May 26, 2018

Very, Very, Very Personable


The Most Blessed Trinity

Three Homilies in One

1. As soon as one hears or speaks the words, “In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”, there is the overwhelming temptation to either bless oneself or respond “Amen”. In many ways, it’s muscle memory, defined as “the ability to reproduce a particular movement without conscious thought, acquired as a result of frequent repetition”!


Of course, in our theological language, we automatically identify God as a Trinity. "What" is the Almighty? One God. "Who" is the one God? The Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit.  We can draw diagrams, use symbols and offer allegories to help explain the three distinct divine persons united as one God. But that's as far as we can go. Human language and imagination will never understand or fathom this divine reality and mystery.  Such an intellectual response is hardly personal. But, how God responds to you and me, is always personal.


Here is a case in point. When, for example, a deacon, priest or bishop is ordained, much attention is given to the ritual of the liturgy, the choice of Scripture, the music and hymn selection, the power of the prayers, the laying on of hands, and the vesting with the sacred robes of office. However, one sacred action, very personal to each one of them, before being ordained, not only brought them to their knees - it ensured that each one of them would would literally collapse before the almighty power of God. 

But not in fear and humiliation. Instead, to abandon oneself with utmost trust into the very gentle hands and the most loving embrace of the one God, who is Father, who is Son, who is the Holy Spirit. The God who is Fatherly, the God who has a human heart, the God who is a secret intimate friend. One God, and very, very, very personable.


2. Although our human language and imagination will never understand or fathom how the one eternal God is united in Three distinct Persons, the Good News is that because our minds can only go so far, little by little, God gently reveals Himself to us slowly, unfolding for us the pattern of His unimaginable thoughts (Proverbs 8:22-33). We don’t have to be theologians or philosophers. By simple observation we can gain some insight that God is Father of all, creator of all that is visible or hidden from our eyes. (Psalm 8:4-9).


But proving His existence or trying to understanding what God is, is not our goal. Instead it is God’s goal that we should enter into a relationship with Him. God revealed Himself to Abraham and Moses, not only as the creator of everything that is, He revealed Himself as a loving and caring heavenly Father - “I will be your God and you will be my people”.


But the eternal God, wished to draw even closer to us and revel more of Who He is. We can say that Jesus Christ is God's very own self-portrait! But more than that. A portrait can be looked at from a distance. Instead, through Christ's flesh and blood, God allows Himself to reach out and actually touch us, to personally experience the joys and sorrows, the happiness and sufferings of every one of us, wanting to draw us closer and closer into His divine life, talking to us directly with words we can understand, living with us intimately in a love that we can experience, sharing in our joys, in our sorrows, in our pain and also our suffering.


3. Jesus Christ is God being personal with you and me, inviting us even into His own experience of being God - the divine love between Father and Son.  


Of course, our experience of this type of relationship is limited to our own experience or only as great as our best imagination. But Christ continually invites you and me into His very own perfect relationship that He enjoys with the Father - a relationship of the most perfect love between two persons that can ever exist, not contained or constrained, not even by time itself.


Christ invites all of us, all humanity, through His Body and Blood, into the very "divine life" of the One He dares to call “Father”, “Abba”. And that Divine Love - is not a force or a feeling - it has It's own unique personality - in a manner of speaking, the Divine Love between Father and Son can “stand on its own two feet”, bring down mountains and build them up again, create life and evoke fear and wonder; yes - the divine person is the Holy Spirit. Therefore a Christian, filled with God the Holy Spirit, with the same breath of Christ can dare to call God, Father - "Abba".


But here is some practical advice. Don't try to get your head around this! Instead, get your heart around Christ and you will find and experience the greatest intimacy, His very life that God desires to share and draw us into.


What does this mean? The Trinity, that is one God perfectly united as Father, Son and Holy Spirit is not conceptual nor imaginative.  God is relational within His own being and with all creation, ourselves particularly and personally.


It is insufficient to simply bless ourselves to pay tribute to God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Instead, let it mark simply the beginning and the end of our prayer. Taking a visual cue from a deacon, priest or bishop who must lower themselves to the ground beneath their feet, everyone of us and every day, must have the courageous faith to simply abandon ourselves into the very life of God, trusting in His power, His Heart and His life-giving Love, on earth as it is in heaven!

