Holy Trinity Sunday

This is the homily I preached on Sunday, May 31, Holy Trinity Sunday.

+ In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, amen!  Do you see what you did there?  I made the sign of the cross and you did it too.  You didn’t have to do it.  We don’t normally make the sign after the Gospel.  It’s not in the book.  But, as Catholics, we’ve been taught that when someone else, especially someone standing at the front of the room signs themselves, we’re supposed to follow along.  It’s a Catholic thing.

In fact, + (sign) is probably the second-most recognized hand gesture in the world.  The peace sign might be first.  I’m not sure.  But, like I said, it’s a Catholic thing.  If you see someone crossing themselves, they’re probably Catholic.

So……the sign identifies us as Catholics.  It also tells anyone who knows our faith what we believe.

That IS in the book.

I believe in one God, [not multiple gods like the Romans of the Greeks, I believe in the one and only God.  I don’t worship cats, or the sun, or the earth.] the Father almighty,maker of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible.  My God isn’t part of nature.  He created nature out of nothingness.

If that were all there was, things would be very simple.  But, like they say on the infomercials, “But wait, there’s more!”

I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Only Begotten Son of God, born of the Father before all ages. God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father; through him all things were made.

 

This word “begotten” must be important.  We say it twice in one paragraph.  See, there was a guy running around in the 4th century saying that Jesus wasn’t really God.  He was just some “super” angel, better than us, but not as great as God.  The Church held a council and promulgated this creed, establishing once and for all that God and Jesus are one and the same.

According to the new translation of the Creed that some of us are still learning, Jesus is CONSUBSTANTIAL” with the Father.  Remember, we used to say “one in being with the Father”, which isn’t enough to describe who Jesus really is.  You and I are one in being with the Father because everything in the world is created through Him.  Consubstantial sort of means “of the same substance”.  God IS the Father and the Son.

The Creed goes on to tell us what Jesus did, how He suffered and died and rose again on the third day to save us from our sins.

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son, who with the Father and the Son is adored and glorified, who has spoken through the prophets.

 

When Jesus returned to heaven he left us an Advocate, His Holy Spirit.  In last week’s Gospel He said He would send the Advocate “whom I will send you from the Father.”  Notice the words.  Jesus would send the Spirit from the Father.  He proceeds from the Father AND the Son.

Just today (yesterday) nine men were ordained to the Permanent Diaconate at the Cathedral Basilica.  The Archbishop laid hands on them, just like he laid hands on me ten years ago next week, and he said, “Lord, send forth upon him the Holy Spirit, that he may be strengthened by the gift of your sevenfold grace to carry out faithfully the work of the ministry.” 

 

 

Of course we all receive the Holy Spirit at baptism and at confirmation as well.

That’s it.  That’s what we believe about God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Our problem as humans is that we want to understand things.  We want proof.  But there are just some things that are beyond our understanding.  Saint Patrick used the shamrock to illustrate the Trinity, each leaf representing one of the three persons.  Since he’s my patron saint, I’d like to say that it was the perfect analogy.  Unfortunately it wasn’t.  That’s why God has given us this thing called “faith”.  As Christians we have to believe some pretty unbelievable stuff.  Jesus turned water into wine.  Jesus turned bread and wine into His body and blood.  Jesus died and was buried, rose from the dead and ascended into heaven.  God is one but He exists as three different persons.

Don’t try to figure it out.  Just accept it.  He’s God.  He can do anything.  He’s our Father, our Brother, and our Advocate; He’s existed since the beginning of time and He made everything in the universe out of nothing.  I know you believe it because I hear you say it every week.  Don’t question it.  Just be thankful that it IS.

In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

40 Reasons Why It’s Cool to be Catholic #24 The Rosary and Other “Catholic” Prayers

Notice that I put “Catholic prayers” in quotes in the title.  None of our prayers are restricted to just Catholics, even though most people make that association.  The Hail Mary, The Lord’s Prayer, the Creed, or any prayer that we may think of as “ours” contains anything that should keep any Christian from joining in.  In fact, many of our protestant brothers and sisters pray the “Our Father” regularly and also use one of the two Creeds.  Notice, in your missal, that the word “catholic”, as used in either the Nicene or the Apostle’s Creed isn’t capitalized.  The word means “universal”.

