Why So Mysterious?

ottrinityicon

I was invited a few years ago to come and preach at another parish on Trinity Sunday. As he introduced me, the pastor mentioned that the Trinity was one of those subjects where the longer you talk the more likely you are to preach heresy. So here goes. 

The reason why it’s so difficult to talk about the Trinity is because the Trinity is one of the mysteries of our faith. When we talk about a mystery of the faith, we mean something that we know is true because God gave us that truth. There are many things that we know to be true by our natural powers of observation and our intellect. We can, using our brains, figure out a lot of the truths of our faith. But there are some that are just too magnificent, or too glorious, for us to understand by our own natural power. In believing mysteries, we confirm our belief in a god greater than ourselves.

The trinity is one of these mysteries. When we try to preach about the trinity we stumble over the apparent conflict between our claim that God is one and our faith is a monotheistic faith, and our claim that there are three persons in the one Godhead: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. A rational person can ask a good question of how can three be one? You can see how it’s a bit difficult to evangelize when you start with a mystery like the trinity. Yet the doctrine of the trinity is central to the Catholic faith.

Continue reading
Posted in homiletics | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Now What?

Here on the third Sunday after Easter the readings seem to be exploring the question, “What do we do as an Easter people?” Many Christian communities have the tradition of an Easter greeting in which one person says, “He is risen” and the other person replies, “He is risen indeed.” Today, let’s take a look at the implied question that would follow such a greeting. The implied question is, “Now what?”

The Gospel today picks up the story at the end of the Walk to Emmaus, when two of the disciples walked and talked with Jesus without recognizing him. They only recognized him in the breaking of the bread, and immediately he disappeared from their sight. Just as they are telling the others about their experience, Jesus appears and gives them his peace. Then he opens the Scriptures to all gathered there just as he had during the walk with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus.

These stories from the days after the Resurrection show us how the Apostles were grappling with the mystery of what they knew to be true: that Jesus Christ died, was buried, and rose again in a glorified body that could go through walls but also eat regular food. Truly human, truly dead, truly alive, truly God. As Father Mike Schmitz of internet podcast fame likes to say, “Man oh man, oh man.”

Continue reading
Posted in homiletics | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Good Friday Sixth Word

There was a jar filled with common wine. They stuck a sponge soaked in this wine on some hyssop and raised it to his lips. When Jesus took the wine, he said: “It is finished.”

John 19:29-30

The New Covenant is now set. What began Thursday evening as a Seder meal that seemed to be interrupted just when they would have drunk from the cup of consummation is now revealed to be the holy sacrifice of the unblemished lamb, the Lamb of God. Thursday evening, Jesus told his disciples that he would not drink from the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.

By accepting a bit of sour wine, Jesus is completing the new Passover sacrifice. Where the old Passover freed the Hebrews from slavery in Egypt, the new sacrifice has freed everyone from slavery to sin and death. Those who are marked with the blood of the Lamb through baptism and faith in Christ are freed to enter into the kingdom of God.

The Paschal victim is also the Paschal priest. He offered the perfect sacrifice: Himself. He, who was without sin, took upon himself all our sins. In dying upon the cross, Jesus paid the price that we cannot pay.

The Seder meal was a liturgical memorial of the Passover. The food, the readings, the vestments, and the instructions on how to sit, were all prescribed and unchanging. The new Passover meal is the holy sacrifice of the Mass. More than a memorial meal, it is a mysterious participation in the sacrifice at Calvary.

Jesus has said, “it is finished.” He has drunk from the cup of consummation. He is about to go to his Heavenly Father. He has completed his earthly ministry, and through his sacrifice, he has transformed the Cross from an instrument of torture and death to the means of obtaining eternal life.

Faithful cross! above all other,

One and only noble tree!

None in foliage, none in blossom,

None in fruit thy peer may be;

Sweet the wood and sweet the iron!

And your load, most sweet is he.

Posted in homiletics | Tagged | Leave a comment

Good Friday Fourth Word

When noon came, darkness fell on the whole countryside and lasted until midafternoon. Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” which means: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Matthew 27:45-46

Jesus hanging on the cross, is still an observant Jew. He is reciting the 22nd psalm; the Son of David is reciting a Psalm of David as his life slowly slips away. The Psalms were the hymn book and the prayer book at the time of Jesus. And so Jesus is praying to his God the prayers of the persecuted, the one suffering at the hands of others.

At the same time, Jesus continues to teach his children even as he dies on the cross in front of them. In reciting this famous Psalm, Jesus is pointing to himself in the words ascribed to King David.

Verse 6 of Psalm 22 is: “But I am a worm and no man, scorned by men and despised by the people.”

And the gospel narrative tells us that was indeed what was happening on the ground below him.

