Tag Archives: Relationship

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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Fourth Sunday of Easter, 2017

Today, when a free society like ours puts so much stress on personal independence and resourcefulness, Jesus’ reference to his followers as “sheep” may be very jarring to some of them. I think that fewer and fewer people want to look upon themselves as sheep — at least not if that means being mindless followers.

And yet it’s obvious that he doesn’t regard the title as being at all demeaning to us. So what did he have in mind by choosing such a term?

I’ve always assumed it was the strong bond that exists between the sheep and their shepherd. He knows them individually by name, loves them tenderly, cares for them as he cares for himself. He identifies them also by the unique, sometimes odd or funny, characteristics they display.

In return, the sheep trust and in their own way love the shepherd. They feel secure in his presence and somehow know that their good is his primary concern. There is no question here of manipulation or control, no surrendering of right or freedom. It is, rather, the very person of the shepherd in whom the sheep find their fullest selves. They are happier, healthier and more alive when he is there. Actually, they would be incomplete without the love they exchange with him.

I believe that is what Jesus is stressing above all in this homely analogy he uses: that because there are no limits to the loving concern of the shepherd for the sheep, there are no limits to the depth of life the sheep can achieve.

We should expect, I’d say, that in an age of unprecedented exploration like our own, we would find ourselves going not only outward and upward but inward, too. And that is precisely what’s happening. The same civilization that reaches out into the strange and uncharted realms of space looks into itself as well and into the fascinating mystery of the human person. Prayer movements, that seem to be increasing in number and membership today, center both on the corporate person of the community and the private person of the individual. All kinds of people, from every walk of life imaginable, are reporting finding up-to-now unrealized strength and peace by entering prayerfully into themselves in regular meditation with others.

The Good Shepherd offers us a friendship, a relationship, so deep and personal that in it we can resolve life’s most distressing problems and discover what good can and will come from them. No one is really free who feels trapped by the futility of life’s tragic happenings. But the Good Shepherd, having experienced himself the life-death-life continuum has earned the authority to reassure us that the patience and perseverance with which we carry our crosses lead us, invariably, to a new sharing in the love and life of God.

We profess Jesus, the Good Shepherd, to be the gateway to life. We have only to work at knowing him better by listening to the words he has spoken, by being present to him in silent expectation, and by learning to think about, and to interpret, life as he does. He calls us, not to conformity and slavery, but to freedom and unfettered life!

19TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, 2016

I know a Franciscan priest who spent 27 months in a Nazi concentration camp as one of the nearly 3000 priests there.  Twice he was beaten almost to death.  He came very close to perishing from starvation.  One day, emaciated, his face gaunt, his eyes recessed as if in empty, blackened pools, he stood at the barbed wire fence idly gazing out into the adjacent woods.  Suddenly he saw what he later described to me as the most beautiful sight he had ever beheld: a young soldier cautiously stepping out from behind a tree, his uniform identifying him as an American.

Too weak to shout or to run, my friend stood transfixed at this apparition.  No human words, he told me years later, could ever express the joy and the blessed relief that filled his heart and soul at this realization of immanent rescue.  Two and a quarter years of indescribable torture and despair were soon to end!  The GI realized that he had been seen and therefore motioned to Father Karas that he must not tell others what he was seeing.  And so my friend waited, his heart pounding as fast as it possibly could, his spirit already thanking the God he believed had saved people down through the ages and now was saving him and others.  Several minutes later, the massive invasion of liberation began.

If you can identify with the account I’ve just shared with you, at least in imagination if not through some personal experience of your own that relates to it, then you are prepared to understand something important in the Old and New Testament scriptural readings appointed for this Sunday throughout the world.  They speak of delays and waiting and the expectation of great saving actions on the part of God.  But what you may not be aware of is that between the time of Jesus’ death and resurrection and the composition of the gospels attributed to Mark and Luke, there was a strong belief among the early Christians that very soon Jesus was going to return to Earth — “any day now,” as we would say.

Expecting that triumphant return, that “Day of the Lord,” ecstatic about experiencing the Lord’s coming kingdom of life and love and peace, many of them adopted an attitude of inactive waiting.  Other considerations, other responsibilities and opportunities became less and less important to them.  Mark and Luke, two of the four gospel writers, took on the task of combatting this popular notion that Jesus would very soon be returning and that, therefore, this overwhelming, approaching event should make everything else trivial and futile.

In essence, these two evangelists said that no one could possibly know when the Lord would come back and that no one should be so foolish as to stand around idle and looking up to the heavens.  Instead, they said emphatically, they should all be looking around and finding what still needed to be done.  In other words, they should be good disciples of the Master, living and loving and caring and serving as he had taught them and as he had shown them. They should not be speculating on what Jesus himself had said only God could reveal.  Discipleship, the two evangelists made very clear, meant constructive action; to be a genuine disciple of Jesus meant living and acting in love and faith.

The bumper sticker we see so often puts it well in another way: KEEP IT SIMPLE.  It isn’t a constant litany of prayers and devotions that make us, and mark us as, loyal followers of Jesus.  It is rather our living in love and faith, which we express generously in our relationship to others.

