Father, Brother, and Spirit

Posted on May 26, 2015 by - Connect! Sunday Reflection

For Sunday, May 31, 2015, The Most Holy Trinity

May 31Are you ready for months and months of presidential candidate news, speeches, and controversies? The next presidential election is over a year away, but already the Internet, television, and print media are filled with information about all those who aspire to be arguably the most powerful person on planet Earth. Unfortunately, too often we only get glimpses into the real person, and even then it is through the lens of the outlet doing the reporting. But regardless of what anyone may think of a particular candidate, each person is a complex human being living a life where one assumes many different roles.

No President of the United States is only a president. Just like you and I, he or she can also be a spouse, a parent, someone’s child, a sibling, a cousin, an aunt or uncle, and a friend. One never stops being all of those things simply because one has taken on a very important career. However, how a person relates to others will be dependent on the role one serves in respect to another. President Obama is the president in relation to you and me, and even in that position he plays different roles, such as being Commander in Chief of the United States military. But he is also a husband, and when in the presence of his wife, he needs to relate to her not as the leader of a nation, but as a loving spouse. However, he never stops being the president of the United States. He is also a father. But when he interacts with his daughters, they need to see a parent who cares for them, not a spouse or a president. At the same time he maintains all of these roles, he only relates to certain people with one of those roles being dominant.

The doctrine of the Holy Trinity has always been something hard to wrap the human mind around. We can simply label it as a mystery and not try to comprehend it, or we can attempt to find ways of making sense of it. Sometimes in Eastern Christianity, the image of three burning flames is used to try to explain the triune God. When looking at them from one angle, we see three distinct flames, but from another angle, if we line them up correctly, our eyes can only see one. Other times I have heard people compare God to how water can be a liquid, solid, or vapor in explaining the Trinity.

I like using the idea of relationship to understand this doctrine. My wife is spouse, mother, and daughter at all times, but for my children, my in-laws, and myself she is something completely different, yet she at all times maintains each role. God interacts with us as Father, Son, and Spirit. At certain times of our life we encounter God in each of these distinct roles, but God never ceases to be all three at once. As humans, we are limited by time and space, therefore we always will remain one person. Yet God is not limited by time and space, so being three persons in one is possible, even if this is too incredible for our limited minds to understand.

In the eighth chapter of St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans, he speaks of how God relates to us in all three persons in one sentence: “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God … and joint heirs with Christ.” God is Spirit, Father, and brother all at the same time. As God’s creation, we need to relate to God in different ways at different times, but rest assured, God never changes.

Perhaps we have such difficulty understanding this notion, not just because it is a complicated doctrine to start, but we have not adequately reflected on the complexity of human relationships. We sometimes shout in frustration, “I can’t be everything to everybody.” Rather than embrace the roles we are called to live out, we sometimes want to severely limit those roles. Having a child will hinder our career or leave less time for my spouse and me. My spouse will just have to understand that the children must come first. If I spend time taking care of my aging parent my own children will be shortchanged. I can’t take time off from my job just to spend time with a troubled friend.

God has created us and given us so much, including the capacity to love. Love can never be limited to one form or another. It seeks to encounter all things and everyone, each in a unique way. Our God created us in his image, and just as God relates to us on many levels, we relate to others on many levels as well. A complete person, seeking to most clearly reflect God’s image in him or her, will work on being the best he or she can in each differing relationship. We should want a president that is a good parent, spouse, child, and friend. We should want to be good at those things as well. This Sunday, let us reflect on how God interacts with us on every level. Then we will find a God that not only loves us in many ways, but a God that shows us how to love others in many ways as well.

Addendum: Although no one confronted me as such, I feel that my attempt to explain the Holy Trinity fell short and, without intention, may be misconstrued as Modalism. I used an argument that might be used by Modalists, but tried to make it clear that God does not switch between Father, Son, and Spirit. The reflection was to highlight the idea of relationship and the importance of relating to God as all three persons. God is now and has always been ONE in THREE PERSONS and always is in that state. If any reader was led astray by my words, I apologize. Of course, this highlights the complexity of this doctrine; one where words will always fail to adequately explain our God who is Trinity, and also, pure LOVE. TEW

Tracy Earl Welliver, MTS

PRAYER

Glory be to the Father,
Who by His almighty power and love created me,
making me in the image and likeness of God.

