The incredible beauty of Trinity Sunday is that we’re given the possibility to contemplate the fullness of God’s being in Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The difficulty is that the human mind lacks the capacity to contemplate the fullness of God’s being in Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. But the good news, besides Jesus being raised from the dead by the glory of God the Father through the Spirit, is that we can attach our hearts and minds to bits and pieces of God’s being, enough to satisfy us in the present until we look into his face at the time of our death.
In the 1st reading today from the Book of Deuteronomy, Moses takes on the role of Jesus well before his birth in Bethlehem by way of being a good teacher, asking the Israelites a question or two about God’s power. “Did a people ever hear the voice of God speaking from the midst of fire, as you did, and live” to tell about it? Or, did any god ever do for another people what he did for you while you lived in slavery in Egypt? Did any of those false gods the people worshipped, and still do today, ever perform works, such as creating an entire universe, or an entire human race? Is there a second god who can perform such acts of power and might?
Moses the good teacher calls our attention to the singularity of God the Father and how the 1st Person on the Holy Trinity has put into motion a universe and a people from the virtue of love. I’m not sure why some folks have a hard time understanding this most basic truth of God. He started a universe that continues to expand, and a human race that continues to grow older. What’s the big deal? And then, he zeroes in his attention to this little area of one tiny section of the universe called Egypt, notices an entire race of people in slavery that he created not to be in slavery, hears their cries, and says to them, “You’re going to be my people. Not the slaveholders who have temporary power over you, but the slaves held in bondage.”
He takes the side of the weak, which would be today’s immigrants who seek a better life. He takes our side when we suffer too. He’s close, personal, and caring, this Father.
In the 2nd reading from Romans, we move from the 1st Person to the 3rd Person on the Trinity; the Spirit of God. The Person we pay scant attention to. And St. Paul goes right to the issue in the 1st reading; slavery. Again. Telling us we have not received a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear. My friends, Jesus defeated and destroyed the spirit of slavery to this world in his death and resurrection.
But still, a spirit of slavery surrounds us. It’s always beckoning us to live in fear. Fear of other individuals and groups; fear of the government; fear of people who want to control our thoughts, our language, our actions. The spirit of slavery is to live in fear of another human being who is going to die just like we are, which is today’s Egypt. The spirit of slavery that St. Paul addresses tries to force you to live according to bad human laws that contradict your faith in Christ and your holy conscience. The spirit of slavery says, “You better do this, you better believe in this false brand of marriage, or else we’re gonna bury you.” Is that the type of spirit we wish to live with, or even propagate in our lives?
Instead, we have received a Spirit of adoption, through whom we cry out “Abba, Father.” We do not, as baptized persons, cry out the spirit of sick humanity, but we cry out the Spirit of a loving, merciful, caring God, who has given us statutes and commandments to live by so that our Christian joy may be complete. St. Paul reminds the Christian community at Rome that the Holy Spirit, who moves us internally at the deepest part of our being, is a Spirit, not of fear, but of love. A positive Spirit. An uplifting Spirit. A Spirit who loves and forgives, and desires our forgiveness, unlike the spirit of human slavery that tries to force people into unholy beliefs and practices.
And in the Gospel, as always, we have the 2nd Person on the Trinity; the Word made flesh, speaking his last words on earth to the remaining Eleven. He’s the one we know best, because he’s one of us. He gets most of our attention, and the other two Persons are not envious because of it. For when we offer our attention to Jesus, we offer it also to the Father and the Spirit.
Jesus is the Good Teacher with a thousand teachings that lead us to proper human happiness now, and the future happiness of life with Abba.
What Jesus teaches us in words that we hear and understand are words of presence and comfort; “I will be with you always, until the end of the age.” I will not abandon you. Even though it may appear at times my attention for you has been withdrawn, like Mother Teresa and her decades-long dark night of the soul, I am still there with you. Most lovingly in the Eucharist, I am with you.”
We need to know this. We are in need of trusting that Jesus has not left us behind in his Ascension. The 2nd Person on the Trinity is our Point Man with God. He’s our Contact. He’s tangible. He’s the One we always call up when a favor is needed. We depend on him for all that is good. Until the end of our age, whatever that age is. May we be open to the grace to stay with him, as he has promised to stay with us.
God the Creator; the Spirit of adoption; the Word made flesh. All we could ever need in this world of brevity is there. Thanks be to God, the Holy Trinity.
The entrance is one of peace. Hopefully, I pray, the same way we enter the Upper Room here on Grove Street; with peace. The entry brings peace, and just before the departure of Jesus he brings forgiveness of sins. Notice that there’s nothing negative or harsh about our Lord? Entering their presence after the resurrection, he doesn’t say to them, “Why did you all run away from me when I needed you most? Why did you all skedaddle to the four winds like a bunch of frightened sheep and leave me standing there in the midst of a slew of angry men with clubs and torches and bad intent? Some friends you are! Why didn’t you get arrested with me?”
