June 30, 2012 - Saturday of the Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time

Lamentations 2:2, 10-14, 18-19
Psalm 74:1-7, 20-21
Matthew 8:5-17

Our readings today put before us the problem of suffering. It is usually phrased like this: “If God is good, how can he allow so much suffering?” We can understand the suffering of the wicked, but what about the little children in the first reading who starve to death in their mother’s arms asking why there is no food?

We sometimes try to solve this difficult problem by blaming God. Perhaps God has forgotten us. So we repeat in the psalm over and over: “Lord, forget not the souls of your poor ones.” But God does not forget. We are always on his mind, each one of us. Perhaps God is unable to cure the suffering, we might think, but we know this is wrong. God is all powerful. At his word, anyone can be healed of anything. We see this power in the Gospel today. Jesus healed two people, but what about everyone else? What about the ones we love?

There are some answers to the problem of suffering. We can say that suffering is necessary in a world with sin. Some suffering is caused by sin, but also suffering is sometimes the only thing that pulls us out of sin. Sometimes we only stop living indulgent, prideful, independent lives because suffering stops us. Suffering is not a punishment; it is the only cure that prevents us from descending entirely into sin. Suffering in others awakens our compassion. Furthermore, the suffering of this world and this time will go away. Above all, we should not expect to understand everything.

There are all these answers and more. There are books and articles that address the problem of suffering very convincingly, but they are almost always useless in the face of actual suffering. Would you tell a mother who lost her child that God is using that experience to make her a better person? And, by the way, the child is in a better place now? And God works in mysterious ways? No, but it is not because the answers are insufficient. These answers and others are as sufficient as human answers can be. No, these answers, good as they are, will usually not do much for someone who is suffering. We need to bring the answers with us into our suffering. We need to make them part of who we are now. Then, when suffering comes, we will translate the answers for ourselves from trite phrases into ineffable consolation.

June 29, 2011 - Solemnity of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, Apostles (Mass during the day)

Acts 12:1-11
Psalm 34:2-9
2 Timothy 4:6-8, 17-18
Matthew 16:13-19

“Upon this rock I will build my Church and the gates of the underworld shall not prevail against it.” The gates of the underworld shall not prevail against the Church. What does it mean for a gate to prevail? It means that the gate is able to stand up against attacks. What does it mean then that a gate will not prevail? It means that the gate will fall down after being attacked. The Church is on the attack, and the gate is going to fall.

Which gate? The gate of the underworld. The underworld, in Greek, Hades. The older English translations said the gates of Hell, but that is not quite correct. Jesus uses the word Hades in the Gospels to refer to a place where the souls of the dead gather, rather than a place of punishment, which he calls Gehenna or simply Outside or The Darkness. After Jesus died on the Cross, he went to Hades and led all of the good Old Testament people to heaven: Adam and Eve and Noah and Abraham and Moses and many others.

Which brings up an important point: a gate can be attacked from two sides. Sometimes a gate is attacked by invaders trying to get in, and sometimes a gate is attacked by prisoners trying to get out. It seems that the second applies in this case. We are not trying to conquer the land of the dead; we want to leave.

For we are in the land of the dead right now. We are, of course, biologically alive, but spiritually we are mostly dead. We want to leave the land of the dead and get into the land of the living, the kingdom of life, the Kingdom of God. The Church is, even now, engaged in a fierce battle to destroy the gate of death. Those of us who stand on this side of the gate can see those who have broken through, who are now fully alive.

Today we celebrate two such conquering heroes: St. Peter and St. Paul. Both of these men broke through the gate and hordes of Christians followed after them to life. We know that they were fully alive because when they were threatened with death neither was afraid. They both ended their lives as glorious witnesses of the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Let us not shrink back from our own assault on the gates of the underworld. The fight is brutal, but we already know who will prevail.

June 29, 2012 - Solemnity of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, Apostles (Vigil Mass)

Today's Readings

We believe in one, holy, Catholic, and apostolic Church. One, because God is one so his Church too must be united. Holy, because the Church belongs to God and not any human. Catholic, because anyone can join the one holy Church and everyone ought to join. Apostolic, because the Church has an unbroken history going back to the apostles.

Jesus chose 12 apostles to conquer the world for the Kingdom of God, and these apostles, when their time on earth was coming to an end, chose successors from the Christian people. These successors were called “bishops”. These bishops chose bishops to succeed them, and so on. Today, our bishops stand in the continuous line of succession that goes back to the 12 Apostles, who were chosen by Jesus.

Today we commemorate the two greatest apostles. Peter, the Rock, was the leader of the twelve, the first human person to whom Jesus entrusted the care of the whole Church, the first Pope. Paul, was not one of the twelve, but he, nonetheless, was chosen and sent by Jesus Christ who appeared to him separately.

These two men, Saints Peter and Paul, made their way to Rome after accomplishing many things for the Glory of God. These two men died in Rome, were killed in Rome because of their faithfulness to Jesus Christ. By their deaths, they consecrated that city to be first among all the cities of the world, so that the one, holy, Catholic, and apostolic Church would always look to the Church of Rome for leadership.

As we consider the readings today, we see a vitality in the apostles that we long for today. To hear Peter tell a paralyzed man to stand up and walk, “In the name of Jesus Christ”, makes us wonder what is missing in the Church today. Many people have broken the unity of the one Church in an attempt to return to the power of the Apostolic times, but only the Church of Peter and Paul can be truly apostolic. Nothing good can be found outside the Catholic Church that cannot also be found within her.

If we are looking for a secret that will renew the Church from within, we should look to the words of our Lord today. Love is that secret. Every other secret that has ever been suggested has come not from God but from the minds of fallen human beings, whether writing down secret wishes or formulating prayers with secret passwords or any other secret technique. There is only one secret: Love. Peter loved. Paul loved. Do you love? Do you love God above all else? Do you love each other as Jesus loved you?

June 23, 2012 - Saturday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time

2 Chronicles 24:17-25
Psalm 89:4-5, 29-34
Matthew 6:24-34

Yesterday we read about how Athaliah, the evil queen, was killing her family so that she could hold on to power, but little baby Joash is hidden in the temple so that his grandmother cannot kill him. He grows up until age 7, then they crown him king and kill Athaliah. A happy ending? No, because King Joash was not a great king. Today we hear that King Joash, all grown up, repays the priest who saved him by killing his son. Killing innocent people is wicked, but killing the innocent son of someone who saved your life is beyond merely wicked.

