God in many persons
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE SOLEMNITY OF THE MOST HOLY TRINITY, May 30, 2021:
“God in three persons, Blessed Trinity!” We know those words from the great Trinitarian hymn Holy, Holy, Holy and they name the mystery of today’s feast. We celebrate the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity – this great reality of faith that both draws us into the wonder of God’s nature and confuses us a bit when we try and understand or explain it intellectually. I was never very good at math, but it’s only in the Church that with the Trinity 1 + 1 + 1 still equals 1. Three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, yet one God.
Our trouble with the Trinity comes when we try to dissect exactly what it means; when we try and come up with precise explanations of how something can be both three and one at the same time. And yet, we still try, don’t we? Most famously, St. Patrick gave the explanation of the Trinity using the image of the shamrock – three leafs, but still just one shamrock. We can spend a long time with furrowed brows trying to wrap our minds around this. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says this, “The mystery of the Most Holy Trinity is the mystery of God in Himself.” Now this statement, I think, helps us begin to get some place helpful. The Trinity is the mystery of God in Himself. Or in more simpler terms, understanding the Trinity tells us something about the very nature of God.
Our Scriptures today give us some helpful insight. In our first reading from Deuteronomy, Moses describes the intimacy of our relationship with God. He said,” “Did anything so great ever happen before? Did a people ever hear the voice of God speaking from the midst of fire, as you did, and live? Did any god go and take a nation for himself…as the Lord did for you?” St. Paul speaks of God as Trinity in our passage from his letter to the Romans. “Those who are led by the Spirit are children of God….we cry, ‘Abba, Father’....[we are] hears of God with Christ.” In just those passages we encounter a God who is connected, interested, personal, intimate, involved in our lives.
St. Matthew, in the conclusion of his Gospel, sends us forth into the world in the mission of our three-fold God. “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”; baptizing them in the name of the Most Holy Trinity. Interestingly, though, you won’t find the word “Trinity” anywhere in the Bible, but the nature of God in Three Persons – Father, Son, and Spirit – is everywhere. Over and over, we are given examples of our God who so loved the world – who so loved you, and me, and every living being – that He gave His only Son so that we might live forever. Love is the nature of God. Love is the nature of the Trinity. And love is what our God in Three Persons invites each one of us to share.
Sacred Scripture also reminds us that we are all made in the image and likeness of God. So, the more we understand God the more we understand ourselves. And this message could not be more important than it is right now.
As our world begins to emerge from under the weight of the pandemic, for example, let’s not forget the countless and moving heroic acts of love in the words and actions of the many, many women and men on the front lines of this pandemic, caring for and comforting those effected by the virus. The incredible scientists who created and distributed the vaccines worldwide in record time – saving countless perhaps millions of lives. God who is Three-in-One is working in them and through them to share that same love to those suffering through this crisis. You and I have shared in this same love through our smaller acts of love when we have worn our masks, sanitized our hands, gotten our vaccination – in each of these simple moments we have been embracing that love that comes from the very nature of God and sharing it with our sisters and brothers. In those moments, our God in Three Persons has become God in Many Persons – God in you and me and in anyone who responds to the challenges of our world with love.
Understanding the Trinity tells us that God is not only in Three Persons, but God is in many persons because He is in you and in me and everyone who is part of the beautiful world that He created. God is not a loner who exists in solitary individualism, distant and detached from us. God exists in a community of love and sharing – in His very nature He is a Father, loving a Son, loving the Holy Spirit with a love so great that it can’t be contained and spills out into the world – to you and to me. In God’s most inner reality, He is a relationship of love. And our world needs to be overwhelmed with that love today more than ever. Only God’s love can route out what ails us in our hearts, in our homes, and in our communities.
The racism, violence, and prejudice that have also accompanied this last year and a half are the counter sign of that love; they are a corruption of that divine image. We are called to reflect God’s community of love to everyone – especially those on the margins of our society; especially those the rest of the world doesn’t see; especially those who are treated as less than worthy of the same love. The believer who reflects God’s love doesn’t divert our attention from the violence we see; doesn’t make excuses for the racism and prejudice that is a dark part of our heritage; but instead with every fiber of their being tries to love the world to health, equality, justice, healing, and holiness. God in Many Persons.
