“Hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” Alleluia!
Has it really been 50 days since Easter? It seems to me, maybe especially this past year, when I try to recall when something happened either it seems ages ago or a couple days ago. A review of the readings reminds me of all that happened in Jesus’ life and his interactions with his disciples during the 50 days following his resurrection.
A few minutes ago we concluded this year’s Novena to the Holy Spirit – the Church’s first novena. For Mary and the eleven Apostles it was nine days of waiting (they did not know how long). For us, it is nine days of anticipation for the Solemnity of Pentecost. Between the extended Vigil Celebration and what is termed “Mass During the Day” there are eleven (11) selections for the readings.
In this reflection I’ll circle through the messages in Paul’s Letters to the Galatians, the Romans and the Corinthians. I wondered: what would Paul say to us today? I suspect he would say much the same things he wrote to the audience of his time. He might personalize it a bit to highlight the gifts (he’d say “peculiar”) to the body of people he was addressing. He’d speak of the group’s gifts – why? – because they are manifestation of the Spirit for the edification and benefit of the community.
I could hear him saying, of thinking to himself as he put pen to parchment:
You do know that to all of you – each of you – is given the gift of faithfulness to prayer, stability to each other and an endeavor for life-long learning. To one of you may be given the aptitude of expressing psalmody in musical settings; to another the skills to lift the notes off the page in song and to another the gift of prayer in poetry. To one is given the gift of sensitivity to the needs of the poor and to others the gift of touching the heart of the weary, the aged, the infirmed. One may have the gift of never knowing a stranger, and another the flair and daring to entertain the community as emcee for a party. To one is given the gift of calligraphy and to another the proficiency to write icons. To one is given the gift of fingers that dance across the keyboard and to another a green thumb that provides food for the table; to a gardener the knack to raise flowers from the dirt and to another the gift of arranging bouquets that inspire prayer. To some there is given ease in outreach ministries; to others the gift of keeping the home fires burning in internal ministries. To some there is given a volunteer’s heart. Some have the gift of quiet presence; to others the gift of keeping a conversation in play.
And never forget nor minimize that you are daily graced to witness each other’s perseverance in a life-long commitment to THIS community and your combined efforts to feed the hungers of the people of God.
Paul speaks again to us: “There is diversity of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work. Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given (why?) – for the common good.”
In your midst there presently are those who respond to the ring of the doorbell; to others, the ring of a phone. There are those who serve as “personalized shoppers.” There are those who wield a mop and those who sweep; those who run the dish washer and those who scrub pots and those who restore order wherever they see a need. There are bell ringers, and weed pullers and mail carriers; those who write, those who read and those who watch. Some share the news, some inspirational stories and others a “Lady of Guadalupe or “Mountain Men” episode. Some set up the chapel, others the kitchen or buffet table or a meeting space. Some seek companionship; others are happy in solitude – some indoors, others outdoors; some walk the halls, others the driveway and some mark their steps going up the road apiece. Some like the later schedule, others still get up at 5 a.m. to catch the sunrise while others prefer to put the sun to bed at night.
Remember what Paul really said: “There is diversity of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them.” Listen to the voice in your heart: “My child, you always have the gift of prayer … that doesn’t change … the words you use, silent or voiced, whether you sit or stand or kneel, the method you practice are all conversations with God. Remember the old Chinese proverb: “A Bird Does Not Sing Because It Has an Answer. It Sings Because It Has a Song.” As needs and station in life and health permits, your “song” may change over the years. Then, change your tune and let the world hear it. Sing your song with your life just because you have a song! It is one of the polyphonic parts in the grand harmony of the miracle of Pentecost – “They were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to sing in different voices, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim the mighty acts of God.”
~Reflection by Sister Roberta Bailey, OSBContinue Reading
I quote Richard Rohr: “I think it’s foolish to presume we can understand Jesus if we don’t first of all understand the Trinity. We will continually misinterpret and misuse Jesus if we don’t first participate in the circle dance of mutuality and communion within which he participated.”
The reality of the Holy Trinity a mystery – an incomprehensible concept. Thankfully, mysteries can be talked about. They can be described. They have clues that our minds can grasp. A mystery remains a mystery unless and until we grasp it in its totality. But, when it comes to God we simply cannot grasp the total reality of God.
We know, because we’ve been taught, that the inner nature of God, in whose image and likeness we are made, is Three Persons who, however distinct they are, totally belong to each other. Humans, because they are made in God’s image, are made to belong in a special kind of belonging. We (Benedictines at Holy Name Monastery) are free persons who chose to live in a community where we are mutually dependent on each other for full existence. While there is a style of belonging that enslaves – a possessive belonging – there is also a belonging that gives freedom, the freedom to be who we are as persons.