What led King Joash to this atrocious action, killing Zechariah the priest? It was because Zechariah stood up and told the people that they were doing wrong by worshipping idols. People hate it when others people tell them that they are doing wrong. King Herod killed John the Baptist because he pointed out that sleeping with your brother’s wife is wrong. The clearest example of course is Jesus himself who was killed because his entire existence was an accusation to the sinners who saw how he lived, unless they were willing to be forgiven.

So should we be afraid to speak? We may not be killed, but we will be scorned. “How dare you judge me?” If we go around announcing what is right and wrong, we are making the world an unpleasant place. Our culture tells us that we ought to be quiet. And our culture is convincing. I do not want to be an unpleasant, offensive person.

Nevertheless, I must speak the truth. If 2 plus 2 is 4, then I cannot say that 2 plus 2 is 5. I do not need to announce this truth of math every moment of life, but if I see that the world believes that 2 plus 2 is 7, then I have an obligation to periodically announce the truth. I do not have the right to keep the truth to myself.

I believe that Zechariah was silent for a long time. Perhaps he said a little here and a little there, but the day came when he had no choice left but to stand on the balcony and tell the people that they were going the wrong way. We do not need to scream at every person we meet, but the time will come when we must stand up among the crowd and tell them the truth.

June 22, 2012 - Friday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time

2 Kings 11:1-4, 9-18, 20
Psalm 132:11-14, 17-18
Matthew 6:19-23

How many eyes does one person have? This does not seem like a very difficult question. Two. Easy, right? Not so fast. One person has many different eyes. "The eye is the lamp of the body", Jesus tells us. This is a metaphor. As a lamp is to a room, so is the eye to the body. But this is a multi-layered metaphor. Jesus is not merely telling us that if our eyes were not working we would always be experiencing darkness. He is referring here to spiritual eyes which are the lamps of our souls.

Physical eyes reveal the physical world to us. Spiritual eyes reveal the spiritual world. We all have spiritual eyes, many, many spiritual eyes. If they are good, we see the spiritual world for what it is. If they are bad, we will see a distorted and false spiritual world.

Consider one kind of spiritual eye: greed. If we see the world with greed, we will believe that we should try to possess as much treasure here on earth as we possibly can, yet Jesus, who saw more clearly than we will ever see, said that we should store up treasure in heaven and forget about treasure here on earth, where thieves steal and moths destroy. When a person looks at earthly treasure with greed, they fall in love and give their heart away. When a saint looks at earthly treasure, their only thought is, "How can I use this to further the Kingdom of God?" They see clearly. They both are looking at the same treasure; it is the eye that is different.

In the first reading, Queen Athaliah is seeing with the eye of power. She desires power so much that she kills all her grandchildren, or tries to, so that she can rule. When she looks at the world, all she can see are people to conquer and political gain. When a saint looks at the world, they see people whom they can help, people who need to know about the love of God. People whom they are going to love. They see clearly. They both are looking at the same world; it is the eye that is different.

It matters what spiritual eyes you have. If any, like greed or power, are causing you to sin, pluck them out. If any help you see clearly, exercise them until you can look at the world and see God. What you see when you look around has all the power to change who you are.

June 21, 2012 - Memorial of Saint Aloysius Gonzaga, religious

Sirach 48:1-14
Psalm 97:1-7
Matthew 6:7-15

The reason we pray is not to change God but to change ourselves. We cannot change God, not in any way. We cannot change his mind. If he has determined to do something, he will do it no matter what we say. Could we convince him otherwise? We are not smarter than him. We would not want to if we could. We do not know better than he does. He knows what we need before we ask him. So the point of prayer is not to change God but to change ourselves. We are the ones who do not know what we need. Prayer is not about telling God what to do. It is in prayer that we discover what God wants to do for us.

So long as we are in ignorance of our own deepest desires, prayer can seem useless. We ask God for things, but he does not give them. But what if he did give us what we asked for? What would happen then? I do not know. Only God knows. And he loves us. So I can only presume that he knows what he is doing and that what he is doing is for my good. I do not have to understand why God does what he does. I trust him; I trust him completely.

The first petition of the prayer Jesus teaches us today is “thy kingdom come” which is asking God to take charge of the world, of my world, of my life. I do not want to rule myself. I would not vote for myself as president of my own life. I want God to be my king. I want his will to be done on earth, where I am, just like it is in heaven right now. If God is ruling over my life, what could I possibly be afraid of?

I do know what I need above all else. I do know what God’s will for me is first and foremost. “Hallowed be they name.” All sin makes us think that we are the center of the universe and this makes us sad. Prayer teaches us that God is the center of the universe. Once we know that, we can relax and be happy. We can trust God. Let him be in control. He knows what he is doing, and he loves us. The universe is a beautiful place when God is in charge.

June 20, 2012 - Wednesday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time

2 Kings 2:1, 6-14
Psalm 31:20-21, 24
Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18

Sometimes people quote Jesus here and suggest that what he means is that our religious expression should be entirely private, done in the privacy of our bedrooms. I do not say this lightly, but clearly Jesus did not really mean that we should go into our own rooms to pray even though he says it. How am I so sure? Because that is such an anachronistic idea. None of the people whom Jesus was preaching to had their own room. Most of them shared a two room house. One room was for the cattle and the other room was for the family. And the whole house was no bigger than most of our bedrooms. To hear this statement and then apply it unthinkingly to 21st century American conditions does not lead to a proper understanding.

Indeed, the word Jesus uses does not even mean bedroom, which concept would have been unknown. The word is more like walk-in safe. The word refers to the room that a king would have in his castle to keep the valuables. Even most of us do not have one of those.

So what did Jesus mean, if he did not mean that we should literally go pray in the inner closet of our house? The common interpretation over the past 2000 years has said that he was referring to the inner closet of our hearts. It was not until modern buildings that anyone could have imagined that it would be taken literally.

If the inner closet was for keeping valuables away from thieves, then the inner closet of our hearts is where we keep what we most value. There is the right place to speak to God. Go right in among all the things that you hold most sacred, and speak to God there. If we find that this storeroom is not appropriate, if it is filled with worldly and ungodly things that we value, we should clean it out and fill it with the Holy Spirit. This is what prayer is really about, Jesus is saying. Not impressing people or seeming devoted to God. Prayer is going into the deepest place of our souls, clearing out the mess, and filling it with God. If we just try and do that, then God, who sees in secret, will give us the great gift of himself which we can treasure in that inner storeroom.

