Reflections on Faith - Reflections on God - January 2007
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|January 29, 2007
We complete our 'trilogy' of reflections on God with these words about the Holy Trinity. Let us ask Him to come upon us.
In this reflection we ask God’s guidance and help to help us consider the mystery of the Trinity. Christians believe that In God there are Three Divine Persons. We have historically and theologically come to know them as The Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost or Holy Spirit.
Each person of the Triune Godhead has existed from all eternity. The Father is not more powerful than the Son or the Holy Ghost, but each is omnipotent and equal in all things. We cannot fully understand how the Three Divine Persons are one and the same God. A mystery is a truth that we cannot fully understand. But being a mystery doesn’t mean it isn’t true. Consider electricity or other mysteries that we ‘accept.’
There is a ‘Trinity’ story – perhaps a legend -- told about St Augustine. He was preoccupied with the Blessed Trinity. He wanted to understand the doctrine of one God in three persons and to be able to explain it logically. One day he was walking along the seashore and reflecting on this. Suddenly, he saw a child on the shore. The child made a hole in the sand, ran to the sea with a small cup, filled it with seawater, ran back and emptied the cup into the hole she had made in the sand. Back and forth she went to the sea, filling her cup and coming and pouring water into the hole. Augustine came towards her and said, “Little child, what are you doing?” She replied, “I am trying to empty the sea into this hole.”
“How do you think,” Augustine asked her, “you can empty this immense sea in this tiny hole with this tiny cup?” She answered back, “And you, how do you suppose that with your small mind you can comprehend the immensity of God?” With that the child disappeared. Truth? Legend? No matter as we are left with the very same struggle that one of the greatest Catholic philosophers and theologians had.
The Trinity is a mystery and truth of the Christian religion. It was unknown to the Jewish people before the time of Christ. Yet there are traces of the teaching even in the Old Testament. In the first pages of the Bible, God said: "Let us make man according to our own image and likeness." The word OUR indicates plurality.
It was Christ who began the unfolding of a new teaching to his followers and the later generations of believers. From the text from the Gospel of Matthew: "No one knows the Son but the Father, and no one knows the Father but the Son, and him to whom the Son shall reveal." Our Lord is telling us that the Trinity can be known only by revelation. But while this mystery is beyond the power of human deduction, it is not contrary to reason. It is simply above our powers of understanding. Remember Jesus’ words, "I and the Father are one." We also recall the words of Jesus saying: "… go therefore, teach all nations: baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost."
Whether you attend Mass every day or just on Sundays, consider this at your next Mass:
You are going to hear the Word proclaimed – and it will be the Word of the Trinity. In fact, every prayer, every hymn, every Holy Communion is basically a prayer to the Most Holy Trinity.
Someone reading this reflection may say, “Deacon Tom -- enough already – what is the use of this teaching and all these thoughts about mystery and the Trinity?” Fair enough. Consider this:
God does not exist in solitary individualism; God exists in a community of love and sharing. God is not a loner. This means that a Christian in search of Godliness must shun every tendency to isolationism. And so, the first lesson we might extract from the teaching of the Trinity is that as Christians, we are meant to live and especially to worship in community. There is something vitally flawed about the idea of ‘stay-at-home’ Christianity. Yet I hear supposed believers proclaim that home is where religion is best practiced.
Some may say, “I don’t get on well with others… I’ve seen hypocrites in Church…. well, yes. We are a broken lot aren’t we? But there’s always room for one more on the ship called SS Salvation. And since we are made in God’s image and likeness, and just as God exists in a Trinitarian relationship, so we can be fully human in a relationship with others. We need to exist in a vertical relationship with God and in a horizontal relationship with others – tough though it may be in our flawed, human condition.
May the grace of the Holy Trinity help us to banish all traces of individualism and self-centeredness in our lives. May the Trinity help us to live in love of God and love of neighbor. And I invoke a Triune blessing upon you in the name of the Father, and of His Son Jesus and in the name of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
|January 22, 2007
Years ago, I was raised to honor the Holy Ghost, now referred to as the Holy Spirit. Let us reflect on the Third Person of the Trinity. Let us ask Him to come upon us.
The Catholic hymn, Come Holy Ghost is, in some places attributed to a man named Rabanus Maurus who lived in the 8 th century. Imagine such a beautiful hymn that is perhaps twelve centuries old. It was written at a time when the expression of the third person of the Trinity was referred to as the Holy Ghost. There are some theological and interpretive reasons why this form of title was used – but to save us time – I’d like to defer on this history so that I enter into a few moments of reflection about Him.
Where to begin as we talk about God, the Holy Spirit? In ways mysterious and beautiful and powerful, the Holy Spirit comes upon people and objects and circumstances – as He has since the time of creation. In one book that I looked at – it had so many acts or ways that the Holy Spirit is involved in – that I think we could take an entire month of Reflections to speak properly of the areas that we understand the power, domain and work of the Holy Spirit.
