Throwback Thursday: A New Creation in John the Baptist

June 21st, 2018

In the Gospel of Saint Luke, we read that Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist and a priest of the Temple, was a righteous man in the eyes of God.  Yet even good people can sometimes get caught up in the ways of the world, thinking as men think, not as God thinks (cf. Matthew 16:21-23).

Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth had been unable to have a child and they were at an advanced age where they had given up hope of having one.  Then one day, when Zechariah was offering incense in the Temple sanctuary, the angel Gabriel was sent to announce to him this good news – they would have a son and “he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from his mother’s womb, and he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. He will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah” (Luke 1:15-17).

When Gabriel appeared to Mary and announced that she, a virgin, would be the mother of the Lord, she had complete faith in God.  In asking the angel to explain, she merely sought to understand how God’s will might be done in and through her, the handmaid of the Lord (Luke 1:34).  Thus, Elizabeth would subsequently say to her, “Blessed are you who believed” (Luke 1:45).

Zechariah, on the other hand, thinking of Elizabeth’s history of infertility and their old age, essentially doubted God and his plan.  Consequently, the angel told him, “Now you will be speechless and unable to talk until the day these things take place, because you did not believe my words” (Luke 1:20).

The result of Zechariah’s disbelief was an impaired ability to communicate and relate to others.  His tongue would not be loosed until after Elizabeth gave birth to their son and he gave witness of his restored faith, confirming in writing her insistence that the boy be named “John.”  Having brought new life to that which was barren, now God brought a new voice to that which had been silent, just as John would come to be a voice crying out in the wilderness (John 1:23).

Filled with the Holy Spirit, the new father joyously gave thanks with a hymn of praise that the Church has long recited each morning in the Liturgy of the Hours, “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, for he has visited and brought redemption to his people.” Then Zechariah said prophetically, “And you, child, will be called prophet of the Most High, for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give his people knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God by which the daybreak from on high will visit us to shine on those who sit in darkness and death’s shadow, to guide our feet into the path of peace” (Luke 1:68, 76-79).

John the Baptist is a bridge of continuity between the Old Testament and the New.  As the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, he completes the cycle of prophets begun by Elijah – with the fire of the Spirit dwelling in him, he is “the forerunner of the coming Lord.  In John, the precursor, the Holy Spirit completes the work of ‘[making] ready a people prepared for the Lord’” (CCC 718-19).  With John, the Spirit “begins the restoration to man of ‘the divine likeness,’ prefiguring what he would achieve with and in Christ” (CCC 720), with whom there is a new beginning, a new and everlasting covenant.

As we celebrate this Sunday the birth of John – son of Zechariah and Elizabeth, prophet, precursor and baptizer – we celebrate and give thanks to the Lord who makes within us a new creation.  He brings us new life and with his love, we will bear abundant fruit.

Celebrating the Vocation of Fatherhood

June 17th, 2018

The celebration of Father’s Day offers us an opportunity to reflect on the irreplaceable role fathers play in the life of the family, in society and in the Church.

In the creation story, we learn that the Lord intends for a man called to the vocation of fatherhood and made in God’s image and likeness to “be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1:26-28). Here we find the origin of the family.

Scripture is filled with stories of the importance of fathers, and in their importance in handing on the faith in our heavenly Father.  As Pope Francis points out in quoting from Psalm 78, God “‘established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers to teach to their children; that the next generation might know them, the children yet unborn, and arise and tell them to their children.’  The family is thus the place where parents become their children’s first teachers in the faith” (Amoris Laetitia, 16).  More recently, in his exhortation on holiness, he urges fathers and grandfathers: “Be holy by patiently teaching the little ones how to follow Jesus” (Gaudete et Exsultate, 14).

Pope Francis invites us in a particular way to contemplate the holiness present in the patience of “those parents who raise their children with immense love, in those men and women who work hard to support their families” (Id., 7).  What he then adds about the holiness of mothers growing in small gestures applies also to fathers – such as in sitting down with their children and listening and engaging with them after a long day of work even though they are tired (cf. Id., 16).