June 19, 2012 - Tuesday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time

1 Kings 21:17-29
Psalm 51:3-6, 11, 16
Matthew 5:43-48

King Ahab was a weak and wicked man married to a very wicked woman. They have persecuted those who serve the Lord, they introduced all sorts of horrible religious practices into Israel, and they just killed a man so that he could have a vegetable garden nearer to his house. When Elijah arrives with the prophecy of destruction and doom, it is a relief for us; finally he will get his due. Then Ahab goes around in sackcloth and ashes and God pulls back. Ahab did not become a good man after this. He is perhaps not quite as evil until the day he dies in battle, but his conversion is not very strong.

That is no way to run a universe. Every parent knows that you have to follow through when you threaten punishment. God is such a softie. It takes forever before he starts making threats and then he so rarely does what he threatens. People are always saying that the Old Testament God is cruel and angry, but for every Sodom destroyed by fire or plagues in Egypt there are far more examples of his mercy and forbearance.

Sometimes we might wish that God was a bit more vindictive. He makes the rain fall on the just and the unjust, but would it not be better if he did withhold the rain from the unjust? Would it not be better if he did strike the wicked with lightening to prevent their evil deeds? It is what we would do if we had the power to. Stop evil with violence seems right to us, but God does not. Evil happens all through the world, even though he could stop it with a little smiting. And when he threatens to smite, he relents at the sign of a little repentance.

God’s problem is that he loves us. All of us. We are quick to divide the world between good and bad, but God looks at us and all he sees are his children whom he loves. He does not look at anyone and think that they are hopeless. He just sees potential. He sees the image of himself that he put within us. His will for us is to love him forever in perfect happiness. It is not how we would run the universe, but then we are not perfect like he is perfect.

June 18, 2012 - Monday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time

1 Kings 21:1-16
Psalm 5:2-3, 4-7
Matthew 5:38-42

In the first reading today, Jezebel tells the town officials to find two scoundrels, but the reading is full, beginning to end with scoundrels. Ahab is bad because he throws a temper tantrum when he does not get to have the vegetable garden that he wants next to his house, and he is bad because he stands by while others do evil in his name. The town officials are wicked because they betray Naboth just because a letter tells them to. Of course, the two scoundrels are wicked for acting as false witnesses. Then there is a Jezebel, a woman so wicked that 3000 years later, her name still means a wicked woman.

We can agree that the only person of merit in the reading is Naboth who never did anything to deserve the way he was treated. However, while Naboth did not commit a sin per se, we could still say that he did something wrong. Clearly, in retrospect, he should have taken the deal when Ahab offered it to him. It was not just. Naboth had good reasons for refusing, but if he had taken the deal he might have lived for a while to come. No one likes to give wicked people what they want, but sometimes it is the most reasonable course of action. Your wallet or your car or anything you own is not worth your life.

In the Gospel, Jesus is taking this concept further yet. He does not merely suggest that we should give the wicked what they want so that they will leave us alone, but that we should give them more than they want. Give them two miles instead of one, and give them your cloak in addition to the tunic they wanted. Let them hit you twice if they want to hit you once.

What he is showing is a disregard not merely for material possessions, but for those immaterial possessions we so greatly value: our pride, our comfort, even our freedom. In this unfair world, sometimes we are better off allowing ourselves to be taken advantage of rather than stand up for ourselves and suffer the consequences. This is not easy, but it is just the reality. By not holding tightly onto our rights, we are able to be above the battle of this world and free to do what really matters.

June 17, 2012 - Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

Ezekiel 17:22-24
Psalm 92:2-3, 13-16
2 Corinthians 5:6-10
Mark 4:26-34

I think that a modern person might be tempted to quibble with Jesus’ parable. Jesus says that the seed sprouts and grows but the one who planted it does not know how. Well, that certainly was true 2000 years ago but is it still true? I might not know exactly how a plant sprouts and grows, but lots of biologists do, and if I wanted to I am sure that I could look up on Wikipedia a detailed account down to the exact biochemical processes that cause the seed to react to water and grow into new life.

Indeed, all of science is dedicated to changing the situation that Jesus describes throughout the Gospels, but especially in the Gospel reading today. There was a time when humans had rain come down and could not predict it days in advance. There was a time when we looked at the moon and did not have pieces of it stored away in warehouses.

And it is not only science but cultural progress too. For many of us, our only experience of seed growing into plants is when we planted the beans in Dixie cups in third grade. Even a lot of our gardening these days is done with plants that were grown in greenhouses. The whole concept of taking a precious portion of the food for the year and putting it in the ground with expectation that it would grow into more food for next year is lost on us. That experience of subsistence farming that all those who heard Jesus would have known personally is foreign to us, even most of those who farm these days with GPS and combines.

So when we have a Gospel like the one today, science and progress are the enemies of understanding. Sure we understand intellectually the point that he is making, but we cannot feel its impact because of how separated we are from the realities he is speaking of. What is the solution? We could live like the Amish do and get back in touch with the realities. Some people do that, but it is not very practical. One can be romantic about it, but modern medicine and modern harvest yields are miracles that we can only thank God for.

We can imagine what life would be like if the whole world seemed magical again, if our continued existence depended on the success of a crop that we planted with our own hands. Of course, our imagination will always fall short, but it is a powerful tool for getting in touch with the readings today. A person does well to spend time imagining life out of the Bible: what it would be like to be one of that crowd that was fed with a little bread and fish, what it would be like to walk on water with Jesus, what it would be like to plant a small field and depend entirely on the success of something that we only have a tiny bit of control over.

We live in a world that is very different from the experience that Jesus lived in. Our world has changed in amazing ways in just the last 20 years, and who can guess correctly what the world 20 years from now will be like? It would be great if Jesus came and told us some parables about cell phones and the internet. “The Kingdom of Heaven is like an iPhone.”

But since that is not going to happen, we are left with the important question: is the Bible becoming irrelevant? Many people say that the world has changed a lot and so most of the stories in the Bible need to get updated, especially most of the morality. Something was taught by Jesus and believed for century after century, but we know better now.

This is the great modern struggle: the idea that sometimes the older is better. By the end of two years, I am unhappy with the old technology in my phone that used to be the very best. If 1.0 was good, 2.0 is better. How can we, in a world that is constantly changing, appreciate the value of those things that never change? We want to see the latest viral video, but every time you come to Church we read from the same old book, and Mass is celebrated the same old way. What does it say about us that “same old” is not a compliment?