The concept of the Holy Trinity is a mystery, but not a total mystery. Mysteries, after all, are made up of clues. In a mystery story we pursue and piece together clues in order to see the whole picture. So it is with the Holy Trinity. We have lots of clues about the Holy Trinity. And when we pursue them and piece them together we get a good glimpse into what kind of a god our God is. God is all about love. And when we live in love we live in God, and God lives in us. Living in love, however, does not mean we must all be exactly the same.
There’s a great deal of confusion about this in today’s culture. But it’s ridiculous to think that all persons must be the same. We aren’t meant to be ducks in a row, waddling to the same tempo. We honor our Triune God in whose image we are made. God the Creator is a distinct Person; the God the Son, our Savior is a distinct Person; and God the Holy Spirit is a distinct person. Distinct though they are, however, they exist in one being of infinite love. They exist in one unbreakable bond, in one infinite union of being together.
While all of that remains a mystery to us, it is not so mysterious that we cannot live with each other in a reality of life that reflects and shares in the reality of God’s life. To live a God-like life we must forgive rather than condemn. We must build-up and affirm rather than tear down. We must see the best, not the worst. We must be self-sacrificial and not self-centered. We must be giving rather than grasping. We must offer hope, not despair. We must heal rather than wound. All of this is best affirmed and nurtured in what we know as a community. There is nothing in life that more closely reflects the reality of the Holy Trinity than genuine family life. This concept is mimicked in intentional community life. For it is in such a setting that we not only belong but also where we discover, nurture, and affirm our own unique and individual personalities. It is in living the reality of being truly a community that we have a glimpse into the life of the Trinity.
In our community prayer, a “Trinitarian-like movement” echoes the rhythm of our whole lives. In Lectio we go up to the mountaintop with Jesus, we have conversation with Him there, and we return to everyday life among his people. Notice, too, in our communal prayer, a three-fold movement: we sit, we stand, we bow. In our chants, we don’t always have to harmonize (singing different but complementary melodies) but we do strive to keep our voices in harmony with each other – one heart, one voice, one love.
We all have different views about the mystery we celebrate today. We have different views in our heads about who God is and what God is like. But I think we agree: God is love and we are made in God’s image. But, love is only a word until someone gives it meaning. To be true to our calling we must be the ones who give meaning to love in our world. We, Benedictine Sisters of Florida – and our Oblates and Volunteers – put flesh on that calling through our Corporate Commitment: We commit ourselves and our resources to respond with the compassion of Christ to the hungers of the people of God.
You may have heard the expression, when referring to age: 70 is the new 50. Well, in Scripture seven is considered to be a sacred, perfect number. But today’s feast, the solemnity of the Trinity, tempts me to say “3 is the new 7.”
Some say that “Two’s company; three’s a crowd” but today’s feast would have it otherwise. In this instance, the figure three symbolizes completeness and perfect symmetry. The Holy Trinity is a mystery beyond the grasp of human reasoning. It reminds us of some key moments of the Christ story. For example, when Jesus stood before John in the River Jordan, the Spirit hovered and the Father’s voice was heard: “This is my beloved Son.”
Recall the Christmas nativity scene. There were three figures: the Holy Family – Mary, the mother, Joseph, the guardian, the stand-in father, and the infant Jesus. And, according to tradition, who tracked them down through the desert and into Egypt – the three wise men. 33 or so years later, when Jesus was preparing for his public life he went back to a desert. And, there he was tempted three times by the devil.
All of us like a good story. And, Jesus was a story-teller par excellence. He learned early on at his mother’s knee, or watching her bake bread for the day, or from his favorite bedtime stories that every good story has a beginning, a middle and an end.
We see this in Jesus parables. The story of the Prodigal Son is about a father and his two sons. How many passersby were in the story of the Good Samaritan? A priest, a Levite and the Samaritan. And, what about the farmer who went out to sow his seed? Jesus talks about three different types of terrain yielding three different levels of harvest.
At the end of Jesus’ life, like at the beginning, we see the three motif. During his Passion, Peter denied him thrice. On the road to Calvary, he fell three times. In the Crucifixion scene, you’ll recall we see three figures, Christ between two thieves. At the foot of the cross stood Mary, his mother, and two other Mary’s. Before his resurrection, he spent three days in the tomb.