He enters with peace. “Peace be with you.” He enters with peace because he loves those that he chose for a great purpose called the Kingdom of Heaven. The same way he comes to us in the liturgy, especially in the Eucharist; in peace. Have you ever seen an angry Eucharist of all the times you’ve received our Lord? I haven’t. Christ entering our room is always an experience of peace. How blessed are we to have the Eucharist?
And, it certainly takes a person of peace, a hater of violence, to offer forgiveness: “Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them.” We all know that very difficult word; forgiveness. Forgiveness and suffering are the two hardest words in any language. We want nothing to do with both. And sometimes when we suffer – and I’ve witnessed this – we may believe it’s because God hasn’t forgiven us of some past indiscretion. This image of God that says, “He sent me this suffering because he hasn’t forgiven my saying one bad word on the golf course 7 years ago. Now I have heart disease because of it!” This is a skewed image of God. He enters with peace. They left him high and dry when being arrested and crucified. He comes back to them with, “Peace be with you.” And, “Forgive sins.” Peace and forgiveness. We can’t have one without the other.
In our celebration of Pentecost, God knows we need help to succeed at the seemingly impossible. We’re presented the opportunity to arrive at the solemn understanding that the Spirit of God, the breath of Jesus and the Father, makes possible what we may think not possible. The Spirit who is Holy, when called upon, gives us the joy to resurrect the good after times of human weakness. The peace that Jesus brings with him into the Upper Room was not for Apostles only, by a longshot. The Spirit of his breath presents the great possibility of practicing virtues that on our own would not be possible.
God walks with us. I can assure you as priest that I am a big-time, major failure without the Spirit of God working through all that a priest can do. I would be as bad as all those Red Sox teams that had no clue about how to win a World Series. They floundered; they got scared; they were divided; they looked like the Bad News Bears. How would you like a priest like that? You don’t have to answer that question.
Yet, I have no greater capacity for the Spirit than you do. In fact, some of you have way more Pentecost than yours truly, and I want some of your portion. The way Bridget sang Ave Maria last Sunday for Mother’s Day… and the way Henry played the organ for it. Lots and lots of Spirit there!
But at the heart of the mission before us is spreading peace and forgiveness. That’s the truest definition of Pentecost, because it reflects to perfection the love of Jesus Christ after his resurrection. Peace and forgiveness is the message when he enters the Upper Room where he gave us his Body & Blood. It’s so God-like that peace and forgiveness would be extended in the same room where he left us this testament of his abiding presence. The Eucharist offers us the grace to move mountains; especially the Rocky mountains and the Alps of peace and forgiveness.
For those who believe that God comes to us with an angry pointed finger, this Gospel disproves that belief, as do many other Gospel stories of Christ. Jesus had every opportunity to come at them with a Pentecost of anger because they ran away like the Road Runner when our Lord encountered Judas and the evil men. He comes back to them with forgiveness, not holding their cowardice against them, and offering his peace. This is how Christ comes to us.
The Spirit of Pentecost is a spirit of peace and forgiveness. We can’t have one without the other. Trying to do so is futile. May we bring the spirit of peace and forgiveness to those we encounter, knowing that our Risen Lord is the Source of both those virtues.
There are times along the way when adjustments need to be made. Life doesn’t always go according to perfect order, so let’s stop treating this world like it’s supposed to be heaven when it isn’t, and be ready to make adjustments for the times when our blueprint gets upended.
I was planning on the Red Sox sweeping the Yankees this past week. That didn’t happen. I was planning on retiring from UPS one day with a nice pension. That obviously didn’t happen. So instead of a secure, earthly pension that would take me up to the date of my death and care for my personal needs, now I’m forced to live according to the words, “Your reward will be great in heaven.” Which, of course, is the much greater pension.
Adjustments are part of life for a couple reasons. First, people mess up all the time. It’s called human weakness. Even the best doctors in the world can fall short occasionally. Our perfect thoughts don’t always compute to perfect results. Far from it most of the time. And second, making adjustments reveals a certain character, a healthy level of spiritual maturity in the midst of brokenness, trial, in the midst of the unexpected. Even Jesus realizes this basic truth of our nature in the holy and prayerful Gospel today, as well as Peter’s leadership actions in the first reading.
First, Peter. There is an unexpected absence among them. His name was Judas Iscariot. Judas messed up big time. The number for the full quota of Apostles is 12. Presently, there’s 11. Peter takes charge as Jesus told him to, being his rock on earth, gathers everyone together on a sunny Sunday afternoon for an apostolic conference, leads them in prayer, and says, “We need to make an adjustment and fill the quota. We need a 12th Apostle to replace Judas.”
This entire scene in the first reading was an unexpected adjustment. Nowhere does Jesus instruct them to do this after he ascended to his rightful place in glory. The initiative on the part of Peter is through the Spirit moving him to address this unexpected issue. Which tells us two things; make room for the Spirit in shaky times, most notably through a devoted prayer life, and, be willing to take the initiative when quotas are in need of being filled in our lives. Spiritual quotas.