Our God is the same old God. He existed before time, and he is never going to change. The universe we live in will always be the same old universe. No matter how much scientific progress we make, no matter what is invented in the future, our situation is the same old human situation. What matters, what really matters, is the same old thing that always mattered. What TV shows we have seen, what our high score on Doodle Jump is, how fast our computer is: these things only matter in this world and even then not really. How much we loved other people and how much we loved God: this is what matters.

We all must appear before the judgment seat of Christ and be repaid according to what we did in the body, whether good or evil. That is the same today as when it was written 2000 years ago. That fact, which ought to define how we live our life here, will never change. Whether, 20 years from now, we are all driving flying cars and have robot servants or we are all back to subsistence farming after some big disaster, how we treat other people and how we stretch our minds to reach out to God is all that will matter, because it is all that matters right now and it is all that has ever mattered.

Being mean to people is bad, whether you hit them with a stick or insult them on Facebook. Daily prayer is good, whether you take time away from hopscotch or video games. Even as we become more and more separated from the parables about farming and herding sheep, the point of the parables still apply. Even if we have figured out how plants grow, we will never know how the Kingdom of God is working in this world, how people are brought to greater faith in subtle ways that are not visible day to day but add up over a whole season. And that is what matters.

June 16, 2012 - Memorial of The Immaculate Heart of The Blessed Virgin Mary

1 Kings 19:19-21
Psalm 16:1-2+5, 7-8, 9-10
Luke 2.41-51

I think the three days should be considered like this: the first day was looking for Jesus in the caravan, the second day was going back to Jerusalem, and on the third day they arrived in Jerusalem. If this is the case, they probably headed right for the temple once the city gates opened on the third day. This seems like a very reasonable search. I see no reason for anyone to question the searching process of Mary and Joseph, and, if we look carefully, we see that Jesus does not question the process. He does not ask, “Why did you not look in the temple right away?” He asks, “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” He is not correcting his parent’s methods but their attitude.

What their attitude was we can easily imagine. Jesus at 12 is an adult in his culture. In some ways it would be more like losing track of your 18 year old. When Jesus did not show up for lunch, Mary probably thought he was just with some friends. When he did not show up for bed that night, she probably spent the night lying awake, worrying more with each passing hour. The next morning was a frenzied trip back to Jerusalem. The next night was spent outside the city gates, waiting for them to open at sunrise. Then her relief and confusion, “Son why have you done this to us?”, reveal the stress she was under.

Not that Mary did anything wrong in all this. Worrying is part of being a parent. But what Jesus points out is also true, there was no objective reason to worry. It is not as if God might be getting into trouble, nor is it possible that anyone could have harmed him. Nevertheless, this was surely neither the first nor the last time that Mary worried about Jesus. Being a parent is hard, and being God’s parent does not make it easier.

We usually consider Mary as our Mother or as the perfect example of the Christian life or as the Mother of God in a theological sense, but, as yesterday we considered the humanity of Jesus in his Sacred Heart, today we consider the humanity of Mary in her Immaculate Heart. Just imagine all the worrying and hoping and suffering and love that her heart went through. Do not be afraid to turn to her; she knows what you are going through right now.

June 15, 2012 - Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus

Hosea 11:1, 3-4, 8-9
Isaiah 12:2-6
Ephesians 3:8-12, 14-19
John 19:31-37

Today we celebrate the preeminent devotion, the greatest devotion of Christianity: the Sacred Heart of Jesus. In the Sacred Heart we celebrate the human body of our Savior. The heart deservedly stands as a symbol of the whole body. It is at the center of the body, and the heartbeat is evidence of the life of the body. In the Sacred Heart, we worship the actual organ in the body of our Savior, beating from the time of its formation in the womb of the Blessed Mother, beating while he preached forgiveness and healed the sick, stopped by the Cross, pierced by the lance, begun again at the Resurrection, and still, today, beating in the body seated at the right hand of the Father.

Further, devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus is devotion to the love of Jesus, the twofold love of Jesus: the divine love and his human love. The Sacred Heart is truly symbolic of the love of God which created the world and which redeemed a fallen world, but it also expresses the fully human love which Jesus had for the crowds, for the suffering, for his disciples, particularly for the “disciple whom Jesus loved.” The Sacred Heart loved not only with the love of God, but also was the perfect human heart, loving in right relationship all things.

We are convicted by the Sacred Heart for our lack of love. If it were only a symbol of divine love, the love which created us, so stunning in its infinity, an infinity which is for all but no less infinitely for each, we are by definition incapable of such love, but, since it is also a symbol of Jesus’ human love, we are indicted when we see how much love a human heart is capable of. Consider how, in comparison, we love so little. How small is our love for our families, our friends, and our enemies! How little compassion do we have for the sick, the poor and the suffering!

The love, both human and divine, symbolized by the Sacred Heart is an unrequited love. Through all human history, God has loved humans with an everlasting love, but humans have ignored and insulted this love. There is no greater symbol of the human response to God’s love than the Sacred Heart pierced by a lance. Humans respond with violence against the very symbol of God’s love, as if, unable to repay the love, and refusing to be in debt, they try to destroy the love of God. Yet the lance, rather than destroy the Sacred Heart, only opens it further, pouring forth blood and water in the final symbol of the complete gift.

Jesus invites us today to learn from him, for he is meek and humble of heart. Let us take him up on this generous invitation. If we think that we know anything or have a certain amount of wisdom, but we have not yet learned about love, we are mistaken. We will be truly wise when we are masters of love: the love God has for us, the love we return to God, the love God has for everyone else, the love we have for those whom God loves. All this love is one Love. “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins.” We will not be masters of love until the beating of our hearts is in perfect sync with the Sacred Heart. Jesus, meek and humble of heart, make our hearts like unto yours.

June 14, 2012 - Thursday of the Tenth Week in Ordinary Time

1 Kings 18:41-46
Psalm 65:10-13
Matthew 5:20-26

At this point in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus has made clear that the call of the Christian life is no easy road. He sets a standard that we must not minimize: unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven. These were men who dedicated their entire lives to learning the law and following its every nuance and even going beyond the law with stricter requirements. We are not going to beat them at their own game, so Jesus must mean that we need to play a different game.

The righteousness that Jesus is speaking of clearly does not come from merely obeying the law. How could our righteousness exceed the scribes and Pharisees in that regard? No the righteousness that Jesus is speaking of is about a commitment. The scribes and Pharisees followed every law so that they would be free to do what they wanted if there was not a law exactly about it. Sometimes they used philosophical arguments to create little loopholes in the law which they then exploited to be free from the law.