Verse 7: “All who see me, mock at me, they make mouths at me, they wag their heads; ‘He committed his cause to the Lord; let him deliver him, let him rescue him, for he delights in him!’”

Verse 14: “I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint.”

His body is stretched, hanging from the Cross, and soon enough, water and blood will flow from his side.

Verse 16: “A company of evildoers encircle me; they have pierced my hands and my feet.”

Indeed, the Precious Blood drips from the places the Roman soldiers drove spikes through his hands and his feet.

Verse 18: “They divide my garments among them, and for my raiment they cast lots.”

The verses in the first half of this psalm accurately predict the condition of the Son of Man hanging on the Cross. In the days to come, the disciples of Jesus will understand how the scriptures of their day, what we call the Old Testament, should be read as pointing to him. This psalm of David written centuries before the day of crucifixion only becomes clear after the day of crucifixion.

The tone of the Psalm pivots at verse 22: “I will tell of your name to my brethren; in the midst of the congregation I will praise you.”

Verse 24: “For he has not despised or abhorred the affliction of the afflicted.”

Jesus teaches us that suffering for the glory of God has a noble purpose and a heavenly end. This day will be remembered as Good Friday.

Verse 27: “All the ends of the Earth shall remember and turn to the Lord.”

Jesus proclaims the Good News to Jews and Gentiles alike. All the ends of the Earth are offered salvation on this day that is a Good Friday.

Verse 28: “For dominion belongs to the Lord, and he rules over the nations.”

Jesus announces his victory over Satan, who discovers on this day, Good Friday, that his rule is merely temporary, and it will end with his destruction.

Verse 30: “Men shall tell of the Lord to the coming generation, and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn, that he has wrought it.”

The song that begins with a cry of despair, “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?” ends in the confident trust the Son has in the Father. For Jesus knew that day would be known as Good Friday to the coming generation, for on the Cross that day he brought deliverance to a people yet unborn.

Posted in homiletics | Tagged | Leave a comment

Good Friday Second Word

One of the criminals hanging in crucifixion blasphemed him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Then save yourself and us.” But the other one rebuked him: “Have you no fear of God, seeing you are under the same sentence? We deserve it, after all. We are only paying the price for what we have done, but this man has done nothing wrong.” He then said: “Jesus, remember me when you enter upon your reign.” And Jesus replied, “I assure you, this day you will be with me in paradise.”

Luke 23:39-43

Is this life that we are living all there is to life? Or is it a time of preparation for our eternal life? The two thieves on the crosses next to Jesus highlight the importance of this question. As we approach our death, our attitude towards eternal life makes itself clear. If we have acted our whole lives as if there is no after-life, then the most important thing at the moment death approaches is prolonging our earthly life. The wicked thief is here, using whatever he can to motivate Jesus to save him from the grim reaper.

If, on the other hand, we live in knowledge that there is an after-life, then at the end of our lives we are focused on going to the right place, since we are going to be there forever. The good thief sees his earthly life ending and asks Jesus to save his eternal soul.

When we see Jesus on the Cross, it is a vision to which we must respond. Either he is what he says he is, or he is an utter fool. If he is a fool, he deserves to be mocked for his weakness. But what if we don’t see as well as we should? If we have let the habit of sin persist to a great extent, it prevents us from seeing clearly. So we are like the wicked thief, encountering the font of justice, and mocking him.

But if we see even in a limited way who he really is, he will offer us the healing power of his love. When our eyes are no longer clouded by the habit of sin, we see more clearly that he is King of All and Lord of the Universe. What looks to some to be a loser in life – dying a despicable death – is the king of eternal life, the victor over sin and death.

Both thieves recognize the power of Jesus, one more fully than the other. The good thief recognizes that He is the Son of God, made Man. And that he is going to his eternal glory at the right hand of the Father. Both thieves know Jesus is no ordinary criminal on the Cross. The one who does not see clearly mocks him for his worldly weakness, but the other acknowledges his eternal kingship. One will not ask for help, while the other asks for salvation. We need to remember that Jesus gives us ultimately what we truly want.

Jesus, by his obedience – even unto death on a cross – turned this dark day into Good Friday. Jesus made this day of disaster the day death was defeated. He continued to offer himself to anyone seeking salvation even as he himself was dying. That’s how much he loved those thieves, and he loves you and me just as much.

Call out to Jesus. Receive salvation.

Posted in homiletics | Tagged | Leave a comment

The Passion is a Great Act of Love

palmsundaymosaicToday is Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion. And it is a special Sunday in the church year because we actually get two readings from the Gospels. At the very beginning, right before we processed in, we read the story from the Gospel of Mark about Jesus’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem. The crowds were excited to greet him. They put their cloaks down on the ground in front of him. They spread leafy branches, and they cried out, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest!”

