Saturday, June 30, 2007

Feast of the First Martyrs of Rome (C)

In the first few decades after the death and resurrection of Jesus in 30 AD, Christianity began spreading throughout the Roman Empire, and before long reached the city of Rome itself. Because Christians were at first considered by the Romans to be merely a sect of Judaism, they were tolerated, but the mysterious nature of the Christians’ beliefs and practices made them a target for prejudice and suspicion.

In 64 AD a major fire devastated the city of Rome, and the rumor quickly spread that the Emperor Nero had himself ordered it so as to make room for the expansions of his palace. To divert attention from himself, Nero accused the Christians. According to the contemporary historian Tacitus, few Romans actually believed the Christians to be guilty of arson; nevertheless, large numbers of them were arrested, mocked, and cruelly tortured before being executed. Some were dressed as animals and then thrown to wild dogs for the entertainment of the crowd in the amphitheater; others were covered with flammable material, impaled on stakes, and set afire to provide light for the evening feasts Nero held in the imperial gardens; still others were crucified.

[The above text is from Today’s Saint]

The fact that there are people in the world who could do things like what Nero did to the first Christians in Rome simply shows the reality of evil in the world. Evil is real and we don’t need to bring a possessed person in our midst in order to believe in the presence of evil spirits.

Today’s feast of the first martyrs of Rome should convince us that Jesus is more powerful than all evil spirits in the world. Nero, like a wild animal, savagely ordered the massacre of the first Christians of Rome but he failed to stop the life and growth of the Christian Church. Nero was long gone but the power of Christ is very much alive not only in Rome but in the whole world.

The names of the first martyrs of Rome are known only to God but we honor them today for witnessing the power of God in the presence of evil. The martyrs speak to us of the power and presence of Jesus in the Church. We must pray that in the midst of our daily struggles in the practice of our faith “we find strength from their courage and rejoice in their triumphs” [From the opening prayer of the Mass].

Friday, June 29, 2007

Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul (C)

Acts 12:1-11; Ps 34:2-9; 2 Tm 4:6-8, 17-18; Mt 16:13-19

A priest suggested that as we honor these two great men of the Church, the word to remember is “grace.” Peter and Paul were masterpieces of God’s grace. They were each changed radically by grace and they persevered for the faith until death by grace. The Catechism teaches us that grace is “the free and undeserved help that God gives us to respond to his call to become children of God, adopted sons, partakers of the divine nature and of eternal life.” The grace of God works in humanity’s weakness, brokenness and sin. As a Jewish rabbi said, “We meet God where human self-sufficiency ends.” This, indeed, was the experience of both Peter and Paul.

Peter’s most glaring failure was his triple denial of Jesus when the Lord was arrested. The gospels tell us how he swore and cursed the woman who accused him of being a company of the Lord. Peter said, “I do not even know the man.” The night before that, he promised the Lord that he will never leave him. But when the moment of test came, he failed.

Jesus came to meet Peter right down in his weakness. After the resurrection, the Lord asked him, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” A commentator suggested that the Lord had to ask Peter the same question three times in order to give him the chance to redeem himself. This was for Peter his most humbling, yet reconciling moment. “Lord, you know that I love you,” three times he painfully responded. Whether Peter was this time honest or not was clearly decided when he himself later died for the faith.

Paul’s serious fault was his blatant persecution of the followers of Jesus. He was one of those zealous and rigid Pharisees. When Stephen, the first Christian martyr, was stoned to death, Paul was present and the Scripture gave witness saying, “The cloaks piled up at the feet of Saul (the old name of Paul) who approved of the stoning.”

Paul was an arrogant and self-righteous religious fanatic until a blinding light struck him down from his horse while he was on his way to Damascus to round up more Christians. He was blinded and was laid flat on his back when he heard the voice that says, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” After that, Paul became disoriented – physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. In that weakened state, he was led to a Christian household in Damascus to be prayed over, healed, and baptized. In his weakness, Paul met Jesus and from then on, he offered his whole life for the service of the Church.

