Holy Trinity (Hendrick Van Balen )
The Liturgy of the Holy Trinity
Last week we celebrated Pentecost, and in the older calendar the Church keeps an “Octave” of the Holy Spirit: an entire week of Pentecost Masses just like after Easter Sunday. Thus the Paschal Octave following Easter, and the Holy Spirit Octave following Pentecost, serve as bookends to the Church’s most glorious liturgical season, that of Eastertide. Trinity Sunday, today, stands at the end of all of this, because the Trinity the deepest mystery, beyond even Incarnation and the Resurrection. It takes us down into the core of all being, into the essence of God’s inner dynamism. God is one, but within this fundamental unity, God is three, a community of persons. He is one, but never alone, an eternal exchange of love between Persons. How do we know this? Certainly not by our own intelligence or anything in the natural world, but only because God has revealed it in Sacred Scripture. In today’s Gospel, Jesus’ final command is to baptize, that is, to seal all peoples with this mark of divine community: in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Baptism makes us capable of real communion with others because we have been configured to the community of the Holy Trinity itself.
The diabolical seeks to drive apart communities, to destroy relationships between persons. The very word “diabolus” means “to split in two.” When the diabolical approaches to disfigure your relationships, it will see the mark of the Three-in-One and fall back. We defend ourselves from Satan simply by making the sign of the Cross, the Sign of the Holy Trinity. In the rite of exorcism, for example, the priest continually makes the Sign of the Cross both over himself and over the penitent. We sign ourselves with the Holy Trinity every time we pray, and every time we enter the Church. We must make this Sign well—prayerfully, thoughtfully and confidently. The sign of the Trinity is the sign of love. It is our testimony that Love—the eternal exchange of love between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—is at the core of all reality. Mother Teresa once found a woman in the gutter, a mess of open sores and crawling with worms. She patiently bathed her and dressed her wounds. The whole time the woman shrieked and swore at her, but Mother Teresa only smiled at her. Finally the woman snarled, “Sister, why are you doing this? No one does this kind of thing. Who taught you?” Mother Teresa simply said: “My God taught me.” The woman paused and said “I want to know your God.” Mother Teresa kissed her on the forehead and replied, “You know my God. My God is called love.”
You’ve heard the phrase “unity in diversity.” We need both our individual identity and our identity within a wider community, because we reflect the Trinitarian core of all reality. You’ve heard the phrase “e pluribus unum?” It’s on the back of that $20 bill in your wallet, because it’s on the Great Seal of the United States of America. Fifty States united into one great nation, e pluribus unum, “from many, one.” The genius of America consists in fifty unique States bound together in a common purpose, strength in unity, strength in diversity. America’s unity in diversity (which we are losing year by year because we are losing our faith in the triune God) reflects the Trinity. Men at their wits’ end will say: women: you can’t live with ‘em and you can’t live without ‘em. We say this because man constantly seeks the Other, someone different than himself, capable of complimenting him. Thus we reflect the inner dynamism of the Trinity, in whose image we are all made.
And this, by the way, is why the homosexual movement is so distressing. The homosexual impulse seeks not the Other, but rather one like itself. It turns in on itself in habits of self-absorption. Rather than learning to give itself to another, and receive another unlike itself, it fears difference and self-gift. Many suffer grievously from this disorder, but only in God can a person so afflicted find healing. We wonder why so many Americans are accepting so-called gay “marriage.” Can’t folks see how unnatural it is? But you can’t understand what is wrong with the homosexual orientation if you don’t know the Trinity, the fundamental unity in diversity at the core of all reality. You can’t grasp it, you can’t see it, if you do not know God. The maniacal drive for same-sex “marriage” is greatly disturbing, because it aims directly at the image of God himself in man. It aims to destroy that image.
To Love Another
The created universe has many images of unity-in-diversity, even triads that precisely portray the Holy Trinity. St. Patrick used the shamrock, of course, and more scientifically-minded people use the three states of chemical matter (solid, liquid, and gas), while more philosophically-minded people point to the three states of consciousness (past, present, and future). We could go on and on, but we know the stamp of the Holy Trinity deep within our own persons. We need to be alone, but we also need to be with others. Christian friendship, and marriage in particular, so obviously emanates from the mutual exchange of love between Father, Son, and Spirit. The mystery of the Trinity is inscrutable and unsearchable, in the words of St. Paul in our Epistle: the greatest of all mysteries. But in the end, the Holy Trinity dwells in every human heart. We sense our own self-identity, and yet have no identity apart from others. Let us surrender our wills to this most fundamental reality, the mutual exchange of love. Let us ask Our Lady, in this last Sunday of May, to teach us how to love the other, the person so different from us, and not to fear the other.
Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity Chapel, Thomas Aquinas College
You can tell the integrity of an organization by its bathrooms. Show me clean bathrooms in a Catholic church and I will show you a parish that loves Jesus.
The Missionaries of Charity love Jesus very much. How do I know that? Because they sweep, polish, and wipe down their chapels every morning. The sisters set up their mission houses (convents) in the world’s dirtiest slums, where smoke and dust choke the air, where garbage and human waste pile up outside the convent walls. But inside those walls all is bright and all is clean, especially inside their chapels. Every morning between dawn prayers and Mass at seven, and I mean every morning, the sisters scurry about with brooms, mops, pails, and cloths, joyfully purifying the Lord’s sanctuary. I love to do my holy hour at that time, moving occasionally so sister can get the floor space around me; I love to pray to the soft sound and sweet smell of their swift and silent morning cleansing of the temple.
I am pleased to report that the students at Thomas Aquinas College, who have graciously afforded me a place to live and work and pray, assiduously clean our temple every day as well. First, I should say, they purify it by their prayers. I rarely enter our great marble chapel without the consolation of seeing a few students at prayer. Second, I am delighted to say that three or four students are assigned to keep the chapel spotless. I often do my holy hours as they sweep, mop, and polish. Best of all, they clean silently, reverently, like the Missionaries of Charity. A distraction and a consternation it is to pray in a chapel where the cleaning service is running noisy vacuum cleaners, banging brooms and dustpans, blowing past the tabernacle without so much as a nod. Our TAC students work their dust mops quietly up and down the rows of pews, carefully genuflecting each time they pass the axis of the sacred tabernacle. The sunbeams shaft down from clerestory windows each morning upon their work and their faith, their love and their hope in the world stretching before them, filled with joy and purity.
Their lives are clean, the minds are pure, and their chapel is spotless. Is “cleanliness is next to godliness?” The cleanliness and good order of our chapels, of our homes, of our bedrooms and of our bathrooms, reflect what goes on in our heads and in our hearts. Thank you, dear Lord, for giving me place to live and work and pray that is bright and clean!
Easter’s Grand Finale
“Cum complerentur dies Pentecostes….” So begin our Scriptures today, fifty days after the Resurrection: when were completed the days of Pentecost…, bringing the Church’s longest liturgical season to a spectacular conclusion. We extinguish the Paschal candle at the end of Mass, singing the double Alleluia after the dismissal one more time, recalling the Alleluias of the Easter Octave seven weeks ago. Pentecost is the birthday of the Church, 1,980 years old today, born at that first Pentecost and renewed each year on this feast. Perhaps we should have a birthday cake for Holy Mother Church with 1,980 candles on it.
Two Stories of Pentecost
Scripture gives us two accounts of this birth of the Church. Our First reading, from Acts 2, gives us the more familiar story, truly spectacular. On the 50th day after the resurrection, the apostles were praying around Our Lady when a blast like a strong driving wind—a howling, whistling sound—came from the sky, filling the building, rocking its foundations. Sheets of fire appeared in the air, descending on each of them, and they began to speak in different tongues. But, marvelously, the people could understand these strange languages—Parthians, Medes, Elamites, Egyptians, Romans, Lybians, and Arabs. Babel was reversed! From many languages, one word, which all peoples could understand: Jesus Christ is Lord! The Church was born, and it was born Catholic, a universal Church, a Church for all nations, as it is very much so even unto our time. In the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, for example, Mass is said every Sunday in 49 different languages. And what did these Parthians and Medes and Egyptians hear, in their own language? The “Mighty Acts of God.” If only we could speak of the mighty acts of God to the non-believers of our time in a language they could understand! We can indeed, but only through the Holy Spirit. Let us never cease praying to him for the gift of tongues.
