Category Archives: Holy Spirit

Trinity: Why Do We Care?

trinity

Dear Folks,
Imagine, if you will, buying a car, but what they delivered was several crates with the
individual components and no instructions about how they fit together. I’m guessing you
would be less than thrilled. In the Great Adventure Bible Series, Jeff Cavins talks about
some people coming out of their religious education having a “heap of Catholicism.” They
know tidbits but have no idea why they matter.
One of the biggest occasions of this is the doctrine of the Trinity. Many people fought to
defend this doctrine for centuries. Basic Catholic religious education teaches this truth, and
we recite it in the creed on Sundays. But how many Catholics can explain why it matters?
How does this affect living the Christian life?
When we say “God is love” we are not just saying that God is loving, but that love is His
essence. The Father is eternally giving Himself in love to the Son, who is eternally
receiving and returning that love to the Father, and that love is so great it is Himself a
person, the Holy Spirit. Without creating anything, God is already the perfect community of
love, and has no need for anything, but love is fruitful, love is creative, so God created us
out of love. This defines for us the fullness of life: to receive love and give ourselves in
love. It also defines love: to give oneself. Jesus said there is no greater love than to give
one’s life for one’s friends (John 15:13). In everyday practical terms it is to will the good of
another. The pursuit of holiness is both a personal and communal effort, and following
Jesus involves connecting to the community. To lose oneself in love is to become more
fully oneself.
Christianity is not only the greatest love story that has ever been told, but the only love
story that could ever be told. The Lord Himself, with nothing to gain, paid the ultimate
price for us, and we didn’t deserve it. If Jesus is not God, that that means God sent
someone else to do His dirty work, and then Christianity is just another religion. If Jesus
didn’t really become human, that means He didn’t really pay the ultimate price, but just
pretended to.
Different starting points make everything different. The materialists believe that we are just
a collection of chemical reactions in a temporarily self-sustaining system. Personhood,
consciousness, and love are just byproducts of chemical reactions. Love will then often be
defined as a feeling that can come and go, rather than a decision. That is going to affect
how we view the value of individual lives and how we respond when we are disappointed
by other people. That will affect how we view the concept of life fully lived. If love served
pleasure, it might be seen as a good thing but if one were disappointed too often, it could be
discarded as a value. I read one Hindu thinker that said the Absolute reality was not
personal, and that personhood is a result of a lapse from the Absolute. To achieve perfect
oneness, one needs to lose one’s individuality. Those who believed in many gods
envisioned them fighting amongst each other. In such religions, being good is not necessary
so long as you keep your god happy and your god happens to be winning.
All these truths fit together into the ultimate story, and no doctrine is expendable. Whenever
people teach something contrary, it will always result in something less. No one will ever
come up with a story as good as the one God weaves. The Catholic faith is the greatest gift
we can give. Knowing how it all fits together and why it is so good, so beautiful and so true
is part of being ready to share it with the rest of the world. And the rest of the world needs a
lot of God’s call to love.
Blessings,
Fr. Jim

Pentecost

pentecost

Dear Folks,
This is the Solemnity of Pentecost the great feast of the Holy Spirit, the birthday of the Catholic
Church, one of the three biggest celebrations of the Church year. The story of Pentecost is in Acts
chapter 2, but the other readings in the lectionary give us a lot to flesh out the story.
We have a lot of choices for the first reading on the Vigil, but the most well-known one is the story
of the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11. It starts with people united, but then trying to attain heaven
by their own power (similar to the sin of Adam and Eve). Their pride winds up dividing them.
Their languages got confused and they couldn’t communicate anymore, so they dispersed. Such is
the power of sin. This is undone by the power of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, which allowed
people of all different languages to understand each other. The Holy Spirit unites and heals
division. Such isthe power of the Holy Spirit.
There is more.
The other possible first readings for the vigil include Exodus 19, which shows God revealing
Himself in thunder and lightning, smoke and fire. Ezekiel 37 is the story of Ezekiel preaching to
the dried bones that came together, were covered with flesh and sinews, then came back to life.
This was a sign that the people of Israel, scattered by the exile, were considered dead as a people,
and God was going to bring them back home. Joel 3 talks about God pouring out His spirit “upon
all flesh. Your sons and daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young
men shall see visions; even upon the servants and the handmaids, in those days, I will pour out my
spirit.” No one is too humble to receive this gift. There is a sense that God is going to do great
things, greater than people would expect or imagine.
The second reading is Romans 8:22:27. St. Paul speaks of creation “groaning in labor pains (an
image used a number of times in the Bible, for example Romans 13:8 and John 16:21).” This
encouragement says to people that are going through overwhelmingly difficult times that the gift of
God will make it worth it.
The Gospel for the vigil is John 7:37-39, in which Jesus calls those who thirst to come to Him and
drink, and He will make rivers of living water flow from us (remember the conversation with the
woman at the well in John 4), and we are reminded that this refers to the Holy Spirit, which will
only be given after Jesus has been glorified. To a desert culture (in contrast to a dessert culture),
water was very powerfully seen as the power of life where there is otherwise death. Notice that this
speaks of us not only receiving this living water, but being a source of it for the world.
On Pentecost Sunday, the first reading is, of course, the story of Pentecost. The second reading is
the image of the Church being the Body of Christ, and we members of the Church are parts of this
body. We are connected, and share common traits (like needing a compatible blood type), but
must also be very different. It is very good that feet and livers are different. I’m not a biologist, but
I know they are not interchangeable. We, members of the Church, have all been given gifts from
God, and these gifts, though different, are all needed and valuable. Such is the power of the Holy
Spirit.
Finally, the Gospel is John 20:19-23, in which the Risen Jesus give the disciples the Holy Spirit to
enable them to forgive sins. I can’t imagine unity in the body without forgiveness. The Spirit that
unites us and makes us one is the one at work to heal sin and division. One of the signs that the
Holy Spirit is at work in our community is our ability to come together, work together, and get
along with each other. One of the signs that the community is not open to the work of the Holy Spirit is factions and divisions between people.
This should give us much food for thought on Pentecost, and I highly recommend taking some
time with some of these Scriptures. I also recommend Dove Bars.
Blessings,
Fr. Jim
And two extra notes:
With all that is happening now, I need to say that if people use others’ bad behavior to excuse their own bad behavior, things will not get better. We need them to get better. This is a time to build up and not tear down. Remember, two wrongs don’t make a right, but two Wrights make an airplane. Let us do what is Wright.
I am willing to learn from anyone who says something I find worth learning. I never expected to learn something prophetic from Wesley (no, not John Wesley, but Wesley from the Princess Bride): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1HnvQM465zM