Scripture does not explicitly teach the doctrine of the Holy Trinity; it is rather assumed especially through the story of Jesus’ baptism. The early Christians struggled to explain their understanding that Jesus was God on earth as a human being. “Trinity” or ‘tri-unity’ was the term that developed in an attempt to explain the relationship between God, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. The Apostles Creed predates the Nicene Creed which was decreed in AD 325, to formalize the teaching about the Trinity. Either Creed is approved by the Church to be recited during the Eucharistic liturgy. “We believe in one God. We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God. We believe in the Holy Spirit, the given of life.”
This inner relationship of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit is such that each of them is fully and equally God, yet there are not three Gods but one God. This is incomprehensible to the human mind. It is a mystery. Together the three Persons in the Trinity, the Father the Son and the Holy Spirit represent the fullness of love. The Father loves the Son, the Son loves the Father. The Holy Spirit is their love for each other.
But love is only a word until someone gives it meaning. We are made in the image of a triune God – God the Father, who created us, his Son who saved us, and the Holy Spirit who continues to guide us. To be true to our calling we must be the ones who give meaning to Love in our world. As Paul says in the second reading to the Romans: We did not receive the spirit of slavery, but of adoption … we are heirs of God with Christ and destined to be glorified with him.”
A “Trinitarian- like movement” in our prayer life echoes the rhythm of our whole lives. In Lectio we go up the mountain with Jesus, we have conversation with Him there, and we return to life among his people. In our community prayer, (again a three-fold movement) we bow, we sit, we stand. In our chants, we don’t always have to harmonize but we do strive to keep our voices in harmony with each other – one heart, one voice.
In tomorrow’s Responsorial Psalm we will sing: “Blessed the people (that’s us) the people the Lord has chosen to be His own!” Our lives, individually and as a community, reflect the Trinity. We are called to be creative like the Father, compassionate like God the Son, and, like the Holy Spirit to use our gifts and talents in service to others.
For “There are three things that last: faith, hope and love. And the greatest of these is Love!”
This weekend, for the Solemnity of Pentecost, between the Vigil Mass and the “During the Day” Mass there are eleven (11) selections for readings.
We’re all familiar with the Pentecost story. The Apostles, along with Mary the mother of Jesus, had locked themselves in an upstairs room. They were frightened by all that had happened, anxious and terrified that at any minute the authorities would come crashing through the door. Looking back on the mystery of Pentecost, Paul wrote to his followers exhortations to live by the Spirit. He reminds them “no one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord’, except by the Holy Spirit.” He tries to unravel the mystery in terms they can relate to. He speaks of gifts of the Spirit, forms of service, different workings, and the fruits of the Spirit. He explains how those who are filled with the Spirit will conduct themselves and what vices they will refrain from.
In this reflection I’ll circle through the readings from the Letters of Paul to the Galatians, the Romans and the Corinthians. I wonder what would Paul say to us today? I suspect he would say much the same things he wrote to his audience of his time. He might personalize it a bit to highlight the gifts present particular body of people he was addressing – gifts that manifest the Spirit for the edification and benefit to the community.
He might say: You do know that to all of you, and each of you is given the gift of faithfulness to prayer, stability to each other and an endeavor for life-long learning. To one may be given the aptitude of expressing psalmody in musical settings; to another the skills to lift the notes off the page in song and to another the gift of prayer in poetry. To one is given the gift of sensitivity to the needs of the poor and to others the gift of touching the heart of the weary. One may have the gift of never knowing a stranger, and another the flair and daring to entertain the community with her ability to emcee a party. To one is given the gift of calligraphy and to another the proficiency and insight to write icons. To one is given the gift of fingers that dance across the keyboard and to another a green thumb that provides food for the table; to a gardener the knack that raises flowers from the dirt and another the gift of arranging bouquets that inspire prayer. To some there is given a volunteer’s heart with a seamstress skill or a caterer’s aptitude. You are witness to a woman’s response to begin a journey in community and you are daily graced to witness each other’s perseverance in a life-long commitment to community and a combined effort to feed the hungers of the people of God.
Paul speaks again: “There is diversity of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work. Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.”
“But, what if,” you may ask, “I haven’t found my gift yet. Or my gift seems to be changing over the years?” Listen to the voice in your heart: “My child, you always have the gift of prayer … that doesn’t change … the expression of prayer, the words you use, the method you practice are all conversation with God, spoken or unspoken.” Remember the old Chinese proverb: “A Bird Does Not Sing Because It Has an Answer. It Sings Because It Has a Song.” Fr. Ed Lamp recently shared this message inspired by a poster with that saying that he saw in a family’s home in Merida. He wrote:
When it comes to living our lives, we seem to always be looking for a purpose – a reason for everything, and a reason to do anything. We seek fulfillment through love, and our family, through jobs and careers, and through our friends and hobbies. We’re desperate to have a purpose and to understand the meaning of all of it – the meaning of life. Why are we here and why do we do what we do?
