Sunday, September 24, 2017

Workers in the Vineyard

Workers in the Vineyard
Homily for September 24, 2017    25th Sunday in Ordinary Time - A
by Dcn. Bob Bonomi

Jesus today compares our participation in the Kingdom of Heaven to working for a landowner in his vineyard.  It reminds me of the day-workers that gather at a local landscaping nursery. I see them almost every morning on my way to work.  They arrive around dawn and hope that they will be called upon to join a work crew.  If they don’t get picked, they don’t get paid that day.  And I’m pretty sure that they get paid by the hour so if someone comes by at noon to employ them, they’ll only get a partial day’s pay for the time they do work.  It’s a hard way to make a living, but better than no job at all.

Did you know that unemployment is one of the top 5 stressful situations a person can face, along with Divorce, Moving, Major Illness, and Death of a loved one?

Financial problems doesn’t crack the top 5, although financial woes are often related to them.

And of all of the social problems we face in this country – whether it be discrimination, marginalization or any other type of inequality – they are almost always intertwined with employment or lack of it.  The dignity of the worker and fair treatment in employment is in the foundation of Catholic Social Justice teaching.

I think we all know of someone looking for a job – maybe we’re even unemployed or underemployed ourselves.  The average person spends almost 1/3rd of their adult life working, at least if they’re given the opportunity.  And nothing shatters a person’s self-worth, their sense of dignity, than to be out of work, especially if they have been fired. 

So, why do we work?  So we can afford to eat?  Put a roof over our heads?  Earn enough so we can retire and not have to work anymore?

No.  We are made for it.

From the very beginning, in the 2nd chapter of Genesis, we hear that:  “The LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and placed there the man whom he had formed.  … The LORD God then took the man and settled him in the Garden of Eden, to cultivate and care for it.”  We were made to work – to care for God’s creation – and each other.

We might not be happy at the work we currently do, but if we don’t find suitable work for ourselves according to God’s purpose for us, we definitely won’t be happy.  Think about how you’ve felt at the end of a “job well done.”  The satisfaction we feel – that warmth and peace in our hearts – that’s God smiling on us.

Pope Francis said a few years ago, on the feast of Saint Joseph the Worker: "We do not get dignity from power or money or culture. We get dignity from work." He noted: "Work is fundamental to the dignity of the person. Work, to use an image, 'anoints' with dignity, fills us with dignity, makes us similar to God who has worked and still works, who always acts."

And so we have today’s Gospel about workers in the vineyard.  We can look at this Gospel from two perspectives:  the earthly “Here-and-Now” and the spiritually “Eternal Kingdom”.

First, the Here-and-Now.  On the face of it, it seems unfair – those “who bore the day's burden and the heat” earned the same as those who only worked an hour before sunset. Where’s the sense of justice?  Where’s the indignation?  He made those who didn’t work “equal” to those who did – what did they do to deserve that?

It is an almost socialistic attitude. 

But Jesus wasn’t talking about an earthly kingdom – he was talking about the Kingdom of Heaven.  And his comparison of the various workers and how they were hired reflects God’s desire for us to enjoy the eternal rewards He has prepared for us.

It starts with the landowner going out to hire the workers.  He doesn’t send an underling to do it – he goes himself and hires a crew.  He goes out again, and again, and again – each time finding more workers.  Where were they when he first went out?  Doesn’t matter.  For whatever reason, they weren’t in the first group.  He sought them out anyway. 

Jesus is telling the Jews that they were indeed called first by God as His Chosen People. But Jesus is also telling them that God is calling everyone, even those who are sinners or Gentiles – all are called.

Second, he agrees to pay each group the daily wage.  When you think about it, that is what we ask of God every time we recite the Lord’s Prayer:  “Give us this day our daily bread.”  There’s an implicit recognition that we are dependent upon God for every day of our existence, and in turn God will give us what we need – today.

And there is an underlying understanding that anything more than our “Daily Bread” can cause us to sin.  We see that in the 7 Deadly Sins:
Pride (I earned more than you), Lust (I want this for my pleasure),
Envy (I want what others have too), Greed (This isn’t enough for me),
Sloth (If this is all I get, I don’t need to do more),
Gluttony (I’ll take it all), or Anger (Give me more – or else.)