The Second Story of the Holy Spirit’s coming is found in our Gospel, from John 20. Not 50 days after the resurrection, but the very evening of that same day, Jesus walks through the walls of the apostles’ hideout. He bestows upon them the fruits of the Spirit, Love, peace and joy: “Peace be with you,” Jesus says, “and the disciples rejoiced.” He breathed on them, and then sent them out to bring peace and joy to others. How? By hearing confessions. The first task he gives them, immediately after imparting the Holy Spirit, is this: “whose sins you forgive are forgiven them…”
Life in the Spirit
And so the Holy Spirit brings the Church into existence, and continues, infallibly, the work of Christ on earth. It is for us to live spiritual lives, as St. Paul says in the second reading. Those in the flesh cannot please God. They cannot even please themselves. Joy and peace will elude whoever lives a merely carnal life, apart from the Holy Spirit. “We are not debtors to the flesh,” Paul insists. If you live according to the flesh, you will die. Yet most of us do live a good deal of our lives in the flesh. Consider: what do you think of when you get up in the morning? Breakfast, of course. What do you think of after breakfast? How long until lunch, of course. Other tyrannies of the flesh, more nefarious, besiege us too. If we live “according to them,” life is not worth living. “We will die” in the words of Paul—we are already dead. We must continually insist on our spiritual lives, our prayer lives, and discipline the body with penances and mortifications. Only a son who works hard and sacrifices himself can call God “Abba, Father.”
Our Lady, Spouse of the Holy Spirit
In this month of May, we turn to Our Lady, spouse of the Holy Spirit. No human being knows the Third Person of God better than she, who submitted her body and soul to him at the Annunciation. As she brings us to her Son, so she brings us to her Spouse. When we pray “Hail Mary, Full of Grace,” we pray to her who is full of the Holy Spirit. Please, Blessed Mother, bring us to the Holy Spirit, that our lives may be spiritual, pure and beautiful, like yours.
The other day a deacon gave a talk to our deanery of priests. He is on staff for our local Catholic high school and presented an overview of the school for us. I was delighted to learn that he was not ashamed of the Catholic aspects of his high school. Most Catholic schools, in my experience, especially high schools, admit only reluctantly that yes, there are some vestigial Catholic traditions still in place at their institutions. They express the hope that these cute little practices do not offend their commitment to tolerance and multiculturalism, and they apologize to non-Catholics and non-practicing Catholics.
But our deacon, God bless him, did not blush or stammer as he described how students pray the rosary together. In the months of Our Lady (May and October), he said matter-of-factly, they keep 48 hours of adoration in front of the Blessed Sacrament. Among their many prolife activities, he continued, they witness and pray at the local abortion clinic. And all this in a regular diocesan high school! Even ten years ago, very few school principals would tolerate, let alone take pride, in the Eucharistic and Marian piety of their students. Most suffered pressure from diocesan liturgists and school officials, from priests and bishops, to downplay the Catholic nature of their schools. Devotional piety was mocked in most diocesan liturgical commissions, and Catholic schools felt impelled to follow their disdainful example. That is changing. How refreshing to hear a deacon speaking normally about the Catholic devotion of his students!
I looked around at the other priests in our deanery meeting. Most were wearing their collars and speaking respectfully of the Pope and the saints. I can remember many a diocesan meeting in years past where priests in polo shirts would sit around ridiculing saints, devotions, and the Holy Father. Perhaps we have turned a corner, at least in the Church in America. Perhaps we have regained our balance as the number of “John Paul II” priests begins to outnumber the so-called “Vatican II” priests. Perhaps lay evangelical apostolates like EWTN, Catholic radio, apologetics magazines, and Catholic websites, and the many faithful charismatic movements of the last thirty years, has turned the tide among those still practicing their faith.
The imbalance and confusion of the last forty years is passing. Authentic Catholicism endures; the Body of Christ will not be thrown down for very long. No one can sink the Bark of Peter, not even her captains and seamen, her bishops and priests, even if they will have temporarily lost their balance.
The Ship is righting herself and none too soon. She faces a massive black storm of an all-pervasive secularism on the horizon. Towering dark waves loom ahead, waves that will try to crush and sink any last bit of Christianity in our culture. But we are not afraid, because we know that no one, and nothing, can sink Christ’s Church.
Church’s First Novena
St. Luke’s first Book is his Gospel of Jesus Christ, and his second book is the Acts of the Apostles. Acts begins where the Gospel ends, with Jesus’ Ascension into heaven. Jesus entrusts his Kingdom to his Apostles, who set about building his Church. “Wait in Jerusalem,” he told them, “for the ‘promise of the Father,’” because without the Holy Spirit, they would not be capable of laying even one brick in that Church. And so they prayed for nine days, the Church’s first Novena, and the Church’s most fundamental novena. We are in the 3rd day of that novena right now—let us hope and pray for an outpouring of God’s spirit on the Church and the world. If we try to build the Church with our own wisdom, that part of the Church will collapse. Parts of it have collapsed for that reason.