Jesus is making clear by his interpretation of the law that there are no loopholes. Do not kill does not only apply to killing but to every sort of violence, physical or verbal or even mental, against another human being. What Jesus is saying is that if I am looking for a way to kill someone or do harm to them without going to Hell, then my mind is not in the right place. If I am looking for a way to commit sin without technically committing sin, my task is hopeless.

We are not at war with God! He is not an evil tyrant who prevents us from having any fun. God is not our enemy. We know this, but we doubt it. “Why can’t I do that? Why is this against the rules? How far can I go?” Such questions are foolish and anyone who asks them is outside the Kingdom of God. “What should I do? What is God’s plan for me? How much could I accomplish if I tried?” These are the questions that Christians ask. We are followers of the way. Our goal is to become who God wants us to be. A Christian never has to choose between what they want and what God wants. The will of God is our only guide.

June 13, 2012 - Memorial of Saint Anthony of Padua, priest and doctor of the Church

1 Kings 18.20-39
Psalm 16.1b-2ab, 4, 5ab+8, 11
Matthew 5.17-19

This saying of Jesus today is a difficult saying. He tells us that until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or part of a letter will pass away from the law. Yet we believe that many letters of the law do not apply anymore. We do not keep the ritual cleanness demanded by the law. We do not rest on the Sabbath. We eat many forbidden things. How is this possible?

Jesus says that he came to fulfill the law. He fulfilled the requirements of ritual cleanness by the grace of baptism which cleans a person once and for all. We do not rest on the Sabbath because we have entered into the rest that is found in Jesus. We eat pork and lobster and other things because God declared such things were clean, so they no longer are unclean. The laws did not change, but the world that they apply to is changed in Christ Jesus.

Which makes us wonder, why not all of the law? If I can eat shrimp and wear 50%-50% wool/cotton mix pants, why is it still wrong to worship other gods or for a man to treat another man as a woman? Because in Christ Jesus, the truth was made more visible, not less. In truth, shrimp is good food. That it was ever forbidden must have been because of particular circumstances. In truth, there is nothing wrong with mixing fabrics or eating cheeseburgers.

But in truth, God is the only god. To worship someone else is a lie. In truth, marriage is a relationship based in gender-difference. To pretend otherwise is a lie. Every law that revealed the truth must remain and indeed the obligation is stronger than before inasmuch as the truth is now more fully revealed. Every law which was arbitrary no longer applies, for Jesus has fulfilled the meaning behind those laws perfectly.

The arbitrary laws, which could have gone either way logically speaking, carried the principles of obedience, purity, and community. Because everyone lived under such laws, the Israelites were bound together into a community that obeyed God and was pure of defilement. It took over a thousand years, but these laws worked their effect. But when Jesus came, our obedience is in following him, our purity is in choosing him and no one else, our community is sacramental, bound together by love. The point of these laws has been fulfilled and the truth more fully revealed.

June 12, 2012 - Tuesday of the Tenth Week in Ordinary Time

1 Kings 17:7-16
Psalm 4:2-5, 7-8
Matthew 5:13-16

“You are light of the world,” Jesus says. “You are the salt of the earth,” he tells us. So let your light shine. Why? So that other people will see it. This seems to be in direct contradiction to the part, just a little further on in this sermon, where Jesus tells us to give secretly, to pray secretly, to fast secretly. I am sure that it is not a contradiction, but what then? What does it mean to shine before other people, if that does not include fasting or praying or giving to the poor?

Is there not virtue in giving publicly to an important cause so that other people will see and learn to give too? Is there not virtue in praying publicly against the death penalty or torture or abortion? Is there not virtue in a public fast where we as a Christian community admit the existence of God through public self-denial, such as not eating meat on Fridays? Are these not all examples of letting our light shine before other people that they might see our good deeds and glorify the Father in heaven?

Yes there is virtue in all of these things. So perhaps there is a contradiction? No, Jesus did not contradict himself. In the other part, Jesus is speaking about the Pharisees who like to show others the strength of their commitment. What they are showing comes from themselves and is intended to glorify themselves. In this case, what Jesus is telling his disciples to reveal to the world is the power of God working within them. The reason we should show off is not so that people will praise us, but so that they will praise God.

But if our actions will lead people to praise God, the standard has to be set quite a bit higher. My actions must not be merely quite good. Then people will simply think that I am yet another good person. They are rare but not too rare. My actions must astound people. They must reveal to all who see that an all-powerful being is working within me, like Elijah with the food jars. These actions might be miraculous in the traditional sense, but they might also be simply miraculously generous or astoundingly loving.

Whichever. If I am supposed to be this light of the world, people should look at me at say, “This is too good. This is more than a human is capable of. There must be something more at work here.”

June 11, 2012 - Memorial of Saint Barnabas, Apostle

Acts 11:21-26; 13:1-3
Psalm 98:1-6
Matthew 5:1-12

I always admired Barnabas. His name, which means “Son of Encouragement”, reminds me of a guy I knew in high school, Joe. He was a delight to be around, and everyone else was better when he was with us. He was one of the best advertisements for Christianity I have ever known, truly a lampstand. I was always disappointed that he was some sort of Evangelical Christian and not a Catholic, that he did not play for our team, so to speak. I imagine Barnabas to be a lot like him, with a word of encouragement for everyone and never a personal attack, neither to a person’s face nor behind their back, not with meaningless compliments but actual encouragement. Blessed is everyone around a Barnabas.

Encouragement, it seems to me, is an eighth gift of the Holy Spirit. Indeed, encouragement is not only a gift of the Holy Spirit but also a title. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Encouragement. The Holy Spirit brings encouragement where it is needed by giving this gift to someone near a person whom he is pleased to encourage and is, thereby, the Spirit of Encouragement that every Barnabas is the son of.

Today we read that Barnabas went to Antioch and encouraged everyone “for he was a good man, filled with the Holy Spirit and faith.” This kind of encouragement is more truly a proof of the presence of the Holy Spirit than speaking in tongues or prophecy. The evil spirit gives prophecies, but only the Holy Spirit gives encouragement to Christians. We see a characteristic of that encouragement when Barnabas goes up to Tarsus and finds Paul. A true Barnabas looks for the God-given gifts in others and is not jealous but rather rejoices.

We Christians are not all going to preach like Peter. We will not all count converts by the thousands like Paul. We do not all have the theological mind of John. We may not raise the dead or cure the sick or speak in tongues or prophesy, but we all should learn to emulate Barnabas. We all should learn to encourage our brothers and sisters to be better Christians. We should all be sons and daughters of encouragement – not mere human encouragement: patronizing, saccharine words – but the encouragement of the Spirit of Encouragement, who fills our hearts, who always has a word or action ready for us to share with another. When you see a person in need, just listen to that Spirit and speak the encouragement.

