Saturday, May 29, 2010

The Holy Trinity

Homily Trinity C
Fr. Paul D. Williams, Jr., St. Joseph's, Dalton, GA

There was a story in Catholic newspapers years ago, about a priest who was reprimanded by the Church for performing invalid baptisms. Apparently, for several years, he had been baptizing infants in the name of the Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier, rather than in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, as Jesus commanded us to do at the end of Matthew’s Gospel. I guess he thought he was being modern and progressive, but once this was discovered, the Church had to send a letter to hundreds of families explaining to them that their children had not received a proper baptism.

Why is this wrong? Why make such a big deal? After all, it is true that the Holy Trinity creates, redeems, and sanctifies. In fact, that neatly sums up the work of the Holy Trinity for our salvation. I even have priest friends who, I guess in an effort to be avant-garde, like to begin Mass in the name of the Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier. But what this fails to do is uphold two truths of our faith that have been revealed to us. First, that God is personal, he is one God in three persons, and second, how these persons of the Trinity are differentiated from each other, how they are related.

If you try to describe the Trinity as simply Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier, then you run the risk of falling into any number of religions that teach that God is an impersonal an force, that he is simply the divine mover. Many of the founders of our country had this view: in its extreme form, it was called Deism, where God is like a watchmaker, who created the universe, made it perfect, and then just let it run on its own, having no further involvement in his creation.

But, by the Incarnation of Jesus Christ, we know that God is personal, and he cares intimately about his creation. So much so, that, as St. Paul says, (Romans 5:8), “But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.” And St. Paul would go even further than that and say (Galatians 2:20), “I live by faith in the Son of God who has loved me and given himself up for me.” Christ on the cross gave his life for each one of us, individually, uniquely, and personally.

And so, by revealing the Holy Trinity to us as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Jesus teaches us that God is a personal reality that we can have a relationship with. And that’s the second truth that has been revealed to us. As Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, God is a community of related persons, a family.

And we are created in God’s image and likeness, so we also define ourselves by our relations. Each one of us is the son or daughter of a mother and father, and we might also be gifted to have brothers and sisters or be parents ourselves. We sometimes define ourselves by what we do – doctor, lawyer, teacher, carpenter, accountant – but these often change, and they don’t describe us totally. But our relations with others define what we are, in our essence. And this happens spiritually as well, its more than mere biology, like adoption, where adopted sons and daughters truly call their parents mother and father, and I like to think that being a priest is more than what I do, but what I am, and that when people call me Father, it is more than just a title.

So, the new catechism says of the Holy Trinity, CCC 254, “The real distinction of the persons from one another resides solely in the relationships which relate them to one another.” And then it quotes the Lateran Council, “It is the Father who generates, the Son who is begotten, the Holy Spirit who proceeds (from both).”

This is the community of the Trinity, the family of the Trinity. And if we are created in God’s image and likeness, then our human family is also an image of the Trinity. When explaining the persons of the Holy Trinity, the Fathers of the Church liked to say that the Father so loved the Son, and the Son so loved the Father, that the result of their mutual love, the personification of their love, is the Holy Spirit. That’s why St. Paul can say in today’s second reading, (Romans 5:5), “the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the holy Spirit that has been given to us.” In an analogous way, the human family reflects this image of the Trinity. The love of the spouses for each other is so great that their love is personified in their children.

But as we all know, human families are not always perfect. Because of original sin and our own personal sin, we often harm our relationships with others. Not just within our own families, but also within the community at large and even the community of nations, there is a lot of harm because of sin and selfishness. And it seems that no matter how hard we try, the damage often seems beyond repair.

But since God is not this impersonal watchmaker God who cares nothing for his creation, he decided to fix it, and there was only one way he could do it: adopt us into his family. As St. Paul says, “All who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. You did not receive the spirit of slavery, but a spirit of adoption through which we cry out Abba, Father. And if we are children, we are heirs as well, heirs with God, heirs with Christ.”

And this great truth – that by our baptism we are children of God, sons and daughters of a loving Father, brothers and sisters of Christ and in Christ through his Church, filled with the love of the Holy Spirit – should fill us with a sense of wonder, and we can say with the Psalm today, “What is man that you should be mindful of him, or the son of man that you should care for him? You have made him little less than the angels and crowned him with glory and honor.” For as St. Paul says, we have been called to a great hope, a place which the Lord has prepared for those who love him, our heavenly home, where we will be united forever with the greatest family there ever was or will be, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

In just a few minutes, Lord, I'm going to get out of bed...

Homily, Pentecost C
Fr. Paul D. Williams, Jr.

A parishioner once gave me a prayer that had a ring of truth to it that I thought would be very appropriate for Pentecost.

It goes like this: "Dear Lord, So far today, I've done alright. I haven't gossiped, haven't lost my temper, haven't been greedy, grumpy, nasty, selfish, or over-indulgent. I'm very thanful for that. But in just a few minutes, Lord, I'm going to get out of bed. And from then on, I'm going to need a lot more help."

