Trinity Sunday 2017

Trinity Sunday. Why is it important – so important, in fact, that we devote one Sunday every year to exploring this confounding Mystery and all its implications?  Just as we do for the Christmas Incarnation, the Good Friday Cross and Easter Resurrection.  It may be the most taken for granted Holy Day in the Church for it has no secular counterpart or observance.  Christmas and Easter are everywhere in stores and bank holidays, Good Friday, not as much, but there’s still a general cultural acknowledgment. But the Trinitarian Understanding of God, well, it’s only for those of us who call ourselves CHURCH.

 

Just as all life is a burst of energy, creativity, diversity, life, death and rebirth –a confirmation of the Death and Resurrection of Jesus in all things, the Trinity, too, makes its imprint on all creation.  How?  Because all life is Relationship.  Nothing exists except in relationship to something else.  No human being originates all by himself or herself.  We say humanity is made in the image of God, and as we are relational beings, so too must the heart of God be relational. The Great Mystery is that God is ONE, Indivisible, Undividable yet still Relational: Father, Son and Spirit.  Not merely different functions of God, although we often speak of God in those ways, but ONENESS. There’s relationship in ONENESS, in UNITY, in HARMONY.  In, dare we say it—in COMMUNION!

 

But I may be getting ahead of myself.  Understanding of the Trinity began with the words of Jesus –his unity with God whom he identified as FATHER, and his promise to send forth God’s SPIRIT -the advocate who bestows Wisdom, Courage, Stamina, Inspiration on all humanity, with, we believe, a unique dose of faith and comprehension bestowed on Jesus’ followers.  In fact, Jesus cultivated us to perpetuate preachers and teachers to help us understand and express this reality imbedded deep in Creation and human experience. So, powerful, important and penetratingly deep was this revelation that it took the Church many generations and over three hundred years’ time to begin to articulate TRINITY in any formal way.  We must not be surprised at that.  One of the many consistencies in the Biblical Revelation is how slow humanity is to understand God and God’s purposes.  From the back and forth, hide and seek relationship the Israelites had with God and their prophets, themselves and others to the obtuseness of the disciples and the trials of Peter and Paul in the Acts and in the Epistles—humanity groans in its struggle to experience and articulate TRUTH.  Biblical and Church History (and human history) make very clear: No pain, No gain.  Therefore, it should be no surprise that even after the Great Councils of Nicaea, Chalcedon and Ephesus we continue to debate within ourselves and with other religions the Reality of Unity and Relationship that is our God.  (You’ll find it a delightful surprise to learn how other religions, while rejecting the Trinity, articulate their own understanding of God desiring relationship with humanity and all creation.)

 

What is NOT relationship in living things?  The ATOM is comprised of Protons, Neutrons and Electrons.  The ATOM is ONE ENTITY but it’s the relationship between the three components that is the source of its energy, source of LIFE. Plants need Sun and Water and Earth to thrive.  John’s Gospel states: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.”  So, of course, CREATION would be in God’s IMAGE-a relational IMAGE.  Tending to the quality of relationships—all relationships-must be the heart of our lives because it is the very Heart of God who showers love on the grateful and the ungrateful, the just and the wicked alike.  God’s patience with us may be as difficult to comprehend as the Trinity itself, and, yet, it’s in evidence everywhere.

 

This mystery of TRINTITY is a gift to us.  But not just a gift for us.  It is essential that we find creative ways to keep it current in our consciousness and conversations, and attend to passing it on to future generations for the Kingdom to come. We must look to ways can we convey these truths to our children—the future Church. And we must be persistent, and prayerfully insist the Spirit inspire us.  Because in some ways this young generation is less likely to explore this Mystery, less likely to take the time to contemplate GOD as we do today.  There’s less in our culture to help them familiarize themselves with the potency of Jesus, His Life, Death and Resurrection.  But there is now in Science, as our insight into the components of the ATOM reveal and in the ways more and more Science acknowledges MYSTERY and the relationship of all things.  Still, we must cultivate conversations of these parallels at home. Dropping the children off to Religious Education or even Catholic School is not enough.