May 19, 2018

Rebuilding Blocks















Vigil of Pentecost


Genesis 11:1-9 & John 7:37-39

Tonight sees us making the necessary preparations in anticipation of tomorrow's great feast day of Pentecost - the celebration of the Holy Spirit's arrival to visibly shape upon this earth, from the building blocks of the disciples, God's Church, for the salvation of the world.

To first demonstrate that we can not do this by ourselves, taken from the selection of readings from Scriptures, Genesis provides us great insight to what happens when we try to design and build, shape and form our own destiny without the Spirit of God.

We commonly call this story the one about the Tower of Babel. In fact, the tower is only one component of a much bigger picture. It has to do with the building of a city, within which there would be designed a tower. Its height would attempt to scrape the sky - a "skyscraper", to grab at heaven. What can we learn from this "Jack and the Beanstalk" story?

When we attempt to take into our own hands the power to build ourselves up - to, in a way, steal the power of the heavens, we will never be able to complete the project, no matter how hard we try.  Adam and Eve made this foolish attempt. So did their offspring, the citizens of Babel. It's when we try to capture God, put Him in a bottle and manipulate His will, for the sake of our own glory, not His.

God ultimately intervenes and topples our fortress. That's what happens to our little sandcastle when the predictable tide comes in. God allows our house of cards to topple. Why? To injure and frustrate us? No. He does so for our own protection. We can not fulfill our God-given destiny from within lives shaped and molded by the world around us, like castles molded from a bucket and spade from a day at the beach.

The event of Babel reminds us that even with the progress of science, technology, our understanding of psychology, the pursuit of prosperity and economic security, there will always be boundaries. Why? Too often, our soul's thirst to reach the heavens is confused with our own sense of insignificance, small, before the immensity of an incredible complex world and enormous mystifying universe. Often, out of fear, there is the temptation to insulate ourselves.

Since the fall of humanity, this has been our disease. But so that we might not become crushed under the weight of our own armor, God comes to our rescue in Christ. He does so to get us back on our feet as workers to build His Church, according to His own design, not ours.

Whereas if we might want to undertake our own project, and need to find all our own strength, and endurance, we might fall back, as we sometimes do, to some sort of energy drink, from strong coffee to red bull! Christ instead calls out and says, "Let anyone who thirsts come to me and drink." The only way we can fulfill our God-given destiny and reach our heavenly Father is through Him, with Him, in Him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit".

Let us pray for the strength that comes from the strong breath of God the Holy Spirit, the strength of Christ who alone can rebuild our toppled egos, strengthen our fragile bodies, and fortify our wounded hearts and desperate souls. This is our prayer on the eve of Pentecost so that we can be a Church made in the image and likeness of Christ's Body, which rose from the dead gloriously and reached the heavens. May the Holy Spirit find now in you and me, not someone exhausted trying to reach the sky, but a humble dwelling ready to receive heaven as its guest here on earth with a willing heart to work for the salvation of the world.

May 12, 2018

The Mystery of the Unseen Guest


We call the event we have heard announced in the Gospel, the Ascension of Christ into heaven. When He died on Calvary, He descended into the hell of death. On the third day He rose from the dead. And forty days later, He entered into heaven. From heaven, He will return again.  

However, although He is no longer before our eyes, and heaven, which we often presume is beyond us, the question might be asked, "How can Christ still walk with us, share in our celebrations, joys, our struggles, or does he, from heaven?' How does He, in a manner of speaking, just tune into what we are doing here on earth? Or is this all simply poetical talk, in the same way as we might say we would wish to keep someone close to our hearts?


Never think that Christ's presence is simply sentimental, or He is in fact far away - in another universe or in some distant unreachable place above the clouds. Take comfort that He is now close to us. In fact, the reality of His presence is now greater than it was with any of His disciples two thousand years ago when He walked among them. We are reminded of this truth in various ways.


For starters, He told us that when two or three have gathered in His name, He would be in our midst. Every time we pray together calling upon Him, not just at church, but at home, in fact anywhere, He is there in our company. Think of it - even when you say the" Grace before meals", He is the unseen guest at every table.

The reality of the Christ who entered into heaven still being with us is here can be illustrated by how we listen and respond to the Gospel being proclaimed out loud for the whole world to listen, especially when an ordained minister does so. It’s not a public reading of a portion of the world’s best selling book. Anyone can do that.  Instead, a priest or a deacon allows his hands and his feet, his tongue and his mouth to be consumed by the presence and voice of Christ still announcing the Good News of the Kingdom of God. And how do we respond after hearing the Gospel? We do not reply,  "praise to you deacon or praise to you pastor!” We instead respond "Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ”. It is Christ who teaches and who preaches. And if I should get in the way, then he will put his foot in my mouth!!


