The Holy Trinity, Your Family Portrait

Homily for May 26th 2013, Solemnity of the Holy Trinity

Whenever I visit a family in the area of my parish, one of the first things I do is look up at the photos on the wall.  Typically, I see dusty family portraits.  Other times I see smiling graduation photos.  Often, I see the dazzling display of a quinceanera.

Then I begin to ask, “who is this?”  The family reveals to me the person in the photo.

Did you know that the Church has a family portrait of God?  We can actually peer through this portrait and discover who God is.

That family portrait is the doctrine of the Holy Trinity.  Let’s take a look at it and ask the family, the Church, to reveal Him.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) quotes directly from Matthew chapter 28 that Christians are baptized “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (232).  Here we see three persons, a trinity of persons.

Each of these persons are “one only God” (CCC, 242).  Yet, the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God.

If you are getting confused at this point don’t get discouraged.  Let’s take a closer look at the beauty in this portrait.

We believe in one God.  The Catechism continues to explain that “The Trinity is One.  We do not confess three Gods, but one God in three persons.”  Also, they do not share the one divinity with each other.  Each of them is God “whole and entire” (253).

In case you feel like lumping them together, paragraph 254 explains, “the divine persons are really distinct from one another.”  This means that God himself, although one, is not solitary (254).  The Father is not the Son and the Holy Spirit is neither the Father nor the Son.

Yet, they are not isolated from each other: “the divine persons are relative to one another” (255).  They are what they are only by their connection to each other.  The Son would not be the Son without the Father.

The Father begets the Son.  He pours His eternal love and majesty into Him.  The Son, enjoying the love of the Father, loves the Father and returns everything back to the Father.  The Son reflects the eternal beauty of the Father.

In the powerful love between the Father and the Son we find the Holy Spirit.  He unites them and is also loved by the Father and the Son.

All this means, to paraphrase St. Thomas Aquinas, is that God in Himself is relationship.  As a human family exists as relationship, so exists our God.

But we have not looked at the entire portrait.  So far we have only paid attention to the adults in this portrait: the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Now let’s look at the children!

Jesus makes very clear that he, the Father, and the Holy Spirit open their arms to us.  He says in John 16 that the Holy Spirit will declare to us everything that belongs to Jesus.  And everything that belongs to Jesus belongs to the Father.

So God is giving everything that is His to us!  What is His?  Everything!

The most important of what belongs to the Father are the relationships He has with the Son and the Holy Spirit.  These relationship are not contained in God but God shares them with us.  That makes us God’s family.

Because we are part of God’s family we receive life eternal and everything needed to get there: the gift of the Holy Spirit, faith, hope, love, the Church, the sacraments, and our service to others.

Behold, the Holy Trinity: your family portrait.


What Moses, Elijah, and Jesus Left Behind

When you think of Moses, you may imagine the Red Sea dividing in two, just like in the movie, The Ten Commandments with Charlton Heston. When you think of Elijah, you might remember how he did something similar, dividing the river Jordan by slapping his cloak into it.

But perhaps one of the most overlooked aspects of the life of Moses and Elijah are what they left behind. And paying attention to this aspect shows us how God works in our lives.

In the last chapter of Deuteronomy, 34, Moses dies. That is not how the book ends. After he died, Joshua, whom Moses blessed by laying hands on him, received the spirit of wisdom that Moses had.

In 2nd Kings Chapter 2, Elijah leaves the earth in a more dramatic way. A fiery chariot reaches down and snatches away Elijah, body and soul. Elisha, his pupil, then receives the spirit of Elijah. This becomes clear when he takes his cloak and slaps it into the river Jordan. The river split in two .

What did Moses and Elijah leave behind? By God’s grace, they left behind a portion of the spirit that God gave them.

The disappearance of Moses and Elijah and what they left behind foreshadow what we celebrate today.

As the first chapter of the Acts of the Apostles tells us, Jesus disappeared into heaven as he ascended. That is what we celebrate today. Just like Moses and Elijah, Jesus looked down on his successors, and he promised to leave a very important gift. Not just the spirit of wisdom and prophecy but the Holy Spirit himself!  God Himself!

Yet this time one thing is very different from the stories of Moses and Elijah.

Even though, like Moses and Elijah, Jesus gives the Spirit to his successors, the Apostles, it doesn’t stop there. You see, Joshua and Elisha received the spirit of their predecessors but they did not directly bestow this gift on anyone else.

The Apostles, on the other hand, following the command of Jesus to baptize the nations, prayed for the Holy Spirit to descend upon the whole Church and each member in it.

Foreshadowed by Moses and Elijah, Jesus bestows the Holy Spirit. And through his Apostles and their successors (bishops and their helpers, the priests and deacons) he bestows the Holy Spirit on all of us who have been baptized!

We have the same Holy Spirit who energized, guided, and empowered Christ himself to do the works of his Father. We have the power of Christ!

If you want to know what that makes possible for us, read the stories of Moses, Elijah, and the apostles. Those same things are possible for us, mostly in ordinary ways but no less powerful.