 

We all know that Myths, Stories, even Fairy Tales posit truths about life that can be helpful in explaining and understanding eternal truths.  Analogies with familiar stories are important teaching tools. My favorite for kids is THE WIZARD OF OZ –  one of the few movies that we can speak about with confidence that everyone has seen or read the book. The theme there is that to be one’s true self – to be HOME – is to encounter and appreciate the OTHER, and the only way to do that is to risk relationship.  Dorothy represents all of humanity who needs the gifts of a Trinity – Mind/Brain, Love/Heart, Courage/Respect and Patience with our Animal Natures—to know herself, to grow, to fully love: the essential energy of all human persons.   (And, if you go see the current WONDER WOMAN, you’ll that love is an essential theme of that story, too.)  These are important conversations to have with our kids, don’t you think?

 

From the Fairy Tale Analogy, may we return to our FAITH perspective in and through the realities of this Eucharist we all share.  What a diverse group we are—essentially the SAME soulful bodies, yet unique with different stories and experiences to share – yet ONE in Unity, In Communion in Faith, Hope and Love that is an essential TRINITY that binds us to God and One Another. What an insight! What an inspiration. What a grand scheme, a marvelous mystery to experience time and time again until our very pores and sinews, our bodies and souls understand a little more who we are and who Jesus calls us to be: A diverse people, a diverse world as ONE loving the Lord Our God with our whole heart, all our mind, all our strength and our neighbor as ourselves.

Homily on Matthew’s Gospel Chapter 22: 15-21 for Sunday, October 19

Homily for the Twenty-Ninth Sunday OR 2014;

Rev. James M. DiLuzio C.S.P.   (Homily based on Biblical Readings to be found at the end of this post.)

In the beginning, God created human beings as social beings, inter-dependent and eventually, capable of abstract thinking.  This gift motivated us to seek wisdom, search for meaning, foster understanding and seek God.  We Christians understand God as Relationship itself—an essential interdependent primacy of Father, Son and Spirit – a God who for no other reason except love—frivolous love, magnanimous love, relentless and unconditional love—places RELATIONSHIP as the highest value of life.  Therefore Saint Paul was inspired to write in his Letter to the Romans chapter 8: that NOTHING “will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  “Nothing” is very important because it includes all of our sins and the sins of the world.  By putting relationship first above all things, God’s spirit is the foundation of Hope, the inspiration for Hope with Jesus as its ultimate and complete human expression. So why do we need Caesar?  With Christ at the center of our lives, why do we need government?  Obviously, not everyone centers his or her life in God and for God.  Not everyone is grateful for life let alone grateful to God for it.  We need government because sin is everywhere rupturing relationships — relationships with one another, among nations, with creation and with God.

Make no mistake:  “Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God” is not about the need for separation of Church and State.  Instead, Jesus’ statement is a warning that while we do need governments, we need to keep the state’s claim on us in perspective.   True, without government, we the people of the world would devolve into an anarchy of “every man for himself, every woman for herself.”  We need government because not everyone takes the Ten Commandments to heart, nor accepts the Beatitudes as his or her life-time goal.

Furthermore, we need governments because, as biblical history makes clear, human beings intrinsically insist on having figure heads, spokespeople and leaders. It’s in our relational DNA. So we’ve learned from the time of the Judges and Kings (from Gideon to David to Zedekiah) God can and does use individual leaders of peoples—emperors, governors, senators—for God’s good purposes.  And God uses secular as well as faith-centered leaders.   Isaiah the prophet highlighted this fact in celebrating the pagan Cyrus of Persia’s decision to allow peoples exiled by Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylonian to return to their native lands including the Israelites and Judah-ites to the land of their ancestors.  Still, in the course of human events, wise and benevolent acts on the part of world leaders doesn’t seem to happen very often.  Clearly, each individual’s capabilities as leader are limited just as we, too, are limited.  The lesson here is clear: the centrality of God-centered life.  It offers the only genuine hope for us, whether our leaders seek Divine guidance or not.