The rosary (from the Latin, rosarium, or rose garden) goes back to the early Church.  In the year 1214, when the rosary was given to Saint Dominic in an apparition.  The prayer itself has remained largely the same until 2002, when Pope John Paul II added the luminous mysteries. Many protestant denominations discourage prayer of the Rosary, due mainly to their lack of devotion to the Blessed Mother (and, in many cases their distrust of anything that might be considered “too Catholic”).

But the fact is, there is nothing in the devotion that isn’t Biblical.  I’ll break that down for you in a minute.  Stay tuned.

According to EWTN, the Rosary was a devotion for the laity in the early Church, many of whom couldn’t read.  The 150 Hail Marys were their equivalent to the Monks recitation of the 150 Psalms.  The Rosary has been the preferred devotion for Popes and Saints for Centuries.  John Paul II called it his favorite prayer after the mass and the Liturgy of the Hours. There are many articles on how to pray the Rosary and I’ll give you a couple of links below.  What I want to do here is break down the individual prayers. Jesus Himself told us how to pray the Lord’s prayer.  When the disciples asked Him how to pray, He said to pray like this:

“Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come.  Give us each day our daily bread and forgive us our sins for we ourselves forgive everyone in debt to us, and do not subject us to the final test.”  Luke 11:1-4

Enough said. Then we have the “Hail Mary”.  Frankly, I don’t know how anyone could question the Biblicality (new word) of this prayer.  Again from Luke:

The angel said to Mary, “Hail favored one! (full of grace)  The Lord is with you!” Luke 1:28  Then when Mary visited the home of Elizabeth, “Elizabeth cried out in a loud voice and said, ‘Most blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb.'” Luke 1:42

That’s the first half of the Hail Mary, almost word-for-word.  In the second half of the prayer we ask Mary to pray for us.  That’s it.  The whole prayer directly from Luke’s Gospel and from our desire for Mary to pray for us.

Combine the Our Fathers and the Hail Mary’s and you have the Rosary. The thing that makes these prayers cool, along with other Catholic prayers and devotions too numerous to list here, is the fact that they give us easily-remembered forms for talking to God and to the Blessed Mother.  Sometimes when we pray, we may have a tendency to want to be too wordy.  We may go on-and-on about this and that when all that’s really needed are the words we’ve been given by the Scriptures and by the Church.  In a matter of seconds, we can speak to God or Mary anytime and anyplace.

And that’s cool!

In case you need more evidence of the coolness of Catholic prayer, especially the Hail Mary, here’s something I’ll bet you didn’t know.  Elvis Presley recorded a song called The Miracle of the Rosary.  According to iTunes, it was included on not just one, but on SIX different albums.  Here he is for your listening pleasure:

Rosary Links:  EWTN

The Holy Rosary.org

The Joyful Mysteries (audio) by Dana

4th Wednesday of Lent–Our Father

If there’s one thing we Catholics are good at, it’s praying the “Lord’s Pray”, or the “Our Father”.  Of course, we’re not the only ones who use this prayer.  Our protestant brothers and sisters pray it too, but not as often as we do.  We pray the prayer at every mass.  We pray it at morning and evening prayer.  We pray it fourteen times when we do the Stations of the Cross and we pray it six times when we say a decade of the Rosary.

It’s not just “our” prayer, but we can definitely lay claim to being it’s “power users.”

“Jesus answered the Jews:  ‘My Father is at work until now, so I am at work.’  For this reason they tried all the more to kill him, because He not only broke the sabbath but He also called God his own father.”

Think about that! They wanted to kill Him for calling God His Father.  This was the ultimate blasphemy.  You didn’t talk about God that way.  The Jews were forbidden to even speak His name.  But not only did Jesus call God “His Father”, he encouraged his disciples to do the same.  They asked Him, “Teacher, how should we pray?”  He told them to pray like this:  Father, hallowed be your name.” (Luke 11:2-4)

We take it for granted today that God is our Father.  We’ve been taught to think of Him that way since we were little children.  I think most of us picture Him as a kindly father-figure, kind of like George Burns in the movie Oh,God. That was NOT the image of God for the Old Testament Jews.  You didn’t call God your father any more than they’d call Julius Caesar “Julie.”    It just wasn’t done.

