Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

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Pre-Ramble:I think it might be a good time for a ramble, there have been a few things I have pondered the past few weeks.(…and Today’s scriptures also seem to have generated at least some thoughts.. .) From other articles I have spent my time reading, I also have begun to look at the differences in spirituality between the liturgy before and after Vatican-two. The scripture readings of today are that of Martha and Mary, and also Abraham, Sarah, and the visit of the three angels. All of the topics are not closely related, but they are a log of a week’s thoughts, and thoughts tend to merge together. Let’s start with the liturgy. End Pre-Ramble

There has been enormous chatter regarding our modern Mass and its familiar theme of gather around the table. The imagery is of course from the last supper. The flow of that Mass often seems to be first awaiting everyone to assemble, then for a group to prepare the meal, then the feast, and finally its conclusion. The generalized feeling is that the meal does not take place without my presence, and that my presence requires my participation. It also seems, at least to me, to have three parts. It has a beginning, middle, and end. How does that contrast with the Liturgy of old?

For start, while the new-fangled Mass has a distinct beginning and end, the traditional Mass seems continuous. It seems continuous as the Liturgy of Hours is a continuous prayer. Why does one Mass seem continuous while the other periodic? The reason, to me, is that the traditional Mass neither requires my presence or my participation. It continues like clockwork with nothing dependent on me. That also implies that I receive a benefit independent on my action. It is a Mass that is said for me, and not with me. It is a lot like salvation, something done for me by the LORD, without any input from me. With the Mass I witness what was done for me. It explains Christ’s sacrifice, and the Mass is said in a manner that reminds one of the eternal and the perpetual. It is everlasting.

Now for the two or three sentence commentary. First, I think both are valid but I also think the “new Mass” should be presented in a way that it explains the traditional Mass to Christians. That says they should complement each other, and not compete against each other. The new should not exist without the old. Now for the next topic. Many might argue.

The scriptures also speak of old and new. Take the apperance of the Angels to Abraham Gn 18:1-10a. The Angels appeared as three, and three angels speaks loudly of a famous Russian Icon called the “Hospitality of Abraham.” That icon (Andrei Rublev’s) also is known to represent the Holy Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The New Testament described in the Old. New and Old, and what about Abraham and Sarah? It is Abraham that converses with the Angels. It is Abraham that tells Sarah to prepare a meal. The Angels tell Abraham that the elderly Sarah will have a child. It is Abraham’s hospitality that reaps reward. It is described in the narrative of a patriarchy. What about the New? In the New Testament it is a young virgin that speaks to an angel, and she is told directly that she will carry the Lord. There is a comparison between the two. The comparison can be continued with Elizabeth and Zachariah. God enters into creation without the efforts of a Patriarch. Man need not do anything for the grace of salvation. We are saved by God, God alone. If man does anything, he makes mistakes. He sins. That theme continues with Martha and Mary Lk 10:38-42. Jesus informs the disgruntled Martha that Mary has chosen the better path. Mary simply listens to the Word of God, and that is what the Lord asks everyone to do. Certainly that does not mean that the efforts of Martha were for nothing, they were important not just the most important. Just as in the Mass my participation is important, but it is infinitesimally less important than what Jesus Christ did for me.

Trinity Sunday

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In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen. The Trinity, the Holy Trinity. A doctrine of faith. One God in three persons, and a mystery. God the Father, the first person. The old bearded man, the wise old man? Why old and why a man? Why the Father, because Jesus declared Himself Son of God, Son of man. The father in the ancient world exhibited power as much of that civilization was a patriarchy, a world in which males dominated, and where men were in authority. God was all mighty, and the man was the seat of authority in the family. It’s an image of power and authority that man can relate to, but does that suggest God is male? I should think not, and that is not simply to appease the feminist agenda. It’s not simply Father and Son, it the dynamic relationship between Father and Son. I think to the Sistine Chapel and to the frescos of Michelangelo. His depiction of creation and specifically in his creation of man. It’s not the image painted but the relationship between God the Father and Adam. Do I see God in that old man? To answer my own question, no I do not. In those images two arms are extended, and two fingers nearly touch. The fingers of the creator and creation. God, to these eyes today, sees the almighty in the space between those fingers, a God eternally reaching out. Also, a man never able to totally grasp his God. A God that extends His love and becomes Man. The word made flesh. God becomes man. In the space between those fingers lies a dynamic not so easily defined. Imagine if those fingers were to touch, if God were to touch man and if man were to touch God. Think about the moments when they do indeed touch. Creation, the Nativity. That after all is the point of the fresco, it’s about creation.   The breath of life. The Spirit of God. The Holy Spirit sent at Pentecost. The Spirit of God breathed into  man.