That's very true, isn't it? Well, of course, the help we need, the help the Lord promises, is given to us by the Holy Spirit.

St. Augustine said, "What the soul is to the body, the Holy Spirit is to the Body of Christ, which is the Church." (CCC797) So, the Holy Spirit helps us in many ways. He dwells in us through Baptism, he works in all the sacraments which give growth and healing to the Body of Christ. He gives each person a gift or ministry to perform to help build up the Body of Christ, as St. Paul says.

But what I want to talk about today are what have been traditionally called the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit. I'm sure we all learned the names of the seven gifts when we were young, most likely when we prepared for Confirmation. They are: Wisdom, Understanding, Counsel, Fortitude, Knowledge, Piety, Fear of the Lord.

But, do we know what each of these gifts mean? Each gift has a specific purpose to help us on this earthly journey to our heavenly destination.

The spiritual writers have always used the image comparing the Gifts of the Holy Spirit to sails on a ship. Just as sails prepare a ship to respond to the wind, so the seven gifts prepare us to be open, docile and obedient to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. In this way, the saints are like great sailing vessels under full sail, properly responding to the different movements of the wind. Our Lord used this image himself when he said, (John 3:8), "The wind blows where it wills, and you can hear the sound it makes, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes; so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit."

But the gifts come in different degrees, with Fear of the Lord at the beginning, and Wisdom as the crown. (see Garrigou-Lagrange, bk2p226ff, and bk1p66ff)

So the first gift is that of Fear of the Lord. Now this is not a worldly fear, or a servile fear related to fear of being punished. But instead, it is a filial fear, that of a child to a parent. It is a fear of sin, not because of sin's punishments, but a fear of offending the Lord, who is so deserving of our love, like we say in the act of contrition. This is why the psalm (110:10) says, the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. It turns us from evil and points us towards good.

The second gift is the gift of Piety, which inspires in us love for God, for our Savior Jesus Christ, and for our Blessed Mother and the saints. It makes us fervent in our religious practices, helps us to seek spiritual things, and frees us from undue attachment to worldly things. As St. Paul says, "The Spirit too helps us in our weakness, for we do not know how to pray as we ought; but the Spirit himself makes intercession for us with groanings which can not be expressed in speech."

The next gift is the gift of Knowledge. On the one hand, human knowledge is good, and is a gift from the Lord. All areas of knowledge can be good: the arts, humanities, sciences, and medicine. But they can also be misused. So, the gift of knowledge from the Holy Spirit helps us to rightly judge human things, so that we use them for the love of God and neighbor and not misuse them from selfish or prideful behavior. It also gives us true knowledge of good and evil, that we love what is right, and detest what is wrong.

Above knowledge comes the gift of Fortitude. And this is a higher gift simply because knowing what is good and evil is not good enough, we have to have the strength of will to choose what is good and avoid what is evil. We need the gift of fortitude to help us in our battle with the three-fold source of sin: the world, the flesh, and the devil.

After knowledge comes the gift of Counsel. Our Lord said that we needed to be as simple as doves and wise as serpents. In serving the Lord, sometimes we are called to be meek, humble, and patient, but other times we need to be firm, bold, and strong. How do we know which? Well, the gift of counsel strengthens our prudence, so that we can know harmonize these different virtues.

Next comes the gift of Understanding, which helps us to penetrate the mysteries of our faith, of our salvation. It's one thing to believe what we have been told by a trustworthy authority, it's quite another to understand it and want to live it. It's one thing to memorize formulas and repeat them, it's quite another to savour and taste them. And that's what this gift does: it gives us not an intellectual understanding of our faith, but it helps us to understand the truths of our faith with our hearts. So even the simplest of souls can have this gift. I think the best example is St. Therese of Lisieux, who lived a simple life as a nun, and wrote only one book, "The Story of a Soul", yet she is a doctor of the faith because of her deep insights into the reality of our faith and how to live it out with a profound love.

The final gift, the crown of all the gifts, is Wisdom, which helps us to view all things in relation to God, who is our source and destination, our beginning and our last end, the Alpha and the Omega. It especially helps us to understand the central mystery of our faith: the Lord's death and resurrection, and how the Cross fits into our everyday life. It helps us to see the Lord present in all things, so that we know the truth of what Jesus said, (Matthew 25:40), "Amen, I say to you, what you did for the least of my brethren, you did for me."

How do we prepare ourselves to receive these gifts? Very simple: first, follow the will of God as it is known in the commandments and in the teaching of the Church; second, actively seek to do good, performing acts of charity; and finally, like I said at the beginning, ask for his help, and pray frequently and fervently. And a good place to start is from the sequence today, "Come Holy Spirit, come! And from your celestial home shed a ray of light divine!"

How do we judge our progress, how do we know we have these gifts? Again, simply look for the fruits. And the Fruits of the Holy Spirit, as we learned in our catechism (CCC1832), are twelvefold: Charity, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, generosity, gentleness, fidelity, modesty, self-control, and chastity. These are, what the new catechism calls, the "first fruits of glory."