Third, he calls those he first called, “friends”.  There is an intimacy between the landowner and his workers that is beyond just an “employee” – a relationship that is based on trust, or, in our case, faith, that he will do as he promised.  The Jewish people were privileged to have an intimate relationship with God and God made promises to them that He had – and would – continue to fill.

Finally, why not treat the first group “special” and give them more?  Because in God’s eyes, we are created equal and receive an equal portion of His Love – and that is infinite for each and every one of us.  Even if we are “called” late to the game due to our sins, as we heard in our first reading he is “generous in forgiving” and is out there still looking for us.

You know, we too are called each and every day to work in God’s vineyard.  We as Christians are now the “Chosen”, called at our baptism.  And we should be willing and able to do the “heavy lifting” of tending the vineyard by spreading the faith – a responsibility we must not take lightly.

But while God continues to seek us out as long as we live, we must be ever vigilant and answer His call to work, even in our twilight years.

Paul said in his second letter to the Thessalonians 3:10: “For even when we were with you, we commanded you this: If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat.”  If we want to dine in the Kingdom of Heaven, we have to do our part.

Are you hungry for the Kingdom of Heaven? Are you ready to work for it?

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Who Are You?

Who Are You?
Homily for August 27, 2017    21st Sunday in Ordinary Time - A
by Dcn. Bob Bonomi

Who do people say that YOU are?  If you asked a group of your friends what others thought of you, what do you think they would say?  Would it be the same thing that those closest to you would say?

There are usually three types of people that we encounter:
•    Strangers: those that don’t know us or only know us by name;
•    Acquaintances: those that know OF us or who have met us briefly; and
•    Friends:  those who THINK they know us.

And, there could be a 4th group – those who indeed know us.  The REAL us.  Maybe.

Do YOU know who you are?  That can be a tough question.

We live in a world of false images and aliases; of secret identities and masks – sometimes with good reason.  We fight fiercely to hide our identity so that others won’t steal it.  We want our privacy so we build both physical and emotional walls to protect us.  Often we don’t want people to know us too well simply because we know that there are aspects about us that they might not like – that WE don’t like about ourselves.  We can develop dual personalities – one visible to the world, and one hidden within ourselves which hides the pains and scars caused by the physical and emotional traumas of our life.  We live so long behind our masks that we can forget who we are.

But God knows who we are, even when we don’t.

Today’s Gospel begins with Jesus asking his disciples what others say about him.  These are the people who would be strangers, per se – not quite to the level of acquaintances, although they may have heard about Jesus or saw him in passing – maybe even sat at table with him somewhere.  But these are the people who can only relate to Jesus through rumor and gossip; they DON’T know him at all.

Then Jesus asks his group, “What about you?  Who do YOU think I am?”  Now, these guys – and a few gals, I’m sure – have been with Jesus going on a couple of years now and so have seen him in action more than once, and so have an understanding of WHAT he’s capable of.  But is that enough to KNOW who he is?

Simon Peter thinks he does.  "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God!" 

But there is a difference between knowing ABOUT someone and KNOWING someone.  When he tells Simon Peter that “flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father”, Jesus doesn’t mean that God the Father whispered it into his ear or even tattooed it on his heart.  Jesus refers to the knowledge gained as a witness to his works, which reveal his divine nature.  And, as we will see next week, despite his “knowing” who Jesus is here; he still doesn’t fully understand WHAT he thinks he knows – and none of them will fully understand THAT until after the Resurrection.

Simon Peter’s statement does show a certain level of knowledge, even if he doesn’t fully understand what it means.  And Jesus, in turn, does something that is extraordinary, even if it doesn’t seem like it at first, when he tells Peter that he will “give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven.” 

What did Jesus mean when he says that he would give the keys to Simon Peter?  As Catholics we see in this the office of the Pope, but what else do the keys symbolize? 

Well, think about what keys are used for?  To unlock something.  And why is something locked?  To protect it.  So to be entrusted with keys is to be entrusted with the responsibility of protecting something; or in this case, someone.  Us.  Keys are less about authority than they are about responsibility.  And we will see Jesus give the responsibility of the keys for protecting the fledgling Christians to Simon Peter in the last chapter of John’s Gospel.