In families, “men play an equally decisive role in family life, particularly with regard to the protection and support of their wives and children,” the Pope affirms. “Many men are conscious of the importance of their role in the family and live their masculinity accordingly” (Amoris Laetitia, 55). More specifically, fathers teach what nurturing, compassion, and mercy look like in an explicitly masculine expression.  Children, through the experience of the love of their earthly father, more easily recognize and trust as well the unconditional love and mercy of their heavenly Father.

Today is a day to give thanks to all of the fathers and grandfathers in our families and communities who strive to care for their children to the best of their ability. We express our heartfelt gratitude for the time spent working to provide for the material needs of the family and the time spent patiently with a child struggling to complete a homework assignment or recovering from a nightmare or making a big decision.  For all the gifts of these good men who are living, and in memory of these who have died, we give thanks to God our Father.

Ordinations to the Priesthood

June 15th, 2018

pictured: Kevin Fields, Oscar Astigarraga, Andrew Clyne – photo credit J. Lippelmann, Catholic Standard

Tomorrow, June 16, I will have the joy of ordaining the three newest priests for the Archdiocese – Father Oscar Astigarraga, Father Andrew Clyne and Father Kevin Fields – during a Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. This evening, people are gathering at the Basilica for a Eucharistic Holy Hour to offer prayerful thanksgiving to God for our newest priests and to ask the Lord to bless them in their future ministry.

Churches throughout the archdiocese have hosted Holy Hours in the weeks leading up to this day, and during the year students at our schools and members of our parishes have also been praying for our seminarians by name.  This is a sign of how our family of faith is united in prayer with our current and future priests.

On his first Holy Thursday as our pontiff in 2013, Pope Francis encouraged the faithful to “be close to your priests with affection and with your prayers, that they may always be shepherds according to God’s heart.”  The power of God’s grace, he said, “comes alive and flourishes to the extent that we, in faith, go out and give ourselves and the Gospel to others.”

By his example and his words, the Holy Father offers his own humble example to our new and veteran priests, whom he has encouraged to be “shepherds living with the smell of the sheep.” Answering the call, they go out to encounter and accompany their people in all stages of life, in good times and bad, and welcome them home to the Church, sharing the joy of the Gospel and bringing them Christ’s love and mercy where they are.

How does this happen? Through the sacrament of Holy Orders, the ordained minister is configured to Christ as priest and shepherd of his people. The priesthood and the Eucharist both began with Jesus’ words and actions at the Last Supper, and never is a priest more the presence and icon of Christ than when he stands at the altar to make present once again for us and our salvation the sacramental re-presentation of the death and resurrection of the Lord in the Eucharist.

As an image of Christ the High Priest, the priest also proclaims God’s word in season and out, whether convenient or inconvenient, to help people accept, understand and live the truth of the Gospel.  Through the Sacrament of Reconciliation, he extends Christ’s mercy and forgiveness, healing our wounded hearts.

The sacrament conferred on these new priests offers a reminder that ultimately, ordination is not just for the recipient – the priest – but is for God’s people. Through prayer and accompaniment, the priests and people walk together with Christ on a path to heaven, knowing they never walk alone.

Throwback Thursday: Making Earthly Life More Heavenly: Marriage Jubilarians

June 14th, 2018

This Sunday, it will once again be my privilege to celebrate a special Mass for married couples marking a significant jubilee anniversary.  It is a day of profound love and thanks for 25, 50, 60 or even 75 years of married life together.

The lives of these couples who have lived many years together are beautiful, but they have also not always been easy.  They have had their share of difficulties and struggles.  Yet they have arrived, united, to mark this special moment – and they are committed to marking as many more as God will grant.  They also offer our world today a greatly-needed witness in faith, hope and love.

Pope Francis, in his apostolic exhortation, Amoris Laetitia, has provided us beneficial pastoral advice on how all married couples and their families might find and experience that lasting and fruitful love that never gives up.  The archdiocese, earlier this year, promulgated a pastoral plan for the implementation of this Magisterial teaching entitled, , which I encourage you to read.  My hope is that it will assist you in your own way to bear witness to the beauty and blessing of enduring love in marriage while also engaging with and accompanying others, particularly those who need hope and encouragement the most – those whose marital and family life is marked by disappointment, pain or obstacles.