When will you restore the Kingdom?
The Apostles ask if Jesus will restore the Kingdom “at this time,” that is, before he leaves them. After all, establishing the Kingdom was the whole reason he came from heaven, and they thought they’d remind him to finish the job before getting out of town. Jesus tells them, It is not for you to know when and how. Just know that you will receive power from on high to be my witnesses on earth. Jesus could restore the Kingdom, lost when Adam rebelled against God, with a wave of his hand. But he entrusts the work to the eleven remaining disciples, and their successors. Therefore it will be accomplished by fits and starts, through our manifestly imperfect witness—a long process, brick by brick.
Build a Civilization of Love on Earth
Jesus puts the apostles in charge of this building project. They don’t at first grasp the scope of work, and stand gaping at the little patch of sky into which Jesus has disappeared. Two angels call them back to earth: “Men of Galilee, why are you staring at the sky? This Jesus will return someday…” In other words, you’ve got work to do. Stop gawking and get busy. When Jesus returns, he expects to find a kingdom built and ready to receive him. Clothed with the Holy Spirit, you must witness to all that you have seen and heard.
I remember Blessed John Paul II’s words to us in France at World Youth Day 1997. 1.2 million young people had camped out at Longchamps racetrack, about ten miles from downtown Paris. He thanked us for coming, he encouraged us to keep our faith, to pray, to confess our sins, and then he said—his last words--edifier une civilization de l’amour! Go and build a civilization of love! His words, and his personal witness to Christ, set a million souls on fire. “Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature,” Jesus tells his disciples. And indeed, they went forth and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them, confirming the word through his miracles.
Building a Kingdom of Heaven
The Church we are in today is proof of the ardent zeal of those first disciples, and the generations of disciples since them. We must build on what they have built, for the Kingdom of God must be restored and confirmed by every generation. We are witnessing to his sacrifice on Calvary, his resurrection, and his ascension. We must witness to Christ, alive and reigning. We witness that our own bodies will be restored, swept up into a manner of being that knows no decay, no sin, no sadness. We are witnessing to eternal life, beyond what modern man can see, and buy, and sell, and manufacture.
In this month of May, we witness not only to the ascension of Christ, but to the assumption of Our Lady. She is the first to follow him into that Realm. This aspiration for heaven must drive us forward with joy when life seems very dark. Jesus went before us; Our Lady has gone before us. Let us follow them by building His kingdom on earth, which one day will become his perfect Kingdom in Heaven.
It is Ascension Thursday, even though most American Catholics won’t celebrate it until Sunday (when are the Bishops going to release our Ascension Thursday from captivity?). On this day my mother would take all us kids out of school for a hike and picnic in the mountains. Because it brought delight in the golden years of my childhood—because Christ’s Ascension was more important even than school—this Solemnity has always meant a great deal to me. Moving Ascension on a Sunday flattens it, especially in young minds, and I doubt it holds the same kind of fascination for young people today as it did for me.
But by God’s grace I was assigned Mass in the Extraordinary Form today, which retains the Ascension on Thursday, with its jubilant verses: “Viri Galilaei…O ye men of Galilee, why wonder you, staring into the sky? This Jesus will return just as he left you!... Clap your hands, ye nations; shout to God O ye peoples!” There is no replacement for Ascension Thursday. I have the day off, and am going to hike up a large hill with some dear friends today, in exultation. “Dominus ascéndens in altum captívam duxit captivitátem… The Lord ascending on high leads captivity captive!”
The Ascension marks 33 days from Easter Sunday, and yet we are still squarely within the paschal season. When I was a young priest, I used to grow tired of the Easter season after three or four weeks. I would get bored of praying nearly the same divine office for eight days in a row, and I would grow weary of adding Alleluias after every antiphon and response. I longed for “Ordinary Time,” just simple green with nothing too dramatic.
Now that I am older, and life is a bit less dramatic anyway, I am more grateful that the Church celebrates Easter for fifty days. I have come to savor the Easter verses like “The splendor of Christ risen from the dead shines on the people redeemed by his blood, alleluia.” I can’t seem to get enough of the paschal mystery these days. Perhaps I am perceiving at long last that all of life pulsates with paschal energy, and life depends on recognizing the fire and the water, the body and the blood, every day.
