Trinity Sunday: The Mystery of God

massacio trinity with virginLast weekend we celebrated Trinity Sunday, the octave of Pentecost.  We could say that Trinity Sunday is the fulfillment of Pentecost: the last thing to say about the Holy Spirit is that God is Trinity.  Or we could say that the real point of the revelation of the Holy Spirit is to help us discover the Triune God.


One way to approach Trinity is to think about the “Filioque.”  Latin has a funny little thing where you can add “-que” to the end of a word and it’s the same as putting the word “and” before it.  “Filioque” means, “and the Filio” – “and the Son.”

What we call the Nicene Creed was first approved at the Council of Nicaea in 325, then significantly modified at the Council of Constantinople in 381.  The finished product said, “the Holy Spirit, who proceeds from the Father.  With the Father and the Son he is worshipped and glorified.”  In the second part he gets “Glory be” with the Father “and the Son,” but he only proceeds from the Father.

Later, Roman Catholics added “Filioque”: “proceeds from the Father and the Son.”  It’s a change, an addition to the Nicene Creed.  It was not approved by a Council, but was adopted by the Roman Church.  (Good enough for me!)

It’s significant that it’s in Latin: like the New Testament and much of the first centuries of the Church, the Councils of Nicaea and Constantinople were conducted in Greek.  There’s a whole eastern, Greek-speaking part of the Church; before the rise of Islam, much of the leadership of the Church, both intellectually and spiritually, was Greek-speaking.

But the Greeks don’t say “Filioque.”  In fact, historically, it’s one of the biggest fights between Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox: they say we added to the Creed, and that’s not okay!


Here’s the interesting thing: both sides, we Romans who say “Filioque” and the Greeks who think we shouldn’t, are both insisting on how little we know of God.

We agree that the Holy Spirit, the one who comes to sanctify us, is divine: with the Father and the Son he is worshipped and glorified, “Glory be!”

But the Greeks oppose the Filioque because they fear we Romans think we know too much.  We do know that the Father is the source of everything, even the Son and the Spirit – so we know that the Spirit proceeds from the Father.  But we don’t know how, so it’s not appropriate to start adding lines like “and the Son.”

Interesting, though: the reason we say Filioque is not because we think we know so much.  It too is a way of saying how little we know.  We don’t know much about the Son.  But in Latin theology, we say that the one thing we do know is that he’s exactly like the Father.  We say “Filioque” because we say, look, all we know is that they are exactly alike, so if the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father, he must proceed from the Son, too.  In a way, we are saying, don’t complicate things by coming up with distinctions between the Father and the Son: what the Father does, the Son does.

For our purposes, my only point is, when we think about the Trinity, and the Holy Spirit, and the Filioque, etc., the main thing we should think is, God is infinitely beyond what I can understand.  In fact, much of what we say in theology and in the Creed is merely there to remind us how little we can comprehend the wonderful mystery of God.


A few words, then, about Sunday’s readings.  In the Gospel, we read that we are baptized in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.  Let us just add, on Trinity Sunday, that we are baptized into the mystery of God – into something the greatness of which we cannot fathom.  Try to come up with how amazing Baptism is – and it is way more amazing than that!

The first reading, from Deuteronomy, said, “Did a people ever hear the voice of God speaking from the midst of fire, as you did, and live?”  Let the feast of the Holy Trinity remind us how awesome, how incomprehensible, is that God who speaks to us.  How unfathomable that he should call us into relationship with him!

And above all, in the second reading, from Romans, we read that we have been made “sons of God” by receiving the “Spirit of adoption,” who allows us to speak, to “cry, Abba, Father.”  Let us ponder the awesome mystery of the unfathomable Trinity – and know that it is precisely this mystery that has been given to us – no, that we have been drawn into.

How do you ponder the awesomeness of the Triune God?








Good Shepherd Sunday: The Power of the Name

ACgrunewaldchrisreTS 4:8-12; PS 118:1, 8-9, 21-23, 26, 28, 29; 1 JN 3:1-2; JOHN 10:11-18

Every year on this Fourth Sunday, halfway through Easter, we read from the tenth chapter of John, on the Good Shepherd.  We continue our meditation on how Jesus’s resurrection penetrates into our lives.

The readings this week focus on the power of faith.

In Acts, the authorities ask Peter, “by what power or by what name do you do this?”  The discussion, we learn, is about a healing.  Peter talks about the power of healing, and says “this man is standing before you in good health by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth.”  He concludes, “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”  The power of salvation is by the name of Jesus.  The power goes with the name.

The Gospel reading takes up the same theme, though less obviously.  Jesus says, “I lay down my life and take it up again,” then emphasizes his power: “I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again.”  Here he doesn’t talk about the “name” but he does talk about personal knowledge: “I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father.”  We enter into the power of Jesus: the power of his resurrection, by which he enters into our death so that we can enter into his resurrection.  And we enter in by knowing him.