But what if you let go of the idea that everything needs a purpose? What if you let go of all the “musts” for a moment, just to be present right here and now? What if you decided to sing, just to sing, but not necessarily because you have an answer?
Because I’m not so sure that we really need an answer, if we can find a way to just enjoy where we are at this moment. Isn’t it enough to just be alive, and to be here, experiencing the full beauty and wonder of life?
“A bird does not sing because it has an answer, but because it has a song.” It sings simply because it wants to, and to share something beautiful with its surroundings. And what other purpose do we humans really have, other than to be alive and enjoy the moment that we are in, making ourselves and the people around us happy; doing what comes naturally to us, and to just live in the present and enjoy the beauty of life.
So try to release the stress of finding a purpose. You are living your purpose right now. …Singing a song with your life for no special purpose … just “because” you have a song – a part in the grand harmony of the miracle of Pentecost – They were filled with Holy Spirit and began to sing in different voices, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim the mighty acts of God.
Today’s Gospel is a continuation of the selection read last weekend. The Gospel selections all this week have built on the same theme: faith in Jesus’ word, impending separation with a promise of an abiding presence. You’ll recall that Jesus is speaking to his disciples at their last supper together … and given the length of his discourse, it must have been a LONG, many-course supper. He reassures them that even though he will leave them, he will not abandon them. He contrasts his impending departure with the permanence of the gift of the Holy Spirit: “On that day you will realize that I am in my Father and you are in me and I in you.”
When a lifetime friend moves far away we can reassure one another that we’ll stay in touch but we also probably agree: “It’s just not going to be the same.” This may have been the feeling of the disciples. Jesus is saying his goodbye. He is preparing those closest to him, whom he loves and who love him, for his departure. Not just a farewell before going on a short trip, when they will see one another again in a few weeks or months, but a more permanent farewell. He is preparing them for the shock of his violent death and the collapse of their plans for the future. Everything is about to change for them. “It’s just not going to be the same.”
Unbeknown to them at the supper where Jesus is speaking, a few days after his crucifixion Jesus would rise from the dead and they would see him again, at least for a short time. Then, after that, it will be all different: they would see him no longer. They wouldn’t have him physically there with them when they needed to ask for advice as problems arose; or feel his comforting and healing touch when they hurt, or when someone they loved was sick; or hear his voice, speaking words of forgiveness when they needed to be freed from guilt.
Jesus was sensitive to the sense of loss they were about to endure. He was telling them quite clearly, “It’s just not going to be the same.” He knew they couldn’t make it on their own. Their human courage, like ours, just wouldn’t be enough – they’d need continued support to spread Jesus’ message after he was gone.
So, Jesus makes a FANTASTIC, and unbelievable promise: He is going to the Father and he will send the Holy Spirit to guide them as they face new challenges. There’ll be new issues and suffering for what they believe but they will become aware of Jesus’ abiding presence even though they cannot physically see, hear, or touch him.
We may be 2000 years away from those disciples around the table with Jesus that night; but we too have experienced loss and need. We have said many goodbyes to family and community members. We’ve experienced big changes in our lives (even if we did not know life before Vatican II) There have been times when we’ve needed to be strong ourselves and for others: times of grave illness, worry over a troubled or addicted loved one, sorrow over a broken relationship or an uncertain future..
Those are the times when we’ve known: “It’s just not going to be the same.” And it wasn’t. God sends us curved balls when we least expect it. But, like a skilled ball player we can still hit a home run. God gives us the strength to stay faithful; the wisdom to maneuver life’s many twists and turns.
Our duty, our challenge, then, is to believe, to trust that we have the Spirit with us – in Word, the Eucharist, in each other – to believe Jesus has kept his promise to give us the gift of the Spirit – an abiding, permanent dwelling with each of us – Or, as Jesus said, the “Advocate” – a word that means counselor, consoler and mediator – the divine energy that binds us together with one another, and all to God.
A wise person shared this truism: in life we’re either entering difficulty, going through it, or coming out of it. There are points along the journey when the way forward is unclear – when all we know for certain is: “it’s not going to be the same.”
This prayer written by Thomas Merton, speaks to me when all I do know is: “it’s not going to be the same.”
“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.”
(Thomas Merton, Thoughts on Solitude, 1956)