Let’s pray this week to be open to the Holy Spirit and to recognize how he works in us. Let’s ask the Holy Spirit to enter us in a new way as we prepare to celebrate Pentecost next Sunday.

Church Controversy and Pillars of the Faith

Homily for May 5, 2013

What happens when we have questions about what Christ taught about the truth and about how to live?  Currently, we Americans struggle with questions regarding homosexuality, politics, mandatory celibacy for priests, women priests, contraception, and even abortion.  The Acts of the Apostles instructs us on how to approach such questions and others.

In chapter 15 of the Acts of the Apostles, there were teachers in the region of Antioch who were teaching something false.  They taught that everyone who was baptized also had to be circumcised.

That it was false was not clear to many if not all.  Isn’t that interesting?  God allows the Church to experience ignorance and confusion, even division!  Jesus did not make everything clear to His Church before He ascended into Heaven, returning to His Father.  He certainly did not even approach the question about whether Christians needed to be circumcised.

Yet, His Church was not abandoned.  Jesus said to the Apostles, “the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you” (John 14).

The Holy Spirit resolves the controversy with the apostles, the elders, and the community.

In the confusion and the conversation that takes place among the Apostles, the elders, and the communities of faith, with the Holy Spirit, the Church could discern God’s will.

For that reason, when the the apostles decided that circumcision would not be required, they said, “it is the decision of the Holy Spirit and of us.”

This is how the Church worked together in unity and faith.  When there was disturbance about certain teachings, the communities of faith would refer to the apostles (and elders).  Then the apostles, in prayerful conversation with the community, with each other, and the Holy Spirit, made a decision.

The apostles also appointed successors.  These successors form a lineage reaching all the way to us.  We know who they are: our bishops!

Our bishops are signs that the Holy Spirit continues to work with us to discern the will of the Father and to do the work of Christ here on earth in the same way as He did in the days of Paul, Barnabas and Peter.

So, when we feel that our “peace of mind” is disturbed by certain teachings, which may be true or false, we can trust in the Holy Spirit and refer to our bishops.  The best way to do that is to pick up the Catechism of the Catholic Church and read it.  Another great way is to talk to your priests, who work in unity with their bishop.

As we prepare for Pentecost let us pray for our renewal through the Holy Spirit, that He may resolve all disturbances, remove all cynicism, and work with our beloved bishops.  So that when we hear the decisions of the Holy Spirit and of our bishops, we may rejoice at the consolation that we are not abandoned to ignorance and disunity (Acts 15:31).


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The Lifestyles of the Rich and Holy

Homily for April 28th, 2013

We don’t know much about this New Jerusalem, this heaven, about which we hear in the book of Revelation this Sunday.

It will be a place of eternal happiness and bliss: no more tears or death, mourning or pain.  That was the old order.  This one is new.

We who follow Jesus have a lot to look forward to in the future.

But what if I were to tell you that we don’t have to wait for heaven…that we can go there right now!

We may be familiar with the old tv show, “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.”

It explored the lives of entertainers, athletes and business leaders.  One episode exhibited the life of Michael Jordan.  Remember him?  Some of our young people still wear his emblem on their shoes…decades after the peak of his stardom!

People admired so much his athletic ability, his grand personality, his winning attitude, and the greatness that he represented.

They connected to this greatness by learning about his life, wearing clothes and shoes that looked like his, and adopting the attitude that he lived by.

In a word, they imitated his lifestyle.  By imitating his lifestyle they got to experience a little bit of Michael Jordan’s life…which was apparently a life of happiness.

We know that the only real life of happiness is heaven.

The good news is that we can begin to experience a little bit of that life right now.

How?  By living the lifestyle of heaven.

And there is one person who lived that lifestyle perfectly on earth: Jesus.

John 13 gives us insight into this life.  Judas left the table to betray Jesus.  Jesus knew that one of his closest friends, whom he trusted, was about to hand him over to be shamed and persecuted.

What does Jesus say right at that moment?  He says, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him.”  How strange to us is this response!

Jesus is revealing to his disciples and to us the essence of God’s glory, which is the essence of heaven.  It is not pleasure, nor power, nor comfort, nor a good reputation.

The essence of heaven is shown by what Jesus does at the moment of his betrayal.  Instead of with revenge Jesus responds with self-sacrificial love.  Self-sacrificial love is the essence of heaven.

At that moment of betrayal Jesus turns to his friends and gives them a new commandment, “as I have loved you, so you must love one another.”

He brings the command to love into crystal clarity by his own example.  And he tells us to imitate him.

Jesus is our Michael Jordan.

We do the things that he does.  We love others by our service, kindness, and forgiveness, especially when we don’t want to.  That for us would be our time of glory.

By imitating him we live the lifestyle of heaven.  If you want to taste heaven this week, give of yourself to someone especially if you don’t want to.


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Catholic Education – It’s All About Love

In John’s Gospel chapter 13, Jesus commands his disciples, “love one another.”  He also says that this is how others will know who his disciples are…by the love they show one another.