June 10, 2012 - The Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ

Exodus 24:3-8
Psalm 116:12-13, 15-18
Hebrews 9:11-15
Mark 14:12-16, 22-26

We celebrate that Jesus Christ gave us his Body and Blood. This gift has two primary and contradictory qualities. On the one hand, it is the ultimate gift, the highest sign of love, the proof that Jesus was not willing to hold anything back. Though rich, he did not take from what he had and present us a gift. He gave us himself. He had already given us a planet to live on and a universe to look at. We demanded more, which is partially because we are ungrateful, and partially because God had made us for more, he had made us for himself, so no gift less than himself would satisfy us.

And so he gave us himself. Using the sacramental signs of bread and wine, he gave us his body and blood. The gift was not imaginary or pretend. Using his power as creator of the universe, he declared that whenever one of his Apostles imitated his actions which they saw at the Last Supper, the ordinary bread and wine which was prayed over would become truly the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. So it is that today we are in the presence of a man chosen by a successor of the Apostles to continue this sacramental action. We have ordinary bread and ordinary wine, but soon it will not be bread and it will not be wine. It will look and taste and otherwise seem like bread and wine, but things will not be what they seem. They will be the greatest gift we have ever received: God himself: Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity.

On the other hand, this gift is repulsive. It is the body and blood of a man. We do not eat human flesh! We will not drink human blood! Such things are repulsive to us. To treat a human being, a person like us, as if they were no more than a meal for us is the ultimate moral depravity. What do we Christians sound like to others? “Unless you eat the flesh and drink the blood of the Son of Man you do not have life within you.” If we heard someone say that, without knowing that it was Jesus, we would be sure that it was the ravings of an insane person.

We must not pass over this element because, if we do, we risk a weak faith in something that we will not look at directly. Many people, because of this factor, consider the Eucharist to be a strange symbol. For them it is just bread and wine, nothing more. And it does not even symbolize the Body and Blood of Christ, because to imagine human flesh and blood would be absurd to them. The Eucharist just becomes a symbol of acceptance. To refuse the Eucharist to someone is an act of the highest offense, equivalent to spitting in their face. So anyone who limits Communion is bad, because it is a piece of bread that symbolizes love, so to refuse it must mean that they hate the other person. So a priest is called very pastoral when he tells everyone to come receive Communion. So there was that Protestant minister who gave communion to a dog. He said that the dog seemed to really want it.

The Eucharist is not a piece of bread that symbolizes love. It is human flesh that symbolizes love. To invite someone to Communion is not to say, “I think you’re pretty good too.” It is to ask, “Will you eat this human body and drink his blood with me?” If someone asked you that question, how would you respond? You would be horrified. So we are afraid to ask it. They will think we are monsters. Until they find out that it is just bread and wine. Then they will say, “Oh what you said was just pretend.” But why would we pretend such a thing? If the reality is horrific, how could it be good to pretend?

We are going to eat a man’s flesh and drink his blood. We gather daily and weekly to repeat this action. Jesus said to do it in memory of him, but what a way to remember somebody! The author of Hebrews says that Jesus was carrying his blood like a priest of the old covenant carried the blood of the bulls and goats. In the first reading, we see Moses sprinkle the blood of bulls and goats all over the people like a priest sprinkles water sometimes these days. It is easy to believe that the blood of Jesus is greater than the blood of cattle, but why sprinkle blood at all? Because blood is life. A cow or goat might be bought or sold, but its life is without price. We cannot beat death; we can only delay sometimes. From the moment of conception we are destined to die. Without life, nothing else matters for us. The blood of the sacrifice was the life. The Israelites painted it on their door frames and sprinkled the people with it; they poured it out at the base of the altar and put some on the priests’ ear, thumb, and big toe, but all this was only a symbol of the blood that was coming.

The Body and Blood we receive is alive. Jesus rose from the dead, so his Body and Blood are alive. When we eat his flesh and drink his blood, his life is in us. We are marked with his death and his life. We eat his Body and drink his Blood in memory of him, not merely a memory in the imagination but of participation. When we eat his body and drink his blood, we die on the Cross with him and rise with him. The Eucharist changes us and nothing else could change us in this way. Because we have eaten the Body and Blood, and this Body and Blood has become our Body and Blood, we can say that we have died on the Cross and risen.

To receive the Body of Christ is a privilege beyond any other but it is also a fearful mystery. We hold in our hands the Body and Blood of a man who is God, and we eat it because he told us to. Above all the Eucharist teaches us that our life comes from God. We cannot hold onto it forever, so we must constantly receive life from God. We cannot take the life from him and then go off on our own, the way the prodigal son did. We can never sever the connection between God and us and become independent, the way Adam tried to with the fruit. All food is life for us. That is the purpose of eating. But every other meal is a symbol of this meal by which we receive life directly from God.

June 8, 2012 - Friday of the Ninth Week in Ordinary Time

2 Timothy 3:10-17
Psalm 119:157, 160-161, 165-166, 168
Mark 12:35-37

There is something about 3.16. Everyone knows John 3.16: For God so loved the world…, but for some reason, and it must surely be a coincidence the sixteenth verse give or take of the third chapter of many of the books in the Bible is very important. Genesis is 3.15 is the first announcement of Christ, called the protoevangelion; Exodus 3.14 is where God tells Moses his Name: “I am who am.”; Matthew 3.16-17 is pretty important: “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” Mark 3.16-19 has the names of the Twelve Apostles. Luke 3.16 is John’s announcement of the coming of the Lord and the Holy Spirit. Just those four 3.16’s from each Gospel pretty much sum up Christianity.

Now today we have another great 3.16 in front of us for the first reading: 2 Timothy 3.16: “Every Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for an education in righteousness.” This is a powerful statement that we cannot pass by. Every Scripture is inspired by God, literally it says “Godbreathed”. Every Scripture is like the breath of God out of his own mouth. The same breath that gave life to the clay man who became Adam. The same breath that the prophets heard, that Elijah heard as a still, small whisper. Every Scripture contains that breath. That means that it is alive.