This (says St. Thomas Aquinas) is what all the business about the “name” really means: we know him.  We recognize him.

In the Bible, sheep are not stupid.  Sheep are the one kind of herd animal that don’t have to be beaten and driven, but follow after their shepherd, because they know him and trust him.  They are like dogs, which we consider for that reason to be smart.  But unlike dogs, sheep also flock together.  That is the image of the Christian: he finds himself in the Church, the flock who know and trust and follow the Good Shepherd.  They are joined together by the name of Jesus.


In Year B of the Lectionary, we spend Easter in John’s magnificent First Letter. The reading this Sunday is short but potent, and beautiful.

Again the theme is knowledge and power, the name and the reality.  “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called” – receive the name – “children of God; and that is what we are.”  Indeed, the name we receive is the name of Jesus: Son of God.  The fabulous thing is that he has the power to make it so.

“The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.”  It is all rooted in knowledge – not obscure textbook knowledge, but personal knowledge, knowing the Father, knowing the Son, knowing the person, knowing them by name.

“When he is revealed,” when we finally know him fully, “we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.”  How do we receive the power of Christ?  By seeing him, knowing him.  Now we see dimly, by faith – and already we are transformed.  The ultimate transformation will come through knowing him fully.


The reading from Acts and the Psalm use another metaphor: “the stone which the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.”  Corner sounds like the bottom, but in both the New Testament Greek and the Old Testament Hebrew it’s literally “the head of the angle.”  This is the keystone of the arch, the piece without which the structure collapses.

That is a powerful stone.  If it is there, everything stands, in magnificence.  If it is missing – or too weak, or the wrong shape, poorly chosen – everything collapses.  Jesus is the keystone.  “There is salvation in no one else.”

And the focus is so beautifully on knowing the cornerstone.  Human wisdom has chosen the wrong support, the wrong way of building.  Only when we know Christ can we stand.  (And notice, again: like the sheep, the stones stand or fall together, in the Church.)  And so, “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name.”  If we do not know him, recognize him, it all collapses.


Finally, let us look one more time at this line from the Good Shepherd: “I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father.”

First: John stakes everything on the Trinity.  God himself is the eternal mystery of knowing and being known, of persons in communion.  That is what we enter into when we know and are known by Christ: the eternal love of Father and Son – a love that knows.

Second: we know as we are known.  We look at him and he looks at us.  He knows his sheep by name, just as we know him.

Easter is the power of Resurrection.  But it is a power that we enter into through the name: we love him as we know him.

Let me only add that this is the power of Scripture, and of the rosary: to gaze on Jesus, to know him more deeply, to speak his name.

What could you do to know Jesus better?



Second Sunday of Easter: Faith and Mercy


ACTS 4:32-35; PS 118:2-4, 13-15, 22-24; 1 JN 5:1-6; JN 20:19-21

This Sunday, by decree of St. John Paul II, is Divine Mercy Sunday.  It is obviously a time to think about God’s mercy.  But let us truly think about it.  Let us think especially about why this, of all Sundays, should be the celebration of mercy.

This Sunday used to be called “Low Sunday,” or “Sunday of putting off the White” (garments): both references to it being the end of the Easter octave.  In short, this new feast urges us to think of mercy in terms of Easter, as the culmination of Easter.  It is not a Friday feast, not particularly focused on Christ’s death.  It is a resurrection feast.  Indeed, this is the rare feast that does not get its own readings: the readings are unchanged from when this was merely the octave of Easter – indeed, basically the same as they were even before Vatican II.

Divine Mercy Sunday does not replace the old Octave of Easter, it is just a new name for the old celebration.  Why?


The readings are (and always have been) heavy on John.  The first reading is from Acts, but the second is from the First Letter of John, and the Gospel is John.

The Gospel is Doubting Thomas.  First Jesus brings peace and the mission of reconciliation to the Apostles, on Easter Sunday.  But Thomas is not there on Easter, so the next Sunday, Jesus appears again, for Thomas.  Divine Mercy Sunday is first of all Doubting Thomas Sunday.

Thomas says, “Unless I see . . . and put my fingers . . . I will not believe.”  When Jesus appears he says, “Do not be unbelieving, but believe,” and then “Have you come to believe because you have seen me?

Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.”  John concludes, “Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples . . . .  But these are written that you may come to believe.”

A lot of “believing”!

And in the Epistle, John says, “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is begotten by God.”  “Who indeed is the victor over the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?”  Believe!  Like Paul, but in his own key, John is very insistent on salvation by faith.


We always do well to return to John’s Prologue, which also culminates in a call to faith:

“Whoever received him, he gave them power to become children of God:

to those who believe in his name, who are born,

not from [their] blood, nor from the will of the flesh, nor from the will of man,

but from God.”

How do we become children of God?  By faith: “to those who believe in his name.”  (Through Baptism, yes – but we forget that when we have our children baptized, the priest asks, “what do you ask of the Church,” and the answer is, “faith!”)