Thus today’s Scriptures invite us to recognize that part of the Church’s hope for this world is our participation in government.  To give God the glory that is due, we must support our local communities and continue to cultivate and improve our personal and national outlooks.  For God is all in all.  The faithful must keep up with the signs of the times, read the newspapers, watch a variety of news programs, and discuss the issues respectfully and lovingly with people who hold different points of view from your own. And when you do, be mindful that a human being is far more than an expression of a political theory, an economic entity or a mere consumer of goods.

So, by all means, register, vote and encourage others to do so. But as you do, register this:  you are not voting for Messiah. We already have one.  The more we cultivate continual worship of the Living God in our hearts, minds bodies, the more we seek out friendships beyond our “comfort zones,” Christ will reconcile the haves and the have-nots, the weak and strong.   Through Christ, in Christ and with Christ, you and I will find that to be fully human is to celebrate the Divine Spark in all of us.  All of us.  Make sure our leaders know that. And isn’t that what this and each and every Eucharist is about?

FYI:  Here are the Biblical Readings:

Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Lectionary: 145

Reading 1                                                                                                                                                          IS 45:1, 4-6

Thus says the LORD to his anointed, Cyrus,
whose right hand I grasp,
subduing nations before him,
and making kings run in his service,
opening doors before him
and leaving the gates unbarred:
For the sake of Jacob, my servant,
of Israel, my chosen one,
I have called you by your name,
giving you a title, though you knew me not.
I am the LORD and there is no other,
there is no God besides me.
It is I who arm you, though you know me not,
so that toward the rising and the setting of the sun
people may know that there is none besides me.
I am the LORD, there is no other.

[45:1] Anointed: in Hebrew, mashiah, from which the word “Messiah” is derived; from its Greek translation, Christos, we have the title “Christ.” Applied to kings, “anointed” originally referred only to those of Israel, but it is here given to Cyrus because he is the agent of the Lord.

* [45:2] Bronze doors: those defending the city gates of Babylon.

* [45:6] The nations will come to know that Israel’s God is the only God; cf. also vv.2025.

Responsorial Psalm                                                                                                   PS 96:1, 3, 4-5, 7-8, 9-10

R/ (7b) Give the Lord glory and honor.
Sing to the LORD a new song;
sing to the LORD, all you lands.
Tell his glory among the nations;
among all peoples, his wondrous deeds.
R/ Give the Lord glory and honor.
For great is the LORD and highly to be praised;
awesome is he, beyond all gods.
For all the gods of the nations are things of nought,
but the LORD made the heavens.
R/ Give the Lord glory and honor.
Give to the LORD, you families of nations,
give to the LORD glory and praise;
give to the LORD the glory due his name!
Bring gifts, and enter his courts.
R/ Give the Lord glory and honor.
Worship the LORD, in holy attire;
tremble before him, all the earth;
say among the nations: The LORD is king,
he governs the peoples with equity.
R/ Give the Lord glory and honor.
* [Psalm 96] A hymn inviting all humanity to praise the glories of Israel’s God (Ps 96:13), who is the sole God (Ps 96:46). To the just ruler of all belongs worship (Ps 96:710); even inanimate creation is to offer praise (Ps 96:1113). This Psalm has numerous verbal and thematic contacts with Is 4055, as does Ps 98. Another version of the Psalm is 1 Chr 16:2333.

* [96:4] For references to other gods, see comments on Ps 58 and 82.

  1. [96:1]Ps 98:1;Is 42:10.
  2. [96:3]Ps 98:4;105:1.
  3. [96:4]Ps 48:2;95:3145:3.
  4. [96:5]Ps 97:7;115:48Is 40:171 Cor 8:4.
  5. [96:8]Ps 29:2.
  6. [96:10]Ps 75:4;93:1.