And every Scripture is useful. That might be hard to believe if you have ever ready Leviticus or Numbers, but it is true. Useful how? St. Paul has four things, and they are not random but they form a progression. This is how Scripture changes us: first it teaches us something; then comes reproof, we see something in our lives which is contrary to what we have learned; then comes correction, we learn how to stop doing whatever sin or fault is contrary to Scripture. Last comes an education in righteousness, because Christianity is not just about “not being bad”, which would be really boring; Christianity and every Scripture is about who we could be.

Every Scripture is useful, if we will decide to use them. The 3.16’s perhaps more than the others, but every Scripture. We do not pick and choose our own collection of beliefs out of the Bible. We must not change the Scripture; we have to let the Scripture change us.

June 7, 2012 - Thursday of the Ninth Week in Ordinary Time

2 Timothy 2:8-15
Psalm 25:4-5, 8-10, 14
Mark 12:28-34

Part of what is going on in this gospel reading is a little tug-of-war about who is testing who. The scribe asks the question as if he were testing Jesus; Jesus answers it with authority as if he were the teacher; the scribe approves of Jesus answer as if he were the teacher; then Jesus approves of the scribes approval, and he gets the last word. This is all clear to those watching this back-and-forth. Jesus is not only teaching the commandments, he is teaching the scribe that who the real teacher is. He is shifting his perspective.

In the second reading, St. Paul quotes a “saying”, whether it was a hymn or what we do not know, that contains four if-then statements. These statements are about looking at the universe in a way that is different than what we know, a shift in our perspective. The first statement is ““For if we died with him, we will also live with him.” This refers first of all to baptism, where, by going into the water, we die with Christ. It also refers to how we live. Dying with Christ is an everyday activity. We think that the more we enjoy the pleasures of the world, the happier we are, but this says “No, if you want to be happy then die.” The next statement reinforces this first one and takes it further: “If we endure, we will also reign with him.” Not merely live, which would be enough, but reign.

Then it says, “If we deny him, he also will deny us.” This is a foundation teaching of Christianity. Would it be possible for a Christian to deny Jesus in order to avoid trouble? The answer is no. Even if the enemy is at the door and they will kill you and your whole family, you must never deny Jesus. We would tell ourselves that it was only words, that we did not mean it, but if we love God above all things, then nothing is important enough to make us deny him.

Then the last statement, which is so profound and comforting: “If we are faithless, he remains faithful. He cannot deny himself.” If we do deny him whether in words or by sinning against him, we may doubt that we can be forgiven. What if God has given up on me? He has not. How do I know? He is the Faithful One, and nothing I do can change that.

June 6, 2012 - Wednesday of the Ninth Week in Ordinary Time

2 Timothy 1.1-3, 6-12
Psalm 123.1b-2ab, 2cdef Resp. 1b
Mark 12.18-27

St. Paul is teaching Timothy that being imprisoned for the sake of the Gospel is no shameful thing. It is not a sign that Jesus is failing to protect his own. Jesus does not promise us worldly success in this life. St. Paul is not worried about being imprisoned and not even concerned that he will die for the Gospel, for he is depending on the promise of Jesus that we shall be like angels in heaven.

Christianity is all about turning failure into victory, beginning with Jesus’ victory on the Cross. Up until our Savior came and revealed the mercy of God and what is waiting for us on the other side of death, a blessed person was someone who had enough of this world’s goods and not too much of its troubles. Now the blessed include martyrs who died horrific deaths and saints who suffered their entire lives.

Why is this life a life of suffering? Could not God have made this life more pleasant? We Americans generally have a pretty pleasant life, but people suffer throughout the whole world. And even our pleasant lives are interrupted by sickness or economic problems, which turn our lives upside down. And it cannot be said that the suffering of this life is given to those who are bad in order to convince them to convert. The evils of this world, if anything, are more prevalent among those who refuse to take advantage of their neighbors. We must admit that sometimes we suffer the consequences of our sins, but sometimes the suffering is without reason and, anyway, why do some people suffer the consequences and other people luckily avoid them?

The only way this all makes sense is if this world is not that important. It seems important because it is all we know, but 10 million years into eternal life, the few decades we spent here are not going to be all that important. What will matter is what we did with this opportunity. If we use this time to draw closer to God, no matter our circumstances, and if we use this time to preach the Gospel in whatever way God sends us to preach, and if we use this time to serve our brother and sisters and loving everyone, then, when this time is up, we will be ready to enter into what could be called our real life.

June 5, 2012 - Memorial of Saint Boniface, Bishop and Martyr

2 Peter 3:12-15, 17-18
Psalm 90:2-4, 10, 14, 16
Mark 12:13-17

There are a lot of movies that have a plot about the end of the world. Usually, the end is coming, and the protagonists must do whatever they can to prevent the world from ending. St. Peter sees it differently: he tells us to “wait for and hasten the coming of the day of God.” We are not merely supposed to wait for the end of the world, but try and speed up its coming as much as possible. We Christians are looking forward to the end of the world, because God is going to create a new earth and new heavens where righteousness will dwell. For us, the end of the world is not a disaster, but the very thing we have been waiting for for a long time.

So how exactly are we supposed to hasten the end of the world? By being ready for it. St. Peter says that God has been delaying the end of the world out of patience for us. From his perspective, one thousand years is like a day. So this two thousand year delay so far is just God being patient with us. We must not abuse this patience nor presume that it will last forever. The end of the world will come, perhaps soon, perhaps thousands of years in the future. Either way, we should be ready for it. If the whole world were ready, the end would come right away. We cannot control the whole world. We are only in control of ourselves. So we should do our part by getting ourselves ready for the end.

What does it mean to be ready? It means that when God comes, we will be found without spot or blemish before him, at peace. If the sky opened up right now and Jesus Christ appeared like lightning from one side of the sky to the other, what would he find us doing? Would he find us preaching the Gospel or wasting time? Would he find us serving the poor or serving ourselves?

When Jesus comes we will all be a little surprised, but we should not be absolutely shocked. He said that he would come back, and he always keeps his promises. Since this universe is merely a temporary home, we should not get too attached to it. When we see the end coming, we know that our permanent home is on its way.

June 4, 2012 - Monday of the Ninth Week in Ordinary Time

2 Peter 1:2-7
Psalm 91:1-2, 14-16
Mark 12:1-12

For as much as Christians loved making lists of seven (the Seven Sacraments, the Seven Deadly Sins, the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit, etc.) that are passed down to us today, I am not aware of anyone ever using this list that St. Peter provides for us in the first reading today. It could be called the Seven Steps Beyond Faith.

He presumes that he is talking to people of faith, people who believe that Jesus is Lord. What more do they need? Well, to faith they need to add virtue. Virtue is the strength to do right that comes from doing what is right over and over.