Sometimes, to appreciate the scriptures we have to step back and think about what was going on in the world 2,000 years ago.   From the vantage point of a first-century Jew, things looked a lot different than they do today.  But, even through today’s eyes, it’s pretty awesome that we can speak to the all-powerful Creator of the Universal, in such a familiar way.  Even more awesome is that we know He listens to us.

17th Sunday of Ordinary Time–The Lord’s Prayer

“Jesus was praying at a certain place, and when He had finished, one of His disciples said to Him, “Lord, teach us to pray as John taught his disciples” His response is what we call today “The Lord’s Prayer” or the “Our Father”.

We learn the prayer as kids and we keep it with us for life. Many of our protestant brothers and sisters pray the Lord’s prayer, but we, as Catholics, pray it almost constantly. It’s part of our daily prayers, it’s part of every mass, and many of us pray it privately, sometimes many times per day. It’s a part of our “Catholic DNA”.

I’ve visited Catholics at the hospital who are nearly comatose. They may or may not be near death, but they can barely communicate. But when I pray the Our Father, their lips will move along with the prayer. Sometimes they’ll even try to make the sign of the cross.

But, have you ever thought about what you’re praying; what the words really mean? In some ways, the prayer was revolutionary for Jesus’ time. The Jews were known for their lengthy, elaborate prayers. They would gather at the synagogue and make a big production of their prayers. Of course, we do that sometimes too, but nothing like the Jews in Jesus’ day were used to. This simple prayer was something new and different.

The second thing that was radical about this prayer was the fact that Jesus taught us to call God “Our Father.” The God of the Old Testament was a pretty scary guy. This was the God who destroyed the earth with water in the great flood. He was known to destroy a city if things got too far out of hand. Remember Sodom and Gomorrah? He parted the Red Sea to allow the Jews to pass through then let the waters return, killing Pharoah’s army. The Jews had such a fear of God that, even today they’re afraid to speak His name.

But here’s Jesus telling us it’s OK to call Him “Father”. In fact, the word he used was “Abba” which is translated more like “daddy”. A Jewish child might call his biological father “Abba”. It was a very radical idea.

So we call on our Abba, our heavenly Father, and the first thing we do is offer Him praise. “Hallowed be thy name”. The word “hallowed” means “holy”, consecrated”, “sacred”, “revered”. Again, for a people who have been afraid to even speak God’s name, now we’re praising His name. Like any child about to ask a parent for something, it never hurts to put them in a good mood by saying something nice.

“Thy kingdom come.” We know that God’s kingdom is coming, we just don’t know when. We’re not telling God anything He doesn’t know, but it doesn’t hurt to remind ourselves.

“Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” This seems kind of unnecessary. Of course God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven. We’re not asking for God’s will to be done. We’re reminding ourselves that it is. It always is. When we say “Thy will be done”, we’re acknowledging that we know it and we accept it.

“Give us this day our daily bread.” This is the only material thing that’s included in the prayer, but why bread? Why not “give us this day our daily cake”? Well, we know that bread is the basic staple of life. It represents nourishment and it represents the earth. It’s the thing that Jesus chose to turn into His own body inthe Eucharistic sacrifice. Without bread and other natural things that grow from the earth, there would be no physical life. Without the transubstantiated bread of the Eucharist there would be no spiritual life.

When we pray for our daily bread we’re not asking that manna drop down from heaven like it did for the Israelites in the desert. We’re asking for the necessities of life; the things we need, not the things we want. Notice, too, that He tells us a story about a man who came to his neighbor’s house in the middle of the night. What did he ask for? Bread. You might think that we’re not just praying for our own needs. Maybe Jesus is telling us that “our daily bread” includes enough to share with our neighbor. Maybe by sharing our bread with someone else, or by dropping off a yellow bag each month for Feed My People, we’re helping God answer someone else’s prayer. Receiving the Lord’s body in the Eucharist every day isn’t a bad idea either.