Grace helped Peter recognize Jesus as the Messiah, Son of the living God. Grace transformed Peter from a weak, impulsive individual into a strong rock, confident head of the Church. It was also grace that changed Paul from a hateful persecutor into a dedicated apostle, a great messenger of the Lord to the gentiles. Grace allowed him to finish the race and to keep the faith.

The feast of Saints Peter and Paul should inspire us to find strength in God and to recognize that our gifts are all God’s grace. Like Paul, we always say, “In God we live and move and have our being.”

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Tuesday of the 12th Week in Ordinary Time (C)

Gen 13:2, 5-18; Ps 14; Mt 7:6, 12-14

Great religions and teachers have formulated some form of Golden Rule in their teachings. To mention a few:

“This is the sum of duty: Do naught unto others which would cause you pain if done to you” (Brahmanism).
“Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful” (Buddhism).
“Do not do to others what you do not want them to do to you” (Confucianism).
“One should not behave towards others in a way which is disagreeable to oneself” (Hinduism).
“None of you truly believes until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself” (Islam).
“Though shall love thy neighbor as thyself” (Judaism).
“Regard your neighbor’s gain as your own gain, and your neighbor’s loss as your own loss” (Taoism).
“May I do to others as I would that they should do unto me” (Plato).
“Treat your inferiors as you would be treated by your superiors” (Seneca).

Our Lord Jesus has formulated his own positive form of the Golden Rule: “Do onto others what you would like others do onto you.” He invites us to take the initiative to create an atmosphere of well being, rather than just protecting ourselves or others from possible harm. Thus, the Christian must not only refrain from being hateful and avoid causing harm to others; rather, he is strongly encouraged to find ways and means to love and serve others.

Margaret Sangster wrote a poem that perhaps would serve as a golden reminder to all of us:

It isn’t the thing you do, dear,
It’s the thing you leave undone
That gives you a bit of a heartache
At the setting of the sun.
The tender work forgotten,
The letter you did not write,
The flowers you did not send, dear,
Are your haunting ghosts at night.
The stone you might have lifted
Out of a brother’s way;
The bit of heartsome counsel
You were hurried too much to say;
The loving touch of the hand, dear,
The gentle, winning tone
Which you had no time nor thought for
With troubles enough of your own.

Those little acts of kindness
So easily out of mind,
Those chances to be angels
Which we poor mortals find—
They come in night and silence,
Each sad, reproachful wraith,
When hope is faint and flagging,
And a chill has fallen on faith.
For life is all too short, dear,
And sorrow is all too great,
To suffer our slow compassion
That tarries until too late;
And it isn’t the thing you do, dear,
It’s the thing you leave undone
Which gives you a bit of heartache
At the setting of the sun.

(The poem is from The Book of Virtues by William J. Bennett)

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Solemnity of the Birth of John the Baptist (C)

Is 49:1-6; Ps 139:1-3, 13-15; Acts 13:22-26; Lk 1:57-66, 80

For the Hebrews, the name of a person is important because it says something about the person, his life and his family. Sometimes, the name of the person tells us the circumstance attending his birth, as in the case of Esau and Jacob. Rebekah, the wife of Isaac, gave birth to twins. The first to be born was red and his whole body was hairy, so they called him Esau, which means “full of hairs”. The second child was found gripping Esau’s heel, so he was named Jacob, which in Hebrew is ya’ăqōbāqēb means heel).

Commonly, the Hebrew child receives the name of his parents because he will perpetuate the name of the family. When Elizabeth gave birth to a child, the neighbors and relatives wanted to name the child after his father Zechariah. But Elizabeth insisted that the boy be named ‘John.’ In Hebrew the name John is Jehohanan, which means ‘God is gracious.’ It was the name that God wished to be given to the child because it described the joy and gratitude of Zechariah and Elizabeth for the child given to them in their old age.