God so loved the world that we too might love the world in return. My friends, let us call upon our God in Three Persons and ask Him to once again be God in Many Persons – God in you and in me and in everyone – and ask Him to overwhelm this pandemic at last; to overwhelm any hatred, or racism, or prejudice in our hearts with His love.
The great Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” The Trinity is the mystery of God in Himself; and God in us. Let us be encompassed by that mystery of love and light so that we might reflect God’s love, healing, justice, and peace to the whole world.
May the Lord give you peace.
Let the Word go forth!
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE SOLEMNITY OF PENTECOST, May 23, 2021:
“Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” That, of course, is a line from one of the most quoted speeches of the 20th century – the inaugural address of President John F. Kennedy in 1961. It is an incredible speech; and was one that alerted the world that change was in the air; there was a generational shift. Kennedy stated boldly, “Let the word go forth… that the torch had been passed to a new generation.”
Today, on this Pentecost Sunday, those five words could also sum up the meaning of today’s great feast: Let the Word go forth. In the dramatic events of that first Pentecost, when the bewildered and excited disciples poured into the streets of Jerusalem, they had one purpose in mind: to let the Word of God go forth. And it did. The Word went forth from Jerusalem to Judea, and on to Corinth and Ephesus and Rome and Africa and Spain and even, eventually, in succeeding centuries, right here to America, right here to Fall River.
What began with a few frightened people in a darkened room in Jerusalem has spilled out and touched every corner of the earth. The word has gone forth in every language and is felt and understood in the hearts of billions-upon-billions of people. And it all began on this day we celebrate, Pentecost, often called the birthday of the Church.
Birthday is an appropriate image for Pentecost – especially when we look at it in the bigger Scriptural picture. The word “Pentecost”, means 50th and was for the Jewish people a celebration that took place 50 days after the Passover and was tied to the harvest. For them, this was a day to celebrate the giving of the Law to Moses on Mount Sinai. There, what were different tribes entered into a covenant with God and with one another and became the People of God. Pentecost celebrated the birth of this new people. We know that the Holy Spirit gives birth to God’s presence in amazing ways. It is through a different kind of Pentecost – when the Holy Spirit descended on Mary – that Jesus was born into our world. And it is through this Pentecost – the Holy Spirit descending upon Mary and the disciples huddled and afraid in that upper room – that the Body of Christ is once again born into the world; this time as the Church. We, too, are part of that miracle. We too are called to continue to bring forth the same Body of Christ into our world today.
It is said that the Church doesn’t have a mission, but that the Mission has a Church. Jesus didn’t come to give us an institution or an organization. Instead, Jesus gave us a mission, “As the Father has sent Me, so I send you;” or in the words of JFK, to “let the word go forth.” Just as Jesus came to reveal God’s love, forgiveness, mercy and joy to us, we are to continue that Revelation, we are commissioned to spread that same Good News to everyone we encounter.
Just as Jesus came to show us how to live, we are called to be the example of Christian love to our brothers and sisters. Just as Jesus was rooted in Scripture, we are called to do the same. Just as Jesus reached out to the hungry, the thirsty, the homeless, the naked, the sick and the imprisoned – we are called to reach out to those in most need in our world today. In short, we are called to be that presence of Christ, the Body of Christ, in the world today. The Holy Spirit descended upon Mary and God was born in our world; the Holy Spirit descended upon the gathered disciples and the Church was born. Today, the Holy Spirit descends upon the bread and wine on our altar, and the Presence of Christ will be born in them; and, today, the Holy Spirit will come upon each of us in this Holy Mass and will be born within us once again – all in he hopes that we will give birth to that Presence of God outside of the walls of this church.
The gift of the Holy Spirit today is a strong reminder to us that God is still right here, in our midst; that God is still truly present. We have not been abandoned by our God, rather, He still dwells among us; He dwells in us, God dwells through us. The presence of the Holy Spirit in us makes good the promise of Jesus, “Know that I am with you always until the end of the world.”
And so as the Holy Spirit of God once again descends upon us in this Mass; upon the Church in this Pentecost – let the word go forth that we will be the people who love and praise our God; let the word go forth that we will be members of His Church going from this place to be His presence of love and joy and peace; that we will go forth sharing His kindness and goodness and gentleness. That we will go forth to be the gentle, forgiving and compassionate presence of God in our world.
“Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of Your faithful. Enkindle in us the fire of Your love.” And let the Word go forth.
May the Lord give you peace.
What's in a name?
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 7th SUNDAY OF EASTER, May 16, 2021:
“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet.” That’s the famous question pondered by Shakespeare in Romeo and Juliet. What’s in a name? It’s a question we’re also invited to ponder today as we hear Jesus say, “Holy Father, keep them in your name that you have given me.” Keep them in your name. So, what is in a name? Well, just think of your own family. One of the outward signs that unites a family are the common names we share. Last names and their meanings are important. First names are also important.
For example, I was named Thomas after my great-grandfather. And even though I never met him, a few years ago when I was doing some genealogical research, I discovered we share the same birthday – separated by about a century. But, having that name makes me feel connected to generations that came long before me. And every time someone tells me they are pregnant, I always take the opportunity to remind them what a beautiful name Thomas is. No takers yet. But, isn’t it a source of pride when the newest member of your family becomes your namesake?
Another tradition in naming is to give children a religious name – either a name from the Bible or after a favorite saint. This used to be the common practice, which is why we had so many Michael’s and Anthony’s, and many Mary’s, Maria’s, and Elizabeth’s. This was a popular custom because a name says something, means something. It says something about who we are, and it says something about who we hope to be. Today, though, we live in an age where names come from different sources – movies, television, sometimes just made up to be unique (by the way Unique is also a popular name).
Studies have shown, though, that over the last roughly 10 years, people are returning to Biblical names for their children. For example, among the top 10 boys names last year were Noah, Elijah, James, and Benjamin– all good Biblical or saintly names. Popular girls names are not necessarily Biblical, but definitely spiritual. Girls are being named things like Destiny, Genesis, Trinity and perhaps the most interesting one I saw for last year – the #18 name was Blessings.
So, what’s in a name? We hear in Acts of the Apostles that it was in Antioch that the disciples were first called Christians; a name which means literally “little Christ.” This is a name that each of us has been given through the grace of our Baptism. We too are called Christians. We are called to be little Christ’s going out into the world witnessing to the One in whose Name we have been claimed. As we sing in the familiar hymn, “They will know we are Christians by our love.” It is up to each of us to claim the name we have been given, the name of the daughters and sons of God. It is up to us to live up to that name and all that it challenges us to and all that it promises.
So, what is in that name? Well, in the name of Jesus, the Son of God, since the day of our Baptism, we have been claimed for eternity; named for the Savior, welcomed into the family of God. In the name of Jesus, in this Church today, bread and wine will become His Body and His Blood. In the name of Jesus we will be blessed at the end of Mass. In the name of Jesus, sins are forgiven, the sick are healed, the blind can see, the deaf can hear, demons are driven out, the dead are raised. In the name of Jesus, we can pray for what we need with a confidence that what we ask for in His Holy Name will be granted. In the name of God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit, we were welcomed into this community of faith and it is in this same name that we will be commended to the joy of Heaven when our final day comes.
“Holy Father, keep them in your name.” Let us allow ourselves to be kept in God’s Name. Embrace the name of Christian that has been given to you. Live as a daughter or son of God; as a little Christ in the world. We pray, in the words of the Divine Praises, “Blessed be His Holy Name.” And may we be blessed in the name He has given us.
May the Lord give you peace.
Love one another!
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 6th SUNDAY OF EASTER, May 9, 2021:
I had two weddings yesterday, which is always wonderful, but was a little extra wonderful given that we haven’t had weddings really for the last year of the pandemic. It was a day of joy. One of the things I shared with the happy couples yesterday was a survey of 4-8 year-old kids who were asked the question, “What does love mean?” You can’t go wrong with advice from toddlers. Here’s what some of them said: Karl, age 5, said, “Love is when a girl puts on perfume and a boy puts on cologne and they go out and smell each other.” Chrissy, age 6, said, “Love is when you go out to eat and give somebody most of your French fries without making them give you any of theirs.” Danny, age 7, said, “Love is when mommy makes coffee for daddy and she takes a sip before giving it to him, to make sure the taste is OK.” Noelle, age 7, said, “Love is when you tell a guy you like his shirt, then he wears it, like, every day.” And my favorite one from Bobby, age 7, who said, “Love is what's in the room with you at Christmas if you stop opening presents and listen.”