Glory be to the Son,
Who by His Precious Blood delivered me from hell,
and opened for me the gates of heaven.

Glory be to the Holy Spirit,
Who has sanctified me in the sacrament of Baptism,
and continues to sanctify me
by the graces I receive daily from His bounty.

Glory be to the Three adorable Persons of the Holy Trinity,
now and forever.

Amen.
—Prayer to the Holy Trinity

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Our Surging Life Force

Posted on May 19, 2015 by - Connect! Sunday Reflection

For Sunday, May 24, 2015, Pentecost Sunday

New life on the grapevine photo by JollyPhoto/Shutterstock.It’s spring in the Northern Hemisphere. New life is surging up all around! Male birds in all their colorful finery are dancing and prancing to attract mates. Turkey tails are fanned. Rich melodies permeate the morning breezes. Farm animals are fat with soon-to-be-borns. Yes, even the maternity wards in our hospitals are full. Life! Life!

Our Jewish brothers and sisters believe that our human life force is in our blood. That really makes sense. When our blood is gone, so is our life. In the film The Passion of the Christ there is a very poignant scene following Jesus’ scourging. Mary, his mother, knelt and gathered the blood of her son so tenderly, so quietly. Was she attempting to gather his life force? That life that was so precious to her? But that blood needed further shedding. Despite her motherly drives, Mary knew she had to let go for an entirely new life to burst forth! Through the fog of her grief and unbelievable pain, the Holy Spirit again moved within this great woman. In an incomprehensible way, Mary was going through a second labor … the labor of birthing the church. This birthing was also accompanied with pain and blood. In her heart, Mary again said, “fiat!” And new life began bursting forth!

Let’s hold that image for a moment and look at another image that has been in our Sunday Gospels lately. The image of the vine and the branches. This too, is a springtime image. Grapevines are sending out their curling tendrils, connecting to supports so they are able to bring forth fruit. Could we think about that life as the strength and force of the Holy Spirit? The poetry of the Pentecost sequence petitions, “Come, source of all our store!” The Spirit is the source of the life within the vine, our store of life! How marvelous!

Right now, I’m sitting in the airport in Newark. Planes are leaving for points all over our world. In all of those places, Shanghai, London, Paris, Delhi, Cape Town, San Francisco, the vine and the branches exist. The church that was birthed through the blood of Jesus, through the repeated consent of Mary, lives today. The disciples have gone forth as commanded by Jesus for over two thousand years, “speaking in our own tongues of the mighty acts of God.” The Spirit has strengthened and guided and nourished all disciples, including us, to nurture that life force! How can we help but to say, “Alleluia”? How can we help but be joyful as life surges through us!

Soon, we are celebrating Memorial Day. We remember our dead. Their life blood no longer surges through their bodies. As Catholics we believe that after death, life continues forever. We believe in the Resurrection and life everlasting. The life force of the Holy Spirit continues to flow in the spirits of those who have moved into eternity. As we commemorate the lives of our loved ones, there is that connection … the connection of the Holy Spirit. That Spirit flows through the church militant, the church suffering and the church triumphant. We are all one! This calls for gladness, and banishes sadness!

May God be praised for being our Father, for being the Son, and especially, for being the Holy Spirit, our surging life force!

Patricia DeGroot, OblSB

PRAYER

God of power and mercy,
you destroy war and put down earthly pride.
Banish violence from our midst and wipe away our tears,
that we may all deserve to be called your sons and daughters.
Keep in your mercy those men and women
who have died in the cause of freedom
and bring them safely
into your kingdom of justice and peace.
We ask this though Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen.

—Prayer for Memorial Day from Catholic Household Blessings and Prayers.

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Handling Snakes

Posted on May 13, 2015 by - Connect! Sunday Reflection

For Sunday, May 17, 2015, The Ascension of the Lord

may-17 Walking through some grass during a warm spring morning, I stepped on something squishy. My immediate thought was that it was a snake. Waves of revulsion washed over me as I jumped away. Thankfully, it turned out to be only an old discarded length of garden hose. However, it still took a few minutes for my heart to stop racing and my pulse to return to normal.