The birth of John is celebrated by the Church as a solemnity. Aside from his, only two other births are given the same honor, that of Jesus and of Mary. This merely shows the special place of John in the life of the Church. St. Augustine said: “The birth of John is a hallowed event. John appears as the boundary between the Two Testaments, the Old and the New . . . Thus he represents times past and is the herald of the new era to come.” The gospel of Mark shows John standing right from the beginning in the light of God’s plan of salvation. He was the person sent by God to lay straight the way of the Lord, to prepare the way of Jesus Christ (Mk. 1:1-5).

Among the many great things said about John, the one thing that awes and challenges people is his humility. John accepted his role as a herald of someone else. He has already attracted a good number of followers but he never sought the limelight. He could have taken all the attention, but he kept pointing people towards the One to come. And when the right moment came, he gladly yielded to Jesus in order to make true his words: “He must increase and I must decrease”. The date of John’s birth is near the summer solstice. St. Augustine said that this is very symbolic because after John’s birth, daylight begins to grow shorter, whereas after Jesus’ birth, it begins to increase.

John serves as a reminder for all of us of our calling to bring people to the light of Jesus our Lord. Today, we have famous people in politics, in sports, in music, in films and theaters – but unfortunately, many of them direct people toward other values.

May St. John inspire us not to seek our own glory but to direct others to Jesus and to the values of the Kingdom!

12th Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)

Zech 12:10-11, 13:1; Ps 62; Gal 3:26-29; Lk 9:18-24

Philosophers and theologians speak about two kinds of knowledge. The first one is “conceptual knowledge” which also is known as “head knowledge”. An example would be the knowledge that 2 plus 2 is equal to four or that the moon is smaller than the sun. The other kind is “evaluative knowledge” which also is called “heart knowledge”. My mother’s love for me is something that I know not only from the head but from the heart. It is something that I know experientially. This conviction is an example of an evaluative knowledge.

The distinction is important because sometimes we know things intellectually but we do not value them in our hearts. For example, one may know that loving the neighbor is a way of loving God, but that knowledge does not make him act on it. Another person may know that justice is a Christian virtue and he acts on this by working fairly with others in his office and in his community. The latter is an example of evaluative knowledge because the person not only understands but also makes his own the value that he knows. He manifests his love of the value by putting it into practice.

The two kinds of knowledge also qualify the kind of relationship we have with God. Can you imagine a person who has great knowledge about God, about Jesus and the mysteries of the faith but lacking of a meaningful relationship with a personal God? The person knows about Jesus but he doesn’t really know him personally.

Jesus’ question “What do people say about me?” was really quite different to his other question “Who do you say I am?” Actually, he was not really concerned about what people say about him. To be praised or to be appreciated was least of his concerns. What mattered to him at that moment was his disciples’ knowledge of him. Do they really know me already? Are we really friends? Have we opened up to each other enough? At one point in John’s gospel, Jesus told his disciples: “From now on I call you friends because I have already made known to you everything I learnt from my Father.” Intimacy or friendship involves self-disclosure and this was something that mattered a lot to the Lord. He wanted his disciples to be his friends, to possess an evaluative knowledge of him.

What about us? Who do we say Jesus is? Do we know Jesus personally? What kind of relationship do we have with him?

Intimacy or deep friendship is only possible when the people involved are willing to give their quality time. Many parents come to me every now and then with all their complaints about their children. “I don’t understand my son”, “I’m not sure if I still know my daughter”. The complaints speak a lot of truth. How much quality time do children have with their parents? How much time do parents have with their children? Years ago, a reliable survey informed us that children have more time in front of television than with their parents. I guess today, children have more time listening to their Ipod than to their parents. How then can meaningful relationships be established in the family if people have no time for each other? If we don’t change our ways, I’m afraid many families will suffer and we will end up not knowing each other well.