Love is certainly the theme of our readings this weekend. Our second reading the First Letter of John reminded us, “Beloved, let us love one another because love is of God.” In fact, our Scriptures today and all week have focused on the nature of love – God’s love for us and His command that we love each other.
But how would we answer our toddler’s question, what is love? Language is such an imprecise thing. Just think of how imprecise the word love is. We use the same word to talk about ice cream, music, spouses, and even God. Surely the way we love ice cream is different from the way we love God. In Greek, which most of the New Testament was written in, there are actually different words for love. The two used in the New Testament are philia or the love between friends (think “Philadelphia” – the city of brotherly love); and agape, which is love in its highest form; a love that is the complete gift of self. Agape is the word used most often in the New Testament and it’s the one that St. John is using today when he speaks of the love from God that we are called to imitate in our own lives.
John today paints for us a picture of God’s love that tells us why we should love, what love is about, and how we are to love. John tells us, “Because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.” John reminds us that love is from God, that it finds its origin, its starting point in God. Living a life of love, therefore, is the way to be sure that we know God and that we are children of God; born of God. Do you ever wonder if you’re living your Christian life correctly or well? The way we love is the measure of that success. It is this simple: If we have love in our lives, we have God in our lives; and if we do not have love in our lives, we cannot have God either. God and love are two different words that mean the same thing. You cannot separate one from the other.
For example, we cannot claim to love God and have no care for the hungry, the homeless, the poor, the needy, the sick, and so on. To love God is to love them – all of them; in fact, especially those who are often difficult to love; or who have no love in their lives. To grow in our knowledge and love of God, we must endeavor to grow in our knowledge and love of our brothers and sisters, especially those most in need.
So, what does God’s love look like, and how does it differ from natural human love? John gives us a practical example. He says, “God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him.” So, Jesus is what God’s love looks like. Unlike much of human love, which is driven by self-interest, God is moved to love us not because He needed something but because we needed something which only He can give.
Human love starts with the question, “What is in it for me?” God’s love begins with the question, “What can I do for you?” Human love comes because we want to receive something, like feeling good in someone’s company. God’s love it is about giving. That is why God’s gift of His only Son on the Cross becomes the ultimate sign of the way God loves us and the model for the way we should love one another.
Finally, John says, “In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us.” My friends, God loves us unconditionally, God love us perfectly, completely, personally, and generously; God gives Himself to us in His Son; God’s love is freely, eagerly given.
We can sometimes view the command to love as just one of many things that God asks of us. Today John teaches us that love is, in fact, the only commandment; it is the source and motivation for all the other commandments. It should in fact be what defines our lives as believers. As the hymn reminds us, “They will know we are Christians by our love.” So, how are we loving in our lives? Will they know you and I are Christians because of the way we love?
May God, our loving Father, who is love itself; love incarnate, help us to purify our love for Him and multiply our love for one another, so that we can love as generously and as unconditionally as He loves us.
“Beloved, let us love one another, because love is of God.”
May the Lord give you peace.
The power of encouragement
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 5th SUNDAY OF EASTER, May 2, 2021:
Consider this quote, “You only love God as much as the person you love least.” This is a quote by Dorothy Day, the holy woman who founded the Catholic Worker Movement and who lived a life dedicated to reaching out to those whom society had cast off. “You only love God as much as the person you love least.” Let that one sink in a little bit as we focus in on our readings today.
As much as Easter is, of course, about Jesus and His resurrection, this season also focuses our attention on another central figure, St. Paul and the life-changing effect of his encounter with the Resurrected Christ. We hear a lot about Paul in the Acts of the Apostles which have such a prominent place in our Easter readings, and of course, we always hear a lot from him, as his letters to the various churches he established are read most Sundays throughout the year.