Previously, I also released a small work, “The Marriage God Wants for You: Why the Sacrament Makes All the Difference (2015),” to help people gain a greater understanding of and appreciation for marriage and family.  In addition to my humble reflections, in this book are the testimonies of many married couples who, by their personal witness, offer invaluable lessons in the art and practice of married life.

In speaking with couples who have been married for many years, I am struck by how many say that what ultimately meant the most over the years were the small gestures – the quiet, ordinary acts done in love.  They tell about the moment of discovery when one spouse suddenly realizes how much the other sacrifices each day, how one secretly scrimps and saves so that the other, or their children, can know a greater joy.  Again and again I hear about the unassuming giving of time, attention, consolation and affection for the sake of that special someone else.

What these jubilarian couples have learned is that age-old wisdom that it is the little things that count a great deal – these moments represent true gifts, far more valuable in what is really important than rings and bouquets.  These gestures are the summary expressions of a love that cannot be contained by a box, wrapped up in paper, or tied with a bow.

For Christians, marriage has great dignity because of the divine reality that is signifies.  Marriage in all its richness signifies the union of Christ with the Church and the unity of the Blessed Trinity, the glory of heaven and the healing of the human family.  But it does more than signify.  As a sacrament, it brings about what it signifies.  It gives husband and wife a share of the life of the Trinity and the divine power to make earthly life more heavenly.

It is easy to stay together in good times – these hardly need a vow.  It is the bad times that present the challenge.  To help them through the bad to attain the good, in the sacrament they receive God’s grace.

Marriage – your marriage – is a primary concern for the God who created you.  If each spouse calls upon that grace, the couple will pull through the difficult times and will emerge stronger.  Sadly, I fear many people have lost the habit of making use of this help.  As a result, society and especially marriage and family have suffered terribly.  However, with personal commitment, as expressed in the marriage vow, together with accepting the help that God offers, a new dawn will follow the dark night.

Staying true in the midst of surprising change and challenge, stress and sorrows – that is the story of couples in strong, loving marriages.  They are not “perfect” couples because there is no such thing.  But successful husbands and wives are those who learn to live with another’s imperfections and to live in a way that is not oppositional, but complementary.  Each learns to be a source of strength for the other, making up for the other’s particular weaknesses, while knowing that the other is doing the same.

More than once, an elderly person has said to me of their long-time spouse, “You know, I love her (or him) more now that I did the day we were married.”  It is enough to bring tears to my eyes.  These long-married couples testify by their very lives that love can indeed bear all things, believe all things, hope all things, endure all things (see 1 Corinthians 13:4-7; Amoris Laetitia, 89 et seq.).

It is a testament not only of their love, but of God’s.  As these spouses each “look upon one who looks back in love,” in the words of Saint Augustine, they experience a taste of heaven itself.  It is a beautiful sign of committed love, a public witness for all of us to see.

This blog post draws from passages of my book “The Marriage God Wants for You: Why the Sacrament Makes All the Difference (2015).”

Summer Reading and Growing in the Gospel Life

June 11th, 2018

Usually this blog comes from Cardinal Wuerl but in anticipation of summer, which for many is traditionally a time for reading, the Archdiocesan Communications Office would like to use this space to present, in place of the Cardinal’s comments, the following proposed reading list:  

Ways to Pray: Growing Closer to God (2015).  As social media and texting illustrate, we need to keep communication lines open for any kind of relationship.  The same is true with our relationship with God. Even amid life’s distractions, when we connect to the Lord through prayer, our hearts can be transformed, and his light can shine in our lives.  The goal of Ways to Pray is to help people better appreciate and learn how to enter more deeply into God’s intimate presence through the language of heaven.

Seek First the Kingdom: Challenging the Culture by Living Our Faith (2012). Confronted with extraordinary challenges from an aggressive secularism, each of us will face many moments when we are called upon to stand as a defender of the faith, a witness to the truth. Seek First the Kingdom is an attempt to encourage mostly the lay faithful in their vocation to bring about the evangelization and sanctification of the temporal order.  It is precisely in daily activity – whether it involves our family, our profession, our work or our ministry – that the presence of God’s kingdom love, truth, justice, compassion and peace is realized.

