Sunday, 18 May 2008

Trinity Sunday, Shaftesbury

I was to say a few words about two things: the Trinity, and the movies Star Wars.

I was very very young when the first Star Wars movie came out, and it made a big impression on me, as it did on many of my generation. My Mom sewed me a Star Wars pyjama case, and my Dad bought me a plastic light saber. I used to dream of training in a Jedi academy, becoming a Jedi knight, and summoning the power of the all-pervading life energy of the universe called "The Force".

Instead, when I grew up, I went to seminary to train to become a priest.
Trendy "New Age" philosophy might try to equate the two: priesthood-JediKnight, battling the dark side of the Force-preaching repentance from sin, and Star Wars is full of such dodgy thinking.
And that brings me on to the Trinity.
Because the basic point I want to make to you is that today’s feast of the Most Holy Trinity is not just about some abstract doctrine, but it actually teaches us what God Himself is like, and he’s very very different to modern popular notions.

If you read contemporary literature and movies, a popular image of God today is pretty much summed up in the movie Star Wars. The God of Star Wars, is "The Force", the supposed sum of the spiritual energies of the universe, and that’s how many people today mistakenly think of God.
BUT the doctrine of the Trinity tells us what is different. “Three persons in One God”. It’s all about being a person, being personal, and being able to love.

God is not just an energy, He is personal. That’s why we refer to Him as “he”, and not just “it” –and that’s why He revealed Himself as a “he”, a person.
An energy cannot love you, an “it” cannot love you, cannot relate to you in personal way, cannot care for you, cannot choose to create you, and an energy cannot die on the Cross for you, cannot give himself to you in Holy Communion at every Mass.

When Jesus came down from heaven, He didn’t just hover around us as a force. He assumed a human body, He became a real man, something only a person can do. He ascended up to heaven with that body, which is a sign that He is still a person –it’s what He is.
The Holy Spirit that Jesus promised is also a person, a person promised to us by Jesus, “I will send you another helper”, He said, to help inside our hearts.
And the Father Himself, is a person. The whole Trinity is a community of three loving persons.

Only a personal God can exist in relationship. Only a personal God can love us. Energies and forces cannot do relate to you, cannot love you; and this is what makes our Faith so different to the other religions of the world.

Final thought: we are made in the image of God. The Trinity is a community of love. Three distinct persons, all equally God, all one, and yet existing in relationship with each other.
We are made in the image of God, and that means we too are made to love,
and to be loved,
to exist in relationship with others.
If we, mistakenly, think that God is just an energy then it changes what we think about ourselves.

That’s why being a priest is NOT like being a Jedi knight. A priest exists to make a person present, Christ the Lord. That’s why 4 times during the Mass the priest or deacon says, “The Lord be with you”, not “The Force be with you”. May a PERSON be with you, a person who loves you, and who gives much more to you than the energy of the so-called “Force”.

Sunday, 11 May 2008

Pentecost: Holy Spirit and Our Lady, Shaftesbury

I want to say a few words about Our Lady, the Blessed Virgin Mary, first, because it’s her month of May, but also because I don’t think we talk enough about Our Lady these days.
In particular, on today’s feast of Pentecost, I want to say a few words about her relationship with the Holy Spirit, because she is the one the Church uniquely calls the ‘Spouse of the Holy Spirit’, and she shows us how to live in relationship with the Holy Spirit.

HS can sometimes seem a little remote and odd, pictured as dove not as a person.
But, though difficult to picture he is easy to recognise in his EFFECTS. Scripture tells us of 12 FRUITS the HS produces in those who allow him to enter their hearts. Among these are peace, joy, patience, and love/charity (Gal 5:22, also: self-control, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness, generosity, modesty, chastity cf CCC 1832).

Those things can all seem a little vague and abstract, but when we look at Our Lady we see these things in their perfection. She had patience and peace –she endured the foot of the Cross. She had joy –the Magnificat. She had charity –when she heard she was to be pregnant and that her cousin already was, she didn’t think of her own needs to went straight to go and care for her cousin Elizabeth.

But these things in the life of Our Lady didn’t spring from no-where, they sprang from her unique relationship with the Holy Spirit.
At the Annunciation, the Angel Gabriel said ‘the Holy Spirit will overshadow you’ –and she was filled
At the Visitation to Elizabeth, the babe in her cousin’s womb leapt ‘filled with the Spirit’ when it sensed Our Lady’s presence.
At the Cross, when, the Spirit was breathed forth by Christ as he died on the Cross, it was there that she was.
[At the Res’n appearances, when the Risen Lord showed his wounds and breathed forth his HS again.]
At Pentecost, when the Apostles panicked and were in fear, we read that it was around HER that they gathered waiting for the HS to come.