Reading 2                                                                                                                                                   1 THES 1:1-5B

Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy to the church of the Thessalonians
in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ:
grace to you and peace.
We give thanks to God always for all of you,
remembering you in our prayers,
unceasingly calling to mind your work of faith and labor of love
and endurance in hope of our Lord Jesus Christ,
before our God and Father,
knowing, brothers and sisters loved by God,
how you were chosen.
For our gospel did not come to you in word alone,
but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with much conviction.

* [1:1] On the address, see note on Rom 1:17.

* [1:3] Faith…love…hope: this, along with 1 Thes 5:8, is the earliest mention in Christian literature of the three “theological virtues” (see 1 Cor 13:13). The order here stresses eschatological hope, in line with the letter’s emphasis on the Lord’s second, triumphal coming, or parousia (1 Thes 1:102:12193:134:135:115:23).

* [1:6] Imitators: the Pauline theme of “imitation” (see 1 Thes 2:141 Cor 4:1611:1;2 Thes 3:9) is rooted in Paul’s view of solidarity in Christ through sharing in Jesus’ cross and in the Spirit of the risen Lord.

  1. [1:1]Acts 15:40;16:131917:14152 Thes 1:12.
  2. [1:2]2 Thes 1:3.
  3. [1:4]2 Thes 2:13.
  4. [1:5]Acts 13:52;17:19.

Gospel                                                                                                                                                                MT 22:15-21

The Pharisees went off
and plotted how they might entrap Jesus in speech.
They sent their disciples to him, with the Herodians, saying,
“Teacher, we know that you are a truthful man
and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth.
And you are not concerned with anyone’s opinion,
for you do not regard a person’s status.
Tell us, then, what is your opinion:
Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?”
Knowing their malice, Jesus said,
“Why are you testing me, you hypocrites?
Show me the coin that pays the census tax.”
Then they handed him the Roman coin.
He said to them, “Whose image is this and whose inscription?”
They replied, “Caesar’s.”
At that he said to them,
“Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar
and to God what belongs to God.”

* [22:1522] The series of controversies between Jesus and the representatives of Judaism (see note on Mt 21:2327) is resumed. As in the first (Mt 21:2327), here and in the following disputes Matthew follows his Marcan source with few modifications.

* [22:15] The Pharisees: while Matthew retains the Marcan union of Pharisees and Herodians in this account, he clearly emphasizes the Pharisees’ part. They alone are mentioned here, and the Herodians are joined with them only in a prepositional phrase of Mt 22:16. Entrap him in speech: the question that they will pose is intended to force Jesus to take either a position contrary to that held by the majority of the people or one that will bring him into conflict with the Roman authorities.

* [22:16] Herodians: see note on Mk 3:6. They would favor payment of the tax; the Pharisees did not.

* [22:17] Is it lawful: the law to which they refer is the law of God.

* [22:19] They handed him the Roman coin: their readiness in producing the money implies their use of it and their acceptance of the financial advantages of the Roman administration in Palestine.

* [22:21] Caesar’s: the emperor Tiberius (A.D. 14–37). Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar: those who willingly use the coin that is Caesar’s should repay him in kind. The answer avoids taking sides in the question of the lawfulness of the tax. To God what belongs to God: Jesus raises the debate to a new level. Those who have hypocritically asked about tax in respect to its relation to the law of God should be concerned rather with repaying God with the good deeds that are his due; cf. Mt 21:4143.

Homily for Sunday, October 12, 2014

Homily for the Twenty-Eighth Sunday of Ordinary Time 2014
Rev. James DiLuzio CSP

Reading 1: Isaiah 25: 6-10A; Psalm 23; Reading 2: Philemon 4: 12-14; 19-20
Gospel: Matthew 22: 1-14 (Printed Below for your convenience)

No One comes to the Table it seems. Not Congress, Not Business, Economists or Nations. 90 % of Scientists agree there is a human footprint on global warming; last month thousands joined a march here in NYC and around the world yet energy companies and many politicians continue to say, “You fools! Nothing is wrong. No one, no policy, no system needs to change!”