And it’s the same thing with our relationship with God. If we are not willing to give God our time, we will never know him well. By our human capacity, we cannot understand or know God; it is God who makes himself known to us. All we need to do is to open our hearts to him. Pope Benedict XVI encourages people to establish a personal relationship with Jesus. He says that the only way to know God’s will is to have a personal experience with Jesus. The pope made the point that God always wants to relate intimately with us through Jesus.

I would like to end my homily with a short story with the hope that we too will come to know God from our hearts.

A famous actor was invited to a function where he was asked to recite for the pleasure of the guests. Having recited a few common verses, he asked if there was anything in particular they wanted to hear. After a moment or two, an old pastor asked to hear Psalm 23, “The Lord is my Shepherd”. The actor paused for a moment and then said, “I will, but on one condition – that you will recite it also, after I have finished.”

The pastor was taken by surprise. “I’m hardly a public speaker, but if you wish, I shall recite too.”

The actor began quite impressively. His voice was trained and his intonation was perfect. The audience was spellbound and when he finished, there was great applause from the guests. Now it was the old pastor’s turn to recite the same psalm. His voice was not remarkable, his tone was not faultless, but when he finished, there was not a dry eye in the room.

The actor rose and his voice quivered as he said, “Ladies and gentlemen, I reached your eyes and your ears; he has reached your hearts. The difference is this: I know the Psalm but he knows the Shepherd.”

(The story is from the book Throw Fire by John Fuellenbach, S.V.D)

Sunday, June 17, 2007

11th Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)

2 Sam 12:7-10, 13; Ps 32: 1-2, 5, 7, 11; Gal 2:16, 19-21; Lk 7:36-8:3

When we hear the word “sinner”, we immediately think of an arrogant neighbor, an unfaithful spouse, a corrupt government official, a prostitute, or a shrewd businessman. Yet, when Jesus says “I have come to call sinners”, he is referring not only to the persons we mentioned but to us. We are the people who have fallen short of God’s expectations. Each one of us is a sinner, a violator, or an offender. And so, every time we hear the word “sinner”, we might as well remember ourselves and our failures. If we hear the word “sinner” and start to think only of other people, we are guilty of the sin of self-righteousness.

Simon the Pharisee is a perfect example of a self-righteous person. In his heart, he condemns the woman who is manifesting to Jesus signs of tender and gentle care. “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him – that she is a sinner” (Lk 7:39). Simon considers the woman immoral and shameful, but he fails to see his own shortcomings. He invited Jesus to his house but he has not provided him the usual hospitality for a guest. Jesus has to remind him this: “I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment” (Lk 7:44-46). For Jesus, the intruding woman, not Simon, merits praise. She deserves not condemnation but commendation for her warm expression of gratitude.

Jesus offers a simple story to explain the woman’s extraordinary behavior. “A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he canceled the debts for both of them. Now which of them will love him more? Simon answered, ‘I suppose the one for whom he canceled the greater debt’” (Lk 7:41-43). The point of the parable is clear: The woman, who knows very well the gravity of her sins, throws herself on Jesus’ mercy and receives forgiveness.

The first reading gives us an example of a great sinner who responded well to God’s compassion and forgiveness. David committed adultery with Bathsheba and plotted the murder of her husband, Uriah. When the prophet Nathan confronts David of his great sin, he confesses to it without any argument, rationalization or excuses. His humble recognition of the gravity of his offense opens for David the way to conversion and absolution.

David’s confession goes like this: “I have sinned against the Lord” (2 Sam 12:13). David knows that his sins of adultery and murder were ultimately acts of rebellion against God. Of course, David has caused great harm to Bathsheba and Uriah, but the one he offended most in sinning was God. Remarkably, however, the prophet Nathan easily extends God’s forgiveness to David, implying the unconditional nature of the divine absolution. The Bible testifies that forgiveness allowed David to become not only a great king but also a true servant of Yahweh.