And, of course, the Christ of heaven, enters into our company most intimately by way of the Holy Eucharist - in what we call his Real Presence - in other words - a presence that is substantial, localized, where, if we could see with the eyes of angels, we would point and say “Look, behold the Lamb of God, heaven has opened up before us and we see the risen and glorified Christ before us.” And that is indeed our prayer of our soul.  

Therefore Mass is not a ladder that reaches through the clouds. Instead, it is more like a bridge, a pathway to heaven that is opened, a veil or curtain pushed aside and with the eyes of faith we can gaze upon Christ face to face, as did the shepherds and kings in Bethlehem - as did Mary, in the quiet moments of adoration and thanksgiving, as did the disciples in the Upper Room at the Last Supper and after His resurrection from the dead. 

And let's not forget that Christ was with St. Paul all along the road to Damascus. When the Lord allowed him to see Him, it was too much for Paul's eyes to behold and they "exploded" blinding him for three days until his sight was restored back to normal when he was baptized.

Today, even though we, who are baptized into the life, death, resurrection and glorious ascension of Christ into heaven, can not see Him as He truly is in all His glory, let us never ourselves be blind to the reality of Christ accompanying us on our journey - that heaven itself is always before us in some form or another. Maybe all it takes is to close our eyes and make just one leap of faith in the right direction and we will see before our eyes, the substantial reality of heaven itself - Christ true God and True Man. May our Blessed Mother Mary share with us the privileged of her insight along the way.
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“Today we are not only established as the rightful owners of paradise, but in Christ, we have entered into the heights of heaven itself.” ( St. Leo the Great, Sermon 73.)

May 5, 2018

Bursting your own Bubble


6th Sunday of Easter:  

What if you went up to a mother holding with her adorable baby in her arms and told her, “Ma’am, you’re loving your baby the wrong way!”   Imagine telling a father that the way he loves his daughter, his little princess, isn’t right. Or, what would happen if you told a married couple, celebrating their 25th anniversary, “Excuse me, but your love for each other seems inadequate.” What would be the reaction if I told two close friends that their relationship was not based on love. Or telling a priest, it doesn’t seem that he really loves his flock!  

Dare tell anyone that the way they love is wrong, misguided or not healthy, and you risk evoking its opposite - anger, rage and even violence.  So how do we judge our own way of loving, the manner in which we dare love, or how do we define it, and keep ourselves accountable?

The Christian always goes back to Christ himself, not just His words, but His actions.  “As the Father loves me, so I also love you. Remain in my love”. We can not remain in our own love. Why? We are lousy lovers. We mess things up. We exaggerate love, we ignore it, we go from one extreme to another.

A Christian has to be instead grounded in Christ’s love, His manner and His example of loving. He tells us to “remain in HIS love”, he tells to to “learn from him”, to “keep his commandments”. And we must, because faith in Christ is also trust in His way of loving.  We are obedient to Christ because we trust Him over ourselves, better than ourselves - because all of us have been loved poorly in life. Many of us bear the wounds of cheap love and the scars of its many imitations - through broken promises, control, dependency, and even slavery in all its forms.  

Christ is here to show us a love that will set us free - that brings joy and a peace that no other can. I may not think myself worthy of His loving me, and no doubt, I am not. But we have to be reminded, again and again, of His words, “ It was not you who choose me,” He says “but I who choose you.”  He loves me to death. He loves you to death. You are worthy of Christ dying for you, regardless if you wish Him to or not. The fact is He did, not only does it show us how much He thinks of us in His heart, God respects us, give us our dignity, even if all we can see and experience is our wounds.

Maybe, this is why Christ, to save us from our oftentimes crude and confusing experiences of love, does not call us His lovers - He calls us His friends.  Friendship we understand a bit better than love. Friendship goes beyond feelings, emotions - it is natural as well as born from a duty of the heart - it comes to the rescue and yet it is respectful. It can be as tender as it can be forthright.  Because it concerns itself with our human dignity, it is willing to tell us our faults and suffer loss to help make us what God intends us to be - to be truly and fully human - life to the full, fruit in abundance.

“What a friend we have in Jesus”.

Joseph

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