Monday, June 17, 2019

Trinity Sunday    June 16, 2019       St Austin’s   Austin, TX

          God walks into a bar and orders a beer, a red wine and a spritzer.  [pause.   Well, it is Trinity Sunday!] 
          Now that is – of course – not only ridiculous, it is theologically all wrong.  God is one.  There are not three separate wills and intellects in God.  We say there are three persons in God, but we don’t mean ‘person’ in the modern psychological sense of three separate individuals. 
          We Christians are monotheists.  We believe there is only ONE God.  Like the Jews and like the Moslems, we believe there is one and only one God. 
          But then of course we are not content to leave it there.  We make it more complicated.  We go on to say that while God is ONE, God is a Trinity of three “persons” defined by their relationships.  The Trinity is all about relationship. 
          In this we are quite different from Moslems.  For them God is ONE and God is totally other.  God is completely and entirely different from us, or to phrase it differently, God is all Holy.  God is God, and we can never comprehend nor touch God.  God is always distant and different.
          We Christians take a different approach.  Yes we believe God is all Holy, and entirely different from us, but then we also believe that God is total and complete in God’s own self as a community of relationships: God the Creator or Father, God the Beloved Son, and God the Holy Spirit who is the Love breathed or “aspirated” between the Father and the Son. 
          That is not only nice for God, so that God is not lonely in God’s self, but from all eternity God is a community, AND it also is very important for us.  Because of the Most Holy Trinity, God, without ceasing to be all Holy and Wholly Other, also became one of us in the second person of the Trinity.  God got deeply, intimately, no-holds-barred, involved with us, with our hopes and dreams, our disappointments and failures, our grime and our beauty and our love.  God not only came for a visit, not only dressed up in a human person like in a costume.  Rather, God truly and irrevocably became a human person, Jesus Christ. 
          It is pretty mind-boggling if you think about that.  The creator of all the billions of galaxies each with billions of stars and God knows how many planets, and then all the dark matter and dark energy which is even more, and who knows what else we haven’t yet discovered; that very same God truly became a human, born of Mary, exactly like us in all things except sin.  He lived and preached, healed the sick, died on the cross, and now lives in glory.  His name is Jesus.
          And Jesus did this so that we could be joined to Him as members of His body, and so we can share in God’s own life.  WOW!
          We experience that life already in the gift of the Holy Spirit, the Sanctifier.   God lives in our hearts through grace.  God is not only totally Other, God is ALSO closer to us than our own breath.  That is a great mystery, a mystery of the infinite God in relationship with you, with us. 
          The feast we celebrate today, of the Most Holy Trinity, is all about relationship:  relationship within God, and our relationship to God, invited in Jesus to enter into the very life of God.  But it doesn’t stop there.   Because that amazing reality, in turn, has very definite implications for our relationship to each other.  So, that crazy driver who cut you off on the way to church this morning is not just some idiot.  That driver may very well be part of the Body of Christ.

          We are called to relationship with each other as part of our relationship to God.
Because, as the second reading from St Paul today affirms:  “the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.

Happy Trinity Sunday. 