Today’s liturgy should move us to recognize humbly our sins and confess them to God through the sacrament of reconciliation. After receiving absolution for our sins, let us be grateful and begin to share the joy of forgiveness with others. May we not turn back to our old, sinful ways and begin to serve the Lord with gladness!

One rainy afternoon a mother was driving along one of the main streets of town. Suddenly, her son Matthew spoke up from his relaxed position in the rear seat. “Mom, I’m thinking of something.” This announcement usually meant he had been pondering some fact for a while and was now ready to expound all that his seven-year-old mind had discovered. His mother was eager to hear. “What are you thinking?” she asked. “The rain is like sin and the windscreen wipers are like God, wiping our sins away.” “That’s really good, Matthew”, she replied. Then my curiosity broke in. How far would this little boy take this revelation? So she asked, “Do you notice how the rain keeps on coming? What does that tell you?” Matthew didn’t hesitate one moment with his answer: “We keep on sinning, and God just keeps on forgiving us.”

(The story is told by Tommy Lane)

Friday, June 15, 2007

Feast of the Sacred Heart (C)

Lk 15:1-10

In a deck of playing cards, you will find four images of a king. The first is the king of clubs. A club is a weapon that can be used to harm another person. A club is an instrument of a hostile person; an extension of a violent hand. Jesus cannot be the king of clubs because he did not come to sow violence. He was a man of peace. He came so that all of us may learn to treat one another as brothers and sisters.

The second is the king of spades. A spade is a shovel; an instrument used to throw dirt. A spade also can be a symbol of the grave because it usually is the instrument used for digging. Jesus cannot be the king of spades because he did not come to make us dirty. He came to cleanse us from everything that defiles us. Moreover, Jesus cannot be the king of spades because he did not stay in the grave. Jesus rose from the dead and he is the Lord of the living.

The third is the king of diamonds. A diamond is an expensive stone; an important piece for the rich and the famous. Jesus cannot be the king of diamonds because he did not come to own the world and its possessions. He came to share our poverty and to teach us how to be generous. Jesus provided for the needy and consoled the brokenhearted.

If Jesus is neither king of clubs, spades and diamonds, then he only can be the king of hearts. Jesus is our king of hearts because he came to love us. He is a king with the heart of a good shepherd. He knows his sheep by heart. He calls them by name. He leads them to green pasture. And he is willing to risk his life for his sheep. Jesus is a king with a forgiving heart, rich in patience and full of mercy. He is willing to search for the lost sheep, to leave the ninety-nine for the one who is lost. And he always is happy for every sheep counted back, for one repentant sinner. The heart of this King is sacred because it is Dives Misercordia, rich in mercy.

If Jesus is our king of hearts, then we cannot be Christians of clubs. We need to stop abusing and hurting anyone. We need to end the cycle of violence around us. We must not think of getting even with others who have hurt us. Revenge is never a Christian option.

If Jesus is our king of hearts, then we cannot be Christians of spades. We have to stop throwing dirt to one another. Let us stop our gossiping, our backbiting — the malicious acts of destroying others’ good reputation.

If Jesus is our king of hearts, then we cannot be Christians of diamonds. We must not allow money and material possessions to enslave us. We must not allow our wealth to stop us from becoming good Christians. We rather place our full trust in the goodness of the Lord.

If Jesus is our king of hearts, then every one of us must have a sacred heart. Our hearts have to beat with the heart of Jesus. Our hearts also must be warm, tender, compassionate, patient, forgiving and rich in kindness.

[This is an adaptation of the homily of Bishop Socrates B. Villegas entitled “King of Hearts”]

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Feast of Corpus Christi (C)

Gen 14:18-20; 1 Cor 11:23-26; Lk 9:11-17

In 1263, a German priest, Peter of Prague, stopped at Bolsena while on a pilgrimage to Rome. He is described as being a pious priest, but one who found it difficult to believe in Transubstantiation. While celebrating Mass at the tomb of St. Christina, located in Bolsena, Italy, he had barely spoken the words of consecration when blood started to seep from the consecrated Host and trickle over his hands onto the altar and the corporal.