Once someone has faith and virtue, what more do they need? They should add knowledge. Good holy reading, particularly of Scripture and the Catechism.

Once someone has faith, virtue, and knowledge, what more do they need? They should add self-control. This is the perfection of virtue. With the strength of virtue and the guidance of knowledge, a person ought to take command of their own life, no longer doing things and then saying, “I do not know why I did that.”

Once someone has faith, virtue, knowledge, and self-control, what more do they need? They should add endurance. A person who has progressed this far will be persecuted as a servant of God, just as Jesus says in the Gospel today. Once we have control over ourselves, we must be ready to confront a hostile world. Not with violence to cause suffering, but with endurance to accept suffering.

Once someone has faith, virtue, knowledge, self-control, and endurance, what more do they need? They should add devotion. Devotion means kneeling down before the power and glory of Almighty God and acknowledging the truth about our place in the universe. If a person reaches this point of mastery over themselves, they might be in danger of pride, so they need the humility of devotion.

Once someone has faith, virtue, knowledge, self-control, endurance, and devotion, what more do they need? They should add brotherly love. The Christian life is not accomplished on my own, and it is not accomplished between me and God. If I do not love the brother whom I have seen, how can I love God whom I have not?

Once someone has faith, virtue, knowledge, self-control, endurance, devotion, and brotherly love, what more do they need? They should add perfect love. If I love those who love me, what is surprising about that? I must love my enemy. I must love those who cause the suffering that I am enduring. I must love with the love of God because I am loved by God.

So are these stages in the spiritual life or do we work on all of them at once? Yes. Both. We cannot delay love until we have mastered the earlier stages, but we will never really love someone else until we have gotten control of ourselves.

June 3, 2012 - The Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity

Deuteronomy 4:32-34, 39-40
Psalm 33:4-6, 9, 18-20, 22
Romans 8:14-17
Matthew 28:16-20

Today is Trinity Sunday, so today we contemplate the mystery of the Most Holy Trinity. This mystery is the central mystery of our faith. Even more central than the Incarnation or the Passion or the Resurrection is the mystery of the Trinity. In the sense that we contemplate a greater mystery, today is more important than Christmas or Good Friday or Easter.

When we talk about a mystery of the faith, we do not mean Scooby Do or Nancy Drew or the Hardy Boys. A mystery of the faith is an idea that begins with a fact. The mystery of the Incarnation begins with the fact of a baby, conceived in the womb of a virgin, born in a stable, and laid in a manger. And the idea is that this baby is totally human but also completely God.

So why do we call it the “Mystery of the Incarnation” and not the “Idea of the Incarnation” or the “Fact of the Incarnation”? It is because this idea is too big to fit in the human brain. To believe in a mystery is fundamentally an act of humility. When we believe in a mystery we are saying that there are some ideas out there which we are not smart enough to understand. Of course, we believe this in principle: there are some differential equations out there that I cannot make heads or tails of. But in practice people act as if the opposite were the case. They start a sentence with “I don’t understand why” and consider it the perfect logical argument against the idea. “I don’t understand why gay marriage is wrong” usually means that the person is sure that it is right.

A mystery of the faith will never be understood. No one can understand how Jesus, one person, was fully human and fully divine. We can believe it. We can think about it and talk about it. When Jesus ate fish, God was eating. When Jesus died on the Cross, God died. Yet God was always alive. It is a mystery. It is like the Grand Canyon: you can look at it all day long, but you cannot take it home with you. You can take all the pictures you want, but you still do not have the Grand Canyon in your pocket. You can climb down one side and climb up the other, but you still do not know the Grand Canyon. And God is bigger than the Grand Canyon.

So the mystery of the Trinity, which we contemplate today, begins with the fact of a universe that is clearly created by an all-powerful being. Every tree, every rock, every molecule proclaims the existence of God. The second law of thermodynamics proves the existence of God. This much we can figure out with science and philosophy. That there is only one God can also be easily proven, since it is illogical that there would be two fundamental principles of all reality.

Furthermore, God, when he revealed himself to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and above all when he revealed himself to Moses, was very clear about there being only one God: Moses said to the people in our first reading today, “This is why you must now know, and fix in your heart, that the LORD is God in the heavens above and on earth below, and that there is no other.” For thousands of years, God revealed himself as the one true God.

Then one day a man came along and said, “The Father and I are one.” This man accepted the worship of his disciples. Not the admiration or the praise of his disciples, but the worship which is for God alone. And then he said that when we enter into relationship with God, we should do it in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

But there cannot be three Gods. That makes no sense. There are three people: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. And they are all God. The Father is God. The Son is God. The Holy Spirit is God. But they are not one person with three names. The Father is not the Son. The Son is not the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is not the Father. The Father did not die on the Cross. The Son did. But God did die on the Cross, because the Son is God.

So what does that mean? Is God like a club that three people belong to? No, not exactly, since God is who they are. Their essence is God. The Son is consubstantial with the Father and the Holy Spirit. This word “consubstantial” means sharing the same substance. How can three individual people share the same substance? Are they like three robots that combine to form one larger robot? No, not really, since each person is complete God. God cannot be divided into parts. So also we cannot say that it is exactly like a shamrock with three separate leaves. Nor exactly like water that is ice, liquid, and steam. Every analogy we create either separates God into three or combines the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit into one person.

There are two analogies though which stand above all the rest. The first is in the Creed. The Trinity is like Light from Light. The light of the sun is in the sun, but it is also here on earth. The sun shines and there is light everywhere. The light is reflected over and over yet remains the same light. And the one light can be separated into all the colors.

The second analogy is the one chosen by God himself. It is the family. God invented the family to teach us about the mystery of the Trinity. Three individual people: the husband, the wife, and the child, are all held together by love. So a man and woman become in marriage one flesh, and the result of this bond is a child who is an individual person, yet takes their nature from their parents. Three people, one family. Three people, one God. And yet, no family is as united as God is in his essence.

Mass with Baptism:
How appropriate it is today that we have the baptism of little Alexander. He will be baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, just like Jesus said. And while he is baptized, his parents holding him, the three of them standing there together will be a symbol for us of the mystery of the Most Holy Trinity. We cannot comprehend the mystery, but we can contemplate it.

Mass without Baptism:
All of these analogies fall short of the mystery that is beyond human comprehension, but we use them anyway to think about what we can never understand. We look at the shamrock. We consider how light functions. We live in our families. We cannot comprehend the mystery, but we can contemplate it.