Finally why would Jesus command his disciples to not tell anyone he was the Christ?  Two reasons.  First, the disciples do not yet fully understand what it means for Jesus to be the Christ. They might think they know him, but they still only know about him.  He isn’t done teaching them yet and since the image of the Christ in Jewish eyes was one of an earthly kingdom, he needs for them to get to know him better before they will understand what the Kingdom of God is.

Secondly and maybe more importantly, he wants others to figure it out themselves.  When we look throughout all of Scripture, we see God reveal himself to His chosen people a variety of ways – through His prophets; through the signs and wonders of Nature; and most importantly, through the words and actions of His Son.   

You see, in the eyes of God, we are not only individuals, but a people.  Not “people”, but “A People”.  Why is that important?  Because we experience immortality as a people, as Christians.  The Body of Christ needs to KNOW who it is.

And that brings us back to the question, “Who Am I?”  We are, first and foremost, children of God. Second, we are members of the Body of Christ and one – in unity with Christians everywhere – in the Lord.  Just as we need to know and care for our physical body for our well-being, we must know and care for the rest of the entire Body of Christ for our - and its - spiritual well-being.

Pope Francis said that in order to know Jesus,  “what is needed is not a study of notions but rather a life as a disciple.” 

Can I say that I am a disciple?

Who do you say that YOU are?

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Coming Attractions

Coming Attractions
Homily for August 15, 2017    Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary - A
by Dcn. Bob Bonomi   

How often are we offered a “free sample” as an enticement for something that is to come?  We see movie trailers months before a movie comes out;  we receive discount and other promotional things in the mail – especially email; and we’re offered samples of food at grocery stores – you can almost get a full meal at Sam’s or Costco on the weekends. 

I see the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary like that.  Not like unwanted email or advertising, but it is a sample of the promise made to us all of everlasting.

Why is the Assumption important to us today?  Those who are not Catholic point out that the dogma expressing her Assumption and Queenship in heaven was only put forth by Pope Pius the 12th in 1950.  Yet celebrations honoring the Assumption go back well over 1000 years before that – around the 5th or 6th century – and the understanding of Mary’s role as the Mother of God goes back even farther, to the earliest days of the Church. It has been a fundamental truth of the Church.

And so we honor Mary, and we see in her Assumption what we can one day expect ourselves.  More importantly, Mary’s life was and continues to be an example to us all of what it means to be a disciple of her Son. 

We see that in today’s Gospel.  It begins with Mary serving as the first evangelizer for Jesus.  How?  By seeking out her cousin Elizabeth and bringing Jesus to her.  The mere presence of Jesus in Mary was enough to fill Elizabeth with the Holy Spirit and caused John in her womb to leap for joy.  And after Elizabeth exclaims her blessing to Mary, Mary responds with her Magnificat.

Interestingly enough, the Magnificat is prayed every night by clergy and religious during vespers, or evening prayer.  And the prayer isn’t one of Mary bragging, but one in which she points out the glory of God.  It reminds me of Hannah’s prayer in the first Book of Samuel where she prays with the prophet Eli after the birth and consecration of her son Samuel to the Lord.  She begins with, “My heart exults in the LORD, my horn is exalted by my God. I have swallowed up my enemies; I rejoice in your victory.”  It goes on further to say, “The bows of the mighty are broken, while the tottering gird on strength.  The well-fed hire themselves out for bread, while the hungry no longer have to toil.”  Hannah gives glory to God as she brings her son to Eli to serve God; Mary gives glory to God as she brings Jesus to Elizabeth in service of God.

We as Catholics believe in life after life; we have a mission now as well as one in the future.

Mary had a mission then, and she still does today.  It can be seen in the single line from John’s Gospel at the wedding at Cana: “His mother said to the servers, “Do whatever he tells you.” That is Mary’s message to us today, and she continues to convey that message as seen in the dozens, if not hundreds, of her apparitions around the world.  Fatima, Portugal.  Lourdes, France.  Tepeyac, Mexico.  Knock, Ireland.  The list goes on and on.  And each time Mary appears, she takes the appearance of the people she visits, as a living creature, a promise to us of our future as well. 

