny, that faith and prayer are forces which can influence history and that in the end prayer is more powerful than bullets and faith more powerful than armies.”

Perhaps an even greater example of the power of faith-filled prayer is a little known story within a larger event that occurred seventy-one years ago today.  On this day in 1945, the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, Japan.  Eight blocks from where the bomb went off was the Church of Our Lady’s Assumption. Next door was the rectory where eight Jesuit missionaries resided.  One of them was Fr. Pedro Arrupe who later served as the General of the Jesuits from 1965 to 1983. Another was Fr. Hubert Schiffer who had just finished celebrating Mass and was sitting down to breakfast when the blast occurred. He wrote: “Suddenly, a terrific explosion filled the air with one bursting thunder stroke. An invisible force lifted me from the chair, hurled me through the air, shook me, battered me, whirled me ‘round and round’ like a leaf in a gust of autumn wind.” 

All around there was devastation, but, while damaged, the church and rectory stood and became a makeshift hospital for those who survived the blast. Dr. Stephen Rinehart who worked for the U.S. Department of Defense testified:  


 No way any human could have survived nor should anything have been standing at 1 kilometer.  I think there were a few badly burned survivors at ten to fifteen kilometers (all—except the Jesuits—died within fifteen years of some form of cancer). There are no physical laws to explain why the Jesuits were untouched in the Hiroshima air blast. There is no other actual or test data where a structure such as this was not totally destroyed at this standoff distance by an atomic weapon. All who were at this range from the epicenter should have received enough radiation to be dead within at most a matter of minutes if nothing else happened to them.  There is no known way to design a uranium-235 atomic    bomb, which could leave such a large discrete area intact while destroying everything around it immediately outside the fireball (by shaping the plasma). From a scientific viewpoint, what happened to those Jesuits at Hiroshima still defies all human logic from the laws of physics as understood today (or at any time in the future). It must be concluded that some other (external) force was present whose power and/or capability to transform energy and matter as it relates to humans is beyond current comprehension.       

Fr. Schiffer, who died in 1982, said: “We believe that we survived because we were living the Message of Fatima. We lived and prayed the Rosary daily in that home.” 

The ways of God are mysterious.  The Rosary is not magic.  Somehow God wanted to give a sign of the power of faith-filled prayer and the special protection of Mother Mary, Our Lady of Fatima. 

The question is: do I take faith and prayer seriously?  Events in our lives, in our nation, and in our world test our faith.  It’s easy to get discouraged and give up.  But if prayer can move bullets, bring down the Berlin Wall, and protect eight Jesuits from the atomic bomb, shouldn’t I trust in its power to continue to work wonders?    

Thursday, August 4, 2016

A First Mass Homily

Homily for the First Mass of Fr. Vincent Strand, S.J. 
St. Bruno Parish, Dousman, WI -- June 5, 2016
1 Kings 17: 17-24;  Galatians 1: 11-14a, 15a,c, 16a, 17, 19;  Luke 7: 11-17

Two women.  Both are heart-broken. They have lost their husbands, and now, their own flesh and blood, their sons.

The Prophet Elijah was a boarder at one widow’s home during a time of drought and famine.  God miraculously provided food for the three—the prophet, the widow and her son—but now the son dies.  Elijah feels her pain.  He prays.  And God brings the boy back to life.

Jesus was recognized as “a great prophet,” in the tradition of Elijah.  He feels the widow of Nain’s pain and is moved with pity. Then, with his own power because he is Son of God, he brings the youth back to life.

Commenting on this story, Pope Francis said:

This “compassion” is God’s love for humanity, it is mercy--thus the attitude of God in contact with human misery, with our destitution, our suffering, our anguish. The biblical term “compassion” recalls a mother’s womb. The mother in fact reacts in a way all her own in confronting the pain of her children. It is in this way, according to Scripture, that God loves us. What is the fruit of this love and mercy? It is life! … The mercy of Jesus is not only an emotion; it is a force which gives life that raises man.

The restoration to life of the two sons is beautiful, but temporary. They will die again.  Their being raised to earthly life is a sign of something better. Because Jesus rose from the dead, he has power to give not just a temporary extension of life, but eternal life.  He can raise people from the dead to live forever with him in heaven.  This is part of the Creed which we proclaim together:  “I look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.”