Open to the Holy Spirit: Living the Gospel with Wisdom and Power (2014).  In seeking to live and share the Gospel, we are not alone, and Open to the Holy Spirit is intended to help people better understand this divine presence which is a relationship of the utmost importance.  With our hearts open to him, the Holy Spirit will dwell within us and work with us in all our uniqueness and weakness so we can grow in holiness and bear witness to the Lord in our work and professions, in education, culture, the arts, science and news media, and in our interactions with the people we meet. In this way, with the Spirit acting through us, we and the whole the world are transformed.

The Marriage God Wants for You: Why the Sacrament Makes All the Difference (2015).  In preparing for the 2014-15 Synod of Bishops on the Family, The Marriage God Wants for You was written.  In anticipation of the World Meeting of Families in August, it might be helpful to revisit this work, which includes reflections and the testimonies of many couples who offer invaluable lessons in the art and practice of married and family life. Key are those ordinary acts done in love – the unassuming attention, small sacrifices, consolation and affection for the sake of that special someone else – made even better in the grace of the Spirit.

Whether by reading these books or other spiritual works – or perhaps using this summer to write your own spiritual reflections – the important thing is to stay connected to the Word Incarnate. Only with his infinite life and love are we truly renewed.

Throwback Thursday: Servants of All

June 7th, 2018

The Archdiocese of Washington will be blessed this coming Saturday morning with a new class of transitional deacons, to be followed on June 16 by the addition of newly-ordained priests to our spiritual family.  With each of these ordinations, we learn something of what it means for these men to give their lives in service to the Church.

The terms “deacon” and “diaconate” are derived from the Greek word diakonia, which means “service.”  A deacon is one who serves Christ and his Church in a special way.  A “transitional” deacon, as distinguished from a “permanent” deacon, is one who, God willing, will subsequently proceed to ordination to the priesthood.  Furthermore, as explained in the Catechism, the deacon enters into this ordained ministry of service not by simple designation or appointment, but by receipt of the sacrament of Holy Orders (CCC 1536-89).

The idea of dedicated service is not new.  It finds its inspiration in the Old Testament.  In the Book of Numbers, for example, we learn that in the old covenant, God chose a whole tribe of men and set them apart for ministerial service (3:5-10).

Service takes on a new form in the New Testament – in Jesus Christ and the Church.  First, he who is the Lord of all made himself the servant of all, noted Pope Francis in a special Mass celebrated in May 2016 in honor of a Jubilee for Deacons, which was part of the wider Jubilee Year of Mercy.  Also, in the Acts of the Apostles, in the very beginning of the life of the Church we find the meaning of the call to the diaconate and to serve as Jesus served.

It was the decision of the Apostles to call certain men, including Saint Stephen, the first martyr, to carry out specific works of charity so that the Apostles would not need to be called away from their appointed work of proclaiming the Gospel (Acts 6:1-7). The establishment of the diaconate was a sacred response to the need of the infant Church to expand her ministry.

The pages of the book of Acts do not give a detailed description of the attitude or disposition of Stephen and the others.  But it is fair to conclude from everything else we read that they possessed a generosity of heart and a love of Christ and his Church.  These traits made it possible for each to work gladly and willingly with the Apostles.

Even as the men who will be ordained as priests the following Saturday move from the transitional diaconate to the priesthood, they will never cease to be deacons. In fact, in an ancient tradition, the bishop for an ordination wears the vestments of the dalmatic of the deacon, the chasuble of the priest, and the mitre and cross of the bishop to make visible the enduring quality each of the three degrees of Holy Orders.  It is service which binds each of these degrees of deacon, priest and bishop together.

Pope Francis said in his 2016 homily for the Jubilee of Deacons that this life of service needs to arise from imitation of Christ in meekness, generosity of time and effort, and from a healthy heart in constant dialogue with Jesus.  Configured to Christ now as servant of all, as he prepares for the priesthood and assists the bishop and priests in the celebration of the divine mysteries, the transitional deacon should be a servant who helps to nurture, heal and restore.  He should be the servant who feeds the hungry, gives drink to the thirsty, clothes the naked, visits the sick and imprisoned, the servant who continues today what Christ initiated as the one sent to make all things new.