First – let us start with some teaching regarding the Holy Spirit. He is God; He is consubstantial with the Father and the Son. This means that to believe in the Holy Spirit is to profess that the Spirit is one of the persons of a Holy Trinity.
That word consubstantial is a technical word meaning that the Holy Spirit is of one and the same substance, essence or nature with the Father and the Son. He is no more than, no less than, and equally worshiped and glorified as the Father and the Son.
There are many Biblical and interpreted signs that are said to represent the Holy Spirit. Among them is the dove. When Christ came up from the water of his baptism, Scripture tells us the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove comes down upon Christ and remains with him. Theologians tell us that the Spirit comes down and remains in the purified hearts of the baptized. And so – Christian churches and artists often use a dove to suggest the Holy Spirit. Besides the dove, we often see a tongue of fire… or water…. or the hand of God. These are all familiar symbols representing the Spirit.
We call the Holy Spirit the Sanctifier. He makes us holy if we will allow His continuing work in our lives. And he does more than that – through him we can become godlike – partakers in the very nature of God – partakers in His divine life. So – if you thirst for holiness – or if you are estranged from God for any reason… the Holy Spirit can and should be at the heart of your prayers – your intentions to draw closer to the Living God.
Here are some of the many ways that we believe the Holy Spirit works in all mankind: We believe the Holy Spirit animates all creation – He is the Lord and giver of Life.
The Spirit awakens all faith, and He enables communication with Christ. He grants gifts to all, and He helps men and women grow in spiritual freedom.
We believe that the Holy Spirit is the principal author of Holy Scripture. This is so important because it is Scripture that reveals God to us – and this means that it is the Holy Spirit that has helped us to have some understanding of the love and plan of God. And in this sense, we can see the Holy Spirit as a teacher leading us to some level of understanding of God’s work of salvation, through Jesus Christ.
The 7 th and 8 th chapters of Genesis contain the flood narrative. From Scripture these words: “The waters maintained their crest over the earth for one hundred and fifty days, and then God remembered Noah and all the animals, wild and tame, that were with him in the ark. So God made a wind sweep over the earth, and the waters began to subside.” Here we have two ways of understanding the work of the Holy Spirit – in the waters which brought about a cleansing – just as we believe happens in Baptism… and also in the wind sent from God. In Scripture – wind is often a form of expression of the Spirit of God. And some theologians talk about wind and the Spirit as being a manifestation of the breath of God Himself.
Recall with me the creation story from the second Chapter of Genesis when “the LORD God formed man out of the clay of the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life.
And so man became a living being.” What a beautiful image: man (and woman) take life from the very breath of God… in fact, some of you may remember these lovely words from an old hymn:
“Breathe on me, breath of God, Fill me with life anew,
That I may love what thou dost love, and do what thou wouldst do.
Breathe on me, breath of God, until my heart is pure,
Until with thee I will one will, to do and to endure.
Breathe on me, breath of God, till I am wholly Thine,
Till all this earthly part of me, glows with thy fire divine.
Breathe on me, breath of God, so shall I never die,
But live with Thee the perfect life of Thine eternity.
And I’ll close with the thought that there is a new and popular Christian hymn entitled Breathe. It conveys the same imagery – to think of God as the very air we breathe… God’s Holy Spirit giving us life…
Well – I’m long on words and still so much more to say. I’d like to talk more of the Holy Spirit – perhaps discussing the Gifts of the Spirit. If you wish to know more – please let me know. But for today, and for this reflection – I can think of no more beautiful words than:
“Come Holy Ghost…. Creator Blessed. And in our hearts take up Thy rest…”
|January 15, 2007
It is said that the Apostle John was the closest to Jesus. What would John want us to know about Jesus?
John was a dear friend – perhaps even the closest of those in ministry and among those who followed Jesus. John witnessed the love of Jesus, he witnessed the power and miracles of Jesus… and John was there when Christ died on the cross for love of us.
The night before Christ died, John was described as so close to Jesus that he was able to lean his head on the breast of Jesus. That may have been literal – or it may have been a figurative expression of being closest to Jesus’ heart. Given his closeness, what would John want us to know about Christ? I don’t know – but I’ve chosen to start today’s reflection by going to the Gospel of John – Chapter 1, verses 1 through 5.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.
All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be. And what came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race; the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
These words are called the prologue to John’s Gospel. They state the first main themes that he, John wanted us to know about Jesus. Jesus was the Word of God.