All of the apparitions have something in common:  Mary points us to Jesus; she calls us to prayer (usually the Rosary); and she encourages us to pray for peace.  Today, members of the Knights of Columbus and their families around the world are praying for their respective countries as they an Order-wide Day of Prayer for Peace and Reconciliation.  Join with them today – and every day – in praying for world peace.

In the Book of Revelation, we hear of the Queenship of Mary:  “A great sign appeared in the sky, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.”

As our Queen Mother, Mary doesn’t replace Jesus – she guides us to Him and encourages us to bring Him to others, like she did with Elizabeth.  And so, let us bring Jesus to all we meet, and – take time tonight to pray the rosary for peace.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

What's In Your Hotdog?

What's In Your Hotdog?
Homily for July 23, 2017    16th Sunday in Ordinary Time - A
by Dcn. Bob Bonomi

Today’s Gospel got me to thinking: what might Jesus liken the Kingdom of Heaven to today?  More specifically, what kind of food?  After all, Jesus often talked about food and eating in his parables.

I’ve decided that if Jesus was talking to us today, he might compare the Kingdom of Heaven to a – hotdog.  Seriously!  Just look at the three different metaphors he used to describe members of the Kingdom in today’s Gospel: as seeds of wheat, as mustard seeds, and as yeast.  All of them are ingredients in a good hotdog.

But before I go into details about a “good” hotdog, let’s look a little closer as to why Jesus used these three metaphors for members of the Kingdom.   And to do that, we need to understand a little about St. Matthew’s Gospel and the people that he was writing it for.  Many scholars believe that it was written sometime after the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD, and it was probably written in Antioch where the Church, initially strongly Jewish Christian, had become one in which Gentile Christians were predominant.  The persecutions they suffered for their faith were beginning to get serious, challenging their faith.  So Matthew reminds them that their persecutions should not be unexpected, and in fact he writes to strengthen them – to let them know not only what it meant to be a Christian but to give them hope.

Let’s begin with the wheat.  As wheat begins to grow, it is often hard to differentiate between it and the weeds that would grow up beside it.  Further, the plants could be so closely intertwined that if you tried to remove the weeds, you could end up hurting or destroying the wheat.  While it would have been common practice to “weed” the garden as the plants grew, it was better to nurture the wheat and then deal with the weeds at harvest time than risk losing the very crops you were trying to protect. 

So it was in the early Church.  The familiar relationships that the disciples had were changing, and they would be facing opposition from those closest to them – their business associates, their friends and even family members.  And they would have to make a choice – listen to those who would lead them astray, or to follow Jesus. 

But Jesus emphasized how valuable every person was to God his Father.  The first parable, then, is not only about the challenge of following Jesus in a society of conflicting values, but it is a lesson in tolerance of those who disagree with us and a warning about being judgmental, for it is for God to decide what are weeds as only He knows the true potential of every one of His children.

Next, we have the mustard seed.  According to early Roman scholars, it was estimated that Jerusalem had a population of between 600,000 and 1.1 million – roughly the size the of Dallas.  At Pentecost we hear about how a few thousand people joined the movement, but compared to the overall population it would be a drop in the bucket.  But Jesus was pointing out that even from such a small beginning, the Kingdom would continue to grow and expand until people from all parts of the world and from every walk of life – Jews and Gentiles – would find it desirable and seek it.  It was a promise that despite the smallness of their movement, if they persevered in faith the Kingdom would continue to grow and draw others to its shelter and comfort.

Finally, the yeast and the flour.  Three measures of flour is a LOT – according to the Bread Monk, it would make about 75 pounds of bread, or 52 standard loaves.  But bread, without yeast, is flat and relatively hard, and it is in the action of the yeast which causes it to rise and have the texture that we bread lovers come to appreciate. 

So it is in the Kingdom.  Just as yeast works to enlarge the dough, we too have a responsibility to work to expand the Kingdom – and even our smallest efforts can be used by God.  It is the 30, 60 or a hundredfold yield that we heard of in last week’s Gospel.