What are the signs of our times? No one comes to the table. The song of our age is that there’s no dialogue, only judgment. No self-scrutiny, only ideology. Look at the Sunni-Shi’ite warfare. No! No one comes to the table but each to his own (or her own) home defiant, unmoved and scared. Good News is often portrayed as Bad News; and Bad News is hailed as irreversible. No harmonies–no counterpoint to blend into a discernable tune. Factions fracture the landscape of Church and State, Foreign Policies and National Interests.

In humility we might acknowledge that one part of the problem, one small but significant piece of the puzzle came from the realm of Institutional Religion. For centuries, religious leaders and preachers assure the crowds of the rightness of their respective faiths, but failed to continually counsel charity, compassion and love of others beyond ourselves. Indeed, although charity may start at home it can stay there with no place to go! How else could family members disown family members who marry people from other faiths or leave one tradition for another? Why else would friendships and associations dissolve when some person suddenly believes or acts differently, or develops a new set of politics or priorities? Alas, global issues are global because they remain rooted in deeply personal, familial conflicts.

What’s the antidote? Where is the adhesive to bring families, religions and nations together? Have we given up on cultivating a cohesive enterprise to change the signs of the time or let fresh air, tone and spirit soothe despairing souls? Indeed, the biblical statement seems truer than ever: “And we like sheep have gone astray”, (1 Peter 2:25) Yes, that is how it seems, but, in truth, there is a solution to our isolation—a way far and beyond the status quo. It is this table. For here is a table to which everyone is invited. What’s more, the ONE who serves at this table will revive our spirits and shepherd of souls. The Kingdom is “Here Comes Everybody,” and “Everyone belongs!” But take care! He may only shepherd those willing to share His vision and to follow His example.

The Kingdom offers an antidote to rigidity by bending the rules of cult and tribe and institution through its invitation to a wiser, more all-consuming way of living—calling its members to collaborate for peace, mercy, justice –to find common ground in our common humanity because our God became fully human in Christ Jesus. If we are truly confident that Christ is with us, we can and must encounter all others who abide by different scriptures, traditions experiences, politics and beliefs and engage in collaboration on all levels, irrespective of our differences.

A challenging proposition. No wonder not all accept the invitation. Furthermore, all who come may not participate as fully as they could because we may not appreciate the wealth of spirit, wisdom and courage bestowed upon us in Word and Eucharist. What opportunities these provide! Possibilities, positive choices for today, tomorrow and the next day. To ignore these is disastrous. Such was the fate of the poorly dressed guest; better he had not shown up at all than to realize all the opportunities he had forfeited. So we must take care not to be neglectful as he was. We must not fall into the trap to look but not see; hear but neither listen nor understand, nor share in Word and Eucharist without full participation or conviction. (It’s not that God will throw us out! But that when we leave we will not have achieved the purpose for our visit! That’s the meaning of the parable—NOT that God is vengeful, vindictive and unforgiving. Remember the Bible used FEAR as its teaching tool because that was the custom in ancient civilizations—Jewish and Gentile both. Always when engaging in the Scriptures, we must go beyond this “fear veneer” to find the true meaning of a parable or passage, however frightful the image or language invoked. The meaning is this: appreciate your faith, engage in it and practice it– especially with those who don’t. Yes, all are invited but with our words and actions we must give them a reason to attend!

Jesus tells us “The kingdom of Heaven is in the invitation– a gracious invitation to a table filled with – as Isaiah prophesied – “rich food and choice wines.” And beneath the sumptuous offerings, that table is sturdy and strong, wide and expansive with an infinite number of table leafs and extenders. So: we’ve been invited and we have come. How shall we make this Mass most profitable?