So, as one of the spiritual writers says, "Let us be like ships with our sails, not furled, but fully spread, so that we might be reponsive to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, so that he might lead us through the storms and troubled waters of this world into that everlasting port, our heavenly home, which the Lord has prepared for those who love him."

Friday, May 14, 2010

Primera Comunión - Homilía en Español

I borrowed this sermon from Pope John Paul II's 1979 First Communion Homily to children. It is hard to improve on and I find it very touching. I have adapted it for use in this weekend's First Communion Masses in Spanish. English Translation. Spanish Translation.

Queridos niños y niñas: Ustedes han preparado para la primera comunión con mucho interés y mucha diligencia, y su primer encuentro con Jesús ha sido un momento de intensa emoción y de profunda felicidad. ¡Recuerden siempre este día bendito de la primera comunión ¡Recuerden siempre su fervor y su alegría purísima!

Jesús está presente con nosotros. Jesús ha resucitado y subido al cielo; pero ha querido permanecer con nosotros y para nosotros, en todos los lugares de la tierra. ¡La Eucaristía es verdaderamente el gran regalo divino!

Antes de morir en la cruz, ofreciendo su vida al Padre en sacrificio de adoración y de amor, Jesús instituyó la Eucaristía, transformando el pan y el vino en su misma Persona y dando a los Apóstoles y a sus sucesores, los obispos y los sacerdotes, el poder de hacerlo presente en la Santa Misa.

¡Jesús, pues, ha querido permanecer con nosotros para siempre! Jesús ha querido unirse íntimamente a nosotros en la santa comunión, para demostrarnos su amor directa y personalmente. Cada uno puede decir: "¡Jesús me ama! ¡Yo amo a Jesús!".

Santa Teresa del Niño Jesús, recordando el día de su primera comunión, escribía: «¡Oh, qué dulce fue el primer beso que Jesús dio a mi alma!... Fue un beso de amor, yo me sentía amada y decía a mi vez: Te amo, me entrego a ti para siempre... Teresa había desaparecido como la gota de agua que se pierde en el seno del mar. Quedaba sólo Jesús: el Maestro, el Rey». Y se puso a llorar de alegría y consuelo.

Jesús está presente en la Eucaristía para ser encontrado, amado, recibido, consolado. Dondequiera esté la Santa Misa, allí está presente Jesús.

Queridos niños: ¡Reciban frecuentemente a Jesús! ¡Permanezcan en El: dejate transformar por El! ¡No lo olvidan jamás! Jesús quiere ser nuestro amigo más íntimo, nuestro compañero de camino. Ciertamente tienen muchos amigos; pero ustedes no pueden estar siempre con ellos, y ellos no pueden ayudarnos siempre, escucharnos, consolarnos.

En cambio, Jesús es el amigo que nunca nos abandona; Jesús nos conoce uno por uno, personalmente; sabe nuestro nombre, nos sigue, nos acompaña, camina con nosotros cada día; participa de nuestras alegrías y nos consuela en los momentos de dolor y de tristeza. Jesús es el amigo del que no se puede prescindir ya más cuando se le ha encontrado y se ha comprendido que nos ama y quiere nuestro amor.

Con El podemos hablar, hacerle confidencias; podemos dirigirnos a El con afecto y confianza. ¡Jesús murió incluso en una cruz por nuestro amor! Hagan un pacto de amistad con Jesús y no lo rompen jamás! En todas las situaciones de su vida, dirigen al Amigo divino, presente en nosotros con su "Gracia", presente con nosotros y en nosotros en la Eucaristía.

La vida es un viaje hacia el paraíso: ¡Allí está nuestra patria, allí está nuestra verdadera casa; allí está nuestra cita!

¡Jesús nos espera en el paraíso! No olviden nunca esta verdad suprema y confortadora. ¿Y qué es la santa comunión sino un paraíso anticipado? Efectivamente, en la Eucaristía está el mismo Jesús que nos espera y a quien encontraremos un día abiertamente en el cielo.

¡Reciben frecuentemente a Jesús para no olvidar nunca el paraíso, para estar siempre en marcha hacia la casa del Padre celestial, para gustar ya un poco el paraíso!

Queridos niños y niñas, ¡mantienen dignos de Jesús a quien reciben! ¡Sean inocentes y generosos! ¡Comprometan para hacer hermosa la vida a todos con la obediencia, con la amabilidad, con la buena educación! ¡El secreto de la alegría es la bondad!

Y a ustedes, padres y familiares, les digo con confianza: ¡Amen a sus niños! ¡Sean dignos de su inocencia y del misterio encerrado en su alma, creada directamente por Dios! ¡Ellos tienen necesidad de amor, delicadeza, buen ejemplo, madurez!

Los confío a todos a María Santísima, nuestra Madre del cielo, la Estrella en el mar de nuestra vida: ¡Hable con ella cada día! Den a María Santísima su mano para que nos lleve a recibir santa-mente a Jesús.