The priest was immediately confused. At first he attempted to hide the blood, but then he interrupted the Mass and asked to be taken to the neighboring city of Orvieto, the city where Pope Urban IV was then residing.

The Pope listened to the priest’s story and gave him absolution for his lack of faith. He then sent emissaries for an immediate investigation. When all the facts were ascertained, he ordered the Bishop of the diocese to bring to Orvieto the Host and the linen cloth bearing the stains of blood. With archbishops, cardinals and other Church dignitaries in attendance, the Pope met the procession and, amid great solemnity, had the relics placed in the cathedral. The linen corporal bearing the spots of blood is still reverently enshrined and exhibited in the Cathedral of Orvieto, Italy.

Pope Urban IV was prompted by this miracle to commission St. Thomas Aquinas to compose the liturgical prayers in honor of the Eucharist. One year after the miracle, in August of 1264, Pope Urban IV introduced the saint’s compositions, and by means of a papal bull instituted the feast of Corpus Christi.

(The story is told by Fr. James Farfaglia)

The Church’s feast of Corpus Christi is an expression of our strong belief in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. In the first reading, Saint Paul recalls how the Lord Jesus had instituted the Eucharist on the night before he died: “The Lord Jesus took some bread, and after he had given thanks, he broke it, and he said, ‘This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.’ And in the same way, with the cup after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Whenever you drink it, do this as a memorial of me’ (1 Cor 11:23-25). The phrase “Do this in remembrance of me” is taken by the Church as a direct command by the Lord for his followers to perpetuate the memorial and the fruits of his redeeming sacrifice. And so, we believe that every time we gather and celebrate the Eucharist, we continue to benefit from the salvific action of Christ.

Other Christians do not believe in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. For them, the bread and wine are mere symbols of the Body of Christ, not his presence. However, we, Catholics, point out that when Jesus held the piece of bread and the cup of wine in his hands, he did not say “These are symbols of my body and blood”. Instead, he said, “This is my body” and “This is my blood” (See Matthew 26:26-28), meaning, he was giving himself under the form of bread and wine. This interpretation is quite consistent with Jesus’ statement in the gospel of John: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world” (6:51). His listeners reacted strongly to this, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” (6:52). But the Lord did not waver and continued to say, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day” (6:53-54). It is reasonable to believe that in saying this, Jesus was referring to the Eucharist that he was about to institute at the Last Supper.

To believe in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist is a matter of great faith. The bread and wine do not manifest any difference in size, color, or taste after their consecration. Our senses, in fact, would not confirm that the consecrated bread and wine are now the Body and Blood of Christ. But when it comes to the mysteries of God, we are challenged to surrender our senses, even our intellect, to faith.

There is a fascinating story told of scientists from NASA interested in experimenting with the energy of the human body and how the aura might be affected by prolonged travel in space. They devised a camera that could perceive the aura. They asked permission of a dying man in a hospital if they could observe his aura as death approached. The man consented to the experiment.

While observing the man through a monitor set up in an adjacent room one day, they were stunned by a white light that suddenly appeared on the screen. Without knowing exactly what was taking place in the hospital room, they observed that the white light entered the dying man and then filled him with a radiant light.

When the scientists entered the sick man’s room, they found a priest praying by his bedside. The priest had brought the dying man Holy Communion. The scientists were so moved by this miracle that they converted to Catholicism.

(The story is told by Fr. James Farfaglia)

Through the feast of Corpus Christi, the Church wishes to inspire in us great reverence and devotion to the Blessed Sacrament. May we always do our best to receive the Body and Blood of Christ in the Mass with proper disposition and constant longing!

