Tag Archives: Michael Morwood

TRINITY SUNDAY 2017

Had you lived in Jesus’ day and asked him if he was the second person of the Blessed Trinity, I think he would not have understood the question, much less been able to make answer. The concept of the Trinity – three persons in one God – took shape some 400 years after his death and resurrection.

But what are we to say then about the rather clear reference to Trinity that Jesus himself seems to be making in these words that are attributed to him, “…baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit?” Father Joseph Nolan, liturgical scholar from Boston College in Massachusetts (and an old friend and colleague of mine, by the way), writes:

“…this is not a transcript of Jesus’ words …, but a reflection of the early church, baptizing and teaching in his name. The words reflect the belief that God… is never far from us or from our history.”

What appears to have happened is that the early Christians were gradually coming to terms with the elements that would eventually develop into our familiar doctrine of the Trinity. What does it mean?

One way to look at it is this: God is not simply one in the sense of being alone and without relationship or conversation or sharing or love. Virtually all cultures have imagined the Creator to be powerful, distant, jealous, unpredictable, competitive, etc. Jesus, on the contrary, speaks of God as compassionate, loving, forgiving, gentle, and as best characterized by the term “Abba,” which is translated as “Daddy.” The conclusion his followers came to was that the very nature and essence of God are loving relationship.

Another dear friend of mine, Australian theologian and author Michael Morwood says that when we die, we die into the love that is God.

In those first four centuries of Christian theological development, the church began to teach that the love between the Father and the Son is so intense that it overflows into yet another person, a third person, the Holy Spirit, and continues to overflow into the creation of the vast universe of which we are a part. The reasoning was that this is the nature of all love, human and divine: it yearns to share, to give & receive, to create beyond itself. And thus came about the notion of the Trinity.

Consider this pregnant statement from a man who is both a priest and a scientist. His name is Father Denis Edwards; he is the author of The God of Evolution: A Trinitarian Theology –

“The God of trinitarian theology is a God of mutual and equal relations. When such a God creates a universe, it is not surprising that it turns out to be a radically relational and interdependent one. When life unfolds through the process of evolution, it emerges in patterns of interconnectedness and interdependence that ‘fit’ with the way God is.”

Scientists are increasingly heard these days celebrating the fact that the entire universe is relational in nature at its core, each tiniest part and particle connected interdependently with all other parts, down to and beyond even microscopic bacteria.

To be responsible creatures of our Trinitarian God, we must put the relationships in our lives above all else. “Trinity” is a fundamental statement about the Creator and about us. We are the expression of God’s overflowing, eternal, intense love.

We mustn’t allow Trinity to be a ho-hum theological proposition or to be trivialized with demonstrations involving three-leaf clovers or three candle flames blended into one. It must be allowed, instead, to challenge and direct us to be what we are created to be: persons who relate in a life-giving, mutually supportive way to the planet, to the entire universe, to all other persons without discrimination of any kind, and to our very own selves, because we are among the fantastic results of God’s labor of love.

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HOMILY FOR 4TH SUNDAY OF EASTER, 2015

I’ve been to the Holy Land just once in my life; that was about 15 years ago.  One of my fondest memories of that short stay is seeing shepherds direct the movement of their flocks of sheep.  There was communication between them by which the animals were expressing their total trust in these men who loved them and took care of them.  There was nothing forceful or brutal about the shepherds that I witnessed; they seemed to give their charges considerable liberty in responding to the commands that they were calling out or signaling.  These were very peaceful scenes that I was privileged to enjoy, as pastoral as one could ever imagine.

Portions of what I had learned in seminary about the life and occupation of the shepherd came back to me.  I recalled learning that in Jesus’ day, and perhaps in our own time as well, the shepherd would take his flock many miles in search of green grass, having to camp down for a night or two.  He would secure the sheep by tightening up a circular enclosure that I assume would have been built with rocks over a long period of time, possibly generations.  It had an opening just big enough to allow the sheep to pass in & out. Then the shepherd would sleep across that opening, acting as a gate to keep marauding wolves out and to prevent the sheep from wandering off into the dangerous night.

That appears to be what Jesus was referring to when, in a gospel passage related to today’s, he spoke of himself as the “sheep gate.”  Not difficult to grasp what he meant by that: he is present in our lives to guard and protect us not only from what is hurtful outside ourselves, but also from our own foolishness and ignorance.