First, allow yourself to be healed. Let your mind and heart experience the blessed assurance that God cares for you, cares about how you feel, what your circumstances are and makes no judgment on the degree of light and shadow in your heart at this time. Accept that God accepts us as we are, where we are and be filled with gratitude. Only gratefulness for such unconditional love can inspire us to let the Lord move us where He will and empower us to offer His unconditional love to others.
Second, recognize that this table/ our table is made of the wood of the cross. It’s the wood of compassion; a cross created to inspire– pity, empathy, forgiveness and reconciliation. It’s a table and it is a cross—both—to remind us that the feast has a price; the Eucharist does feed us and heal us, but it challenges us, too. The cross reminds us of REALITY: that engaging in charity for mutual benefit is painful; abandoning our illusions can make us feel week and discouraged; cultivating patience for dialogue within and among families, business and politics is exacting and exhausting. Still, the Eucharist assures us that all things are possible with God and with pain comes gain! Spiritual realities can and will address the earthly ones as we participate in ongoing dying and rising. Believe more fully in this process! Cultivate it and it will cultivate in you hope and make of us a revived, energized and courageous people.

Third, be courageous and pick up this cross in any way, shape or form that you know how. “Life is short” and “opportunity is not a lengthy visitor!” You have come to the table of Word and Eucharist. Taste and See what God has in store for you today and tomorrow, and through you, and through us—all of us—salvation for the world.

Reading 1 IS 25:6-10A
On this mountain the LORD of hosts
will provide for all peoples
a feast of rich food and choice wines,
juicy, rich food and pure, choice wines.
On this mountain he will destroy
the veil that veils all peoples,
the web that is woven over all nations;
he will destroy death forever.
The Lord GOD will wipe away
the tears from every face;
the reproach of his people he will remove
from the whole earth; for the LORD has spoken.
On that day it will be said:
“Behold our God, to whom we looked to save us!
This is the LORD for whom we looked;
let us rejoice and be glad that he has saved us!”
For the hand of the LORD will rest on this mountain.
Responsorial Psalm PS 23:1-3A, 3B-4, 5, 6
R/ (6cd) I shall live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life.
The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
In verdant pastures he gives me repose;
beside restful waters he leads me;
he refreshes my soul.
R/ I shall live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life.
He guides me in right paths
for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk in the dark valley
I fear no evil; for you are at my side
with your rod and your staff
that give me courage.
R/ I shall live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life.
You spread the table before me
in the sight of my foes;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
R/ I shall live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life.
Only goodness and kindness follow me
all the days of my life;
and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD
for years to come.
R/ I shall live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life.

Reading 2 PHIL 4:12-14, 19-20
Brothers and sisters:
I know how to live in humble circumstances;
I know also how to live with abundance.
In every circumstance and in all things
I have learned the secret of being well fed and of going hungry,
of living in abundance and of being in need.
I can do all things in him who strengthens me.
Still, it was kind of you to share in my distress.

My God will fully supply whatever you need,
in accord with his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.
To our God and Father, glory forever and ever. Amen.
Gospel MT 22:1-14
Jesus again in reply spoke to the chief priests and elders of the people
in parables, saying,
“The kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king
who gave a wedding feast for his son.
He dispatched his servants to summon the invited guests to the feast,
but they refused to come.
A second time he sent other servants, saying, ‘Tell those invited: “Behold, I have prepared my banquet,
my calves and fattened cattle are killed, and everything is ready; come to the feast.”’
Some ignored the invitation and went away,
one to his farm, another to his business.
The rest laid hold of his servants,
mistreated them, and killed them.
The king was enraged and sent his troops,
destroyed those murderers, and burned their city.
Then he said to his servants, ‘The feast is ready,
but those who were invited were not worthy to come.
Go out, therefore, into the main roads
and invite to the feast whomever you find.’
The servants went out into the streets
and gathered all they found, bad and good alike,
and the hall was filled with guests.
But when the king came in to meet the guests,
he saw a man there not dressed in a wedding garment.
The king said to him, ‘My friend, how is it that you came in here without a wedding garment?’
But he was reduced to silence.
Then the king said to his attendants, ‘Bind his hands and feet,
and cast him into the darkness outside,
where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.’
Many are invited, but few are chosen.”

Today’s Sunday Sermon – I decided to offer a sermon instead of a homily – can you tell the difference?