Service is also at the heart of the participation of our deacons in the New Evangelization.  This is not always an easy ministry in a culture that draws its inspiration from sources not totally compatible with the Gospel, but that is why this service is so especially needed.  Our age profoundly needs to encounter the Risen Lord and embrace and be embraced by his love.  In taking up this challenge, however, these men are not alone in their efforts. By their ordination, they receive a real and transforming outpouring of the Holy Spirit reflective of that first Pentecost and every ordination in each generation since.

Please join me in praying for God’s blessing upon these men who are to be ordained as deacons. May the Spirit who consecrates all the baptized deepen their life of faith as servants of God’s mercy, enrich their liturgical ministry, and nurture them in rich lives of service to build up the whole body of Christ.

The Gift of Our Lord Jesus Christ

June 3rd, 2018

For good reason the Eucharist is called the “source and summit” of our Catholic faith (Lumen Gentium, 11; CCC 1324). In his last encyclical, dated Holy Thursday 2003, Saint Pope John Paul II wrote: “When the Church celebrates the Eucharist, the memorial of her Lord’s death and resurrection, this central event of salvation becomes really present and ‘the work of our redemption is carried out’” (Ecclesia de Eucharistia, 11; quoting Lumen Gentium 3).  

Ten years ago this month, I was honored to speak at a Eucharistic Congress in Quebec.  Attending also was Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, Archbishop of Buenos Aires.  The future Pope Francis explained in his address how essential the Blessed Sacrament is. In the Eucharist, he said, “Jesus Christ has entrusted the Church with the permanent actualization of the Easter mystery. With this gift, he instituted a mysterious oneness in time between the Easter Triduum and the Church’s life through the centuries. Each time we celebrate the sacred mystery, the wellsprings of the Church are anticipated and summed up in the Eucharist” (Address of June 18, 2008).

Earlier this year, in his exhortation on how we can become more holy, Pope Francis affirmed that by our participation in this holy sacrifice and gift, “the one true God receives the greatest worship the world can give him, for it is Christ himself who is offered. When we receive him in Holy Communion, we renew our covenant with him and allow him to carry out ever more fully his work of transforming our lives” (Gaudete et Exsultate, 157).

Christians firmly rooted in the Eucharist cannot help but be transformed and inspired to be positive messengers of the faith.  And if we are to be transformed in Jesus’ death and Resurrection into new life, then we must learn to see in each other brothers and sisters, friends and members of the same spiritual family.

Our faith calls us in fact to be willing to recognize Christ not only in the Eucharist, but in one another and to do so in a way that manifests his love now and until he comes in glory. Whether it is to those referred to as “nones” in surveys of religious affiliation, “the spiritual but not religious,” those who are completely unaware of the Catholic faith, those who have had negative experiences in the Church, or many more, such missionaries to them are greatly needed today.

Some of these people who are so spiritually malnourished may live right next door.  On this glorious Solemnity of Corpus Christi and every day, it is incumbent upon us to take that sacred faith in the Bread of Life and simply share it.

Throwback Thursday: Father Vincent Capodanno and Remembering and Giving Thanks to All Who Serve

May 31st, 2018

Since this blog post originally ran in May 2014, the cause for canonization of priest chaplain Father Vincent Capodanno was concluded last year at the archdiocesan phase and has advanced to the Holy See’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints for review.

When people come to visit our nation’s capital, many go to Arlington National Cemetery to pay their respects to those brave men and women who worked to defend our nation, including giving the last full measure of their devotion in the service of security and freedom. “Where did they find the strength necessary to do their duty to the full, other than in total adherence to the professed ideals?”  asked Saint John Paul II when, during the Jubilee Year of 2000, he honored members of the military, especially those who had given their lives.  “Many of them believed in Christ,” he explained, “and his words illumined their existence and gave an exemplary value to their sacrifice. They made the Gospel their code of conduct.”

Every day, the women and men in our armed forces fight against violence and the disruptive forces of evil.  As Saint John Paul said, “you are called to defend the weak, to protect the honest, to foster the peaceful coexistence of peoples. The role of the sentinel, who scans the horizon to avert danger and promote justice and peace everywhere, befits each of you.”  We can rightly say to them who have worked to safeguard peace and protect life, blessed are the peacemakers.

