We find ourselves through life in communion - Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity

John 16:12-15

Today we celebrate the most important and central Christian belief: the belief in the Trinity, that in the one God there are three persons.  This belief should have the greatest impact in our life.  Since we are made in the image of God, in order to flourish as human beings, we should try to live like the Trinity.  Our belief in the Trinity should have a very practical impact in the way we live.  But, let’s be honest.  The doctrine of the Trinity is very confusing and therefore doesn't really change our life.  We often try to explain the Trinity by means of analogies, like saying that the Trinity is like a triangle.  Just as a triangle is one but with three sides, God is one in three persons.  This is helpful, but ultimately doesn't affect our life.  No one strives to live more like a triangle.  Today let’s investigate how our belief in the Trinity should have a very practical effect in our life.

In the Western world in particular, we often think that the more independent we are, the better person we are.  We think that the more self-sufficient we can be, the better.  Now it is true that as human beings we are created with a certain autonomy.  Consider this.  At any given Mass, how many people are present?  Say 700?  Now, how many humans are present?   700.  Each human person has their own humanity and if you do not like this homily you can pick up your humanity and go home.  At first blush, this autonomy seems like a good thing.  The more proficient I am at something, the less I need other people to show me what to do.  The more personal wealth I acquire, the less I need to rely on others for help.  In culture we tend to admire people who have stood out from the crowd.  We often think that the more independent and self-sufficient we are, the more we will flourish as a person.

The Trinity teaches us that perfection comes through dependence rather than autonomy.  The Trinity shows us that living in communion is more important than self-sufficiency.  Remember that question.  In this Church there are as many people as there are humans.  Now, how many persons are God?  Three.  But how many gods are there? Just one?  See the hitch?  Each of us possesses our own humanity.  It is not this way with God.  The Father does not posses His own Divinity.  The Father, Son and Holy Spirit share the divinity  in a perfect communion.  The divinity is not exclusive to any one person in the Trinity, all is one.  There is total dependence.  As Jesus says in today’s Gospel, “everything the Father has is mine”.  The three Persons of the Trinity only have a unique identity as a result of the relationship they share with one another.  The Father is identifiable as the Father only in relation to the Son.  The Son is identifiable as Son only in relation to the Father.  The Holy Spirit is identifiable as Holy Spirit only is the relationship He has to the Father and the Son.  In God then, in absolute perfection itself, we do not find independence, autonomy and self-sufficiency.  Instead, from the inner life of God we learn that perfection is found in radical dependence and communion.

We image the Trinity best and are thus most human when we make of ourselves a gift to others.  We flourish when we imitate the relationship of dependence, communion and self-gift that we find in the Trinity.  In attendance at the Second Vatican Council was a young Bishop named Karol Wojtyla.  He listened intently to all the discussion at the Council.  Years later, when this young Bishop became Pope John Paul II, he would often repeat one his favorite phrases from the Council: “Man cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself”.  This is the Christian paradox.  We do not flourish as a person through self-sufficiency or independence, by “looking out for number one”.  We only grow when we learn to make ourselves a gift to other.  We are made in the image of the Trinity.  We find our identity only in reliance on others, only in a relationship to others.  We flourish not through independence but by making ourselves a gift to others.

It is through small, practical actions that we learn to imitate the self-giving nature of the Trinity.  Simple actions help transform us to better image the inner life of God.  I would like to highlight two specific ways.  The first is by seeking to make our relationships “other-centered”.  We do this by seeking the good of others rather than asking “what is in it for me”.  For example, a mother who wakes up in the night to care for her child is being “other-centered”, she is making herself a gift to her child.  Also, by taking the time to listen to others more than speaking, we put other people first. In relationships we can also seek the honor of others first.  We can do this by rejoicing when others do something well, by trying to find the good in others and by complimenting them for it.  The second way that we make ourselves a gift to others is through service.  We can perform acts of charity in the Church, our community and our family.  We can help out in a parish group, serve at a funeral reception, help in the soup kitchen, pray for others, teach catechism, or help other students with their homework.  The possibilities to serve are endless.  The important thing is that we take small, concrete steps each day to learn how to make ourselves a gift to others.

Daily we hear many voices that claim to offer ways of becoming a better, more fulfilled human being.  TV advertising is full of this.  Buy this car and your life will be complete.  Travel to location and you will find satisfaction in life.  Unless you study at this school you will never succeed as a person.  Use this conditioner and you will discover the secret of happiness.  Trinity Sunday reminds us to go back to our source – quite literally – to discover the answers.  We flourish as persons when we imitate the Trinity by making ourselves gifts to others.  Today choose some very practical way that you can do this by making your relationships more “other-centered” and devoted to service.