Sermon for 22nd Sunday in OT 2014

Readings: Jeremiah 20: 7 to 9 (“You duped me, O Lord . . . ); Psalm 63 (My soul is thirsting for you, O Lord my God); Rom 12: 1-2 (“be transformed by the renewal of your mind”); Matthew 16: 21-27 ( Jesus says “Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”)

GET BEHIND ME SATAN! Such harsh words. Don’t you feel sorry for Peter? It only now occurs to me that Jesus isn’t name-calling here. He may not be pasting this label on Peter at all, but rather he’s calling out to the cosmos, defying evil just as he had done during the Temptations in the desert when he began his ministry.
Let’s examine why Peter’s words for Jesus’ safety and comfort trigger Jesus’ conscious battle with Satan and evil. To begin with, “comfort and safety,”’important as they are, do not comprise our highest values or our ultimate goals. Granted, a spirit of “comfort and safety” in God’s care for us is foundational for faith’s dynamism to grow but that is different for our financial and material security. We all depend upon that too much. It is clear the Holy Spirit’ thrives on appropriate risk-taking on God’s behalf with the risk Jesus took taking up the cross the greatest risk of all.
Taking risks on how we explain the mystery and power if the Cross, opening ourselves to deeper in our understanding of this incredible mystery, always beyond our complete comprehension, can provide a stronger faith foundation for us. After all, Peter misunderstood what the Cross could do. Who can ever fully fathom the wisdom of God? Yet, try we must.
Traditionally, the Church understood the Cross as Jesus making restitution for our sins to God the Father. The father required complete selflessness, total self-giving on Christ’s behalf in order to return the world to its proper balance. Jesus was understood as the sacrifice God demanded in order to forgive the world for its obstinacy, arrogance and defiance of God.
Using their Hebrew backgrounds, the biblical writers naturally equated Jesus with the Passover Lamb of Sacrifice whose blood alone could assuage God’s anger and God’s appetite for complete surrender—a complete surrender only the Christ could accomplish. Christ’s blood offered to God would then cover over and ultimately wash away the sins of humankind. Many Fathers and Doctors of the Church continued to use this analogy through millennia in attempts to understand the reason for the Cross and why Jesus had to suffer for our sake. Pastors and preachers continue to build on this analogy to this very day. And these concepts remain an important way of approaching the mysticism and mystery of the Cross beyond our understanding.
Still, the Gifts of the Holy Spirit of wisdom and understanding, of courage continue to impact the collective human mind and the Church’s imagination over the centuries. Modern scholars of the past 100 years or so, and especially the last 30, have been inviting us to see new paradigms, new ways of understanding and appropriating the spiritual benefits of the Cross. They respect the Tradition and the tools for discovery the Spirit endowed each generation. But clearly, new generations don’t understand the old biblical language, its metaphors and allusions. Today’s theologians insist on asking the same questions former Christians and people from other faiths continue to ask. And, honestly,the question we, too, ask: “Why has God been presented as so blood-thirsty all these years?” The response: God is not what these metaphors imply. If Jesus is truly the full revelation of the Living God, must we not understand God through the lens of Jesus’ life? And that is what the new theology and new evangelization does. It looks to Jesus who lived his life with the people, for the people, forgiving the people. Just as God has done for centuries in other ways, the Cross invites the gift of free will to play out its consequences all the while offering not condemnation, but love, kindness and forgiveness. Thus the way of the Cross became the constant source of hope for positive change and transformation for all the world. Our theologians now say what many of us have felt or sensed all along: God did not demand Jesus’ sacrifice. Humanity did. God gave humankind what we wanted, what we demanded so that we might learn from the consequences of our actions. God has always done this and always will. Isn’t that how the Bible plays itself out? Isn’t that how our world plays out to this very day? So, in truth, God surrendered to humanity’s sins in the same way Jesus surrendered to the Cross.