There’s no need for us to remain minus one necessary spiritual part of our faith journey. Judas can be replaced in our lives. Today, the absence of Judas represents those who have no faith in God, and live according to the morally bankrupt and godless ways of our society. We never have to be minus one, because the Lord is overflowing and generous, always ready to fill us back up. Sometimes that will take patience. Even in illness, he will give us what is holy and good. Take the initiative like Peter when adjustments are needed, and Christ will fill you up.
And in the Gospel, in this holy prayer of protection spoken by the Lord, even the Master knows that adjustments will be needed throughout the life of the Church until he returns. Even though Jesus was never weak himself, he knows our nature and the ways of a broken world. Which is why he prays; “They do not belong to the world any more than I belong to the world.” They don’t belong to brokenness. Brokenness is not the final statement for us with Christ. They belong to fulfillment and the full quota. Even in the midst of persecution, imprisonment, and beatings, they will be filled with what they need to overcome the world’s violence if they don’t lose heart and remain faithful to Christ.
Our Lord also knows they need protection from the evil one. This is better called preventive medicine, preventive adjustment from heaven. Jesus prays that they do not turn into another Judas. The heart of Judas was stolen by the evil one, and he cooperated with it. This has not disappeared from our present times, especially in the area of respecting human life from conception to natural death. The pitchfork man is constantly trying to stick his poisonous needle into the hearts of those who cooperate in the callous destruction of human life, thinking they are doing something good, when in fact they cooperate with evil, imitating Judas.
Jesus protects his Apostles from further spiritual erosion in this heartfelt prayer. He prays the same prayer for us. That our hearts and actions will be devoted to him, one with him, and him alone. Welcome into your life the living truth that Jesus prays for you in heaven. And, that he provides this spiritual protection in our reception of his body and blood, the most explicit spiritual protection we are offered in this life.
Always be ready to make adjustments. Out there in the world, yes, whatever comes our way. But more importantly spiritual adjustments that place full trust in him who is raised from the dead.
“Jesus, I trust in you.” Divine Mercy. That’s what our adjustment looks like, thanks be to God.
There was probably some separation anxiety present when Jesus departed from their midst. After all, he had just spent a few years with them, every day during that length of time. The Apostles he called from their boats, tax tables, and wherever else, they were not 9 to 5 workers with weekends off. They didn’t have bankers’ hours. They were literally fulltime with Christ, all the time, unless Jesus could sneak away in the early morning, find a mountainside, and pray. Even then, they would go running after him like sheep chasing their Shepherd. Separation anxiety on display.
So, there was likely some separation anxiety when the cloud came down – the kidnapping cloud, kidnapping Jesus from them – and took him away to his rightful place at the right hand of the Father. But they got over his ascending fairly quickly, I would venture to guess. When he instructed them to “Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature,” their separation anxiety dissipated, because their words were backed up by signs and wonders that revealed he was still with them. He stayed with them through the beatings, the crosses, the prison sentences, the joys and the healings. Both highs and lows, Jesus remained with his disciples in ways of closeness and intimacy.
Has this closeness and intimacy of Christ our Lord ever been placed on hold? At some point over the past 20 centuries, has Jesus our Savior ever closed the door between heaven and earth, between him and us, and said, “That’s it! I don’t want any more of you!” … in the meantime giving us separation anxiety? We’ve produced countless scenarios for that possibility, haven’t we? From world wars, civil wars, fractures in his Church, actions of hatred and sin – too many to be counted or named. The reasons for him to separate himself from us are there. But I pray we know the honest answer that he has not for one moment in time abandoned us and left us to our own devices.
The importance of this day in the Church’s calendar cannot be overstated. Even though the Ascension of the Lord is a day where many – too many – Catholics will lack the effort to come to the Eucharist, – unlike yourselves – Jesus being taken up by a cloud remains a cornerstone in our relationship with him. It opens for us the possibility of separation anxiety, not with another person, but with the living God and resurrected Christ. That should scare the living daylights out of us. If it doesn’t, check your pulse. See if you still have one.
The Ascension of our Lord into heaven is a setup for three major aspects of our faith journey. First, the Ascension sets up the word, the actual writing of the New Testament. The word we hear proclaimed, left behind through the Spirit guiding the writers, with the soothing power to move our hearts, and lessen any anxiety we may experience toward the Lord’s seeming absence, and loved ones no longer here.
Second, the Eucharist results from our Lord’s Ascension. The Eucharist is the number one medicine against the condition of feeling separated from God. In our reception, we internalize Him. The two of us become one. There’s no possible separation in our reception of the Eucharist. Of course, this is directly connected to the authenticity of our belief.
And third, the Ascension is a setup for Pentecost. We are people of the Spirit. In the Ascension, Christ makes room now for the Spirit to work in our daily living. The Apostles will come to know this beyond their best imaginations.
No separation anxiety needed between us and the Creator. He has it all covered despite a kidnapping cloud. Thanks be to God.
Our Mass schedule for Ascension Thursday, a holy day of obligation, is a Vigil Mass on Wednesday May 9 at 5:30 p.m. and Mass on Thursday morning at 8:00 a.m.