Don't be a couch potato Catholic!

Acts 2:1-11; John 20:19-23

Each of us probably knows someone who fits the description of a “couch potato”.  If you are like me, you have probably played the role of couch potato yourself at one time or another.  We all know the qualities of a coach potato: a little lazy, passive, no motivation, no desire to get out and accomplish some task.  The scary thing is, sometimes these characteristics can describe the way that we practice our faith.

There is a great risk that we become “coach potato Catholics”.  In a recent homily, Pope Francis warned of the dangers of becoming couch potato Catholic.  That was the term he used.  He explained that a couch potato Catholic is someone who is cozy in their faith, well-settled in their comfort zone.  Maybe they come to Mass each Sunday.  They might be well-mannered and follow all the rules.  But there is something missing: they lack a sense of mission.  The fact that they are Christian does not seem to influence other areas of their lives.  Those who know them may not even realize they are Christian.  Couch potato Catholics lack excitement, zeal, for their faith.  They are not drawing anyone closer to Jesus.  They are not drawing anyone closer to the Church.  They do not act as though Jesus has given them a mission to spread the good news.  There is a great risk that we, myself included, can become couch-potato Catholics.

The Holy Spirit is the antidote for Catholic Couch-potato-it is.  The Holy Spirit transforms Jesus’ followers from couch potatoes to zealous, mission-driven individuals.    Let us consider for a moment the most dramatic case-study: the apostles, the first followers of Jesus.  They underwent a remarkable change.  When Jesus was arrested and executed, they went into hiding.  They were afraid for their lives.  Some even denied they knew Jesus.  A short time later, the apostles re-appeared on the scene preaching the good news of Jesus Christ in the face of persecution and even death.  What caused this dramatic change?  Certainly they met the risen Christ.  This brought them joy and consolation.  It was not enough to send them on mission.  In the first reading we find the answer.  The apostles received the gift of the Holy Spirit.  It was the Holy Spirit that transformed the apostles into missionaries – individuals who draw other people closer to Jesus and the Church.  The Holy Spirit transforms Jesus’ followers from couch potatoes into zealous, mission-driven individuals.

Each one of us has been given the gift of the Holy Spirit who transforms us into zealous disciples.  At our baptism and later at our confirmation, each one of us received the gift of the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit is often described as fire.  That is why we wear red today.  Fire gives heat, energy, life, and dynamism.  Fire also purifies and transforms.  Sometimes the fire of the Holy Spirit can remain dormant in our life.  It’s like when you leave a camp-fire unattended for a long time.  When you come back the fire looks like it is out, but is you scrap away the ashes you will find some coals buried deep in the pile.  If you blow on the coals, they will burst into flame again.  We all must stir up the gift of the Holy Spirit in our life.  We do this by intentionally taking some time each day to pray, to ask the Holy Spirit to be more active in our lives.  It doesn’t have to be long.  If we were to take only five minutes each day regularly, our lives will change.  Each one of us has been given the gift of the Holy Spirit who transforms us into zealous disciples.

Just like the apostles, we too are to bring people closer to Jesus and the Church.  We are all, each one of us, called to be evangelists.  Now, I am not suggesting that we start going door to door, trying to pass out brochures.  I know how uncomfortable that would make us all.  There are simple ways that we can spread the good news that Jesus Christ died to save us with those we encounter each day.  For example, imagine that a co-worker shares with you that they are anxious because a member of their family is sick.  In addition to sympathizing with them, you could share that in moments like these you personally find it helpful to remember that there is a God who loves and cares for us.  You could then offer to pray for the sick person.  Or perhaps a friend is down on themselves because they feel that they are a failure and that nobody cares for them.  In this case you could remind your friend that they are precious to God, so much so that Jesus died personally for them, because He loves them.  Or maybe you meet someone who is new in town, or someone who is away from their family, who is looking for a community to call home.  Why not invite them to Mass or a Church event? Just like the apostles, we too are given a mission to bring people closer to Jesus and the Church.

Being a couch potato can be nice for a while.  It is relaxing and comfortable.  But ultimately it is boring.  Likewise, being a couch potato catholic, going through life without a sense of mission or zeal is ultimately a boring way to live our faith.  There are so many people here in Surrey who need to hear the good news of Jesus Christ.  They are longing to hear that God loves them, that they have a Saviour, and that they are made for eternity.  If you do not tell them who will?  Today, let us accept this mission anew.  During this Eucharist, let us pray intentionally to the Holy Spirit that He transform us into zealous, mission-driven Catholics.

