Originally delivered on January 12, 1992
Readings: Isaiah 42:1-4, 6-7; Acts 10:34-38; Luke 3:15-16, 21-22
A Sacrament of initiation, Baptism, is more than a welcome to the Church. Baptism is an initiation into the family. In today’s homily, we are asked to acknowledge Baptism as a commissioning outward to share in the spirit of our family. Everyone is family, and as such, we are asked to hold a world vision based on Jesus, who taught us tenderness toward each other and justice for all. As a family, we must embrace all people, without exception, and especially immigrants, refugees, and strangers. All are welcome and all are one. Although we are baptized in water, we are also baptized in fire and spirit. May God set us on fire to make the spirit of family alive in our world.
The tape for this homily no longer exists. Luckily, however, we have a transcript of the homily originally delivered on May 29, 1994.
I think it was just last week I shared with you my perception of what a homily is supposed to be. You may recall one of the elements is the challenge for the preacher to bring what our eternal, unchanging truths and bring them together with the current events in which God’s people are working out their destiny at this particular moment in history. I think I suggested that sometimes it’s a real challenge to find that connection but that it is necessary for the preacher to work at it.
Well, it was no work today. To me, once I started to think about it, it was so obvious that there is a connection between current events and these Scripture readings. I think we all know, and the more we tended to these readings beforehand and reflected on them, the clearer it would be to us, with the Easter Season now behind us, the commission of Pentecost having been poured into us, we are about to set out for the Ordinary Year in which the Church must bring a new dimension to the lives of all God’s people.
And so today, we pause like a family at a family holiday around the family table, and ask ourselves, what kind of family are we? What sort of parents do we have? And what are our family traditions?
And so we reflect on the very nature, the intimate nature, of our parent God on this feast of the Holy Trinity. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
And just in recent days, Yassar Arafat got himself into incredible hot water by allegedly – I wasn’t there, I’m not sure what he said – but allegedly, in South Africa, issuing a call in the name of God for a holy war. And it threatened to just dissipate and disintegrate altogether this very fragile peace process between the Arabs and the Jews, between the Muslims and the Children of Israel. Pretty serious stuff. Of course, it’s important to know is that what he said and did he mean what so many Jews took it to mean? Or did he mean something else?
At the same time, we are reminded by current events that there are tribes of people, followers of given faiths, who believe that they can be called by God to holy war, to engage in compact and to kill what they see as infidels, non-believers, and count it as a deed adding to the glory of God. These current events, these tensions, these hostilities, these outright wars of people against one another in the name of faith and religion cannot help but make us recognize that it is absolutely crucial, one might say it is the overriding need, necessity, urgency of all the people of God to get to know who and what God really is.
I find it especially interesting in that first reading, in this encounter with Yahweh, Moses says – remember, this is the God who put down your enemies. Sounds like a God who relishes war, who uses war and destruction of the enemy as an instrument of His will. But in the same Old Testament, if we stay with it as the tradition unfolds further and further, we find that the same holy nations, the same people of God, begin to proclaim that the clear evidence that they are the children of Yahweh is the tenderness with which they respond to the widow, the orphan and the alien, the stranger in their midst.
And so we are teased in the first reading to wonder, is our God a god of war and punishment? Or could it be that our forebears in the ancient days, our Hebrew mothers and fathers, were having to learn, you might say, slowly and gradually the deepest nature of our God? Did they attribute to God their passion for war and for finishing off their enemies? Was it only a grace that came with time, and kind of sacred evolution in which the children of God were challenged more and more and more until Jesus came, and then to be like Jesus, sisters and brothers who love and share and forgive no matter what.
My faith tells me it is thus. That there had to be this evolution from a people who, you might say, felt confined and oppressed, as it were, experienced some kind of religious paranoia, to come step by step by step to the fulfillment of God’s message in the New Testament, in which Jesus is the last and final Word.