Jesus shares this power to give new and eternal life with the Church, his Body. 

Vincent, Jesus shared this power with you yesterday. Jesus called you and yesterday he empowered you to heal broken hearts and souls.  Pope Francis, in a recent interview book entitled “The Name of God is Mercy,” said that the Sacrament of Reconciliation is not like going to the dry cleaner to get stains removed.  It’s much more, much deeper. It involves healing wounds.  You are now an instrument of this healing and life-giving grace.

St. Paul, as we heard in the Second Reading, experienced the merciful love of God that took him from being a persecutor and zealot to proclaiming the love of God revealed in Jesus.

Pope Francis, at age of seventeen, on September 21, 1953, went to confession and had such a profound experience of God’s merciful love—and the healing and peace that it alone can give—that he chose to become a Jesuit priest.  You have also experienced the profound merciful love of Jesus that has drawn you to this vocation.

In the Novitiate you wrote:

As I grew more and more aware of God’s great love for me, suddenly my vocation seemed simple: to bring the love of Jesus to the world. For me, the love of Jesus was symbolized by the love of his Heart. I felt Christ calling me to share the love of his Heart, to be an apostle of his Heart. This, it seemed to me, was at the core of what it means to be a Jesuit. I knew it was to the Society of Jesus that God was calling me.





The image of the Heart of Christ that you chose for your ordination card is striking.  It’s not pretty, not sentimental. It was etched into a wall in one of the cells in the starvation bunker in Auschwitz. It’s just down the hall from St. Maximilian Kolbe’s cell. 















And on the wall opposite this image is another—
the one that is spoken of in the quote from Pope
Benedict XVI that you chose for the back of your card.  It’s a crucifixion scene—the Cross.

[We know that in the end—as Saint Ignatius of Loyola saw so clearly—the only real “standard” against which all human reality can be measured is the Cross and its message of an unmerited love which triumphs over evil, sin and death, creating new life and unfading joy. The Cross reveals that we find ourselves only by giving our lives away, receiving God’s love as an unmerited gift and working to draw all men and women into the beauty of that love and the light of the truth which alone brings salvation to the world.]

In that place of darkness—symbol of humanity’s inhumanity, of sin, and the hatred and violence it brings, there are images of love—the Cross and the Pierced Heart

You were ordained yesterday to bring the light of Christ’s love into the darkness. You will do this through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. 

You will do this through the prophetic ministry of the Word, speaking words that challenge us to believe in the love of God and to have hope when it is so easy to despair; to, as some have said, comfort the troubled and trouble the comfortable; to speak and write the truth that saves and to do so with love.

But more, you are now able to bring to people the very One who forgives, heals, and gives eternal life.  When you celebrate the Eucharist, Christ makes himself present through you. He makes present his life-giving death on the cross and his resurrection. Through you the bread and wine become the Body and Blood for us to receive and to be transformed. 

Pope Benedict XVI spoke of this in Cologne Germany at World Youth Day 2005. Your brothers were there, but you were not able to go because you had just entered the Novitiate.

Speaking about the Last Supper, Pope Benedict said:

By making the bread into his Body and the wine into his Blood, he anticipates his death, he accepts it in his heart, and he transforms it into an action of love. What on the outside is simply brutal violence - the Crucifixion - from within becomes an act of total self-giving love. This is the substantial transformation which was accomplished at the Last Supper and was destined to set in motion a series of transformations leading ultimately to the transformation of the world when God will be all in all.

In their hearts, people always and everywhere have somehow expected a change, a transformation of the world. Here now is the central act of transformation that alone can truly renew the world:  violence is transformed into love, and death into life.

To use an image well known to us today, this is like inducing nuclear fission in the very heart of being - the victory of love over hatred, the victory of love over death. Only this intimate explosion of good conquering evil can then trigger off the series of transformations that little by little will change the world.

All other changes remain superficial and cannot save. This first fundamental transformation of violence into love, of death into life, brings other changes in its wake. Bread and wine become his Body and Blood.