The Ascension ensures we become adult Christians

Acts 1:1-11; Luke 24:46-53

As I prepared to this, my first homily, I was reminded of one of my first experiences preaching.  A couple years ago I used to go help at a soup kitchen run by the Missionaries of Charity Sisters.  Each week before serving food, a different volunteer would read the gospel of the day and give a short reflection or homily.  Eventually my turn came.  The sister in charge pulled me aside, told me that next week I would be giving the reflection, and, she stressed, “make it short and sweet”.  That week I struggled with what I could say, how I could keep it “short and sweet”. I asked God for help, but no inspiration was coming.  Eventually the big day came and I gave my reflection.  Afterwards, the sister came to me with a very sweet smile and said, “well brother, it was short … the sweetness will come with time”.  Today, I guarantee neither the shortness of sweetness of this homily!!  But, this story points to a common experience that we all have, though in different ways and circumstances.

Each of us lives through moments when Jesus can seem so far away.  At times it can really seem like Jesus is not there to help us.  This problem is a very good one to consider today as we celebrate the Ascension, when Jesus, after having been with his followers for 40 days after the resurrection, left them and returned to His Father.  We could ask: “would it not have been better if Jesus has not ascended?” Imagine if Jesus were still here, living physically among us.  Instead of struggling to think what I should say in my reflection at the soup kitchen, I could just email Jesus and ask him what He would like me to say.  Or if you are a student in grade twelve there would be no need to stress about what you should do when you graduate.  You could just message Jesus and get guidance.  When loved ones suffer, you would not need to wonder why God would allow this to happen.  Jesus would just be a phone call away.  Governments would not need to debate over which programs would be best for society.  They could just visit Jesus and He could end the debate.  Would it not have been better if Jesus had not ascended?  But He did and so we all live through moments when He seems absent from our lives.

The relationship between a mother and her child can help us understand why Jesus ascended into heaven.  The way a mother cares for her child helps us to appreciate the necessity of the Ascension.  Today we honor our mothers and celebrate their self-less love.  Though a mother would do anything to help their child in a time of need, we know that in many situations a mother will stand back and seem to do nothing because it is what is best for the child.  For example, when a child is doing homework a mother will assist and encourage the child.  But, the mother cannot do the homework for the child.  A mother may need to watch as their child struggles to get an assignment done.  This is because the child needs to do the work themselves, so they can learn and develop.  Mothers often behave this way for the good of her child.  They “ascend” as it were away from the children, allowing them to solve their own problems.  If she didn’t, the children would never grow and mature.  This aspect of how a mother loves her child can help us better understand why Jesus would ascend in to heaven and seemingly remain distant during our times of struggle.

After the resurrection Jesus Christ needed to return back to heaven so that we could grow into adult Christians.  If Jesus had remained always physically among us, we could never grow into the men and women that God wants us to be.  Jesus came to earth for two reasons: to save us from sin and death and to transform us into the image of Himself.  To help us become more like Him, Jesus taught the disciples by word and example what it meant to live a good, loving life.  But Jesus’ mission of forming us into His own image was not completed with His death and Resurrection.  To do this, Jesus needed to ascend.  Just as we saw in the relationship between a mother and her child, Jesus needed to pull back, to allow us to struggle through our own difficulties, to put into practice what He had taught us, to help us to grow.  If Jesus had stayed physically present with us, taking away all our difficulties whenever they arose, our spiritual growth would have been forever stunted.  It was for our own good and out of love that He returned to heaven.

Jesus has not abandoned us but has given us His Spirit, His greatest gift.  The Holy Spirit is always with us, gently transforming us to become more and more like Jesus.  When we read the bible the Holy Spirit has a personal message to speak to us.  In our conscience the Holy Spirit guides us, helping us to act rightly.  When we take the time to pray, the Holy Spirit guides and comforts us.  The Holy Spirit will speak to us through our friends and fellow Christians when we seek their help.  The Holy Spirit gives us many tools and opportunity for growth but we are not forced to use them.  Often we do not make us of these tools during times of difficulty.  Because of this, these experiences are crushing rather than opportunities for growth.  It is so important that during times of difficulty we both recognize that it is a time for growth and make use of the tools that the Holy Spirit gives us to make us grow more like Christ: sacraments, Scriptures and prayer.  Jesus has left us the Holy Spirit so that we can be transformed to become more like Him.

Any kind of growth takes time.  This is especially true with spiritual growth.  However, if during times of struggle we faithfully use the tools the Holy Spirit has given us, we will gradually grow more loving, more and more Christ-like.  To borrow a phrase from the sister from the soup kitchen, in our lives too, the “sweetness will come with time”.  Today let us each try to identify one area in our life where we feel that Jesus is absent.  Let us trust that this experience is an opportunity for growth and choose to use one specific spiritual tool to aid our growth.