That phrase Word of God means that Jesus is the spoken expression of everything that the Father wants us to know. Jesus is the author of life, light, truth, and the world. Jesus pre-existed the world, meaning Jesus has existed for all eternity. He was with the Father in eternity and the Father is God and so also is Jesus. These are the awesome introductory words from the one closest to Jesus. And again – the first characteristic of ‘God made man’ was the love of the Father as expressed in his son, Jesus.
Many Christians have read books by C. S. Lewis. A more well known know book is called The Screwtape Letters. In that book, Lewis created a demon named Screwtape. Screwtape wrote to his nephew and advised the young man about the use of a series of temptations to get others to fail. Temptations of power, sex and anti-love seemed like sure ‘winners’ against believers.
In the book – and in our times, the devil appears to have the winning edge, but at a certain point, Screwtape admits to his nephew that their enemy (God) is not to be underestimated. Screwtape says: "We must never forget what is the most repellent and inexplicable trait in our enemy; He really loves the hairless bipeds." Lewis used the words ‘hairless bipeds’ to refer to us – we are the objects of God’s love. And Jesus is the absolute fulfillment and demonstration of the love of God. So love is the first and most important characteristic that attracted the Apostle John.
It was the love of Jesus witnessed by John that became the spiritual glue that made them so close to one another. I make that the cornerstone of my thoughts today.
Now, given that love is the main and first attribute of Jesus, what else… what next could one say about him? In the Catholic Church – we have a special devotion and a set of prayers offered to recognize and honor the Divine Mercy of Jesus. In Poland some years ago – not too many, really, there lived a nun – a sister now honored as a saint in the Church. Her name is Faustina Kowalska. It is said that Jesus appeared and spoke to her. He said, “You will prepare the world for my final coming. Speak to the world about my mercy ... It is a sign for the end times. After it will come the Day of Justice. While there is still time, let them have recourse to the fountain of my mercy.”
However you hear or understand that a now deceased Polish nun might have heard from the Lord Jesus, I offer to you – I believe that what Jesus wants us to know about him is that he is merciful. To avail ourselves of this gift of his mercy, we must hear the words that Jesus used as he started his public ministry: r epent and believe. T he urgency of the message to Sister Kowalsa about the coming of Jesus ought to get our attention and lead us to soberly reflect upon our lives. While we still have time, we need to take action to benefit from the shower of mercies flowing from Jesus.
Next week – some reflective thoughts on the Holy Spirit.
|January 8, 2007
What kind of a relationship did you have with your father? What sort of relationship do you have with God the Father?
Dear friends in Christ. In the small mountain community where I live, I’m doing radio programs during this month. They are non-denominational worship services which ‘air’ each Sunday. I’ve chosen to speak about God the Father one week, then the Son and finally, the Holy Spirit. Here are a few excerpts from my radio show. And I might say to you that I’ve borrowed thoughts from a priest, Brennan Manning.
Lord our God and Father, your inspired Scripture tells us in Jeremiah, Chapter 1, verse 5 – “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you.” We pray and ask: “What are we that you should think of us and dispatch your only Son to bring the Good News to us? What is man that you would give your only begotten Son as the perfect model for all men of all times? What is woman that you should honor one most holy woman as the mother of your only begotten Son? Father, how are we to understand the mystery of your love? Your mercy? Your goodness? Help us Father to see you better. Amen.”
Let me start with a story told by Brennan Manning. He was invited to attend an anniversary celebration at the temple of a Jewish congregation back east. The invitation was made by the rabbi – a young man of perhaps 35 years of age. The rabbi and his wife and young children were seated at the head table – the priest was seated nearby.
Midway through the dinner, the rabbi’s three or four year old son became bored with the adult conversation and wandered off in the crowded room. Just as the youngster lost his bearings -- the priest happened to notice the boy beginning to look around in a form of youthful panic. The child looked up and saw his father, the rabbi. So he ran towards his dad and leapt into his father’s lap… and nearly everyone could hear the boy as he cried out, “Abba… Abba!” Jesus tells us that this is the true posture of Christian prayer… a little child sitting on his fathers’ lap calling out by the endearing word that means “Daddy…. Daddy!”
A German Scripture scholar of our times said that this intimate, colloquial word still in use by little Orthodox Jewish children – that in giving us the word Abba – Jesus Christ opened up the undreamed of, unheard of possibility of intimacy with God in prayer. And because of this teaching of Jesus – a whole new climate in the prayer life of a Christian is called for. In the guidance from Jesus – we are no longer to picture God as a remote Supreme Being --- or as the great hangman in the sky… Because of the vision of Jesus – we no longer see God the Father as a Supreme Judge who just waits for us to stumble and fall… We are not to picture a punishing God….
Unfortunately – many of us don’t really hear or don’t accept this teaching in our hearts. We may pay lip service to it in our intellects. There is a Jewish word – Kessid. It can be translated as a “steadfast, enduring love.”