WE often do not feel the HS. WE often can think he is distant or vague. We can hear of his peace and his joy and his patience, but these seem far away. Who can we turn to to find him? Our Lady.
Two things in her example:
(i) She was docile to the Will of God, and so the HS found room to dwell in her heart.
If we are docile, rather than being filled with ourselves, then HS can dwell in us.
(ii) She prayed. Scripture repeatedly refers to her contemplative nature, ‘she pondered all these things in her heart’. And it was around her prayer that Pentecost occurred. So we too must pray if HS to come.

More than her example, she is the Mother in heaven that Jesus has assigned to watch over me, and watch over you. The saints repeatedly teach that whatever she asks of God, God grants. He denies her not. Why? Because while she was on earth she was sinless, she denied Him not.
So, she is a powerful Mother to care for me.

I want the gifts of the HS. I want the fruits of the HS to be manifested in my life. But, by myself, I don’t know how. He seems strange to me.
Those gifts were manifested before: in the life of the sinless Virgin, our Mother. She can ask for a fresh outpouring of HS into my heart. She can ask for me to be aided in removing the obstacles to the HS in my life.
And, if we turn to her, if we entrust ourselves to her in this month of May, those fruits of the Holy Spirit can be ours too.

Newsletter quote:
“the month of May, coinciding at least in part with the Easter season, is quite propitious for illustrating the figure of Mary as the Mother who accompanies the community of disciples united in prayer in expectation of the Holy Spirit (cf. Acts 1:12-14)”. Pope Benedict, May 6, 2007

Sunday, 4 May 2008

Ascension Sunday, Year C, Shaftesbury

There are three truths that we are called to remember on the feast of the Ascension: Christ has gone before us to Heaven; Christ yet remains with us; and, as the liturgy phrases it: “Where he has gone, we hope to follow”.

That Christ has GONE is the most self-evident of these truths: even a person without faith can tell that he is not with us as he was originally with the 12 two thousand years ago.

The fact that he REMAINS with us even though he has gone is, without doubt, a more subtle truth. A truth that can only be known by faith, and by ‘faith’ I don’t mean a vague feeling but I mean that definite response in our will and intellect to what he has told us and promised us. He promised us, as we just heard, “Lo, I am with you always, yes, till the end of time” (Mt 28:20). This he promised, and so this we know must be true –even if it cannot be seen as easily as the visibility of His absence.

We heard in our first reading, from Acts, about His promise to send us His Holy Spirit, and it by means of that Spirit that He is present in His other ways. But He is present also, at the physical tangible levels we know as Catholics, like the sacraments. That’s why we just heard how Christ sent out His Apostles.
Christ said that He had all authority, and He gave that authority to His Apostles. Why? So that they might take HIM, make HIM, present to all the nations.
That’s why He’d promised to be present by means of His apostles, His Apostles of whom He had said, “He who hears you, hears me”. His Apostles to whom He had given the command to celebrate the Mass, “Do this in memory of me…”, to whom he had given His mercy in saying, “Those whose sins you forgive they are forgiven them…”, and, as we just heard, He commanded to go forth and baptise the nations.

When I want to find Christ present today, I can look to His tabernacle.
When I want to find His forgiveness today, I go to a priest in Confession.
Christ IS with us.
And He is with us in a physical, tangible way.
As the Easter hymn sings, “Though we see his face no more, He is with us as before”.

The third and last truth I mentioned, “Where he has gone, we hope to follow”. This truth is the REASON behind the other truths. He has gone, “to prepare a place for” us. He remains, to lead us there. We cannot get there alone, unaided, we need His presence on the way.

And we cannot even know WHICH way is the way UNLESS He is with us to teach us. Which is why He commanded His Apostles to teach, why they appointed bishops to teach, and why they all know that it is not their own word they must teach, but HIS. Because otherwise it is not the way to HIM. Because what they must make present is not themselves, but Him. “Teach them to observe all I commanded you”, He said, because that teaching is a pivotal part of how He remains with us on the way.

The commands, the life of virtue, this is HOW we get there.
But WHERE we are going this, too we need to be taught. Until He comes in glory, we can only know of the greatness of the place He has gone by hearing the repetition of the words and teaching of what he spoke of: Heaven is beyond the grasp of our unaided mind, and so we need Him to tell us of it, tell us of the place, “eye has not seen, ear has not heard, neither has it entered into the heart of man, what God has ready for those who love Him” (1 Cor 2:9).

On this feast of the Ascension, this is what we recall: He is gone; He remains with us to lead us there; we hope to follow.