You can see that the three readings were chosen clearly for this feast day, Trinity Sunday. The first speaks of the Creator God, the parent God who calls us into being. The Gospel presents Jesus with His commission, saying, “From now on you have got to have in your heart concern for all my children, all the sisters and brothers throughout the world. Go to every nation and tell them the Good News, share with them the one great family tradition. And in the second reading we are told that this parent God who sent Jesus to be our brother, to commission us thus, sent His Spirit, His very life breath to animate us, to strengthen us, to give us the courage, the power to carry out such a mission.
It was interesting, too, to me to see that, in the last few days the news is that, at long last, the Catholics of this country will be able to get a copy of the New Catechism. And if you paid any attention to the news accounts of that, you might have gotten the same impression I did. The reason we had to wait a year longer than the French and the Italians and the others is because there was a struggle going on between Rome and the American Bishops. The American Bishops wanted this catechism, this summary of Christian doctrine, of Catholic faith, to be worded in language that was non-sexist. And they lost! This new catechism will continue to do what today’s second reading would have, had not Wilfred corrected it. It says, “We are sons of God.” And Wilfred, when he read it, said, “Children of God.” We’ll have no more of that, according to the New Catechism! We will all be sons of God. That’s what it says in the Book.
You see, the reason it struck me so forcefully is, the whole point of today is to really get hold again of our family tradition, to remember that God is not this vindictive, distant power that comes swooping down on us, trying to catch us doing wrong. Our God is a mother/father God, loving and embracing and constantly lifting up. Our God is a God who is forever forgiving. And, as the first reading says, this is the only God. There is no other.
So if some fashion our God to be a warrior God, then, no matter how good and how pious their intentions, they are not in touch with the one God, the one true God who is revealed in the readings this day.
And, further, I do believe, if we reflect deeply on these readings, we find out it’s a parent God who is open to the adventure of the growth of the children, of an ever-deepening understanding, of an ever-broadening comprehension of truth and reality. And I personally have a problem trying to convince myself that this God wants to confine us, the children of God, to tradition so tightly and so firmly that we cannot let go of some of these semantics, which in their turn are really a kind of signal or symbol of much deeper things, a fear of the adventure, a fear of becoming, in new ways, and bringing new light and new dimensions to the family tradition of the children of this parent God.
It says in the second reading that God has breathed a spirit into us that animates us, that sets us on fire, fills us with a passion. For what? For the good news that God is parent, for the wonderful news that all people can share together as in one family, loving and caring and helping. And I say it again, as I say it so often, was there ever a time in history that a people needed more to hear this news of such a God when there’s so much hatred, so much hurting, so much perversity, playing itself out in the minds and the confused emotions of so many of God’s children?
I’m sorry that, in a sense, our family tradition, our tradition of faith in Christ Jesus, in the Roman context, reflects so often and so blatantly a fear of the unknown, a kind of determination to have no more surprises, that I think that when you consider, just for example, the simple truth that the God who was first revealed to the Jews was, in fact, a rather frightening and even vindictive and punishing and somewhat martial God. Slowly, gradually, by the grace of the Spirit, this God came to be seen more clearly, more fully, more tenderly as parent God, loving God, forgiving God, and, at last, in the person of Jesus, brother God and friend God. A God you can touch and hug and hold, a God who would say, no matter what you’ve done or mischief you’re yet going to do, here’s Jesus to be your brother, here’s Jesus to walk the way with you.
And when at last you have to breathe your last, the Holy Spirit will be in that breath. And you will awaken to the fullness of the Spirit in the kingdom of God’s glory.
I found myself wondering how clearly we get across to others this notion that God is everything, all of the best things we could possibly conceive of, as proper to parent.
You note, of course, that I keep saying parent, instead of confining myself to the word father. For I believe that that’s part of the evolution as well. And I’m delighted I wasn’t born a long time before I was ‘cause I wanted to be around, I’m delighted to be part of the Church when at last we dare to say father isn’t enough. It’s not a big enough word to describe the God who is revealed to us. Our God is mother and father, and all the love and tenderness that the human heart could conceive of, and more. I’m open to this evolution. I delight in the adventure of these words having new meaning, deeper power for each generation if they have the courage and the boldness to let God speak in our hearts and in our midst.