But it must not stop there; on the contrary, the process of transformation must now gather momentum. The Body and Blood of Christ are given to us so that we ourselves will be transformed in our turn. We are to become the Body of Christ, his own Flesh and Blood.

Through your service at the altar, Vincent, we receive the Bread of Life, the food that transforms us, in Pope Benedict’s words, into “the Body of Christ, his own Flesh and Blood.”  As “the Body of Christ, his own Flesh and Blood,” all of us are now empowered to bring the merciful love of God into our own little corners of the world. The Eucharist, of which you are now a special servant, makes this possible.

We thank God for the call that you received and the grace with which you were able to accept the call. 

St. John Vianney, patron saint of all priests, said:

"The priesthood is the love of the Heart of Jesus.”

This love involves sacrifice, something you’ve obviously learned from the beginning, from the sacrifices that you’ve seen your family make. Thank you for offering yourself to be a priest, a Jesuit, an apostle of the Heart of Jesus.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

18th Sunday and St. Ignatius

I celebrated Mass this morning for the Sisters of St. Francis at Clare Hall in St. Francis, WI, a suburb of Milwaukee.  I told them that I couldn’t stay for brunch because my Jesuit community would be celebrating the Solemnity of our founder, St. Ignatius.  I also told them about the connection between St. Francis of Assisi and St. Ignatius Loyola.  Here is more of my homily:

It’s nice to be able to celebrate Mass today with Franciscan Sisters because, as I always like to remind people, there would be no St. Ignatius without St. Francis.  Reading about St. Francis while he was convalescing from a war wound, Ignatius was inspired to leave his worldly aspirations and follow St. Francis’ example of total dedication to Christ. 

St. Ignatius’ “Spiritual Exercises” begin with a meditation called “The First Principle and Foundation.”  In it, he reflects on the meaning and purpose of life.  Humans are created to give praise, reverence, and service to God here on earth and forever in heaven.  We’re created for love.  The things of earth are given in order to help us attain this goal. If they get in the way, then we are to avoid them; if they help us attain the goal for which we are created, then we hold on to them. 

Then, after reflecting on the love of God revealed in Jesus, St. Ignatius concludes the “Exercises” with a reflection on all God’s blessings, including the gift of God’s very self.  Aware of such love, we will naturally want to return love by making a total gift of ourselves.  And here is where Ignatius’ famous “Suscipe” prayer comes in:  “Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, and my entire will, all that I have and possess. You have given all to me.  To You, O Lord, I return it.  All is Yours.  Give me only Your grace and Your love.  With these I am rich enough and want nothing more.”

Today’s readings (Ecclesiastes 1: 2; 2: 21-23; Psalm 90; Colossians 3: 1-5, 9-11; and Luke 12: 13-21) offer us a way to further reflect on this. 

Ecclesiastes begins with the famous words, “Vanity of vanities. All things are vanity.”  Another way of putting it today would be “Absurdities of absurdities.  All is absurd.”  Why?  The author says that humans, like animals, are born, they live, and then die.  But for humans, life is absurd because all that we work so hard for must be left behind.  No hearse ever had a U-Haul trailer behind it!  Thus it seems best to eat, drink, and be merry now for tomorrow we die.  Or, as the beer commercial says: “You only go around once in life so you gotta grab for all the gusto you can.”  

In the Gospel, Jesus tells the rich man who builds bigger barns to accommodate his wealth that he is a fool.  He will die and all that he worked so hard for will go to another. But what makes him especially foolish is that he thinks this life is the only life.  He has not used the things of this earth to prepare for treasure in heaven.  It’s been said that the only thing we take with us when we die is all that we have given away. 

With this in mind, Paul tells us to “think of what is above, not of what is on earth.”  Thinking about our goal, we will try to use the things of this world to prepare for the world to come.  Our earthly life is fleeting, but the next life is eternal.

This is what the vow of poverty is designed to do.  The vows that consecrated persons take are “eschatological signs” that point beyond this world to the next.  They witness to the entire world that this life is not the only one and so we ought to live in such a way that we are prepared at any given moment for passage to the next life. The vow of poverty witnesses to reality, to what is most important.  All people are called to live in the spirit of poverty.

