I am not holy. My sins, failures and weaknesses are before me every day, but I believe in the possibility of holiness and it is this belief that keeps me in the Church.
I am not naïve to the sins and failures of the institution of the Church nor its representatives – past and present, universal and local – but neither am I naïve to the sins and failures of those outside the Church and those who deride “church”. I have also witnessed their sins and their hidden despair and I want none of it. The louder and more forced the laugh; the deeper the despair, I believe.
I do not want nor need a “Church” made in my image. I know my sins. Holiness is challenge – lived daily and without fanfare. I am a creature and I need my Creator to heal what is broken within me. To pretend that there is no brokenness is, in fact, to deny my Creator.
Holiness is simple. I am tired of a presentation of faith that needs to be hyper-stimulated. I feel sorry for our young people who are growing up in such a world. I am sorry for the times the Church buys into this. Holiness cannot be manufactured. Holiness grows simply and quietly. What is manufactured quickly fades and leaves a void. Maybe holiness can begin to grow in this void maybe it cannot. I know that God can work as God so chooses and I have to trust in this.
Holiness is not argument and it is not philosophy. Debate does not lead to conversion, the witness of holiness does. Philosophy and its structure is a good tool but it is not salvific faith. The wise steward, we are told, is the one who can go to the storeroom and pull out both the old and the new as needed. Maybe there are other tools available?
Holiness does not isolate. Christ, the All Holy One, came into our very midst. He called us brothers and sisters and taught us to love one another. Holiness is found in my encounter with the other although it may not be immediately apparent. The holiness uniquely found in community forces me out of myself and I need this. If anything, the direction of holiness is from the mountain back down into the valley of the everyday.
Holiness is not on a mountaintop somewhere but in the Gospel, the sacraments and community. I need these every day.
Many people like to point to the sins of the Church. It is nice to have an excuse isn’t it? Pointing out the perceived sins of others does not grow holiness in my own life; it just gives me a way out. I need to stand before my Creator on my own and not in contrast to what I perceive as the sins of others.
Holiness is beautiful and I need beauty – a child playing peek-a-boo, friends laughing, feet being washed.
I feel sorrow for those who have left the Church. Christ loves the Church … how can you love Christ and not love what he loves? Maybe Christ’s love should be bigger than my own resentments and excuses?
Holiness is living in friendship with God.
Pope Francis (in a homily given at the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls on April 14, 2013), offered these words about true worship of God.
What does it mean, then, to worship God? It means learning to be with him; it means that we stop trying to dialogue with him; and it means sensing that his presence is the truest, the most good, the most important thing of all. All of us, in our own lives, consciously and perhaps sometimes unconsciously, have a very clear order of priority concerning the things we consider important. Worshipping the Lord means giving him the place that he must have; worshipping the Lord means stating, believing – not only by our words – that he alone truly guides our lives. Worshipping the Lord means that we are convinced before him that he is the only God, the God of our lives, the God of our history.
This has a consequence in our lives: we have to empty ourselves of the many small or great idols that we have and in which we take refuge on which we often seek to base our security…
The words of Isaiah the prophet are given in regards to John the Baptist, “Behold, I am sending my messenger ahead of you; he will prepare your way. A voice of one crying out in the desert: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.’” John the Baptist, on the banks of the Jordan River and not in the resplendence of the Temple, is calling the people of Israel back to true worship of God. John the Baptist, on this second Sunday of Advent, is calling us also to true worship of God.
To prepare the way of the Lord, to make straight his paths means to clear out from our lives and our hearts all those many small and great idols that we carry and to which we cling in order to give the true and living God the priority which alone is God’s due. To prepare the way of the Lord means, as Pope Francis says, “…learning to be with (God) … sensing that his presence is the truest, the most good, the most important thing of all.”
Sometimes true character is demonstrated by what one refuses even more so than by what one achieves. Just as John proclaimed the coming of the Messiah he also proclaimed that he was not the one! The gospel testifies that all the people of the Judean countryside were coming to John – they were all yearning for the Messiah, for a change. John could have grabbed that desire and energy of the masses and claimed it for himself but he did not. “One mightier than I is coming after me … I have baptized you with water; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
The real test of worship is how it transforms lives, how it opens us up in humble awareness to the presence of God in our lives. John had this awareness even, it seems, from those first months in his mother’s womb when he leapt for joy in the presence of the Messiah who, himself, was being carried in womb of the Virgin. John in the desert, clothed in camel’s hair and a leather belt, witnessed true worship of God and this is what drew the people of Israel to him. They recognized his authenticity. John the Baptist lived in the presence and awareness of God. He made straight the way of the Lord in his own life. He invites us to do the same.