Every person who has served to defend us, most particularly those who have made the supreme sacrifice, deserves our gratitude and prayers.  In addition to Arlington Cemetery, another of the places that visitors often go is down to the Mall, to the memorials for the veterans of World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War, where many people can be found reading the names of the men and women who died and the places they served, laying flowers and offering a humble prayer for them.  One of the names on the wall at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial is Father Vincent Capodanno, who was declared a “Servant of God” in 2006 following the opening of his cause for canonization in 2002.

As a young priest with the Catholic Foreign Mission Society, better known as the Maryknolls, Father Capodanno heard the call to minister to the troops in our military and he joined the Navy Chaplain Corps.  After receiving his commission, Father Capodanno was assigned to a battalion in Vietnam and gained a reputation for always being there, for always taking care of his Marines.  He established libraries, organized outreach programs for local villagers and he spent hours reassuring the weary, consoling the grieving, hearing confessions and instructing converts.

It was during his second tour that Father Capodanno demonstrated the greatest love by laying down his life for his friends (cf. John 15:13).  On September 4, 1967, a fierce battle began where the Marines were greatly outnumbered.  Early in the day, the man nicknamed “the Grunt Padre” suffered a gunshot wound that shattered his hand, but he refused to be evacuated.  Later, “a mortar landed near him and left his right arm in shreds hanging from his side. Once again, he was patched up and once again he refused evacuation,” reported one witness. “There he was, moving slowly from wounded to dead to wounded using his left arm to support his right as he gave absolution or Last Rites” when he saw a fallen and wounded corpsman in the line of fire.  As he ran out to minister to him, Father Capodanno was killed by a burst of machine gun fire.

In 1969, Father Capodanno was awarded the Medal of Honor, one of five Catholic chaplains to be so esteemed since the Civil War.  Meanwhile, chapels throughout the world have been established bearing his name, as well as the Navy ship USS Capodanno, which received a papal blessing from Saint John Paul in 1981.

Not only on Memorial Day, but each day, we should remember and prayerfully give thanks for chaplains like Servant of God Father Vincent Capodanno and for all those valiant men and women who have shown us the way of selfless service, even up to the ultimate sacrifice.  They inspire us all to do our part to protect and care for others, which helps bring true peace to our world.

Memorial Day and the Ministry of Presence of Military Priest Chaplains

May 28th, 2018

This Memorial Day, the Church joins the country in remembering and praying for the men and women who gave their lives in service to our country – in service to you and to me.  We pray for their families, and also for active duty personnel and their supportive families who in their own way make many sacrifices.  The archdiocesan pastoral plan Sharing in the Joy of Love in Marriage and Family speaks of the importance of parishes too in making a special effort to pray for our military personnel and support their families, especially those who have been deployed away from home.

The Church, however, does not merely support servicemen and women from afar.  Our spiritual family goes out to them and accompanies them wherever they go. The archdiocese is fortunate to have a long history of our priests serving as active duty chaplains embedded in all branches of the military. These chaplains are there to care for active duty military who are living at bases around the globe, for those who are on the front lines, and they are even there on the battlefield in the midst of combat.

The Archdiocese for Military Services describes military chaplaincy as a “a personal ministry of presence, caring for the needs of Catholic military personnel and their families.”  Chaplains follow our men and women to places where they may be in harm’s way to be able to support them through prayer, the celebration of the sacraments and counseling.  Many times, it is our priest chaplains who are present and giving spiritual care and comfort in the final moments of a service member’s life. What a blessing it is for those in uniform to be able to have guidance, make their confessions and receive the Eucharist before risking their lives, and to have a priest at their side for a sacramental anointing if they are injured or if they give that last full measure of devotion.

The indispensable Catholic impact of chaplains in the lives of others, and the sometimes heroic sacrifices that they make, are highlighted in a particular way in those priest chaplains who have received the Medal of Honor, including Father Vincent Capodanno, who was killed in battle, and Father Emil Kapaun, who was held as a prisoner of war, both of whom are also being considered in proceedings for sainthood.  Other recipients include Father Charles J. Watters, who was also killed in action, and Father Joseph O’Callahan, who ministered to injured sailors in the midst of a bombing attack.