I do believe that, in spite of those who are afraid, who, like so many parents, want to hang on to the family tradition in such a way that it will look just like it did for our grandparents and their grandparents – I delight to be part of the experience of the church in an age that it’s so clear we’re going to let go of some of the old, not in a putting down, but in a bringing to further fruition, that we will come to know this loving God even better, as this God was meant to be known, as this parent God reveals Himself to us.
I believe it is possible, for those who call themselves Christian and Catholic, I believe it’s possible now to find Christianity more an adventure than it ever was before. More a discovering and a being enriched in new ways, as ought to be the case in families that truly love and truly trust and fully share with their children.
I cannot explain to you, nor could anyone else, the mystery of the Trinity. If I could, it would no longer be a mystery. But I can share with you this expression of our faith which is proclaimed in the commission of Jesus, “Go tell the Good News, go share with them all, this news of love, of childhood, of family, of brotherhood and sisterhood among all the children of God. Go tell it, and be sure to tell them of the loving parent-creator God, of the Spirit that gives life, and of the Son, your brother, who came to give it all meaning and to lead you into the Kingdom. If this is the truth of our faith, if this is the nature of our God, then the task for us, whatever the question, the task for us must always be, “What would Jesus say?” What would a loving parent, caring God, that would send His only Son to be our Savior, say and do in this situation?
And that’s why you’ve witnessed in me, as you will in other preachers and other Christians, an increasing passion to challenge the popular mentality in our country on such things as capital punishment. However you get there to your faith conclusion, to your firm personal belief, the message today is: It has to be in keeping, to the best of your ability and according to your sincere conscience, an answer you’d be comfortable with if Jesus came and sat down beside you and said, “What do you think about capital punishment? What do you think about abortion? What do you think about war? What do you think about the political arrangements of things? What do you think about capitalism, socialism?”
The answer that you give would have to be an answer worthy of somebody in this family. What family? The family of God, who is parent above all. The family of a God who comes in so personal, tender and intimate a way as in Jesus. The family, the children, of a God who comes as Holy Spirit, as very life and breath to keep us on track and lead us forward.
We gather at the table of our parent God. We join our hearts with a brother who loves and wants so much to lead us that He died that we might have life. We open our hearts, our whole being. We pray that we may be open to feel the fire, the passion, the life-giving Spirit of our God.
Readings: Acts 4:32-35; John 5:1-6; John 20: 19-31
Originally delivered on April 10, 1994
In today’s Gospel, we are called to be the risen Christ to our sisters and brothers, to forgive others, and to believe even when we do not have evidence. We must regenerate others’ hope in Jesus just as the first Christian community was in the Acts of the Apostles.
Readings: Acts 4:32-35; John 5:1-6; John 20: 19-31
Originally delivered on April 10, 1988
In this week’s Gospel, we are reminded that God’s presence will be obvious when we take care of our sisters and brothers. When we forgive them, they will feel God’s presence. We are commissioned to be the Church. We are the Easter people that must let the world know that there is still hope to be celebrated.
Originally delivered on January 6, 1991
Readings: Isaiah 60: 1-6; Ephesians 3:2-3, 5-6; Matthew 2:1-12
Today we are invited to reflect on how Mary felt about the shepherds and magi visiting just after giving birth to Jesus. And yet, we are reminded that though we may be strangers with some, we are all family which requires us to examine our definition or understanding of family. Perhaps it wasn’t easy for Mary to welcome the strangers, she set an example and welcomed them. We are called, as members of the great family of God, to share the good news that God is Love and Mercy and we are all God’s children.
Originally delivered on December 29, 1990
Readings: Sirach 3:2-6, 12-14; Colossians 3:12-21; Luke 2:22-40 or 2:22, 39-40
Through old family stories, we are invited to see justice and family in a new light. Who do we consider family? Do we extend the same actions to others that we would for our “family” members? Aren’t we aren’t all sisters and brothers as children of the same God? We are reminded of the powerful words of Paul from the second reading today: “Because you are God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with heartfelt mercy, with kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another; forgive whatever grievances you have against one another. Forgive as the Lord has forgiven you. Over all these virtues put on love, which binds the rest together and makes them perfect. Christ’s peace must reign in your hearts, since as members of the one body you have been called to that peace.”