And so, the wheat, the yeast, and even the mustard all contribute to the nature of the hotdog.  But, to echo an old, old Wendy’s advertisement:  Where’s the Beef? After all, we all know that you cannot have a hotdog without meat, and the best hotdogs are made with beef.  So, what is at the heart of our hotdog?

It is Jesus himself.  For, just as you cannot have a hotdog without the meat, you cannot have the Kingdom of Heaven without Jesus.  Without Jesus, we’re just a hollow bun.

So, we need to ask ourselves – am I everything I need to be to be part of the Kingdom of Heaven?  Am I Wheat, growing in my faith beside the weeds of the world, reaching up for the Son? Can others recognize that I am different than the weeds of the world?

Am I the Mustard which, through the color and aroma of my life, makes the Kingdom appear desirable to others? Or am I like salt that has lost its taste?

And, am I the Yeast, working to expand the Kingdom for others? Am I active in my faith every day and not just a spectator on weekends?

I’ve been called a “hotdog” before, but I’m not, not really.  There’s only one hotdog in my life.  It’s Jesus.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Fear No One

Fear No One
Homily for June 25, 2017    12th Sunday in Ordinary Time - A
by Dcn. Bob Bonomi   

In today’s Gospel, Jesus talks to his disciples about fear.  What are YOU afraid of?

I’m afraid of heights – and cruise ships.  When it comes to heights, I’ll do things to face the fear and overcome it – I’ll go up in tall buildings and lean over rails to look down, as long as I have something I can hold onto.  I know that some of the most spectacular views of God’s creation can only be seen from great heights.

But I don’t think you’ll ever get me on a cruise ship.  I remember being in Hawaii and walking along the shore with Rene’ and saw two of those monster ships docked side-by-side.  Just looking at them almost gave me a full-blown anxiety attack.  I can get sea-sick just watching a travelogue of a cruise – seriously.  And I know that it is all in my head.

According to the American Psychiatric Association, a phobia is an “irrational and excessive fear” of an object or situation. In most cases, phobias involves a sense of endangerment or a fear of harm.  And depending on where you look on the Internet, 8 of the top 10 most common phobias include the fear of: Spiders, Snakes, Heights, Dogs, Thunderstorms, Flying, Germs, and Open Spaces which, ironically to me, includes Crowds. The remaining phobias would include either the fear of Small Spaces and of Holes, or the fear of needles or injections (which some would say is the same as “holes”), and social phobia, which includes the fear of public speaking.  (That’s not one of my phobias, by the way.)

My fear of cruise ships, however, didn’t make the top ten of either of the lists I checked. I wonder why?

In any case, the thing about phobias is not that someone is afraid of something, but that the fear becomes “excessive or irrational”.  So, is fear healthy for us?  What makes it irrational? 

Everyone is afraid of something – if you say you’re not afraid of anything, then you are either deluding yourself, or you are not living life rationally.  Fear is, or can be, a healthy emotion. We need to have fear in order to survive.  It is in how we face our fears that is important. If we allow them to paralyze us, to keep us from doing what is right, then they become irrational.

And there are two components to fear: being “scared” and being “afraid”.  I know it may seem like I may be splitting hairs, but in my mind there’s a difference between being “afraid”, and being “scared”. 

Being scared is the direct, involuntary emotional response to an unexpected event or situation that is imminent or has just occurred.  It triggers a rush of adrenalin resulting in physiological responses like a quickened heartbeat and rapid breathing, and which wears off once the situation has passed and the adrenalin has worn off.  We cannot directly control being scared.

Being afraid, on the other hand, usually concerns the anticipation of a known event or situation that is yet to come.  We know – or think we know – that something is coming, and we don’t want to deal with it when it does.  But we don’t know for sure.  Where there is an immediacy associated with being scared, being afraid often begins long before anything has happened. 

And the biggest component of fear is being afraid.  But unlike being scared, we can manage and control how we handle being afraid.  How?

H.P. Lovecraft once said, “The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.”  The secret to controlling fear then is to control the unknown.  Or, at least to know and understand what it is about it that causes us to fear. 

Which brings us to today’s Gospel.  It’s not about “what” we fear, but “who” we fear.  And that reaches beyond our earthly fears and phobias.