John adds an explanation.  We are not children of God by human nature (not by our bloodright), and we who are in the flesh certainly can’t “will” ourselves to be sons of God.  No, “the will of man” cannot reach to this.  Jesus gives us a rebirth we cannot possibly attain by mere act of will: we are born “from God.”

And so, says John, the “power to become children of God” is given “to those who believe in his name”: who trust in Jesus (Jesus I trust in you!) to do what we cannot do.


This is Jesus’s double mercy to Thomas: to reach out to him to nurture faith, and then by that faith to give him new life.

It is his mercy to the Apostles.  On Easter, and again on Thomas’s Sunday, John says they were hiding: “the doors were locked, where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews.”  But Jesus gives them his peace, breathes his life into them, gives them new birth in his Spirit and so says, “I send you” – and in Acts we find that now “With great power the apostles bore witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus.”

It is only his mercy, only their trust in him, that takes them from fear to powerful witness.  They believe in his name, and he gives them his peace: there is no other way.

And through them he extends his mercy to us.  Through their preaching: “these are written that you may come to believe,” says one of the Apostles, “that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that through this belief you may have life in his name.”  And through the sacraments that he gives to them: “Receive the Holy Spirit.  Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them.”

This is the mercy of Easter, the mercy of rebirth in Christ, the mercy of rebirth through faith.

Where is Jesus calling us to trust more deeply in the power of his resurrection?

Sixth Sunday: For the Glory of God

St. Dominic, Fra Angelico

St. Dominic, Fra Angelico

LV 13:1-2, 44-46; PS 32:1-2, 5, 11; i COR 10:31-11:1; MK 1:40-45

Our readings this Sunday open very simply. The first reading is from Leviticus. The Gospel is going to be about the healing of a leper, so we start by reading part of the Old Testament rules about lepers. You can get a better sense of this if you glance at the reference in your Missal: “Reading 1: Lev. 13:1-2, 44-46.” Verses 1-2 and 44-46. What do you suppose is in the middle? More of the same!

But the basic point is made clearly in the second part: “The one who bears the sore of leprosy . . . shall cry out, ‘Unclean, unclean!’ As long as the sore is on him he shall declare himself unclean, since he is in fact unclean. He shall dwell apart, making his abode outside the camp.”

The Hebrew is even more dramatic: instead of “he is in fact unclean” it just says, “he [is] unclean.” It’s just a fact.

The law seems harsh. He has to dwell apart, alone. He has to tell everyone he sees to stay away from him. And there is much else besides, in verses 3-45.

But the only thing harsh is the reality. Leprosy is a horrible, and very contagious, disease. He is unclean. What misery.


Mark’s Gospel continues to rush along. After the first physical healing, last week, this week we have the first leper, and the first request.

The dialogue is bracingly direct. “If you will,” says the leper, “you can make me clean.” “I do will it.” English is a cluttered language. In Latin it’s just, “Si vis.” “Volo.” The horror, not just of the Old Testament, but of humanity, the paradigmatically horrible disease of leprosy, is completely subject to the Lord’s will.

Volo. Poof! Jesus has power over nature, power to heal.


Again comes the same little theme in Mark. “See that you tell no one anything.” “The man went away and began to publicize the whole matter. He spread the report abroad.” “People kept coming to him.”

Jesus wants to heal – he “wills it”! But he does not want to be known merely as the physical healer. His works have a deeper mystery in them, somewhere higher he “wants” to bring us. The one who has power over leprosy has power, too, over our loneliness, our distance, our sin. He has power to unite us to the Father.

With Ash Wednesday this coming week, we take our long break from Ordinary Time. But if we continued, the next reading would be the paralytic to whom Jesus says, “your sins are forgiven.” “Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk’?”

It’s a wonderfully paradoxical question: it’s easier to say “your sins are forgiven,” but vastly more difficult to accomplish the true healing of sin. But the point is, He who has power over one has power over the other. He heals the paralytic, and the leper, not so people will come find a miracle worker, but so that they will find a Savior.


Our second reading continues our tour of First Corinthians. It is just four verses, but very rich.

“Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God. . . . I try to please everyone in every way, not seeking my own benefit but that of the many, that they may be saved.”

First: the glory of God. There is a direction in all this. There is direction in the miracles: Jesus doesn’t come just so we can heal leprosy (wonderful as that is). He does not come to make us comfortable in this world. He comes to lead us to the glory of God.

But we can put the same point the opposite way: he leads us to the glory of God through healing. There is direction in all this. No, physical healing is not the end – but it is the means, the path, the way.

So second: Paul does “try to please everyone in every way.” Our works of healing, of whatever kind, do have significance. Paul does not try to please because pleasing people is an end in itself. No – he is “not seeking his own benefit.” In fact, Paul isn’t seeking his own healing – except for the supreme healing that Jesus offers him.

Healing is not an end in itself: but it is the means, the way that Jesus shows his love, and his power to save, and the way that we show Jesus’s powerful love to the world.

Where are you called to bring healing?