Friday, May 24, 2013

Trinity Sunday--Celebrating a Great Mystery

Traditional artist's rendition of the Trinity
  This Sunday we observe what is now called The Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity. More commonly it is called Trinity Sunday.  What exactly are we celebrating?  A doctrine that is hard to understand?  Or something more?  I would suggest the latter.  The Church, in fact, never celebrates a "doctrine". She celebrates rather mysteries of faith which are often elaborated as doctrines.  Mysteries of faith are divine realities which touch and shape our human experience as Christians.  I would like to suggest here that the Trinity is not a belief that God is up there somewhere as a threesome playing around in the sky, but rather a divine reality in which we are swept up. An incident that happened to me 20 years ago while visiting Israel brought this home to me.

  In 1993 I was on a biblical study tour under the auspices of the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago.  We were visitng a site along Lake Genesaret (Sea of Galilee). There was a native Israeli group nearby us. They were speaking in modern Hebrew.  A little boy in their group of 4 or 5 years old fell down and bumped his head.  There was stunned silence for a time followed by loud crying and screaming. We were actually relieved by the crying because it meant that the little guy was breathing. We weren't too sure before that.  At any rate as he calmed down he spotted his father out of the corner of his eye. He got up and ran crying abba, abba, abba, abbaaah!  His abba (dad) was running toward him and bent down to pick him up and embrace him. It was a touching moment. Our group then went on our way.  The boy, we found out, was checked at a hospital for concussion and was OK.

   Now what does that have to do with the Trinity?  When the disciples ask Jesus to teach them how to pray He responds with "When you pray say, Our Abba who art in heaven, etc." (see Lk:11, 1-2) Most of us know that Abba in Hebrew and Aramaic means father, but in context it also means dad, pop, papi, etc.  Jesus was not just giving us a formula to pray, He was showing us that His Abba, was our Abba too. His Abba was Father and also Daddy to us. The above story by the way was definitely a daddy moment. The love between them, that we Christians call the Holy Spirit, also then comes to us. When we are baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit we are drawn into the mystery that is Trinity. We are enveloped by it.  The trinity then is not "out there" someplace. We are rather placed "in there" with a loving Abba who bends down to pick us up and a loving Spirit who breathes life, love and seven wonderful gifts into us.

   Great theologians like Augustine and Aquinas have given theological and philosphical discourses, wonderful ones by the way, on the Trinity. Reflecting on the mysteries of faith with the mind is important, but by itself is not sufficient.  This little Jewish boy taught me a great deal about the Trinity. His story, by the way, is told on pages 81-82, of my book, The Wandering Friar. The mysteries of faith need to be meditated on with the heart as well as the mind.

    A Blessed Trinity Sunday to all!!!

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Pentecost--How is the Holy Spirit Working in Your Life.

 Each year since this blog began (2009) I have offered a reflection on the Feast of Pentecost, focusing on the meaning of the Pentecost event, the first Pentecost. In recent weeks Pope Francis has been offering us  thoughts on this wonderful celebration of the birth of the Church and challenging us to be open today to allow the Spirit to work in our lives.  This has lead me to ponder the many ways that I believe the Holy Spirit to have worked in my own life as well as to ask if in any ways I have resisted the work of the Spirit. As I result this reflection will focus on the role of the Spirit in my life with the hope that it will lead my readers to make a similar reflection for your lives.

   While I'm not going to go through forty two years of priestly ministry and talk about everything that has been the work of the Spirit in my life I would like to highlight two things and then talk about more recent developments in that regard. As most who are reading this blog already know I have been in the Franciscan Ministry of the Word, a ministry of preaching, for over 25 years.  I often pinch myself when I think of my early days of ministry and even my days of seminary.  My lowest grade during my four years of theology was in homiletics (preaching).  As a young priest I was very nervous and shy about preaching.  The fact that I can preach as I do today, effectively, with good response from people, is eloquent testimony not to anything that I have accomplished, but rather to the work of the Spirit in my life.  I also speak Spanish and Italian, as well as English.  In high school and college I studies languages, got good grades, but never mastered speaking them.  While I never received the gift of tongues the way the apostles did I do believe that my attaining fluency in Spanish and to a lesser extent in Italian is another gift of the Spirit in my life.

   Back to the present, in recent years my fellow friars had been encouraging me to write a book.  I resisted somewhat, not sure that I could do that.  As you know My book, The Wandering Friar, has just been published. The Spirit was working,I believe, not only in me, but through my brothers, to nudge me to get this done.  On the way to the book I began to write this blog in 2009.  This project lead not only to the book, but to the use of the Internet as a tool for ministry and sharing the word of God.  Facebook shows, for the most part, the lighter side of my ministry and travels. It also gives me a chance. to make known my stance  on some issues of Justice and Peace and to connect more people to this blog.  About 15 months ago I started using Twitter.  I was reluctant at first, having heard of some of the banal ways in which this medium has been used, but now I am sending out almost every day a "tweet" with a reflection on the day's Mass readings or a reflection on the meaning of certain feasts.  I have been amazed at the responses I get from many people not only telling me that they like what I do, but that they have been helped by what has been written. 