Jesus said, “Fear No One.” … “(D)o not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna.”  Today’s Gospel is about fulfilling the mission of the Church – our Mission – to proclaim the Good News to all, despite whatever dangers may make us afraid.   In a sense, we could say that today’s Gospel is about overcoming our “social phobia”, our fear of speaking out in public about our faith.

Are you afraid of proclaiming the Good News?  Jesus said to “speak in the light; proclaim on the housetops.” If you’re looking for a way to start, there’s a national group on Facebook called the “St. Paul Street Evangelization” – no relation our parish or our wonderful St. Paul Evangelists ministry – that goes out in various cities, including Dallas, and who proclaim the Gospel message in a non-confrontational way every week.  If they can do it, why not you?

If not on the streets, do you at least proclaim your faith to those closest to you?  No?  Who are you afraid of?  A co-worker?  A neighbor?  A member of your family?

Jesus said, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul”.  If we are truly Christians; if we truly trust in God and the promises that His Son, Jesus, made to us, then why should we be afraid?

FDR said, "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself." 

Do not be afraid.  Trust in God, and share His Good News.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

I Believe in One God...

I Believe in One God...
Homily for June 11, 2017   The Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity - A
by Dcn. Bob Bonomi   

Every religion has difficult theological concepts associated with them, and that can be especially true for us Catholics.  At least we usually identify them with often large and cryptic words – like “consubstantial” and “trans-substantiation”, – to show that we know that they are hard to understand.  But we also use simple words sometimes to describe difficult or complex concepts.  Take the word: TRINITY.

Trinity seems like a simple word – by definition it’s a group of three closely-related things.  And yet, when we use it in reference to God, it becomes – mysterious.  We use the word TRINITY to show that we believe in a Triune God – One God, Three Persons.  Most non-Christian religions say that we are either poly-theistic – we believe in multiple gods – or that we’re a bit schizophrenic and out of touch with reality.  It can be a hard concept to fully grasp.

So let’s see how many of you remember your Baltimore Catechism?

Q: What do you mean by the Blessed Trinity? 
A: By the Blessed Trinity we mean One (1) God in Three (3) Divine Persons.

Q: Are the Three Divine Persons equal in all things? 
A: The Three (3) Divine Persons are equal in all things.

Q: Can we fully understand how the Three Divine Persons are One and the Same God?
A: We CANNOT fully understand how the Three Divine Persons are One and the Same God, because this is a Mystery. 

It reminds me of the story of the Bishop who was questioning a bunch of kids for confirmation. He kept asking the class, “What is the Trinity? Does anyone here know what the Trinity is?”  Finally, a little girl went over to him and whispered in his ear, “It’s OK, Bishop, if you don’t know.  It’s supposed to be a mystery.”

So, let’s see how others have tried to explain this “mystery”. 

Let’s start with Athanasius of Alexandria in the 4th century.  He said, “And the catholic faith is this: That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; Neither confounding the Persons; nor dividing the Essence. For there is one Person of the Father; another of the Son; and another of the Holy Ghost. But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, is all one; the Glory equal, the Majesty coeternal. … And yet they are not three eternals; but one eternal. As also there are not three uncreated; nor three infinites, but one uncreated; and one infinite.”  This was part of his “Creed”, which was later used to fight the 6th century heresy of Arianism.  Clear? No?

Then how about St. Augustine?  He spent over 30 years around the beginning of the 5th century working his treatise, De Trinitate, about the Holy Trinity. (I’m afraid I don’t have that much time today.)  There’s a story told about his encounter with boy on a beach: He was walking by the seashore one day contemplating and trying to understand the mystery of the Holy Trinity when he saw a small boy running back and forth from the water to a spot on the seashore. The boy was using a sea shell to carry the water from the ocean and place it into a small hole in the sand.  Augustine approached him and asked, “My boy, what are doing?”  “I am trying to bring all the sea into this hole,” the boy replied with a sweet smile.  “But that is impossible, my dear child, the hole cannot contain all that water,” said Augustine. The boy paused in his work, stood up, looked into the eyes of the Saint, and replied, “It is no more impossible than what you are trying to do – comprehend the immensity of the mystery of the Holy Trinity with your small intelligence.”