Why though do I ponder that painting on the Sistine ceiling on this day to contemplate the Trinity? Its image is not about the trinity, but is about creation. Part of the reason is its fame and influence. Michelangelo was one of the greatest artists of the western world, and one of the greatest in the entire world. His imagery carries weight in my world. His image of the Father is often referenced and copied. It is how many infants learn of their God, the God of the first person of the trinity. One can ask though, is God old and can God ever grow old? The image raises some questions, old and young is one of them. Old and young can also be renamed old and new. That is the old and new of the testaments. Is the Old God the God of the Old Testament? Where is the God of the New Testament? Where is Jesus, or did He come into existence only a couple thousand years ago? Of course every Christian knows that is wrong, He is the alpha and the omega. Jesus is the first and the last. He is eternal, and eternity encompasses all directions. If that depiction is God reaching out to Adam, can it also be the New Adam reaching out to His Father? Is He reaching out for us? An eternal God, true God from true God. Our finite bodies have trouble contemplating the infinite. Western art has a way of partitioning God, Old Man, Young Man, and a Dove. Lets not forget though the Wisdom of God is described as feminine.

Turn then to Eastern Christianity, take glance at Andri Rublev’s Trinity. Gone are the two men and a dove. His is an image of three Angels, similar in age and appearance, but clothed in colors and symbols representative of their Persons. They are described as the Angels that visited Abraham, yet they also represent the Triune God. On a casual glance the viewer cannot tell the Father from the Son from the Holy Spirit. The viewer must learn the meanings of the colors and of the symbols. This God is not glanced at, God is pondered. Curious in this icon is that God I represented as an Angel, and that causes me to think of ancient descriptions of the Christ. Jesus once was considered to be an Angel. The problem became where to place Jesus in the choir of Angels. The Nicene Creed was the solution. Jesus sat at the right hand of the Father, true God from true God. That is, equal to God. Does that explain the similarity of those Angels in the Icon? The interesting point of this icon, formally called “the hospitality of Abraham”, is that it does not correspond to Michelangelo’s God of the creation. Instead it is more reminiscent of Leonardo Da Vinci’s the Last Supper. The three persons of God are gathered around an altar table. It is at that table that we are invited to partake in the mystery of our God. The God of the Trinity..

a baptismal epiphany

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Its another Epiphany. How many can there be? The answer to that question is three, and the second is commemorated today according to the new liturgical calendar. While the feast of the Epiphany had historically been on 6January, more recently that has changed. Todays epiphany is the baptism of the Lord. It is his baptism by John, it is when the heavens open up, it is when a dove becomes visible, and it is the voice of God that says “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” With those actions , not only is Jesus’s divinity revealed as the Son of God, but the vision of that dove reveals the Trinity. An Epiphany.

This epiphany is about the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist, and that baptism speaks to our own. Our baptism brings us into the fold. Jesus baptism marks the beginning of His public ministry, ours marks the beginning of our journey as disciples. Baptisms and water are an important part of this day. Traditionally the Feast of the Epiphany (6Jan) is commemorated by the blessing of the Epiphany Water. A Holy Water. Baptisms begin with holy water , and often begin with the reciting of the prayers blessing that water. It is an exorcism of the water, and of the person. Many are familiar with the pouring of water from a shell onto an infants head, some are familiar with the baptism of an adult, some are familiar with a baptismal pool. All baptisms involve both death and life, it is a death to sin and a resurrection in Jesus the Christ. Death and resurrection. There actually are three types of baptism; water, fire, and desire.

After all the people had been baptized
and Jesus also had been baptized and was praying,
heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon him
in bodily form like a dove.
And a voice came from heaven,
“You are my beloved Son;
with you I am well pleased.”

Johns baptism was one of repentance, and that is the reason did not need to be baptized by John. Jesus was free from all sin, and through His baptism He sanctified that water for humanity. His baptism prepares the waters for us so we might follow him. So often Jesus first words to the apostles were “follow me.” What were John the Baptists baptism like? They took place in the Jordan river and carried a message of repentance. It has been said when a person was baptized by John, when their head left the water that person either saw salvation or damnation. Think of that Baptist, who was a fiery preacher and a man of strength. Visualize John grasping a persons head and plunging it into the river. A second, a minute? One minute or two, how long can a person hold their breath? I imagine John knew how long to submerge someone. I can also imagine that person grasping for their breath like a newborn infant. Death to sin and resurrected in Christ. Three minutes with a head submerged, and three days in a tomb. In those three days Christ descended into hell to reclaim those lives trapped there. Death and resurrection. Water is powerful, as proved by the flood. It also is essential to life. It kills, and it restores. Holy Water. Todays Epiphany commemorates the Baptism of the Lord, it also calls us to ponder our own. This epiphany takes place around water, and in the next that water will be turned into wine.

 

 

 

Trinity Sunday

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Trinity Sunday. The day of bad analogies. My immediate thought of this day is the famous clover of Saint Patrick. It is the one that starts the bad analogies, and the one that led me to a second Celtic symbol, the Trinity Knot or the Triquetra so often seen as a cultural-spiritual tattoo, though not necessarily a religious one. Oh how I hate that phrase ! That symbol occupies a unique place; it is called the trinity knot after the Christian Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It also has a life as an ancient pagan symbol. That pagan trinity is varied, though mostly nature based representing life, death, and rebirth, or earth, wind, and fire. The tattooed of today I suspect are kindred to pagan spirituality, a religion of no particular denomination. Paganism, and Celtic Paganism are on the rise, I believe those neo-Celtics of the emerald isle could benefit from Saint Patrick and his clover again.