I just can’t seem to get enough of Easter, and wish it would never end. And maybe that means I’m getting closer to heaven, when it will never end. The older I get, the younger I get—every day is a day closer to my birth into eternal life and youth. The weaker I grow, the stronger I grow, in Christ Jesus. I just can’t get enough of Easter, because I know better now that it will, in fact, never end.
Peace is not always peaceful
You’ve heard the phrase “freedom is not free.” This College, for example, is currently engaged in a costly lawsuit with the federal government to preserve our religious liberty. Here below, freedom is not always free, and peace is not always peaceful. The peace Christ gives in today’s Gospel must often be preserved through nerve-wracking confrontation. Peace at any cost is not peace. Consider the carnage Europe bore for not confronting Hitler early on; consider the chaos parents undergo who do not discipline their young children; consider the nervous unrest any man suffers who does not wage unceasing war on his disordered passions.
“Not as the world gives, do I give you peace,” Christ says. Peace of soul comes only after violent battles with the spirits and powers of this world; Christ’s peace reigns only when we have submitted our wills to God’s will, and know we are right with his natural order. In his will is our peace.
The World’s Peace is no Peace
The world seeks its own peace apart from God, and it remains deeply troubled. For example, in the Middle East wishing each other “peace” is the normal form of greeting: shalom in Hebrew, and as-salaam 'alaykum in Arabic. The holy city of Jerusalem itself means “Foundation of Peace,” Yarah-Shalom. But ironically, I would say scandalously, the least peaceful place on the planet has been the Middle East, precisely where God came to earth and offered mankind his peace. Our nation’s most violent day, September 11, 2001, reflected this never-ending conflict (Muslims attacked New York City, the largest Jewish population outside of Israel). Jesus prophesied this, of course: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how many times I yearned to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her young under her wings, but you were unwilling! Behold, your house will be abandoned, desolate.” Jerusalem continues to refuse God’s word, to refuse his prophets, to refuse his Christ, and we are all of us citizens of that City—the City of Man that struggles to become the City of God. “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem.”
As America draws farther from God’s law, violence will increase as society unravels. Our country is choosing to forget the words of her own Declaration of Independence, which states that “the law of nature and nature’s God” is the basis for every freedom. Fifty years ago we accepted contraception, and forty years ago we legalized abortion, and thirty years ago we granted divorce, and twenty years ago we exalted single parenthood. Last week an NBA player admits that he engages in perverted sex and our President calls him to praise his “courage.” What our president did—placating perversion—will only bring more violence to America in the long run. We are all familiar with Mother Teresa’s phrase, “the greatest destroyer of peace in the world today is abortion.” The moral infidelity of her citizens jeopardizes America’s peaceful order more than any foreign military threat. We are a people profoundly ill at ease, and ready to erupt at the slightest provocation.
The War for Peace of Heart
Solzhenitsyn famously said that the line separating good and evil passes not through political parties but right through every human heart. Even at Thomas Aquinas College, we must wage war against the world, the flesh, and the devil. We cannot imagine our green gate on the Ojai Road keeps the world’s chaos out of our campus. Alcohol is a problem among us; blasphemy and swearing are not uncommon; the use of pornography is endemic at TAC to some degree as well. Do we imagine we can receive Christ’s peace without doing violence to these sins, and violence to ourselves? The Kingdom of God suffers violence, the Lord says, and the violent take it by force. If our friends commit these kinds of sins, we must find a way to wage the battle with them, shoulder to shoulder. With charity and patience, we must fight for peace together.
Your Mission of Peace
Your mission as students and graduates of TAC is to bring Christ’s peace to the world by bringing his truth; and obedience to that truth. This will not be a peaceful task, either personally or publicly in a culture maniacally bent on attaining a worldly peace apart from God. You will have to wield the sword of division at times, even within your own family, even against yourself. But we wield this sword always with charity, and with the goal of reconciliation and sanctification. St. John portrays the New Jerusalem for us in our second reading, from the end of the Book of Revelation. That City needs no sun for light, nor temple for worship, for the Lamb is its light and its temple. It is of that city that we must be citizens. Let us ask Our Lady to help us be good soldiers and good citizens of the New Jerusalem, the true City of Peace. In this month of May, let us dedicate ourselves to praying the rosary for true peace, the fruit of saying yes to God’s perfect will.