Sunday, June 9, 2019


HOMILY   PENTECOST SUNDAY      Cycle C  June 9, 2019

Red.  How do I look in red?  Would I not look good as a Cardinal??  Maybe not.   What do you think of when you see the color red?  Watermelon?  Firetrucks?  Why are firetrucks always red?  No blue firetrucks.
Or perhaps you think of a stop light, a red traffic light?   
Or do you think of something more political?  Red states vs. blue states?  Or if you are older, The “Reds”?  Red-China?  Anyone remember “Better dead than red?” 
Or do you think of the opposite, as in “red-blooded American”?  And the “red, white and blue”?  Why is red always first?  Why not the white, blue and red????
For our Asian brothers and sisters red means joy and happiness.  Some years ago I did a wedding in South Carolina.  The bride’s mother was coming from Hong Kong, and the young couple asked me to wear red vestments for the wedding, since in Chinese culture white signifies death, but red signifies joy.  So I wore red for the wedding.
In church we wear red for several different occasions.  Red signifies blood; but not blood as a sign of death, like in some Hollywood horror flick with gallons of fake blood over everything, but rather blood in the scriptural sense as a sign of life.  We wear red on the Feast of the Martyrs, like Sts Peter and Paul and John the Baptist.  Also for the Passion on Palm Sunday and Good Friday. 
But today we wear red primarily for the symbol of FIRE.  In the first reading we heard that tongues as of fire came to rest on the disciples, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit. 
The result is that the disciples went from frightened and confused people hiding in fear, to bold and effective proclaimers of the Gospel, of the wonderful things God had done in Jesus Christ. 
The symbols of fire and the “strong, driving wind” are signs of energy, of life, of vitality: and that is what the Holy Spirit brings to us.  Just as when God formed man out of the clay of the ground in the Book of Genesis, and blew into Adam’s nostrils the breath of life and man became a living being, so in the Gospel today the Resurrected Jesus breaths on the Apostles and says “Receive the Holy Spirit” and so they came alive. 

As an aside, did Jesus give the Holy Spirit to the Apostles on Easter Sunday night, as in our Gospel from John, or did the Holy Spirit come on the Apostles 50 days later, at Pentecost, as in the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles?    What do you think?
Well, similarly, did you receive the Holy Spirit at your Baptism, perhaps as a baby, or did you receive the Holy Spirit at your Confirmation, when you were in 8th grade like me, or in high school, or some other time? 
          The correct answer to both questions is YES.  In our religion the correct answer is usually “both/and” instead of ‘either/or”. 
          Is Jesus divine or human?  YES.  Is God one or three?  YES.  Is the Bible the word of God or the words of humans?  YES. 
Human logic is often too limited and inadequate to hold the mystery of God.

           Anyway, back to Pentecost:  The Spirit is all about life: just like when you have team spirit or school spirit, the school is exciting and vital and energized and alive, so also the Church, God’s people, when the Holy Spirit is present the Church is vital and energized and alive.                 “No one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.” St. Paul assures us in the second reading today.  St. Paul is not talking about physical words, but rather to make this statement with conviction and sincerity and deeply lived faith. “No one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.”  The life of faith comes from the Holy Spirit.    
So when you see faith-filled Christians who are alive, and filled with concern for others, and generous, and actively putting their Faith into action, who look like they have heard Good News and so radiate the joy of the Gospel, you recognize that these are Spirit-filled Christians.  Amen!  And you praise God for that.
But when you see Christians who look grumpy, and are stingy, and think of religion as all about rules, and “don’t”s, and radiate an up-tight, constricted sense of narrow-mindedness and small-heartedness, you recognize that they are Spirit-lacking Christians.  The life is just not there.  They are dead in the Spirit.  There is not that burning flame of faith and love.      The upsetting, disruptive, strong wind of the Spirit that overturns our neatly laid-out tables of rules and regulations and proper expectations is not there.  The Holy Spirit is messy. 
Spirit filled Christians are bright, brilliant, bold, red Christians: so red it hurts your eyes: you need sunglasses in their presence.  The Spirit-less Christians are nothing but dingy, insipid, beige Christians.  They make you yawn, and put you to sleep.
Today, on this Pentecost, we are called to be RED Christians, to open our hearts to the Holy Spirit that we received at our Baptism and were sealed with at our Confirmation.  People should be able to see the Spirit of Christ at work in us. 
Therefore, Look and act like you have heard Good News, not bad news.  Act with courage in living the way of Christ.  Proclaim boldly by your deeds what you believe.  Jesus is Lord!
May you be on fire with the Holy Spirit!  Happy Pentecost!

