|I join the other priests in laying hands on Father Paul Goo, soon to join us at Christ the Redeemer.|
Sunday, May 31, 2015
There was once a pastor who liked to preach about money. And, truth be told, he wasn’t all that good when he talked about theology.
Still, when Trinity Sunday came around, he knew he’d have to say something more spiritual than usual.
He began with the notion of a mystery.
“There are three kinds of mystery,” he said. “The first kind of mystery is where you know the answer and I don’t. Only you can explain it to me.”
“Then there are mysteries where I know the answer, and you don’t. Only I can explain it to you.”
“And the third is something neither of us know. We can’t explain it at all.”
“An example of the first kind of mystery,” he continued, “is why you give so little to the collection. Only you can tell me.”
“An example of the second is how I’m going to pay the bills with a collection this small. Only I can explain this to you.”
“And an example of the third kind of mystery is the Blessed Trinity. And since neither of us can explain it, today we’ll talk about the first kind of mystery!”
That joke, of course, is founded on a common misunderstanding on what we mean by the word mystery when we’re talking about our faith.
We all know the ordinary definition—a mystery is something that is difficult or impossible to understand or explain. We talk about “the mysteries of outer space,” for instance.
And some of us like to read mysteries, novels that deal with a puzzling crime, especially a murder.
Small wonder we get confused when we read in the Catechism that “The mystery of the Most Holy Trinity is the central mystery of the Christian faith and of Christian life.”
Whoa. What’s the point of talking about something that’s impossible to understand or explain? Maybe that priest had it right after all, and I should preach about the collection.
Of course you know where I am going with this… Christians use the word mystery in a very special way. In our context, a mystery is a truth that God has revealed to us even though it is beyond human understanding.
Far from being ‘secrets,’ Christian mysteries are things God wants us to know.
St. Paul gives us a perfect example of this meaning in the Letter to the Colossians. He says he has been called “to declare the mystery of Christ” (4:3) and to make it “fully known” (1:25).
This mystery, Paul writes, “has been hidden throughout the ages and generations” but has now been revealed (1:26).
In short, we are celebrating today a great mystery but not something mysterious. The Catechism explains it well: “The Trinity is a mystery of faith in the strict sense, one of the ‘mysteries that are hidden in God, which can never be known unless they are revealed by God” (CCC 237).
Although God gave hints of this truth in the work of creation and in the Old Testament, his inmost Being as Holy Trinity is something we could not have understood before the coming of Jesus and the sending of the Holy Spirit.
God alone made this mystery known to us by revealing himself as Father, Son and Holy Spirit (CCC 261).
With this possible confusion out of the way, I want to go straight to the question that a priest friend of mine calls the heart of any good homily: So what?
What difference does it make that God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit? What difference does it make that we believe in one God in three persons?
I’m going to answer those questions by asking you one. Do you want to know God? I mean really know him, the way you want to know someone you love.
Because if you want to know God, you have to know him as he is. Not as you imagine him to be, or want him to be, but as he is. And God has chosen to let you know him as he is—as Father, Son, and Spirit.
He didn’t need to do this. After all, he had many centuries of relationship with the Chosen People during which he was known only as the one God. But in the fullness of time God chose to let us know his inner being—and surely there was a reason for that.
The reason why the Catechism calls the Holy Trinity the central mystery of Christian faith and life is simple: “It is the mystery of God in himself.”
“It is therefore the source of all the other mysteries of faith,” and sheds light on them.
The Catechism even makes the bold claim that the whole history of salvation is “the history of the way and the means by which the one true God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, reveals himself to men ‘and reconciles and unites with himself those who turn away from sin’”(CCC 234).
That’s a pretty big “so what?”!
The consequences of this are way too big for one homily. But let’s look briefly at three of them. You can find them spelled out more fully in Youcat, the beautiful Youth Catechism of the Catholic Church (35-39).