Now we ask, “why does God surrender to us? Why does God put up with us?” ANSWER: Out of a wondrous Love that keeps on giving, a love that is constant and unrelenting. God surrenders to sin to keep the relationship going! For relationship is the heart of God. Indeed, God desires to embrace all that God creates. That is why Christianity insists God is Trinity- relationship itself. So, God surrenders in order to Love and forgive. It is time we accepted more fully how love and forgiveness are as inseparable as the Trinity itself: seemingly distinct one and the same entity.
We’re left with two questions: What sins are forgiven and how are they forgiven in the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ? The sins are nothing more or less than every source of human evil: hatred, jealousies, fears and angers, selfishness—especially when manifested in violence, in “scapegoat-ing” through self-righteousness. Jesus takes on the Cross on God’s behalf to expose the sins of the world, to hold up the mirror to the damage that we do to ourselves, to others, to creation. The method of forgiveness begins by having us look upon the innocent man suffering cruelties of individuals, church and state, allowing ourselves to be filled with sorrow. From sorrow comes compassion, sensitivity to victims and to the sufferings we cause for ourselves and for our world. But more was and is needed because filled with such honesty and sorrow, who then could withstand the guilt, the shame ? The truth is we could not and we can’t. Indeed, the cross offers us plenty of opportunity for self-recrimination but , thank God, not God’s condemnation. God offers deliverance instead. We appropriate that deliverance when we choose to admit our guilt, expunge our sorrow by making amends to our neighbors and to creation because God forgives us even when no others will. Indeed, the Cross invites us to allow our angers and fears, guilt and shame to melt away, allowing God to transform our desires for hate and violence into compassion for ourselves and others. Because of God’s graciousness, we can claim there’s always another day, another chance for us and others to change. But those ideas are just sentiment unless we fully engage in sorrow for our selfish acts, sorrow for denying the centrality of God in our lives and in our world.
You see, for the salvation of the world, The Cross engages us in sorrow to bring us into joy. It’s what we demanded not knowing how much it’s what we truly needed. God could not let humanity have the last word , miss the crucial step of sorrow aware of the suffering we cause because we run from sorrow and don’t want to take responsibility for it. If we had the last word, the triumph of the cross would be our satisfaction to seek revenge for it. Out for blood, we would have perpetuated blame, making others suffer for sins we commit to keep us in a false sense of superiority and blamelessness. That trend is what keeps us in the ways of the world as they are rather than what they might be / could be. Our last word would have perpetuated the realities of the disciples as we found them on Good Friday and Holy Saturday, living in fear and cowardice, seeking to blame and condemn. But the Cross of Jesus brought about the Resurrection, not blame and recrimination. The Resurrected Jesus speaks words such as “peace be with you,” “your sins are forgiven,” and “now go and offer the world the same.” Thus, building upon the old and infusing new spirit for today, we must understand the Cross as evidence that God is always good —not blood thirsty. Therefore, God worthy of worship, awe, reverence and gratitude—not fear. And that is the ultimate message of the Bible in both the Old and New Testaments.
GET BEHIND US, SATAN. It is time we began thinking in new ways, building on the old and learning from our mistakes. Inviting ourselves and others into new ways of approaching mystery, God’s majesty and the meaning of the Cross. We must engage ourselves in sharing the old truths in new and life-affirming ways to new generations of Christians and potential Christians. GET BEHIND US, SATAN, for unless you leave us, we continue to be short-sighted, to be self-centered, condemning others when we find ourselves coming up short, rather than transforming ourselves. GET BEHIND US, SATAN, for it is easier to blame than pick up the Cross to work for solutions. GET BEHIND US SATAN’ for we have been ungrateful for Jesus and what the Cross has done and still does for us. GET BEHIND US SATAN, don’t get in our way. For we want to approach the altar with humility today, not with arrogance but gratefulness, not with entitlement, but contrition. Our presence here today is yet another means of picking up the Cross to let Jesus empower us to be more sensitive, more patient, more hopeful, more courageous and generous. May this Eucharist offers us another chance to bathe ourselves first in sorrow and then in Thanksgiving to see things differently, our lives differently, to see and worship Jesus Christ in newer, stronger ways than we ever have before for our sake and for the sake of the world.