Prepare the way of the Lord! Make straight his paths! Worshipping the Lord means giving him the place that he must have; worshipping the Lord means stating, believing – not only by our words – that he alone truly guides our lives. Worshipping the Lord means that we are convinced before him that he is the only God, the God of our lives, the God of our history
|“The New Jerusalem” by Gustave Dore|
On this Feast of the Most Holy Trinity I am reminded of a principle that I learned during my studies in seminary. The principle is that the term “mystery” in the Christian sense does not mean a puzzle to be figured out nor a problem to be solved but rather a reality to be lived and it is in the living that we are brought to a greater and more sublime understanding.
The Trinity is indeed the greatest of all mysteries. A mystery that we could never arrive at on our own. It is impossible for us to grasp. The Trinity is a mystery that could only be unveiled by God himself. It is the mystery that God is a communion of persons united in an eternal exchange of love. It is only through the Spirit of adoption that we are brought to this truth.
How, then, is this mystery to be lived? Is it found in fleeing the world; in esoteric and ascetic experience and elevated philosophical thought? There are some branches of Christian spirituality that promote this view and there certainly is a valid path to be found there but I think there is a much more concrete way laid out for us. It is a way rooted in the incarnation. Nikos Kazantzakis puts it this way; “Wherever you find husband and wife, that’s where you find God; wherever children and petty cares and cooking and arguments and reconciliation are, that is where God is too.”
Scripture tells us that God is love and whoever abides in love abides in God. For love to be authentic it must be concrete. It must be lived. It does no one any good for one to say, “I love you.” but then not live according to that love which primarily means sacrificing for the good of the other. Ronald Rolheiser in his book The Holy Longing writes that the love which is the Trinity, which is God “is not ‘falling in love,’ but (rather) family, shared existence.” Anyone can “fall in love” (it happens all the time) but it is only the mature person who can live shared existence and, paradoxically, it is living shared existence which matures us.
Here, I want to emphasize that yes, “family” refers to biological family but it even more so refers to the spiritual family of the Church into which we are born through our baptisms. Paul writes in his letter to the Romans, The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if only we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him. To try to achieve an authentic Christian life without the shared existence which is church is a cheap grace that only leads to shallow belief.
Church is not a gathering of like-minded individuals nor a philosophical debate club nor a place where “everyone gets along” nor a wing of any particular political party. Church is the disparity of peoples, nations, dispositions and temperaments, economic class and languages that are gathered into unity by the Holy Spirit. What unites us most fundamentally is the Lord in our midst and our being gathered by the Spirit. This is “catholic” in the truest sense and it is most often and immediately witnessed in that gathering with people that in all honesty we would probably not associate with were it not for our worship in the Sunday Mass.
Yes, the Church is flawed (as is every other institution or government known to humankind) but Christ loves the Church so much so that he has poured out his Spirit upon her. To reject the Church is to reject that which Christ himself loves. As he sent those first eleven disciples into the world to baptize in the name of the Trinity our risen Lord said, I am with you always, until the end of the age. Do we hold this to be true?
It is not from the ground up that the Church is established and grows. The Church is not the creation of our own effort. Again, if this were so, Church would be at best just a gathering of like-minded people or a people formed through a common mission or goal. Rather, the Church comes from on high, from heaven. The Church is born from the community of the Trinity which is God. In the second verse of the twenty-first chapter of the Book of Revelation we are given this vision, And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven, from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband… Why does the holy city come down out of heaven? Because the Church is born from God rather than being made by us.
Church, therefore, is also mystery and it also is only understood when it is lived. Church is the family, the graced shared existence that leads us into the very mystery of God. God is love and therefore to know God means to love authentically – not just in word but in deed.
So, if we want to know what it means when we say that God is a trinity of persons and if we want to even experience that deepest of realities in our own lives then the best place to start is in loving one another and in embracing the mystery which is Church.