Preserving Us in Truth

gifts of Holy Spirit

Dear Folks,
Jesus speaks of sending another Advocate. The word is Paraclete, meaning comforter or
advocate.
We find in Matthew 5:4 “Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted.”
Looking in the Greek, we find it says that they will be paracleted. However, Bible scholars
say in the text here in John, the meaning is an advocate, one who speaks for another, as a
prophet speaks for God. Jesus, of course, was speaking about the will of the Father (in the
Gospel of John, we see very strongly that Jesus was about doing the will of the Father), and
so He speaks about sending another Advocate who will keep them (and us) on track with
His teaching.
There is a very powerful reason to believe that the Holy Spirit is at work in the Catholic
Church: If you look at our history, it is very clear that there have been times of deep
corruption, terrible leadership, and awful decisions. Reading Karl Adam’s book The Roots
of the Reformation, a short book with a lot of information, we see a very bad situation at the
end of the Middle Ages. If the Holy Spirit weren’t keeping the Church together, the Church
would have shut down centuries ago. It probably wouldn’t even have lasted ten years. In
Acts 5:34-39, a respected rabbi named Gamaliel gives some provocative thoughts along
those lines. Lots of folks tried to start movements, but it’s not that easy to keep them going
for millennia, especially when so many things go wrong.
The fullness of truth about God, and the meaning of what it is to be human, was revealed in
Jesus. We believe it makes no sense that God would give such a gift at one moment in time
and then allow it to be lost by human error and corruption. Jesus gave us the Holy Spirit to
preserve the truth in the Church. Given the messy history, how that is done is not simple.
First, there is arguing, lots of it. We see that in the first century there was a huge dispute
about whether justification (being in right relationship with God) comes from following the
Law of Moses or from faithfulness to Jesus. This was decided in the Council of Jerusalem
(see Acts 15), which laid the pattern for later councils that clarified teaching (think of the
Council of Nicea in 325, which gave us the bulk of the Nicean Creed). The Holy Spirit does
not make things neat and tidy, but keeps us from going off track.
Secondly, doctrine develops over time. The word “Trinity” is not in the Bible. The Canon
of Scripture is not listed in the inspired text in the Bible (the footnotes, table of contents,
and the like are not part of the inspired text). This has led to much confusion, with some
thinking that if it’s not explicit in the Bible it can’t be true and others thinking that we can
change whatever we want when fashion of thought changes. G. K. Chesterton talks about
development in these terms: “when we say that a puppy develops into a dog, we do not
mean that his growth is a gradual compromise with a cat; we mean that he becomes more
doggy and not less. Development is the expansion of all the possibilities and implications of
a doctrine, as there is time to distinguish them and draw them out…(from his book on
Thomas Aquinas).” The Second Vatican council’s Constitution on Divine Revelation puts it
a bit differently: “This tradition which comes from the apostles develops in the Church with
the help of the Holy Spirit. For there is a growth in the understanding of the realities and the
words which have been handed down. This happens through the contemplation and study
made by believers, who treasure these things in their hearts (cf. Lk. 2:19; 51), through the
intimate understanding of spiritual things they experience, and through the preaching of
those who have received through episcopal succession the sure gift of truth. For as the
centuries succeed one another, the Church constantly moves forward toward the fullness of
divine truth until the words of God reach their complete fulfillment in her (Dei Verbum 8).”
G. K. Chesterton was asked why he became Catholic. His answer was simple: “Because it’s
true.” That’s my reason for remaining Catholic. Others might have different starting points,
but for me, everything else follows from that.
As we await Pentecost, let us ponder the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, in our work,
and in our history.
Blessings,
Fr. Jim