Saturday, May 29, 2010

Feast of the Most Holy Trinity (C)

Prov 8: 22-31; 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 unifies and enlightens them, who enables them to proclaim the message of salvation to the world. The Holy Spirit is the same God who loves and sanctifies 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)

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Feast of Pentecost (C)

Acts 2:1-11;1 Cor 12:3-7, 12-13; Jn 20:19-23

The three Persons of the Trinity were planning a holiday. The Spirit, manifesting the creative part of the divine nature, was coming up with the ideas. “Let’s go to New York,” he suggested. “No, no, no,” said the Father, “They’re all so liberated, they’ll spend the whole time calling me “Mother” and it will just do my head in.”

So the Spirit sat back and thought. “I know. What about Jerusalem?” he said. “It’s beautiful and then there’s the history and everything.”

No way!” the Son declared. “After what happened the last time, I’m never going there again!”

At this point, the Spirit got annoyed and went off in a huff. Sometime later he returned and found that the Father and Son had had an idea they both thought was excellent.

Why don’t we go to Rome?” said the Son.

Perfect!” cried the Holy Spirit. “I’ve never been there before!”

(The story is from an unknown author)

Today we celebrate the feast of Pentecost to commemorate the descent of the Holy Spirit on the first Christian community. Before he ascended to heaven, Jesus asked his followers not to leave Jerusalem and to wait for the promise of the Father (Acts 1:4-5). He wanted them to bond together and prepare themselves to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. And so, they gathered in prayer in the cenacle, waiting eagerly for the promised event (Acts 1:14).

The moment came ten days after Jesus ascended to heaven, around fifty days after his resurrection. The Book of Acts narrates that the Holy Spirit descended like tongues of fire and rested on the head of each of the apostles. Soon after, the apostles “began to speak foreign languages as the Spirit gave them the gift of speech” (Acts 2:4). Theologians would like to consider this event as the birth of the Church, when the small bond of Jesus’ followers began to preach the good news to all people regardless of race and tongue. The Holy Spirit was the dynamic power who moved and empowered the disciples to start fulfilling the mission entrusted to them by Jesus.

There is an important lesson to learn from the Pentecost-experience of the apostles. Before every missionary endeavor, we must gather together in prayer and invoke the assistance of the Holy Spirit, for only the Spirit can make our plans and actions bear fruit and serve the common good.

The readings of the liturgy inspire us to appreciate the movements of the Holy Spirit in the Christian community. First of all, the Holy Spirit breaks division and discrimination. The first reading narrates that right after receiving the Holy Spirit, the disciples were boldly preaching in public and they spoke different languages to people, to the amazement of the huge crowd. The people heard the disciples preaching to them in their own tongues, and all of a sudden, there was no distinction between the listeners.

The fruit of the Holy Spirit’s presence in the first Christian community was oneness in Christ. What the Spirit did to the early Church was to break boundaries and barriers between persons. The disciples were starting to become a sign of contradiction in the world for now they were living with the norms of the Holy Spirit, who wanted to create a new humanity – a humanity of brothers and sisters, a humanity of equals, a humanity of Christian believers.

In our reflection, we should ask ourselves: Are we faithful to what the Holy Spirit forms? In our communities, is the will of the Holy Spirit being observed, or is there still discrimination?

The Holy Spirit wants us to continue doing the mission of Christ in the Church. We have to treat each person as a brother or sister so that wherever we are, at home or abroad, we will continue to see and feel living among brothers and sisters. We have to respect, serve, and care for everyone, regardless of color, gender, age, sexual orientation, religion, etc. This is what the Holy Spirit wants us to do – break all barriers so that a new world order will be established.

Moreover, the Spirit gives many different charisms for the good of the Christian community. The second reading says: “There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; there are different forms of service but the same Lord; there are different workings but the same God who produces all of them in everyone” (1 Cor 12:4-6). The Holy Spirit, the third Person of the Trinity, provides different talents to people so that the various needs of the Church can be addressed. The charisms of prophesying, teaching, healing, leading, praying, singing, etc are gifts of the Holy Spirit to the community so as to make it fully alive.

We are witnesses of the gifts of the Holy Spirit in our own Christian communities. In the parish, for example, we have people with different talents and capacities contributing in the work of evangelization. Some are singing beautifully in the choir; others are serving efficiently as lectors or prayer leaders; and some others are zealous missionaries, pastoral workers and catechists, etc. Such is the will of the Holy Spirit because the parish cannot survive with only one charism.

But what ties these different charisms? It is the common good. The Holy Spirit awakens in people the sense of the common good. The Spirit leads us to serve one another and to love one another. We have different talents, but we are inspired to contribute our talents for the good of all. The Spirit wills that there should be an exchange of gifts because without the sharing of gifts the missionary work of the Church will suffer.

In our reflection, we should ask ourselves: are we living by the Holy Spirit? Are we generous enough to share one’s talents for the common good?

Unfortunately, some communities are impoverished because the people are not generous to share. There is an abundance of gifts but people only serve their own interests or the interests of their family. Obviously, communities like these are not truly Christian because they are living against the will of the Holy Spirit.

A mouse looked through the crack in the wall to see the farmer and his wife open a package.

What food might this contain?” The mouse wondered – he was devastated to discover it was a mousetrap. Retreating to the farmyard, the mouse proclaimed the warning. “There is a mousetrap in the house! There is a mousetrap in the house!”

The chicken clucked and scratched, raised her head and said, “Mr. Mouse, I can tell this is a grave concern to you, but it is of no consequence to me. I cannot be bothered by it.”