Fear of snakes is part of our evolutionary heritage, built up in our collective consciousness through many ill-fated encounters with these slimy, poisonous reptiles over the centuries. It is also part of our Judeo-Christian heritage as a symbol of evil and the cunning of the devil from humanity’s first encounter with the snake in the Garden of Eden.

That brings us to the readings for the feast of the Ascension. The Gospel is one of those bizarre passages of Scripture that we are tempted to overlook. Picking up serpents has never made it onto any job description or mission statement for Christian ministry. However, when we consider our natural revulsion of these reptiles and how they represent our ancient foe, the meaning of Jesus’ words come to light.

As Jesus ascends to heaven, he leaves us to continue his struggle against sin and death. He penetrates the heavens to claim the victory he has already won through his death and resurrection. On earth, we are claiming that victory by grappling with the forces that once intimidated and defeated us here below. Handling snakes and drinking poison serve as symbols of sin and death that no longer have power over us. Our instinct will always be to recoil in horror at their sight. However, our fear of being bitten cannot keep us from bringing the good news to the darkest places of our world. In faith, we know that the victory has already been won. So we can go forward in confidence even in the face of great evil and massive opposition because of the “hope that belongs to his call” (Eph 1:18).

Jesus says something else curious: “proclaim the gospel to every creature” (Mk 16:15). While Saint Francis of Assisi took this command literally, we can understand it as a reminder that all of creation will share in Christ’s victory over sin and death. There will be a new heaven and a new earth (Rev 21:1). The Pope’s upcoming encyclical on the environment will remind us that our struggle against evil also requires that we care for this planet, which is the stage on which the drama of salvation unfolds. Along with us, all of creation will be redeemed in Christ … even snakes.

Douglas Sousa, STL

PRAYER

Saint Michael the Archangel,
defend us in battle;
be our protection
against the wickedness and snares of the devil.
May God rebuke him, we humbly pray;
and do thou, O prince of the heavenly host,
granted by the divine power of God,
cast into hell Satan and all the evil spirits
who wander through the world
seeking the ruin of souls.
Amen.

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A Message of Love

Posted on May 6, 2015 by - Connect! Sunday Reflection

For Sunday, May 10, 2015, 6th Sunday of Easter

May 10

It’s been a brutal couple of weeks.

Baltimore has been burning. Nepal is in ruins, with tens of thousands lost. Israel remains uneasy and on alert. And the city of Tel Aviv was rocked by protests amid charges of police brutality.

At times, it seems we are entering a new Age of Anxiety, with the earth literally shifting below our feet.

And yet, at this very moment, the Gospel cries out a recurring refrain that stands in stark contradiction to the world we know—a message, it seems, of defiance.

It is, in fact, a message of love.

“This is my commandment,” Jesus says in this Sunday’s Gospel: “love one another as I love you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

During these last weeks before we celebrate the Ascension, that theme of love has been heard again and again, echoing in the Scriptures at Sunday Mass. We could almost consider it Christ’s last will and testament: what we need to hear before he leaves the earth and sends the Holy Spirit to continue what he began.

We might find that message of love hard to swallow in our own times, when love seems to be so absent and hatred and fear are so rampant.

But that is precisely why we need to embrace that message so completely—and commit ourselves to living it so fully.

The Gospel is not only countercultural; it is also very often counterintuitive. The dead rise, the blind see, those who would be stoned are set free to start over. This is not the world we know, but it is one we pray to make real and present to others—the kingdom of heaven.

As we pray for our troubled world, and pray for victims of injustice and violence and war, we pray that we may make that kingdom a reality in how we live and, most especially, in how we love.

Dcn. Greg Kandra

PRAYER

Let us ask God
to grant that violence be overcome by the power of love,
that opposition give way to reconciliation
and that the desire to oppress be transformed
into the desire for forgiveness, justice and peace…

May peace be in our hearts
so that they are open to the action of God’s grace…
Amen.
—Pope Benedict XVI, Prayer for Justice, General Audience, December 19, 2007.

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