And – it is Kessid that best describes the type of appealing, magnetic love that is perceived by a young child who runs to his father and literally throws himself into the outstretched arms of the parent. And what I like about this image is this. At a very young age, most children don’t hide from their parents when they’ve made a mistake or done something inappropriate. When a child touches a hot stove or closes a door on his fingers – the child comes running for the parent to be loved, comforted and reassured. And in part, I submit and believe that this is why Jesus said ‘Unless you become like little children, you cannot enter the Kingdom.’
I’ve preached before on the issue of ‘father wounds.’ These are wounds caused most often in men – but certainly also in women. They have happened because of the sometimes broken nature of men as fathers. I’ve actually seen tears flowing down cheeks when this topic is raised. Let us pray for healing for those hurt by weak or flawed humanity.
But in any case – take heart. It is possible to start a new and loving, almost childlike relationship with Father God. Let us climb onto his lap and feel the comfort of his embrace… his unconditional love. Abba. Daddy! If you wish to expand on this – I refer you to a book (or series of tapes) on The Return of the Prodigal Son. You can get it through a library or use Amazon to find it – it’s a wonderful read!
|January 1, 2007
From: ''Ask the Deacon'' ''What is a Deacon? What does he do?''
(Acts 6:1-6; 1 Peter 4:10-11)
Not quite forty years ago, Pope Paul VI set in motion the restoration of the ‘office’ of permanent deacons. This action is found in his apostolic letter of June 18, 1967, entitled Sacram Diaconatus Ordinem. It took just one year for the United States Conference of Bishops to begin work to restore the role of deacons in the United States.
Yet many – perhaps most don’t know what a Catholic deacon is. What are his duties? Are they ‘fancy altar servers?’ Are they ‘mini priests?’ What privileges do they have? What duties? Can they bless articles? All these are good questions.
In the earliest days of the Christian Church, deacons were selected and admitted to the Eucharistic ceremony because they would help at table, serve the poor, most especially widows who had no men to care for or provide for them. (See ACTS, Chapter 6 concerning the need for ‘Assistants’ in the early Church.) We see in the early calling of Stephen and six other men – the charisms of (1) Service at the liturgy and table of the Lord; (2) Being of service to others; (3) And later – a charism of the Word of God, especially by proclaiming the Gospel. There is a fundamental, even a theological point about the first deacons. They were called from the community of believers. The fact that deacons are called from the community is highly significant. In a sense, the deacon has one foot in the lay community of worshipers.
In the Mass, a deacon usually announces the Penitential Rite – calling his brothers and sisters to repentance for sins. He proclaims the Gospel, and is authorized to preach at the direction of the pastor. A deacon represents your needs, your prayers, and your petitions. This is why the deacon, when present at the Mass announces the petitions for the community after the Creed. This is also why a deacon steps forward to help receive the gifts with the priest. The deacon symbolizes your gifts being moved to the altar by your representative to become part of the sacrifice of the Mass. The deacon lifts the chalice during the Mass – an awesome symbol that each parishioner is a part of this presentation of Jesus in the Consecrated Wine as an offering and gift back to the Father.
The deacon prepares the altar for the celebration of the Eucharist, distributes Communion, and he helps clean the vessels. The deacon dismisses the faithful at the end of Mass. So those are some of the deacon’s liturgical duties associated with Mass.
OTHER SACRAMENTAL & LITURGICAL ROLES
Deacons also perform baptisms, witness marriages, and they do funeral vigils, funeral liturgies and graveside services. Deacons are fully ordained clergy – so they can bless a new rosary, and bless your home, a new pet, a new car –or even that new computer (getting ride of evil bugs in your computer is a specialty of Deacon Tom!). Deacons can also help liturgically as you celebrate the renewal of your wedding vows.
Deacons cannot celebrate Mass. Deacons cannot hear confessions. Deacons cannot perform the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick. But deacons can come and pray over anyone who is sick or aged or confined by illness or lack of capacity. A deacon should be willing to be intimately involved with the needs of the sick, the poor and the needy.
Deacons need a willingness to be a man of the Church. Technically, a deacon reports directly to the bishop. In practice, the deacon works at a Liturgical Base, most often a local parish. Some deacons are given special assignments such as jail or hospital ministry, food banks, etc. As a rule, deacons are not paid, although some serve as paid parish administrators; others serve as paid educators, paid liturgists or other forms of extended parish service.
Like all men and women – deacons are called to a life of holiness; but certainly, deacons can be flawed and sometimes weak and sinful people. The words of the bishop at our ordination challenge us. We were exhorted to live the Gospel life – the Gospel whose herald we have now become.
Just as with priests and bishops, deacons (and their spouses) need your prayers to be able to do these things that are part and parcel of being clergy… being mediators… being examples of God’s call to each and every one of us.