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Homily 6th Sunday of Ordinary Time May 16, 2019

Homily     6th Sunday of Ordinary Time     May 16, 2019
          In the first reading today from the Acts of the Apostles we heard Some who had come down from Judea were instructing the brothers,
‘Unless you are circumcised according to the Mosaic practice,
you cannot be saved.’   Because there arose no little dissension and debate by Paul and Barnabas with them, it was decided that Paul, Barnabas, and some of the others should go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and elders about this question.”
          And then we hear later of the resolution of this issue.   First of all, note that “there arose no little dissention and debate” among them.   Does this sound at all familiar?   We have plenty of dissension and debate in our own day: in politics certainly.  But also in many other areas, including the Church.  Just as in the earliest days of Christianity there was a division between those who upheld the Mosaic Law, and especially the requirement of circumcision, against the party of Barnabas and Paul, who held that we are saved by faith in Jesus, not by the Law.  A fundamental and basic difference, and it caused bitter division.
          St. Luke, in the Acts of the Apostles, summarizes and frankly papers over the extent and contentiousness of the debate.  The parties go to Jerusalem, lay out their arguments to the Apostles, and they make a decision that gentile converts do not have to be circumcised, and everyone is happy.  But we know historically that is not what happened.  If you read the epistles of St. Paul you can see that he was dogged and criticized and fought with the pro-Law party, the circumcision party, for the rest of his life.  Paul was far from a complete success.  Only later, when Christianity broke completely with Judaism after the destruction of the temple in 70 A.D., did the issue finally get resolved. 
           I bring this up for two reasons.  First, in the Gospel today Jesus tells us: “The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name,
will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you.
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.”
          It sounds as if the Holy Spirit will come to us and solve all of our issues and problems, teaching us everything, and we will all be at peace and in harmony with each other.  I wish.
          But obviously that is not true.  Because the second reason I bring this up is that all through history, and into our day and time, there have been bitter divisions and dissention in the church.  And it is still here. 
          For centuries the church fought over the nature of Jesus:  was he a man adopted by God as His Son, as some passages of St. Paul seem to indicate?  Or was He God dressed up like a man?  It took centuries for the church to figure out that Jesus is true God, and true man, and truly one and the same.  Mind boggling but true.
          There were more fights over the Trinity.  Over the Real Presence in the Eucharist.  Over the nature of grace.  Over whether the earth or the sun is at the center of the universe.  Over many other issues.
          Historically, teachings change.  For centuries the Catholic Church taught that slavery was natural, part of the nature of things, and condoned by the Bible.  St. Paul tells slaves to be obedient to their masters.  Until the beginning of the 20th Century the Holy Office in Rome defended this teaching on slavery.  But now, if you read Pope Saint John Paul the II on human trafficking – which is another name for slavery – it is fiercely condemned as sinful.   A turn-around of 180 degrees.
           And today we have plenty of controversies about gender, about the role of women, homosexuality, mandatory celibacy for priests, and so on.   Two hundred years from now we will probably know the answer to all these questions.  But then we will have new questions.  Can extra-terrestrials be saved, perhaps? 
          Where is the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, in all this?  Jesus promised that the Advocate “will teach you everything.”  Everything.   But Jesus did not promise that the Holy Spirit would teach us everything immediately.  And that is a great disappointment.  Because it means that we have to work and struggle towards the truth.  And like the experience of St. Paul, that is disturbing, painful, confusing and a lot of work facing opposition.
          But it means that we are part of that search for the truth.  An important part.  We do not receive the truth pre-digested as if we were infants.  Somehow, through the Holy Spirit, we are an integral part of the search for truth.  And ultimately, we have faith that the Holy Spirit will never let us stray too far or too long from the truth, but speaking to our hearts, will continually lead us to the fullness of God’s truth. 
          //        Immediately on promising us the gift of the Holy Spirit, and perhaps knowing that this would not be an easy gift, but a struggle fraught with doubt and confusion, Jesus assures us: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.  Not as the world gives do I give it to you.
Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.”
The Peace of Jesus does not make everything go smooth and calm.  Jesus’ peace does not make things easy for us.  Rather, His peace is a type of strength, a strength to hang in there and remain committed to the truth, even when it is difficult and unpleasant.  Not as the world gives peace - which is the absence of conflict - does Jesus give us peace, but rather as a strength that commits us to seeking His truth.   And He will be with us.  That is why Jesus can assure us, “Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.”

Inspired by the example of St. Paul, and all those seekers of truth who have gone before us, let us put our trust in the Lord, and patiently, but persistently, seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit to a fuller and fuller understanding of the Truth.   And ultimately, when we find the Truth, we will find that His name is Jesus.