The mouse turned to the pig and told him, “There is a mousetrap in the house! There is a mousetrap in the house!”

The pig sympathized, but said, “I am so very sorry, Mr. Mouse, but there is nothing I can do about it but pray. Be assured you are in my prayers.”

The mouse turned to the cow and said, “There is a mousetrap in the house! There is a mousetrap in the house!”

The cow said, “Wow, Mr. Mouse. I’m sorry for you, but it’s no skin off my nose.”

So, the mouse returned to the house, head down and dejected, to face the farmer’s mousetrap alone. That very night a sound was heard throughout the house like the sound of a mousetrap catching its prey. The farmer’s wife rushed to see what was caught. In the darkness, she did not see it was a venomous snake whose tail the trap had caught. The snake bit the farmer’s wife. The farmer rushed her to the hospital, and she returned home with a fever. Everyone knows you treat a fever with fresh chicken soup, so the farmer took his hatchet to the farmyard for the soup’s main ingredient.

But his wife’s sickness continued, so friends and neighbors came to sit with her around the clock. To feed them, the farmer butchered the pig.

The farmer’s wife did not get well; she died. So many people came for her funeral. The farmer had the cow slaughtered to provide enough meat for all of them.

The mouse looked upon it all from his crack in the wall with great sadness.

(The story is from an unknown author)

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Feast of the Ascension (C)

Acts 1:1-11; Eph 1:17-23; Lk 24:46-53

Was the Ascension not supposed to be a sad event in the life of the Church? Interestingly, the gospel narrates that soon after Jesus parted from them and was lifted up to heaven, the disciples “worshipped him and then went back to Jerusalem full of joy” (Lk 24: 52). Why were they rejoicing Jesus’ disappearance? And why do we continue to commemorate the Lord’s Ascension as a feast? We can think of some possible reasons for this joyful attitude.

First, in the mystery of the Ascension, Jesus preceded his disciples into the kingdom of God the Father. Because of this, we, who are parts of his Body, live in the hope that one day we will be with him in eternity. A human situation might help explain this point:

A huge, beautiful house is located near your place. You have been dreaming all your life of seeing the inside of the mansion. However, such is not possible because you have no relationship with the proprietor of the house. Entering would be a criminal offense of trespassing. One day, the only son of the house-owner decides to make friends with people in the neighborhood. He is so kind and charismatic, and after a short time, you become his closest friends. Now, the most amazing thing follows: He invites you to come to his house and meet his father. Imagine how excited you are of the prospect of entering the place of your dreams and of knowing its owner.

This we know for a fact from the Scriptures: “No one has gone up to heaven except the one who has come down from heaven, the Son of Man” (Jn 3:13). Clearly then, by our own capacity, we cannot enter God’s abode. But Christ, the only begotten Son of God, has gained for us access to the kingdom and there prepared our special rooms (Jn 14:2-3). The preface of today’s Eucharist says it beautifully: “Christ . . . has passed beyond our sight, not to abandon us but to be our hope . . . where he has gone, we hope to follow.”

Second, having Jesus once and for all in the sanctuary of heaven, disciples are now blessed with a mediator per excellence. Jesus Christ, the one priest of the new and eternal Covenant, “entered, not into a sanctuary made by human hands . . . but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf” (Heb 9:24). With Jesus at the right hand of the Father, we are now assured of an Advocate who will speak for us.

Humanly speaking, it would be nice to have an advocate or somebody who promotes us when we are not known, who defends us when we are at a disadvantage, or who explains our side when we are less understood. In heaven, Jesus is our perfect intercessor, supporter and defender because he knows everything human. He understands our joys and pains, consolations and trials, strengths and weaknesses. As the Book of Hebrews says, “We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has similarly been tested in every way, yet without sin” (4:15).

Finally, the Lord’s Ascension became a special occasion to remind disciples of their universal mission: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. . . .” (Mt 28:18-19). The Risen Christ has chosen to share with us the mission that he received from his Father. He empowers us to share the good news of salvation with every person we meet.

Jesus has ascended to heaven, but his spirit remains with us. He has disappeared, but he has not departed. In fact, he wills to make himself present in the life of all his disciples. “You are witnesses of these things” (Lk 24:48). The “You” here refers not only to the apostles but to all followers of Jesus. Every Christian is called to bring the person and love of Christ into the world.

As Jesus was lifted up to the sky, the disciples kept looking up, mesmerized by the beauty of the mysterious event unfolding right before their very eyes. They seemed to forget everything. And the angels have to call their attention: “Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking at the sky?” (Acts 1:11). This question still is relevant to remind Christians that they are not to remain passive worshipers. We are left with a mission. Our principal concern in life is to bring God’s love to the world by making Jesus present in the daily lives of people. We can do this by living and promoting gospel values such as love, understanding and forgiveness. We must respond to this challenge or the world will never know the immensity of God’s love.

Mike was a Christian, and his pal Joe, an atheist. Joe lost no opportunity to have a “go” at Mike about what he saw as the irrelevance of Christianity.

One day they were out for a walk when they came across a gang of “toughies,” who were fighting and swearing. Joe pointed to the scene, and said, “Look, Mike, it’s been 2000 years since Jesus came into the world, and it’s still filled with aggression and violence.” Mike said nothing.

Five minutes later they came upon a group of dirty faced children. Now it was Mike’s turn. He pointed to the kids and said to Joe, “Look, Joe, it’s over 2000 years since soap was first discovered, and yet the world’s still filled with dirty faces.”

(The story is from 150 More Stories for Preachers and Teachers by Jack McArdle)