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity (C)

Prov 8: 22-31; Ps 8; Rom 5:1-5; Jn 16:12-15

Filipino Bishop Jose R. Manguiran points out the special significance of the number “3” in the life of our Lord Jesus Christ:

At his birth at Bethlehem, the child Jesus was paid a visit by 3 kings who handed him 3 gifts. His appointed time to proclaim the good news to the public was only 3 years. He was condemned to death on the cross at the age of 33; breathed his last at the hour of 3 in the afternoon. After 3 days in the tomb he rose to life again.

In his most sacred moments, Jesus would bring with him 3 closest companions: Peter, James and John. On Mount Tabor, 3 persons were seen: Jesus, Moses and Elijah. On Mount Calvary, 3 were crucified: Jesus, Estas and Dimas.

While Jesus was being publicly condemned before Caiaphas, his closest friend Peter disowned him 3 times at 3 o’clock in the morning. Realizing his grave sin, Peter repented, turning out to become the most faithful disciple. Without doubt, Christ appointed Peter the first shepherd of the Church. His appointment was very simple; only one question was asked of him, but repeated 3 times, “Peter, do you love me?” The question asked 3 times reminded Peter of his 3-declaration betrayal. And so, he affirmed 3 times, “I do love you.”

(From Life Today, August 2000)

The number “3” also is significant to our faith because we believe that there are three persons in one God, equal in divinity yet distinct in personality. One might be surprised to know that the word Trinity is nowhere to be found in the Bible. The Church came to formulate the doctrine of the Trinity simply because its reality has become part of the faith-experience of God’s people.

First of all, the People of Israel experienced God as a Father, the creator of all things, whose salvific action has been part of their life-story as a nation. Second, the Israelites also experienced God as a Son who became human and whose life, death and resurrection gave meaning to their lives. And finally, they experienced God as one who sanctifies them, gives them courage, and moves them to bring the message of salvation to the world. The Holy Spirit is the same God who loves them from the very beginning.

In the gospels, Jesus himself speaks about God as Father (Jn 1:18); he reveals himself as God’s only Son (Mt 11:27); and he mentions about the oneness he shares with his Father (Jn 17:21). Then, he tells about the Holy Spirit who comes from the Father and who leads disciples to the complete truth (Jn 16:13). Thus, we are confident in believing the doctrine of the Trinity because Jesus himself has made it known to us.

Since we are created in the image and likeness of the Triune God, we need to understand the inner life of the Trinity in order to know about the kind of persons we should be or the kind of life we should live.

First and foremost, the doctrine of the Trinity reveals that there are three Persons in one God. Though each Person is unique and distinct in personality, all three are equal in dignity. In the same way, each human person is unique and different from others, and yet, we are equal in human dignity. This is an important reminder because usually we find it difficult to consider another as equal. When we look to a person, we either look up to him or look down on him. John Paul II once said: “The image of God is reflected in each human being. That is the basis for the deeper truth of the human being, which must in no case be denied or injured. Every insult to a human being is in the end directed at his Creator, who loves him like a Father.”

Moreover, the Trinity makes known to us a God who exists in a community. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit exist for one another in love and in perfect unity. This reality reminds us that we, too, are created as social beings. God observed from the beginning that “It is not good that the man should be alone” (Gn 2:18). We are meant to exist with and for one another. Therefore, a Christian must shun every tendency to isolationism and individualism. The Trinity shows that we become fully human only when we live our lives with and for others.

A pastor in a country parish heard that one of his parishioners was going about announcing that he would no longer attend church services. His rebellious parishioner was advancing the familiar argument that he could communicate just as easily with God out in the fields with the natural setting as his place of worship.

One winter evening the pastor called on this reluctant member of his flock for a friendly visit. The two men sat before the fireplace making small talk, but studiously avoiding the issue of church attendance. After some time, the pastor took the tongs from the rack next to the fireplace and pulled a single coal from the fire. He placed the glowing ember on the hearth.

The two men watched as the coal quickly ceased burning and turned an ashen gray while the other coals in the fire continued to burn brightly. The pastor remained silent. “I’ll be at services next Sunday,” said the parishioner.

(The story is by B. Cavanaugh)