Then Jesus approached and said to them,
“All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me.
Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations,
baptizing them in the name of the Father,
and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,
teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.
And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”

I should get back on topic and focus on the feast of today, Trinity Sunday. That knot got me thinking. Earth, wind, and fire never leave our earthly experience. They are indelibly linked to the human experience on earth. How different that is from Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I must think back to an ancient time, the time when paganism originally ruled the world. To the ancients, God and the gods never entered earth. Their lives were distinct from ours on the other side of the firmament that separated heaven and earth . Their god was distant and foreboding and unknown, even the God of the covenant did not enter into creation. That same God became visible through his Son, Jesus Christ. The second person of the Christian Trinity, and that is a spirituality people have spent centuries pondering, and have declared to be true. The Son of God, begotten of the Father, the essence of the Father, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father.That second person, Jesus Christ, never deemed equality with God, something to be grasped at.  I can learn of that second person through His gospel and His Church founded on His apostles. They teach  of that Messiah crucified, died, buried, risen from the dead; all witnessed by his disciples. That is their testament.  They testify Jesus ascended to heaven to sit at the right hand of God. The right, not the wrong. The good , not the bad. That Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to be our advocate and guide. The God of the Trinity is with us till eternity. How different is that firm the neo-pagans earth, wind and fire? One is the loving embrace of salvation, and the other a breeze in front of a campfire. Back  to that trinity knot of the Celtics. I for one much prefer the clover of Saint Patrick. It points to one true trinity, without ambiguity. It describes a God of truth, not a neo-pagan holistic earth centered fabrication. The world needs Saint Patrick and his clover to  heal the spreading rash of new age neo-paganism. Two trinities, one sweet as clover and the other as dangerous as poison ivy..

the Trinity

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There are so many comparisons that are used to describe the Trinity with Saint Patrick’s clover leaf being the most popular. That one sermon can be a simple starting point to understanding the mystery of the Trinity.It also can be used as a model for creating a whole slew of marginal allegories describing the Trinity. These allegories are so pervasive, some folks like to refer to Trinity Sunday as ” Bad Allegory Sunday.” So, in keeping with that tradition:

In thinking of the human spirit, what moves the spirit like a symphony? Take for example a symphony such as Beethoven Pastoral Symphony. That work, like the Trinity, can be looked at through its individual components. There is first the symphony that composer “heard” before he wrote it down. There is the silent, written score, and  the part played by the musicians in the orchestra. Finally there is that complete sound that delights the listeners heart and ears. They all are Beethoven Symphony, yet each is its own form. The Symphony that Beethoven heard in his intellect is quite different from that which the listener hears with his ears. Beethoven “heard” experiences and emotions and times and textures and rhythm, and scales, and orchestration while the listener heard these expressed in a repeatable and recognizable sound that was filtered through the composers skill,temperament, and imagination. Later in his career he would not have heard the sound because of his deafness, but I am confident he still heard his symphony. The same symphony the listener heard as sound, and the same symphony the musician recognizes as notes on a page. Three symphonies, yet all the same pastoral symphony. Distinct, yet the same. Inspiration, score, and sound. Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit. Three and yet one. The Creator of Heaven and Earth, the first person. His only begotten Son who became Man, the Second person, and the Holy Spirit who proceeds from the Father and the Son; the third Person of the Trinity. Three persons of one God or maybe three manifestations of that God?

On one hand the Trinity is so easy to explain, it can be described by a simple clover leaf. On the other hand the trinity describes a God so magnificent that words fail to adequately express that Glory.Those (bad) allegories only give a glimpse of that trinity that we fail to even begin to comprehend. That does not mean though that our efforts are for naught as each bit of our understanding builds through those varied interpretations, even if those interpretations are flawed. It gives nuances into the character of God, with each part bringing us closer to that God, and closer to our understanding of that Trinity. Like a symphony , though everyone might not have the skill to be its composer, or be able to bring about that sound through the orchestra: but we can enjoy the sounds that reach our ears,contemplate their inspiration, and appreciate the orchestras skillful rendition.The sounds we hear also give a glimpse into that composer.I wonder though, if one were to write about a symphony: would words give an adequate description of it?  A Symphony needs to be heard and its sounds experienced to be truly appreciated.  The only purpose of (misused) words is to encourage one take the leap towards pursuing the mystery that is the Trinity, just as articles describing a musical work are many times intended to generate an enthusiasm to inspire a new listener? Those words don’t adequately describe a symphony any more than any words (or bad allegories) can describe the Trinity.They can offer a small insight, a glimmer of knowledge, or a hint of enthusiasm to encourage a person to experience either that symphony, or to put an effort into experiencing the mystery of the trinity.An experience that at first is easy to describe, yet difficult to comprehend, and still most rewarding to contemplate.