In the 1980’s I lived and worked at our Jesuit novitiate in St. Paul.  Every year a conflict arose.  Some novices declared that the community was not living poverty because it had a cookie jar.  Of course no one was forced to eat the cookies and it often happened that those who complained about cookies were the first to defend having a cable television.  It’s always good to ask questions about how we can live in the spirit of poverty more faithfully, how we can live a more simple life in which we hold everything in common, like the early Church communities.  But ultimately poverty is something deeper.  It touches upon the human condition.

The truly poor do not have choices. 

Peter Maurin was a French immigrant who died in 1949.  He taught Dorothy Day that she did not have be a communist to work for social justice.  The Catholic Church has a great tradition and great examples to guide us toward justice.  Peter was committed to living in solidarity with the poor.  But it was always a choice and he only truly became poor near the end of his life when he had no choice and lost what was most precious to him.

In his book “Peter Maurin: Prophet in the Twentieth Century,” Marc Ellis wrote:  “Dorothy reflected on Maurin’s life and his poverty, which, in her view, had now become absolute.  Maurin’s mind was no longer keen and Dorothy thought the decline significant. After all, the only thing he had retained in his poverty had been his mind. But the last years had seen the deterioration of the interior senses, the memory and the will. … Incontinent and bedridden, he began his last days separated from the work and the people he loved” (161-2). 

Ultimately each of us is poor.  We are not in control and the day will come when we will have to let go of everything.  We do so with the assurance of faith, that as our lives are emptied of everything we will receive everything and more than we can imagine. 

And so, in the spirit of the poverty that St. Francis and St. Ignatius lived, we say:

“Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, and my entire will, all that I have and possess. You have given all to me.  To You, O Lord, I return it.  All is Yours.  Give me only Your grace and your love.  With these I am rich enough and want nothing more.”


Friday, July 22, 2016

The Apostle to the Apostles

St. Mary Magdalene is one of my favorite saints and today is her feast day.  In fact, on June 3, 2016, the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Pope Francis raised the level of today's commemoration from an Obligatory Memorial to a Feast.  I was happy, therefore, to preside at Mass this morning with some of my brother Jesuits and to celebrate Mass in honor of St. Mary Magdalene with the Gloria which is required for feasts of this importance.

The first reading (Song of Songs 3: 1-4) is one of the few times that this book of love poetry from the Hebrew Scriptures appears in the readings at Mass.  It captures the intensity of Mary Magdalene's love for Jesus: "I sought him whom my heart loves--I sought him but I did not find him."  Thus she returned to the empty tomb on Easter Sunday morning looking for the body of Jesus.  But he had risen and, after showing himself to her, he sent her to the apostles to tell them the news of his resurrection.  Thus she is known to this day as "the Apostle to the Apostles."

Here's something Pope St. John Paul II said about her on this day during the Jubilee Year 2000:

We are celebrating the feast of St Mary Magdalene and the liturgy today is marked by a kind of movement, a "race" of the heart and the spirit, motivated by the love of Christ. 

Mary Magdalene followed to Calvary the One who had healed her. She was present at Jesus' crucifixion, death and burial. Together with Mary Most Holy and the beloved disciple, she witnessed his last breath and the silent testimony of his pierced side:  she understood that her salvation lay in that death, in that sacrifice. And the Risen One, as today's Gospel recounts, wished to manifest his glorious body first to the one who had wept profusely at his death. To her he "first entrusted ... the joyful news of his resurrection" (Opening Prayer), as if to remind us that the shining glory of his resurrection is revealed precisely to those who look with faith and love on the mystery of the Lord's passion and death.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

A Jesuit Ordination

Last Saturday I participated in the ordination of Jesuit Fr. Vincent Strand.  It was a happy and special time for me because I had been his spiritual director when he was discerning his vocation as a student at Marquette University.  From those days to the present he has been a strong member of the Apostleship of Prayer.  Here's something he wrote when he was a Jesuit novice, In it he wrote about how making a daily offering led to him offering every day of his life as a Jesuit priest:

            "I remember well my first encounter with the Apostleship of Prayer.  I was a freshman at Marquette University and accustomed to attending daily mass in the basement chapel of Gesu Church.  Each day while en route to my pew, I would pass a table filled with popular devotional materials: endless holy cards and novenas, gaudy plastic rosaries, green and brown scapulars, and there too, the AOP leaflets with the Holy Father’s monthly intentions.  Assuming that the AOP was one more dusty devotional practice that perhaps had a place in the 50´s Catholicism of my grandparents, but certainly had no relevance for a third-millennium college student, for months I passed these leaflets without a second thought.  One day, however, perhaps simply out of curiosity, I picked up a leaflet and perused its contents, expecting to find one more antiquated novena to some obscure saint.  I was shocked by what I found.  For here was a list of intentions that was anything but outdated, a list of intentions which reflected my deepest hopes for the world, a list of intentions which was as broad and diverse as the whole of the Church’s mission. 

            "Yet something else in that small leaflet struck me as well, a small prayer that would forever change my spiritual life: the daily Morning Offering.  Father General Peter Hans Kolvenbach once wrote of the Morning Offering: “Experience shows that this act, both simple and profound, changes one's life.”  It did so for me.  As I began daily offering my life to Jesus, the question started to loom: If you give each day to him, why not your whole life?  Soon I was discerning a religious vocation.

            "The fact that the Society of Jesus has been entrusted by Christ himself with the responsibility of propagating the devotion to his Heart—a responsibility institutionalized by the AOP—played a significant role in my decision to apply to the Society of Jesus.  During my years of discernment, I thought seriously about a number of options: Married laymen? Dominican? Carmelite? Diocesan priest?  Amidst this sometimes confusing cloud of options, my spiritual director continually asked me: What is your deepest, truest desire?  As I grew more and more aware of God’s great love for me, suddenly my vocation seemed simple: to bring the love of Jesus to the world.  For me, the love of Jesus was symbolized by the love of his Heart.  I felt Christ calling me to share the love of his Heart, to be an apostle of his Heart.  This, it seemed to me, was at the core of what it means to be a Jesuit.  I knew it was to the Society of Jesus that God was calling me.

            "The importance of devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the AOP has only grown during my time in the Society.  Intriguingly, I have observed the same phenomenon in the lives of many other young Jesuits.  Perhaps this was most evident for me in the days of sharing which followed the long retreat in my novitiate last year, when a number of men who previously had no formal contact with devotion to the Sacred Heart spoke of the importance of the symbol of Jesus´ Heart for them during the Spiritual Exercises.  Suddenly, they too were convinced of the need to spread this devotion—this message of love—to all the world.    

            "I am convinced that the AOP has an indispensable part to play in the future of the Catholic Church in America.  The innate spirituality of the AOP provides an answer to many trends of the contemporary world.  In an age when young Catholics desire something radical, something heroic, something whole, the spirituality of the Morning Offering requires a complete gift of self.  In a time when the faithful, especially youth, have a growing love of the Eucharist, the AOP offers a spirituality which is intrinsically Eucharistic.  In a Church which has finally come to a clearer understanding of the universal call to holiness, the AOP provides an avenue for the sanctification of one’s life in the midst of the world.  In an age when globalization continues to shrink the world and makes us aware that we are truly neighbors and in solidarity with the whole human family, the AOP places us in a fraternity of prayer with men and women in every corner of the globe, praying for intentions which are universal in scope.  In a world marked by a great yearning for peace and justice, the AOP provides us with intentions focused on the most pressing needs of social justice throughout the world.  In an age of increased secularization which has resulted in a fervor for a new evangelization, the AOP fosters a missionary spirit among its members. 

            "Perhaps these are some of the reasons why there is a renewed interest in the AOP among so many young Jesuits.  But, in truth, I think there is a deeper and simpler reason, a reason which has been articulated time and time again by Jesuit spiritual writers, by countless Father Generals, and recently by men such as Pedro Arrupe and Karl Rahner: devotion to Christ’s Heart is something essential to the Society of Jesus.  Thus as something essential, as long as there are Jesuits, there will be a zeal for spreading the message of love of the Sacred Heart. 