Knowing God as Father is knowing God as the Creator who cares lovingly for his children. In the words of Pope Emeritus Benedict, this “sheds light on our deepest human identity: where we come from, who we are, and how great is our dignity.” Jesus knew from where he came, Pope Benedict says, and from where all of us have come: from the love of his Father and our Father.
Knowing God as Son is knowing God’s plan in its fullness. Jesus tells Pilate “For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth” (Jn 18:37). And he tells the skeptics “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and now I am here. I did not come on my own, but he sent me” (Jn 8:42).
In fact, knowing God as Son is knowing God. The Son makes the Father known. Jesus “is the image of the invisible God,” as St. Paul tells us (Col 1:17). Do you want to know God the Father? Jesus says clearly to Philip “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (Jn 14:9).
And what about God the Holy Spirit? Youcat says something remarkable: “When we discover the reality of God in us, we are dealing with the working of the Holy Spirit” (38).
There are also consequences that come from knowing God as a Trinity of Persons. The mystery we celebrate today is a mystery of communion—the communion in love of Father, Son and Spirit. God is one but God is not solitary. So Christians cannot be solitary: we too must live and love in communion: in the first place with God, but also in communion with one another and in communion with the Church.
If even these points aren’t enough of a “so what” for you this Trinity Sunday, consider what Father James Mallon says in his challenging book Divine Renovation: Bringing your parish from maintenance to mission about the importance of this truth for our mission as Christians.
He writes that “evangelization is always Trinitarian—but not in an abstract, theoretical manner.
“The goal of evangelization is to bring people to Jesus Christ so they can then be filled with the Holy Spirit and come to know God the Father. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of adoption, who speaks to our spirits so that we cry out ‘Abba! Father!’ (Rom 8:15) It is totally Trinitarian.”
The goal of evangelization is “totally Trinitarian,” as Father Mallon says, because evangelization is about bringing people to know God. And, as we have seen, God is “totally Trinitarian.”
So marvelous is this mystery that I really have the opposite problem to the tongue-tied pastor who preferred to preach on money instead. But let me close with something of a commercial nonetheless.
On Wednesday. June 10, I’ll be the first speaker in a series of talks at Holy Rosary Cathedral that are intended to lead people to a deeper friendship with the Holy Spirit—whom we sometimes neglect. The talks are called “The Life in the Spirit Seminar,” and Archbishop Miller will also be a speaker in the series.
There’s information in this Sunday's bulletin. It might be your way of responding concretely to God’s gracious revelation of himself as Father, Son and Holy Spirit that we celebrate today.
Friday, May 22, 2015
Not long after my ordination to the priesthood, I visited a beautiful new church. The congregation had waited many years to build it, but at last got the funds they needed by selling some land beside the parish. They got a really good price which solved their money problems.
A week later I was chatting with Archbishop James Carney—who, among his other distinctions, was probably the only Archbishop of Vancouver who had been pastor of a parish. Indeed, he had built Corpus Christi church in South Vancouver.
“Boy,” I exclaimed. “That parish was sure lucky. One land deal and they got their church.”
The archbishop gave me one of his trademarked withering looks.
“Father,” he said, “they weren’t lucky at all. They lost years of sacrifice and community-building by getting their church the easy way.”
It was a lesson I’ve never forgotten. Parishes don’t raise money just to do things: it’s one of the things we do.
Supporting your parish doesn’t just help our congregation, it helps your spiritual life.
Protestants seem to understand this better than we do. Luther famously said that there are three conversions every person must experience: a conversion of the head, of the heart and of the purse.
Billy Graham put it a little differently when he said “there is no clearer indication of a person’s ethical priorities than their cheque book.”
And the wisest of us all said in the Sermon on the Mount: “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
We’re delighted on this great feast of the Ascension to have with us Bishop Mark Hagemoen from the missionary diocese of Mackenzie-Fort Smith. It’s a shame he’s not preaching, though, since I know he would have his own way of looking at our first reading, where the angels ask the disciples “why do you stand looking upward to heaven?”