TRINITY SUNDAY, 2016

An Australian priest by the name of Father Denis Edwards authored a book several years ago entitled The God of Evolution: A Trinitarian Theology.  I especially appreciated one paragraph in it because for me it shed new light on the notion, the doctrine, of the Holy Trinity.  He wrote:

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 today are increasingly heard emphasizing the fact that the entire universe, as Father Edwards has just pointed out, 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.

How many times have you, for example, stared up at a flock of birds, hundreds of them, all flying in formation, making turn after turn in split-second precision?  That’s connection, relationship, intercommunication for which they had no training: they were conceived and born that way ultimately because – again a quote from Father Edwards – that’s the way God is!

You can see immediately why the Christian church is putting an unprecedented emphasis on ecology and environmental custody these days: the universe is God’s gift to us all and it is our duty, our solemn obligation, to care for it as intelligently and tenderly as we can.  There are those who ask what this has to do with religion.  The answer should be obvious, but apparently for some it is not.  Just as we are the primary caretakers of our own bodies and must not abuse or endanger their welfare irresponsibly or selfishly, so are we morally and spiritually obliged to take loving, respectful care of this planet that we call Mother Earth and the universe that surrounds it.

I understand Trinity to mean that Creator, Savior, and Sanctifier – Father, Son and Spirit — represent the relationship out of which the entire universe with its galaxies and black holes, its dinosaurs and bacteria, its humans and possible space aliens have come!  And, best of all, we know from Trinity that the root and the ultimate goal of our lives are love and that we are our fullest, best and truest selves, and are most like the Creative Spirit we call God, when we love in any way.

While we can never comprehend the infinite God, we have inherited enough knowledge of God to be aware that we are loved into life, not only in our conception and birth, but at every moment of our existence — and in our death.  We know also that God is not like us, but that we are made to become like God.

Trinity is the most basic truth about the ultimately incomprehensible God.  And Trinity is about us: that relating to each other in goodness & caring & peace & love is what being human is meant to be – because that is fundamentally what the eternal life of God is.  The success appointed for us humans is simply that we learn to root everything we say and do in love – the Trinitarian love from which we come and have our being.

HOMILY FOR 23RD SUNDAY OF THE YEAR, 2015

I’ve kept this letter in my files for many years, grateful to the person who wrote it, especially as I share it once again today.  The writer is a nurse, and this is what she wrote —

It was a busy morning, about 8:30, when an elderly gentleman came in to the office to have stitches removed from his thumb.  He said he was in a hurry, and had an appointment at 9:00.  I took his vital signs and asked him to sit, knowing that it would be over an hour before the doctor could see him. 

I saw him looking at his watch and decided I would evaluate his wound.  On exam, it appeared to be well healed, so I talked to one of the doctors and got the needed supplies to remove his sutures and redress his wound. 

I asked the man if he had another doctor’s appointment that morning.  He said no but that he needed to go to the nursing home to eat breakfast with his wife.  I inquired about her health.  He told me she had been there for a while and that she was a victim of Alzheimer’s disease. 

I asked if she would be upset if he arrived a bit late.  He said she no longer knew who he was and that she had not recognized him for the past five years.  I was surprised and asked him, “And you still go every morning, even though she doesn’t know who you are?” 

He smiled as he patted my hand and said, “She doesn’t know me, but I still know who she is.” 

I had to hold back tears as he left; I had goose bumps on my arm.  I thought, “That’s the kind of love I want in my life.” 

True love is an acceptance of all that is, has been, will be, and will not be. 

The happiest people don’t necessarily have the best of everything; they just make the best of everything they have. 

Life isn’t about how to survive the storm, but how to dance in the rain.

I think I need not explain to you why I keep that letter and read it every once in a while to myself or to others.

If love is the primary and most powerful force in the world, and if God is love, then the first and overriding task of our lives is to love ever more generously, unselfishly, purely and joyfully.

That’s what personal relationship and our Christian religion are essentially about.

Personal relationship is not merely an agreement or a contract; it is a bonding of love.

Our Christian religion is not merely a system of rules and rituals designed to keep us on the straight & narrow so that when we die we qualify for entrance into an imaginary place called heaven.  It is, rather, a lived celebration of the presence of God in us now and in everyone and everything that surrounds us.

That’s why we are here this very hour and doing what we are doing.

That’s what we are pledging again to be and to do when we receive Jesus in the sacrament of Eucharist and when this ancient ritual called the Mass has ended.

My poor words are simply commentary.  The real homily today is YOU and all the self-sacrificing, noble, patient, beautiful things you have done for the sake of others.  May your lives continue to be filled with them because, no matter the cost, the results are always so much greater!

HOMILY FOR TRINITY SUNDAY 2015

Had you lived in Jesus’ day and asked him if he was the second person of the Trinity, he would not have had the foggiest idea of what you were talking about.  The concept of the Trinity – three persons in one God – took shape some 400 years after Jesus’ time.

But, you may be wondering, 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.”

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: virtually all cultures have imagined the Creator God 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 the mystery we call God are loving relationship.

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 priest who is also a scientist.  His name is Father Denis Edwards; he is an Australian, and he wrote in his book, 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 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 God 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.