Jesus tells us: “For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” How could He say that when we’ve all prayed for things and not gotten them. What’s up with that?

Here’s an example. Someone who’s lost his job might pray to win the lottery. That’s what he wants. An awful lot of lottery winners end up right back where they started in just a few years, blowing their winnings. What our man needs is another job.

Most of you probably know Garth Brooks’ song “Some of God’s Greatest Gifts are Unanswered Prayers.” He had prayed that he would marry his high school sweetheart. He didn’t. He married someone else. Years later, he runs into his old flame and discovers that the woman he did marry was a much better match. Who can’t relate to that? Remember, He gives us what we need, not necessarily what we want. If you knock and the door doesn’t open, you might just be knocking on the wrong door.

Now comes the tricky part. This might fall under the heading “be careful what you pray for. “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” That’s how we pray it, but maybe the actual words of the Gospel make more sense: “Forgive us our sins for we ourselves forgive everyone in debt to us.” I don’t know about you, but this one scares me to death. Forgive me because I forgive everyone else? I hope that God is more merciful than I am. In my human weakness I sometimes hold a grudge.

Even though we humans may not be as merciful as God, or at least I hope that’s the case, forgiveness is definitely good for the soul. Let me tell you a story about myself. My father ran away from home when I was fourteen. One day he just left and never came back. As kids do, I took it very personally. I hated my dad for a long, long time. One day, after my mom had passed away, I found a letter that my dad had written her either when they were first married, or maybe before.

It showed my father to be much more of a caring, loving individual than I ever thought he was. Maybe he wasn’t such a bad guy after all. Every story does have two sides. I decided to give him the benefit of the doubt and forgave him. He was already dead by then so I couldn’t tell him how I felt, but by letting go of all that anger and resentment my whole life changed. After years of carrying around all that emotional baggage, I felt like a great weight had been lifted off my shoulders. My forgiveness may not have done anything for my father, but it definitely helped me.

By asking God to forgive us as we forgive others, we’re putting the burden on ourselves to free ourselves from the weight of being judge and jury of the rest of the human race. God has a Son and He already has that job. He doesn’t need my help.

“Lead us not into temptation.” Or, “do not subject us to the final test.” This is another tricky one. God doesn’t lead us into temptation. That’s the devil working with our sinful nature. On the other hand, He could if He wanted to. Remember “thy will be done”? So what are we asking here? “Lead us not into temptation” could also read “Lead us away from temptation.” We’re more than capable of leading ourselves into all the temptation we could ever stand. But if God leads us in other directions, away from temptation, then we should be alright.

“But deliver us from evil.” This completes the thought. “Lord, I know there’s evil out there. Please deliver me from it, just like you delivered the Hebrews from the Egyptian army.

There are some scholars who think that Jesus was just giving us a template, a format for prayer that we could adjust to fit our own situation. But, I can’t think of anything I could change that would make this prayer any more perfect than it already is.

We acknowledge God as our heavenly Father. We give Him praise. We recognize that His will will always be done. We ask Him to give us what we need, not what we want because they’re often two different things. We ask Him for mercy. Not just that He be merciful to us, but that He give us the grace to be merciful to others. Finally, we ask Him to defend us against Satan and to lead us away from evil.

Most of us will elaborate on the “bread” part, giving God of a list of our needs, including the needs of others. We know our loved ones in purgatory may need us to pray for them. That’s a good thing. I have a list of people that I add every day, including all of you. But we know that God knows us better than we know ourselves. He knows our needs and He knows our temptations.

If we were to suddenly lose our memories and could only recall this one prayer, it would really be all we need.

Note:  After I delivered this homily I sat down and realized I had missed a very important point.  He taught us to pray in the plural tense, our Father, give us this day our daily bread.  That’s crucial.

Who is the us we pray for?  Is it our families?  Is it the people in our parish?  Is it all white Republicans?  Is it just Democrats?  Who we include in our prayers says a lot about us, doesn’t it?

The next time you pray the Our Father, hopefully in the next few seconds, think about what I’ve said, particularly “Who is the ‘us’ we’re praying for?”