Bishop Mark would almost certainly interpret this as “Don’t just stand there, do something!”
Christianity is an active faith, not a passive one. We’re called to act, and we’re given power to act.
But not all of us are called to the same thing. The second reading tells us that there are many different jobs to be done in the Body of Christ, and we all recall where St. Paul reminds us elsewhere that there are many gifts given to us for these purposes.
The key thing is that no-one is called to be a spectator in the Church. Well, I take that back. There are a few. Their parents are keeping them busy in the crying room.
I’m not going to belabor this point. You know it, the Bible proves it, and I’ve spoken about it many times. We all must contribute to the accomplishment of the mission Christ gave the Church as he ascended to the Father: “Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation.”
In our parish, there is a young man obeying this command by studying for the priesthood. Another’s on the altar today. There are three young people doing so as Catholic Christian Outreach missionaries. We have catechists, baptismal preparation instructors, Alpha volunteers, teachers and all kinds of generous parishioners working hard to spread the Gospel.
But there are folks whose responsibilities make it hard to be on the front line. Catholic parents can be too busy creating the future Church to become fully involved in evangelization work; some parishioners face challenges from age or mobility. And others face major demands at school or work.
So how do we all participate in the mission? From the very beginning of the Church, one way has been by offering material support. The Holy Spirit enriches the Church with gifts, but not with riches. Part of our baptismal call is supporting financially the work of the Church,
Unlike the call to teach or to preach, this call is for each one of us, according to our means. Like every other parishioner, I’m expected to use Sunday envelopes, and I do. And every year, I donate to Project Advance.
The Sunday collection pays the bills for Christ the Redeemer Parish. But that’s all it does. Our regular income has little or no surplus, as you’ll see when we provide the financial report next month. We depend on special collections like the one today for Nepal to help those most in need. And we depend on Project Advance for everything else.
Project Advance helped to build our church twenty five years ago and to rebuild our school in 2004. Project Advance made it possible for us to commit well over half a million dollars to the first phase of reconstruction at St. Thomas Aquinas High School.
Project Advance helped our young adults attend World Youth Day in Spain in 2011, and it will do the same next year’s World Youth Day in Poland. We’ve supported our brothers and sisters in Sudan and in the northern Diocese of Whitehorse thanks to your generous support in past years.
More recently, the campaign has helped closer to home. Our washrooms have been renovated, and leaking roofs repaired. The back outside wall of the church has been redone, just in time to avoid significant water damage.
This work was necessary stewardship of our beautiful buildings, not cosmetic upgrades. And it’s not finished, which is why we’ve continued last year’s theme of “Rebuild my church,” taken from the life of St. Francis of Assisi.
Practical projects may not pull at your heartstrings. But they are an important part of the mission of the Church. Jesus told us to baptize. Where do we do that? In the parking lot?
And to baptize we must first instruct, whether it’s parents or adult converts. We do that indoors as well, and if this year’s Project Advance is the success we hope for, there will soon be efficient projection equipment in all the meeting rooms to support the work of adult faith formation.
Brother and sisters, Jesus has ordered us to go into the whole world and proclaim the good news. But where do we start? This morning/afternoon I suggest we start here, right here where you are sitting. Our “going out” must begin somewhere if it’s to mean anything at all.
One way to begin is by making a gift or pledge today to Project Advance. As the bulletin explains, no gift is too small, because no person here is not called to the mission Christ has given to each and every one of the baptized.
Saturday, May 16, 2015
Can't resist posting my homily from today’s wedding of Lydia Shives and Robert Shyleyko. Longest wedding homily ever given, but I blame their wonderful choice of readings. Lydia is a nurse and Bobby a doctor, so I thought I could get away with talking about medical matters (even though I wasn’t about to try pronouncing sphygmomanometer!) Their obvious commitment to the faith made it easy to speak from the heart…
Not because the bride and groom weren’t a lovely couple, but because I was wearing something only a doctor could love: an automatic blood pressure monitor. Poorly hidden under layers of vestments was a machine that beeped and inflated a blood pressure cuff every half hour for the 24 hours I was hooked up to it.