"While for a time it may have appeared to be on the wane, interest in the Sacred Heart among Jesuits is not disappearing.  No, to the contrary, it appears to be growing.  In one of his last and most famous letters to the Society, “Rooted and Grounded in Love,” Pedro Arrupe stated:  “I am convinced that there could be few proofs of the spiritual renewal of the Society so clear as a widespread and vigorous devotion to the Heart of Jesus.”  I pray that this saint’s words were prophetic and that interest in the Sacred Heart among young Jesuits is indicative of a greater spiritual renewal in the Society of Jesus.  For as always, the world is in great need of knowing the love of Christ’s Heart.  May Jesuits always be at the forefront of spreading this love to the whole world."   


Sunday, May 22, 2016

Most Holy Trinity

At the heart of Christianity is a great mystery--the Most Holy Trinity.  It's not a mystery to be solved, but one before which we stand with humble faith.  St. Augustine once said that if we could understand this mystery of God who is one yet three Persons, we would not be talking about God any more.  "Si comprehendis, non deus est."

Throughout history people have tried to help us better appreciate this mystery.  As he catechized the Irish people, St. Patrick showed them a three-leaf shamrock to illustrate that God is both one and three.  But such a physical illustration makes it seem as though God can be divided into parts. Our faith, though, tells us that where one Person of the Trinity is all three are present.  This is known as "circumincession."

Rublev's famous icon of the Trinity, based on Abraham's encounter with three angelic beings (Genesis 18: 1-15), is one of the most beautiful representations of the Trinity, but it can also be misleading as it depicts three individuals.  Western art follows a similar path, showing the Trinity as Jesus with a cross, and the Father as an old, white-haired man, and the Holy Spirit as a dove.

Perhaps St. Ignatius Loyola is more helpful.  He once had a vision of the Holy Trinity as three keys of an organ or a piano being played together and creating one perfect harmony.

We believe that God is one and three because Jesus said so.  We see this especially in John's Gospel. Pope Francis said: "Jesus revealed this mystery to us. He spoke to us of God as the Father; he spoke to us of the Spirit; and he spoke to us of himself as the Son of God."  We believe because Jesus promised to send "the Spirit of truth" who "will guide you to all truth" (John 16: 13). The Spirit continues to teach us through the Scriptures and the Church.

Pope Francis went on to speak of the practical implications of this great mystery.  "Today's solemnity, while making us contemplate the amazing mystery from which we come and toward which we are going, renews for us the mission of living in communion with God and living in communion among ourselves on the model of the divine communion."

In other words, because our origin is from God who made us in the divine image and likeness, we're made by and for love--union with God and the communion of saints.  We are not isolated individuals. No one sins alone, nor is anyone saved alone.  From our ancestral parents to the present, what one person made in God's image does affects the whole.  This is why we all inherit the sin of Adam and Eve.

Pope Francis went on to say:  "The Trinity is the communion of Divine Persons who are one with the others, one for the others, one in the others: this communion is the life of God, the mystery of the love of the living God."

Again, since we are made in the image of God who is a Trinity of Love, we are called to live in communion with others.  As Pope Francis put it: "We are called to live not as one without the others, above or against the others, but one with the others, for the others, and in the others" [emphasis in the original]. We know what it means to live with others and for others, but what can it mean to live "in the others?"  One way of looking at this is through St. Paul's teaching on the Body of Christ. He writes: "God has so constructed the body ... so that there may be no division in the body, but that the parts may have the same concern for one another. If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part is honored, all the parts share its joy" (1 Cor. 12: 24-26).  This is the meaning of compassion.  We live "in" others when we see things through their eyes and experience the pain and joy that they experience.

Pope Francis continues: "This means to accept and witness in harmony the beauty of the Gospel; experiencing love for one another and for all, sharing joy and suffering, learning to ask and grant forgiveness. In a word, we have been entrusted with the task of building church communities which increasingly become families, capable of reflecting the splendor of the Trinity and evangelizing not only with words but with the power of the love of God that lives within us" [emphasis in original].

This is the work of the Holy Spirit which theologians tell us is the love between the Father and the Son.  St. Paul wrote that "the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us" (Rom. 5: 5).