Then there’s St. Thomas Aquinas, one of the greatest theologians of all time.  He wrote the “Summa Theologica”, better known as simply, “The Summa”, which is still one of the most important theological texts in use today.  He held that the truths of the Trinity cannot be demonstrated by any means in metaphysics as they are purely truth of God’s revelations.  It is said that just before the end of his life, while he was celebrating Mass, he received a revelation from God that caused him to quit working on the Summa.  When asked why, he simply stated that, what he had seen in the revelation made his “writings like so much straw.”

I understand his feelings.  Reading his stuff makes my head hurt, too.

But just as Jesus used parables to explain difficult ideas, I like to use analogies.

In his book “Mere Christianity”, C.S. Lewis devotes a complete section to the Trinity.  In it he uses geometry as a model for understanding, comparing how a three-dimensional object, with sides that are distinct from each other, are still one object.

St. John Maria Vianney used to explain Holy Trinity using lighted candles and roses on the altar and water in the cruets. “The flame has color, warmth and shape. But these are expressions of one flame. Similarly, the rose has color, fragrance and shape. But these are expressions of one reality, namely, rose. Water, steam and ice are three distinct expressions of one reality. In the same way one God revealed Himself to us as Father, Son and the Holy Spirit.”

I personally like the analogy of the water, ice and steam – even if some apologists on Catholic Radio tend to look upon it with disdain.

And there is always St. Patrick and the legends of his use of the Shamrock to explain the Trinity to pagan warlords of Ireland.

The Trinity IS a mystery.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church says, “The mystery of the Most Holy Trinity is the central mystery of Christian faith and life. It is the mystery of God in himself. It is therefore the source of all the other mysteries of faith, the light that enlightens them. It is the most fundamental and essential teaching in the "hierarchy of the truths of faith".

I think that the doctrine of the Trinity can be summed up in Matthew 28:19, where Jesus instructs the apostles to: "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." Not in the name of the Father and in the name of the Son and the name of the Holy Spirit.  Not three gods.  One God, Three Persons.

And this was so important to the Early Church that it was the core of the Sacrament of Baptism as described in the Didache, one of the earliest known liturgical documents, written some 30 years after the Resurrection: "After the foregoing instructions, baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, in living [running] water. . . . If you have neither, pour water three times on the head, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit."

The mystery of the Trinity is the mystery of Community, as we heard Father David tell us last week.  “Then God said: Let us make Man in our image, after our likeness.” 

C.S. Lewis, in “Mere Christianity”, states:  “All sorts of people are fond of repeating the Christian statement that "God is love," But they seem not to notice that the words "God is love" have no real meaning unless God contains at least two Persons. Love is something that one person has for another person. If God was a single person, then before the world was made, He was not love. Of course, what these people mean when they say that God is love is often something quite different: they really mean "Love is God."

Today’s Gospel begins with what may be the most-quoted verse from the Bible – John 3:16: “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.”  God gave Himself to us as the Son, and continues to give us Himself as the Holy Spirit.

I will end with this final quote of C.S. Lewis:  “If you think of the Father as something "out there," in front of you, and of the Son as someone standing at your side, helping you to pray, trying to turn you into another son, then you have to think of the third Person as something inside you, or behind you.”

The Trinity IS a mystery.  But it is also a REALITY.  Don’t hurt your head trying to fully understand it – have faith.  Last week, we celebrated Pentecost, the coming of the Holy Spirit into us.  God is present to us today – Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Come, let us adore HIM.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Look Up!

Look Up!
Homily for May 28, 2017    The Ascension of the Lord - A
by Dcn. Bob Bonomi   

Ever try standing in the street or a public place and just stare up into the sky or at the ceiling while people walked by?  Maybe shade your eyes with your hands?  Sooner or later you’ll get others to stop and look up, trying to see what it is that you find so interesting.  That’s when as kids we’d laugh and say, “Ha, ha – made you look.”

I bet that even now, if I just stopped and stared hard at the ceiling and said nothing, some of you would get the irresistible urge to look.  In fact, I mentioned this during Mass a couple of years ago and shortly after Mass I received a photo from a family showing their three kids staring at the ceiling in a restaurant.  They were surprised at the number of people who would stop and stare with the kids.  The kids thought it hilarious.