I think that the church gives us Paul during the Easter season as a point of connection between these great events and our own life. In other words, we are Paul. We relate to him in his struggles, in his doubt, even in his disbelief. And, if we can relate to him in those moments, then we can perhaps also relate to him in his conversion; we can relate to him in his zeal to grow in faith, and to share that faith with anyone he encountered. Our life of faith, after all, is not about a life of perfect belief from womb to tomb. God knows that we often struggle with our faith; struggle to maintain God’s place in our life. We are in need of constant resurrection, constant newness, constant change and return. And Paul reminds us that this is okay. That no matter how far away we sometimes feel from God, we can always return. There is no place that is too far from God for us.
In today’s passage from Acts, St. Paul was still a fresh convert to the faith and newly arrived from Damascus. I hope your ears perked up like mine did at the beginning of the passage: “they were all afraid of him.” Isn’t that stunning? The early Christians knew who this guy was and what he did– he was a persecutor, he was a Christian-hunter. Among the Christians in Jerusalem Paul wasn’t very popular. Nobody trusted him. They even feared for their lives just because he was there. In fact, at the beginning of the chapter we have today, it says, Paul “still breathing murderous threats against the disciples of the Lord...” This was one mean guy.
Which brings us back to Dorothy Day, “You only love God as much as the person you love least.” This very mean Paul is not who usually comes to mind when we think of the great saint. So, what happened? Well, of course, first and foremost, he had a direct encounter with the Risen Jesus, so stunning that we’re told that Paul fell to the ground in that moment and was struck blind and mute for a time. But, it wasn’t just that moment that changed everything. There was also one person in the community of believers who saw something more in him; who saw what he could be in and through Christ. That person was Barnabas. Barnabas believed in Paul’s conversion – and believed in him. Today’s reading says Barnabas “took charge” of Paul. Biblical scholars think it was more than that. One commentator suggested that there would not even be a Paul if there wasn’t first a Barnabas – someone who after that tremendous moment of conversion became a mentor and guide, a friend and confidant; but also a figure who must have had great courage, and patience, and perseverance. Barnabas was someone who personified Christian love. “You only love God as much as the person you love least.”
Years later, when Paul wrote his famous passage to the Corinthians about love – how it bears all things, hopes all things, and never fails – I believe, he was really talking about this. Not something romantic or flowery. But something that is a gift of self, that demands sacrifice and faith. That is unafraid and steadfast. That is willing to risk. Willing, even, to see beyond someone’s past; even a horrible and violent past like Paul’s. In other words: a love willing to “believe all things” – even to believe that a lowly tentmaker from Tarsus, a man who was a sinner, a persecutor, even a Christian-hunter, might have the potential to be a saint.
Let me share one more detail with you about our good Barnabas. Barnabas is not the name he was born with. His given name was Joseph. But just as Simon became Peter, and Saul became Paul, he, too, was given a new name to symbolize his new life in Christ. He was given the name Barnabas, a name which means, “Son of Encouragement.” Encouragement is what he gave to the growing community of Christians – and it surely describes what he offered to Saul who through this encouragement grew into the Saint Paul we have come to revere.
To offer encouragement means to support and uplift. It is taking time to give of self – to give a hand to hold, a shoulder for support, an ear to listen, a voice to calm all doubts and erase all fears. It is to love like Christ loves. To see beyond sin into holiness. This is the effect of resurrection. It will raise us not only on the last day, but it can raise us on this day too, it can raise us every day – right out of whatever weighs us down.
“You only love God as much as the person you love least.” Barnabas didn’t take the route that we too often take when faced with someone or something negative. More often than not, we become sons and daughters of judgment; sons and daughters of gossip; of complaint. But Barnabas, the Son of Encouragement, loved a man that “they were all afraid of”; he loved a man who “breathed murderous threats against them”; and he loved and encouraged him into holiness and a saintly life.
My friends, let us pray today that we too might be Daughters and Sons of Encouragement – for each other, for those we struggle with, for those who seem to need that love and encouragement more than anyone else. Our world of division and conflict needs this kind of Christian encouragement more now than ever.
“You only love God as much as the person you love least.” Let the person we love least be the person we love most and then we will be loving the way that God loves, and we will be encouraging the way that Barnabas encouraged; and we just might become saints in the process – just like Paul and Barnabas did. Let us be Daughters and Sons of Encouragement making our way to Heaven and bringing everyone else along with us.
May the Lord give you peace.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.