I asked the clinic if I could take it off, but the nurse gave me that look reserved for seniors and said “no, because you wouldn’t be able to put it back on properly.”
It was a highly uncomfortable situation as I tried to finish the ceremony before the darn thing was due to go off again. I failed, producing a big grin from the groom as it inflated during the Our Father.
Under those circumstances, I felt I had to say something.
And what I said was this: maybe God’s trying to tell us something! This device—ask the groom later for the proper name, which is harder to spell than Shyleyko—measures your health by putting pressure on your arm. Under pressure, the veins (or arteries—I gave up my hopes for medical school when I saw my marks in grade nine science) disclose important information.
The same general principal works in marriage. When everything is going along smoothly, when life is free of worry or disagreement, we may think our relationships are perfect. But that’s fair-weather sailing. The real proof of married love comes under pressure, when you weather storms and rely on the grace of God rather than your feelings.
How do we live with grace under pressure? St. Paul spells it out for us in a one-word formula: “Rejoice!” Think about it for a moment—you don’t need to tell happy people to rejoice. You don’t need to tell carefree people not to worry. You don’t offer peace to those who are calm and serene.
The apostle knows what he’s talking about. He knows what it is to be well-fed, and he knows what it is to be hungry; he’s been rich and he’s been poor. But his attitude remained the same, rooted in the peace of Christ. Under pressure, his faith did not falter.
The readings you have chosen are, quite frankly, the best of all possible choices. But Paul’s words offer more than inspiration on this happy day: they are a program for life. The famous Protestant preacher Norman Vincent Peale made a whole career of repackaging that reading in practical terms: his book The Power of Positive Thinking sold five million copies.
To fill your hearts every morning with positive affirmations of faith, hope and love, to live according to the Christian teachings you have learned and received and heard and seen in your parents and other role models, is to be assured that the God of peace will be with you. By cultivating an attitude of gratitude you can face life challenges together, but not only together—with God, the only source of the peace that surpasses all understanding.
I could stop there; perhaps I should. But since you’ve come all the way from Calgary I feel it’s my duty to add two more things.
The first is that pressure also tests the strength of our relationship with the Church. Our lives as Catholics have something in common with marriage, as St. Paul points out somewhere else. It’s not just at home that we have ups and downs; the Church—whether nationally, internationally, or in the parish—can try our patience and lead us to wonder whether it’s worth hanging in.
The first reading, from the Acts of the Apostles, tells the story of the earliest Christian community, right after the Ascension of Christ: “The whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common.”
Someday, biblical archaeologists will find the missing page of the manuscript, where it adds “This lasted for about six weeks.”
The rest of the story appears in Paul’s letters, which are full of accounts of friction, misunderstanding, and human sinfulness. But he, and generations after him, rejoiced in the good he found in the Church and recognized the radical holiness that human weakness cannot destroy.
So when your parish or your pastor or a choir that’s nothing like this wonderful group you have brought here today makes you want to become a sun-worshipper rather than a Christian, do not worry. The Lord is near.
Finally, there will be times when pressure will test the state of your relationship with God. It’s well known that God allows difficult times in our friendship with him. After a long period of dryness, St. Teresa of Avila received a vision of Jesus. She asked why he had allowed the darkness. When Jesus said “This is how I treat my friends,” she is said to have replied “Well, that’s why you have so few!”
If God ever seems more distant from you than he is today, the first thing to do is made clear in the psalm you chose: wait for him. Trust in his holy name. Wait for the fog to lift that obscures the Lord.
And if following him ever seems more than you can manage, remember the Gospel you chose for this day: the wedding feast of Cana. Know that Mary, the mother of Jesus, is aware of your needs and will make them known to her son.
And then, with confidence and trust, follow her advice: “Do whatever he tells you.” Live as disciples, not churchgoers, and all that is promised you today will be richly fulfilled through the years of your married life.