The God that Jesus knew, the God he referred to as Father, does not watch or manage from afar, keeping records and meting out both punishment and reward, partly in this world and completely in the next.

No.  Jesus told us – and so many still have not imbibed the message – that God lives within us, experiencing life with us always, without interruption or judgment, but only with love and compassion.

It is only when we misunderstand who & what God is that we can believe that we could go to eternal punishment for missing a Sunday Mass or for eating meat on a day of abstinence, etc. — as if the infinite God and the compassionate Christ, who called himself the Good Shepherd, could be reduced to such absurd, man-made legality.  Embarrassing and regrettable, to say the least.

If we could only back up a little and view the Church and ourselves from a much broader point of view – a birds’ eye view, so to speak –  I am sure that we would see much of what we’ve been missing as we concentrate only on isolated particulars.  Too close up, too immersed in something, we develop a distorted perspective; we see details, but not the totality.  We see the trees immediately in front of us – and miss the forest of which they are a tiny part.

That’s the way it is with the Gospels and with Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, and how we fit into it all.

For one thing, we would be pleasantly surprised to find that the essence of Jesus’ teaching was that God is in and among us – and is not, as author Michael Morwood puts it, an “elsewhere God.”  We’d recognize that our relationship with God is one and the same as our relationship with all of creation, in particular with our fellow human beings.   That’s an important mouthful!  It means that the way I treat any person in my life is precisely the way I am treating God.

That is why the Good Shepherd said that what we do for each other we are doing for him.

HOMILY FOR FIRST SUNDAY IN LENT, 2015

Last month, some of you may have read in the New York Times, a great Protestant New Testament scholar by the name of Marcus Borg, died at the age of 72.  By all accounts, despite his total immersion in biblical theology, he was a very human, kind, gentle, loving and compassionate man.  His widow, incidentally, is an Episcopal priest.  His contributions to our understanding of Jesus and his times were enormous and will be a guiding influence in modern Christianity for decades, if not centuries, to come.

But how often it happens that out of the voluminous teaches that extraordinary minds like Dr. Borg leave us, there stands out, above all the rest, some simple statement that even a child can understand.  One of those from Dr. Borg caught my eye and remained with me as I prepared this homily this past week.

The topic was the afterlife – “heaven,” as most people refer to it.  Dr. Borg wrote, “So, is there an afterlife, and if so, what will it be like?  I don’t have a clue.  But I am confident that the one who buoyed us up in life will also buoy us up through death.  We die into God.  What more that means, I do not know.  But that is all I need to know.” 

My dear friend, Australian theologian and author, Michael Morwood, has said words very much like Dr. Borg’s.  He wrote: “God is not present in some places and peoples, absent in others.  Our death will not mean travel somewhere else.  (I add “…to an imaginary heaven or to an imaginary hell”).  Rather it will be a transformation into a completely different way of living in God – the God who is always present in creation.  We live in God and we die into the love that is God, and nothing can change that.”   

As we’re so fond of saying, “Let’s face it”: no one knows what happens after death.  The beloved Cardinal Joseph Bernardin said several years ago, when the question was put to him by a young man, that he didn’t know any more than the young man himself did.  Not even Jesus is of much help to us in this regard, assuring us only that these mysteries of life belong to the God he called Father.

But notice, in particular, that one small sentence of Dr. Borg’s: “We die into God,” and almost the same from Morwood, “We die into the love that is God.”  Of that they are sure. Borg admits, and I’m certain Morwood would agree, that the full meaning of that belief statement escapes him, but that the little he does know is all he needs to know.

It is, after all, a matter of personal choice.  We are free to believe or not to believe, according to whatever seems more likely and plausible to us.

I choose to believe – although, like the theologians, I don’t have the foggiest idea of what the afterlife will be like.  Believing in a life that awaits us beyond death gives me courage to live life here on earth with all the energy and zest that I can give it.  It helps me to accept present failures and disappointments and limitations as mere potholes in an otherwise smooth road.  It keeps reminding me that there lies ahead a total sharing in the life of the creator of the universe, an experience that will satisfy me beyond my wildest aspirations and desires.

It is Lent.  We are on our way once again to Easter, the quintessential celebration of life!  Let’s not waste the opportunity to think often and deeply about who we are, and who Jesus is, and how we have been granted the grace to view just enough of what lies ahead to fill us with eager anticipation!