All of these honored men exemplify the faith and courage that comes only in close relationship with our Lord – but it is also seen in the service of all of our priest chaplains who lovingly accompany and care for our sisters and brothers, and their families, as they answer the call and give of themselves in the cause of freedom and a just peace.  Please join me today in asking God’s blessing upon all of nation’s fallen service members, our disabled veterans and all who have served in the past, all our active duty military personnel and their families, and the priest chaplains who minister to them.

Throwback Thursday: The Most Holy Trinity and the Nature of Humanity

May 24th, 2018

The Holy Trinity, by Andrej Rublev

The Most Holy Trinity, which the Church specially celebrates the Sunday after Pentecost, is the central and most profound mystery of the Christian faith and life.  While we human beings can grasp certain aspects of this ultimate truth about God, precisely as a mystery, a full understanding is beyond our limited human comprehension.  Yet, this deep mystery of God’s inner life and essence is also one of the most informative, in that, reflecting on the Trinity can shed invaluable light on what it means to be a human person.

Throughout history and in cultures throughout the world people have, by reason alone and after much consideration, concluded that God exists.  Yet, we could devote ourselves to study over several lifetimes and never come to the conclusion that God is a Trinity of persons – one and yet three: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  We know this truth and other divine mysteries in our human weakness only because the Lord has revealed them to us.  And he has revealed this truth not as a matter of curious theological trivia disconnected from our everyday lives, but in order to share his divine life with us.

The mystery of the Blessed Trinity, as the mystery of God in himself, is “the source of all the other mysteries of faith, the light that enlightens them. It is the most fundamental and essential teaching in the ‘hierarchy of the truths of faith’” (CCC 234).

Since the earliest days – since before the Church was born at Pentecost – the Christian faith has been Trinitarian.  When Jesus descended into the water at his baptism, for example, the bystanders hear the Father’s voice and see the Holy Spirit descend as a dove (Matthew 3:16-17).  Later, Jesus will instruct his followers to “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19).  Likewise, Saint Paul offered blessings with a Trinitarian formula (2 Corinthians 13:13) and the blessings and prayers of the early Church reflect this faith in the Trinity.

The essential elements of this divine mystery are that we worship one God who is an eternal loving communion of three Persons – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – who are all equal in power, all co-eternal, and all divine.  One divine nature, they differ only in that the Father is not the Son; the Son is not the Father; the Spirit is not the Son; the Spirit is not the Father.  While this mystery of one and yet three might at first seem contradictory and irrational by human reckoning, if we delve deeper, we will find, like the other paradoxes of the faith, an amazing and profoundly life-changing truth.

The doctrine of the Trinity can perhaps best be understood by Scripture’s most compact definition of God: “God is love” (1 John 4:8, 16).  Love is by its very nature relationship – it requires an “other.”  The fullness of love is also by its very nature unitive.  More than a mere association of individual persons, in the fullness of love there is a communion of persons – the multiplicity become one.

The Catholic author G.K. Chesterton observed that the Trinity is “simply the logical side of love.” Within God himself is Someone who loves and Someone who is loved, and there is the Love, who is a living reality as well. There is the Father and the Son, and the love which proceeds from them is not merely some warm sentiment, but a Person – the Holy Spirit.

Here too is revealed the essence of humanity.  Made in the image and likeness of God – in the image and likeness of the Trinity – human beings, made male and female, are relational beings made to live in a loving fruitful communion of persons.

We see this in a particular way in the union of man and woman in marriage.  As Pope Francis notes, “the couple’s fruitful relationship becomes an image for understanding and describing the mystery of God himself” as a communion of love (Amoris Laetitia, 11).  That is, “the family is entrusted to a man, a woman and their children, so that they may become a communion of persons in the image of the union of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit” (Id., 71).

As a visible sign of the Trinity, marriage and family are in turn a sign of our heavenly Father’s greater plan for all humanity, that all of his creation be united as one in and through him – a communion of saints.  That is what God wants for you and me – to love and be loved – and nothing could be more wonderful, more vibrant and alive, than to share in this way in the life of the Trinity.

This blog post draws from passages of my book “Faith that Transforms Us: Reflections on the Creed (2013).”