   I was reluctant to write in this vain because it may seem awfully close to boasting, which I do not want to do.  Rather I offer these thoughts to give witness to what I believe, the Holy Spirit has helped me to realize in a way that is so much more than what could be done merely on my own strength and with my own resources.

   I hope that those of you who read this reflection, who are not priests, realize that the Holy Spirit works in all of our lives through our Baptism and Confirmation, something again which Pope Francis has reminded us of quite a bit in recent weeks.  Ask yourself, as we celebrate Pentecost 2013, how the Holy Spirit has worked in your life, how you have been called to serve others, how your marriage has grown with the help of the Spirit, how God has used you in ways beyond your wildest imagination, but also how you may, at times, have resisted the work of the Spirit in your life.

   The clip at the top of this page is the trailer for The Wandering Friar created by Tate Publishing. You can learn about and purchase the book as well has connect to mu social media sites at the book's website  Though many of you have purchased the book from me or the publisher it's official release date is actually not until May 28 when it will start to be distributed to bookstores.  With that date in mind it can also be pre-ordered in paperback or kindle format on

Saturday, May 11, 2013

The Ascension of Jesus. What does it mean for us?

Rembrandt's Ascension

   As I sit to write this reflection on the Feast of the Ascension of Jesus I am overjoyed by the news I received this morning that my niece Michelle gave birth to a baby girl, Madeline Elizabeth.  Congratulations to her and her husband, Kevin Donahue.

   Quite a few years back a gentleman asked me a question to this effect, "Fr. John, I believe what the Church teaches and I believe that Jesus ascended into heaven, but what difference does it make in my life?"

  A good question indeed, and one that has affected my preaching not only for this feast, but for several others throughout the years.  Before addressing that question I'll deal with another that has been asked.  How come some places keep the traditional Ascension Thursday while others have the feast moved to Sunday (as is the case here in St. Petersburg)?

   The answer to that question is that holy-days are not set by Rome but by the local bishop.  Corpus Christi,for example, a holy-day in most of the world, was never one here in the US.  At the present time each ecclesiastical province (a cluster of dioceses presided over by a metropolitan archbishop) determines which are the days of obligation.  In most of the US and Europe it has been determined that it is more important that the greatest number of the faithful celebrate this great mystery rather than holding to the 40 days mentioned only in Luke's Gospel, thus it is moved to Sunday except in the northeast corner of our country. It is the mystery of faith that is important rather than an exact date.

  Now back to that man's question to which there are basically two answers.  First of all we can say that the Ascension is a continuation of the Incarnation.  The Word became flesh and with Jesus entry into heaven human flesh, now glorified, enters heaven with Him. To the rest of us fleshly folks that is quite significant.  Where the head goes, as St. Paul teaches, the body will follow.  Where is heaven?  The word ascend, of course, applies that heaven is "up there somewhere".  With our present understanding of the universe we really don't know spatially what is up and what is down.  I like to think of this feast as the feast of transition, the feast of Jesus returning to the Father so that He can be present to us in new ways.

  This last thought leads into the second answer to the man's question.  Even in His appearances as the Risen One, Jesus is only in one place at a time.  With His return to the Father and then His sending of the Spirit (next week's feast) He is present everywhere, most especially in the Eucharist, but also whenever 2 or 3 are gathered in His name.  We don't have to fly to Jerusalem to see him.  We also believe that when we act in His name that He is acting through us.  As our young people would say, "That is pretty cool stuff."

  So then, I think that the Ascension means a great deal to us.

  Finally, back to the good news mentioned at the beginning. Here is a picture of Madeline Elizabeth Donahue.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Keep It Simple!

  As the Easter season winds down the readings are moving away from the appearances of the Risen Lord to Jesus preparation for His return to the Father in the Christian mystery known as the Ascension.  It is too easy to think of this mystery, that we celebrate in a few weeks, as a sort of heavenly space shot. that may seem irreverent but that is how I think many Christians perceive that event.  It is so much more. It is Jesus transitioning from being present to us in a way that is limited, being present only in one place and at one time, even in His risen form, to being able to be present to all at the same time everywhere--in the Eucharist and in the entire life of the Church.

   In the Gospel text for the coming Sunday we read in John 14:23-24, "Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him."  Christianity is about accepting this offer, an offer which the Lord gives in different ways throughout the Gospels.This tells us that Jesus and His Father (as well as the Spirit) desire to dwell in us now.  We prefer to keep God at a distance and then we wonder how we will get to God, what we need to do to get to heaven.  We are afraid of spiritual intimacy.  We find it too good to be true. We think that when we overcome our sins God will dwell with us.  Wrong!!!  It is the other way around. Ask God to dwell with us and our sins will be overcome.  Even our approach to the Eucharist reflects this fear.  We readily believe that bread and wine are transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ, and indeed that is true.  We find it hard to believe that that transformation is only the first step. We then are transformed and sent into the world to be Christ for others.  When we start to take that seriously both we and the world will change.

Moving Out and Moving Ahead Cautiosly