Ultimately the mystery of the Most Holy Trinity is the mystery of love.  God is, by nature, Love.  Before creation God was a perfect communion of love, but it is the nature of love to share.  God chose to share existence, life, and love with human beings.  Though God was perfectly happy, God wanted, as it were, to have "playmates" (see Proverbs 8: 30-31).  God wanted to share the delight of existence, life, and love with creatures made in the image and likeness of the Trinity.  God created and "found delight in the human race" (Proverbs 8: 31).

All this raises several questions to use as we reflect on our day:

  • How did I reflect the love of the Trinity today?
  • How did I live with, for, and in others today? 
  • How did I give delight to God today? 

Monday, March 28, 2016

The Hope and Joy of Easter

St. Paul wrote to the Colossians (3:1): “If then you were raised with Christ, seek what is above….”  In other words, live in the light of Easter.  Live with the hope and joy of Easter.  You have been baptized and given a new life.  Live with the hope and joy that this new life in Christ brings.
Our temptation is to live in darkness and despair.  There is so much “Good Friday” in the world today.  So many tragic deaths. So much abandonment on crosses made, in Pope Francis’ words, by “the globalization of indifference.” 

In his Apostolic Exhortation “The Joy of the Gospel,” Pope Francis wrote about the serious temptation to “defeatism which turns us into disillusioned pessimists, ‘sourpusses’ (#85).  People who give in to this temptation “think that nothing will change” (#275).  But because of Christ’s resurrection, we have hope. 

Pope Francis writes: “If we think that things are not going to change, we need to recall that Jesus Christ has triumphed over sin and death and is now almighty. Jesus Christ truly lives” (#275).  This means that “Christ’s resurrection is not an event of the past; it contains a vital power which has permeated this world” (#276).  Because of the resurrection, we have hope and confidence. 

But holding fast to hope requires work.  We have to strengthen the hope that Christ’s resurrection gives, to believe that it “is not an event of the past,” but a force at work in our lives and in the world.  “Faith means believing in God, believing that he truly loves us, that he is alive, that he is mysteriously capable of intervening, that he does not abandon us and that he brings good out of evil by his power and his infinite creativity” (#278). 

That is where our faith is challenged: to believe that evil is not the final word and that God can bring “good out of evil.”  Yet this is what we have just celebrated.  God took the worst evil possible—the crucifixion of the Son—and brought out of it the greatest good—our salvation from sin and death.  This is the reason for our hope and joy. 

Timothy Cardinal Dolan of New York has identified four threats to joy. 

The first is self-pity which puts “me” first, at the center.  Joy comes when God is first, others are second, and I am third.  Self-pity inverts that order and leads to unhappiness.

Secondly, joy is threatened by worry which fosters a negative attitude toward the future, feeds pessimism, and again places “me” at the center.

The third threat to joy is the belief that my happiness depends on something outside of myself.  I believe that certain things or people or situations will make me happy whereas, in the words of Jesuit Fr. John Powell’s book, “Happiness is an Inside Job.”  But what about God?  Shouldn’t God be the source of my joy and isn’t God transcendent?  Yes, but through baptism God is also within.  As baptized temples of the Holy Spirit, we find God within the secret chamber of our heart.

Finally, the fourth threat to joy, according to Cardinal Dolan, is complaining which not only saps our joy but spreads negativity to others who often in turn reinforce our own negative attitude.  The antidote?  Gratitude.  Seeing the glass as half full rather than half empty and being grateful for what fills the glass. 

In our case, we are filled with the light, hope, and joy of Christ’s resurrection.  Having spent forty days of Lenten preparation for the celebration of the Easter Triduum, we now have fifty days in which to savor its hope and joy. 

But we must do more than savor the hope and joy of Easter.  We must live it in our daily lives.  We were made new through baptismal waters.  The world was made new by Christ’s resurrection.  As Pope Francis wrote in “The Joy of the Gospel”: “Christ’s resurrection everywhere calls forth seeds of that new world; even if they are cut back, they grow again, for the resurrection is already secretly woven into the fabric of this history, for Jesus did not rise in vain.  May we never remain on the sidelines of this march of living hope!” (#278).


Our lives are a journey to the Kingdom of Heaven where we will live forever.  We will live body and soul sharing in the glory of Jesus Christ, our Risen Savior.  May we not, as Pope Francis said, “remain on the sidelines,” but may we march forward with hope and joy.