Why do we do that? We can’t help it - we are curious creatures.  We are just dying to see what others see – we don’t want to be left out.  In fact, we can get so caught up in trying to see something that we miss what else is going on around us.

That’s the image I get of the Ascension from our first reading from Acts – all of the disciples are standing around, staring at the sky, and they don’t even notice when two men dressed in white come up to them. “Uh, whatcha staring at?  There’s nothing there anymore.”

But have you noticed that although we as Church celebrate the Ascension of our Lord, the Gospels themselves say very little about the event itself.  Take today’s Gospel from Matthew.  It doesn’t say that Jesus ascended; it only says that the disciples go to the mountain to which Jesus ordered them to go, and he gives them their marching orders to continue his work. 

St. Mark mentions the Ascension almost as an afterthought: “So then the Lord Jesus, after he spoke to them, was taken up into heaven and took his seat at the right hand of God.” 

St. John’s Gospel doesn’t even include the Ascension directly, although he refers to it in depth:  first in his Bread of Life discourse, when he tells his disciples that, if they have trouble accepting that one has to eat of the flesh of the Son of Man for eternal life, then “What if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before?”.  And later, during his Last Supper Discourse, he talks about having to leave them in order to send the Advocate to be with them:  “it is better for you that I go. For if I do not go, the Advocate will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you”, which sets the stage for Pentecost next week.

And although we get the most detail about the Ascension from St. Luke’s description in the Acts of the Apostles, his Gospel account makes it sound as if Jesus ascended shortly after his Resurrection. 

So why don’t we hear more about the Ascension in the Gospels?  Because the Early Church didn’t need it – they already knew it.  It was part of the fundamental teaching to those being introduced to Jesus and it was never a question in their minds.  We see that in St. Paul’s letters, like the one from Ephesians that we just heard:  “[I]n accord with the exercise of [God’s] great might, which He worked in Christ, raising him from the dead and seating him at his right hand in the heavens” It was then, and still is, integral to our profession of faith in the Apostles’ Creed:  “He ascended into heaven, is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty”.  It has always been core to our beliefs.

But the Ascension is more than just an event where Jesus sails away from us into the clouds.  The Ascension is a turning point for our lives today, just as it was for Jesus’ disciples 2000 years ago.  It was the signal to prepare for action.  For three years prior to His death and Resurrection, Jesus did the heavy lifting of proclaiming the Good News; with the Ascension it became time for his disciples to take over.  In today’s readings we just heard St. Mark say that the disciples went forth and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them; St. Paul talked about the different roles that were assigned to the disciples by the Lord; and St. Luke told them that they would be witnesses to the ends of the earth.  Marching orders for His disciples.

That’s US.  WE’RE His disciples today.  It is up to us, as the master composer Puccini said to his students as he was dying, to “complete the opera” that he was working on.  We must pick up where Jesus left off, for it is in us and through us that Jesus continues to live.

Now, next week we will celebrate Pentecost – the coming of the Holy Spirit.  We each have received the Holy Spirit through our baptisms and in Confirmation, and the Holy Spirit continues to work through us.  We will be reminded of that next week, as will all those who, in the various parishes around the world, receive the sacrament of Confirmation.  We have received our marching orders, now we must act.

One final thought.  When Jesus “left” the disciples the first time at his crucifixion, they were left afraid and sad, uncertain about their future.  But when Jesus “left” the second time through his Ascension, they were no longer afraid or sad, but joyous and celebratory, even though they had not received the Holy Spirit at that point and, as we hear today, still had their doubts, just like many of us. 

The difference?  With the Resurrection, they saw that they did not need to fear death, they knew the love of Jesus and it was through that love that their joy was complete.  At Pentecost, they were ready for the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit then gave them the tools, the skills – the graces – they needed to proclaim the Gospel.

So between now and next Sunday, I encourage you to pray to the Holy Spirit for the gifts and graces that the Spirit, dwelling in you, has already given to you, and for the strength to allow the Spirit to work through you, drawing others to God.

And remember: The secret of evangelization isn’t to tell others that they need to change; it is in living a life that gets them to “look up”.

(based on a homily published May 2015)