Then we just read the very long passion from the gospel of Mark which picks up the story in the middle of the night from Thursday into Friday. And the tone of the story is completely different from Palm Sunday. Even among his disciples, people are bickering, people are nervous, people are weak; they begin to abandon Jesus in his hour of need. One of them hands him over to the Jewish authorities for a show trial, and the passion is fully under way. It will culminate in his death on a cross and his burial in a tomb.

The juxtaposition of these two gospel stories reminds us how unsteady is the popular sentiment. The crowd loved him on Sunday, and they shouted “crucify him” on Friday.

Today we see in the readings the stark contrast between the fickleness of the crowd’s heart and the firmness of Jesus’s will to do what his father asked him to do. Though the crowd loves him on Sunday and hates him on Friday, Jesus is still Jesus through it all. He has the strength not to be attached to the adulation on Palm Sunday, and he has the strength not to give up through the pain of Good Friday. What is it that he has that gives him such strength?

Continue reading
Posted in Discipleship, homiletics | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Lent is Love

Today is the second Sunday of Lent, so the Lenten disciplines have either taken hold or they haven’t really. Hopefully, we have added some prayer to our lives that wasn’t there, or we have changed some aspect of our regular prayer activity. And prayer is some form of communication or conversation with god. In prayer, we talk to our Lord and we listen to our Lord. Hopefully we have added some aspect of almsgiving to our life in Lent. Almsgiving is giving away money to people who have less. It is a work of Mercy. And almsgiving helps us grow in being more generous people. And hopefully the third Lenten discipline, fasting, which is giving up something that is good, has helped us grow in our understanding of detachment. Remember, we’re not supposed to give up something for Lent that we shouldn’t be doing. That’s why we give up peppermint ice cream rather than cursing. And the something we give up should be something that we could do on Sunday, because the Sundays of Lent are not included in the 40 days of the Lenten fast. Sundays are feast days, even in Lent.

Continue reading
Posted in homiletics | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Standing Up for Truth

Two weeks ago on the Baptism of the Lord, Father preached about how all of us through our own baptism are called to the three-fold ministry of Jesus Christ. In our own way, we are priests, prophets, and kings. The Priest offers sacrifices and prayers to God for others. And we can do that personally, offering our little sacrifices and prayers so that we and the whole world can grow in holiness. We go to the King for justice. And in our own lives, all of us can stand for justice; we can do little things to promote justice in our families and neighborhoods. And finally, the job of the Prophet is to speak what God has told him to say. Many times, the prophet doesn’t want to say what God tells him to say, and we certainly see that in the story of Jonah in the Old Testament today. But God makes His prophets speak; he makes them stand up for truth. He makes them stand up for truth even if they may encounter danger for doing so.

Continue reading
Posted in homiletics | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Eight Days a Week

holyfamilyToday we celebrate the Holy Family, which falls within the Octave of Christmas. In the church calendar, only Christmas and Easter get an octave. An octave is the eight day celebration of that feast, so for Christmas Day and for a full week we are celebrating Christmas Day. We do the same thing during Easter week. For eight days in a row the day takes on the full solemnity that principal Feast whether it’s Christmas or Easter.

Christmas and Easter represent the two most astounding claims of the Christian faith, and each of these feasts, these claims, are preceded by a long period of preparation. On Christmas we make the astounding claim that God became Man. The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us. No other religion claims that God became Man. We are given the period of Advent to prepare ourselves to accept and to celebrate this radical claim of our faith. 

Continue reading

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Watch

“My kingdom is not of this world.” Jesus said this to Pontius Pilate during his Passion, but Jesus is King and Lord of the universe. He will come, so be awake. He will come to destroy the creation that God willed into existence. But he won’t destroy us. We were made in God’s image, and our souls are eternal. When Creation is destroyed, we won’t be. It doesn’t end in nothingness for us. We will survive. Somewhere. Either in the bliss of God’s presence or the suffering agony of his absence. If you have been paying attention to the theme of the readings for the past eight or nine Sundays, you might be getting a little down, for we have had two solid months of “judgement Day is coming.”

As Advent begins, we are getting ready for the coming of Christ in the manger on Christmas night, but the lectionary is still talking about his second coming. In today’s Gospel we are warned to watch. I think why the Church spends so much of the year reminding us of the second coming is because the Devil spends all his time distracting us from thinking about it. Who spent this weekend shopping? Did Judgment Day pop into your head while you were online or at the mall? Probably not. If I hadn’t been preparing this homily, it probably would not have popped in mine.

Continue reading
Posted in homiletics | Tagged , | Leave a comment