Many in Roman society were absolutely amazed by the depth and universality of the love shown by the disciples of Jesus.  And they showed it publicly!

This had an impact on human history.

We take for granted that our own country shows this kind of love, that even the wealthy exult in philanthropy, and that our political leaders qualify their position as leaders in “service.”

These are intensely biblical values woven into our cultural fabric over thousands of years.

Yet, we must not take for granted that we can continue as a society to live as a civilization of love and service.  Such a society needs values that arch over all of us, no matter our religion, that form the foundation of our respect for human rights and our virtues of love and service.

We find this lacking more and more in our public culture.  Religion has become more privatized.  As a result, our public virtues of love and service are being torn from their roots: biblical religion.

This does not mean that our country should say that everyone should be Christian.  It means that in our history, the only motivation and school for the necessary public virtues to sustain our democracy has been biblical religion.  A suitable substitute has not surfaced.

I propose to you one never will.

So a culture that continues to strip biblical religion out of the public arena impacts our children.  Parents have to work twice as hard to counter the cultural forces that tell children that their faith has no place in school, at work, or in their public lives.  This places our youth in a confusing situation where they must live according to the expectation that they are to be one way at school and another way at home.

They must live at home as if their faith is everything and at school as if their faith is nothing.

We live our faith on the outside and not just on the inside.  So we love and we serve publicly and not just privately.

A culture that suppresses the public nature of biblical religion, therefore, suppresses the public nature of our love and service.

Catholic education frees our youth from this suppression.  Our school, Resurrection Catholic School, frees our children not just to learn reading, math, science, and history, but also their faith.

They learn that they are to be followers of Jesus not just in their homes, but in their places of work and in the community.

Most importantly, they learn that love, the kind of love commanded by Jesus, the kind of love that comes from faith, is the most important thing…because at our school, it really is.

Fr. Christopher Plant

P.S.  Our school is VERY affordable with all of our scholarships and financial aid.  Enroll your child today since spaces are limited!

P.P.S.  Graduates from Resurrection Catholic School have excellent acceptance rates into Catholic high schools.  Out of all graduates from Catholic high schools, 95% graduate from college!

Why Jesus Is Better Than Infomercials

A homily from April 21st, 2013

If you knew you could not fail, what would you do?

When I was in leadership training with the Archdiocese the trainers posed this question to us.

They presented us the story of a grasshopper and a boy.  A boy went into the backyard looking for a grasshopper to keep as a pet.  He caught one and put it in a jar.  He screwed a lid on top of it and punched holes in the lid.

The grasshopper jumped and jumped and jumped but he could not get out.  In the evening the boy said good night to the grasshopper as he watched him jump and jump and jump.

The next morning, the boy rushed out of bed to see the grasshopper.  The boy thought the grasshopper looked really sad.  So he took the jar outside to let him out.  He put the jar on the grass and unscrewed the lid, expecting the grasshopper to jump right out.

After several minutes the boy was surprised to see the grasshopper just sitting there.  It had learned not to jump anymore because of the lid.  As far as it knew, that lid would always be there to stop it.

We have hit our heads against a lot of lids.

Those lids can be joblessness, sickness, familial division, emotional turmoil, persecution, poverty, and the list goes on.  We can summarize all of these with two words: great distress.

There are many infomercials that advertise ways of removing these lids.  They range from self-help tips, to flipping real estate, to advice from family experts.

Two things are common among all of them.  They offer solutions that may fail to deliver us from our great distress, and they fail to offer the solution to our greatest distress: death.

No product, no program, no advice can remove the lid of death.

Today’s reading taken from the book of Revelation tells us what can.  You see, Revelation gives us a glimpse in the future and delivers us knowledge far more powerful that that which comes from an infomercial.

John saw a vast multitude of people from every nation and language.  They all wore white robes and held palm branches (a symbol of victory in war as we read in 1 Maccabees).

They stood victorious.  An angel says to John that they do not hunger nor thirst.  The sun and the heat no longer beats down upon them.

Pay attention now to this important sentence.  All of these had one thing in common: “These are the ones who survived the time of great distress.”

All the great distress, the lids, had been removed and “every tear” had been wiped away.

The lid was removed not by a product or a program, but by a person.  That person is Jesus, the one who will “shepherd” us.  He who went through death to life will lead us to do the same.

Unlike the infomercial, Jesus offers us a solution that will not fail and that will remove every lid, even death itself.  That solution is to be his sheep, hear his voice, and follow him.

That is why Jesus is better than infomercials.

We Know Him and He Knows Us

A Bulletin Reflection, April 16, 2013

“My sheep hear my voice.  I know them and they follow me” (John 10).  This quote from Sunday’s reading compels us to ask who are the sheep who hear the voice of Jesus.

We dare not get into a conversation that consists of “counting sheep,” that is, counting how many follow Jesus and how many don’t.

Jesus does not do that in this passage.  He simply says three things:

His sheep hear his voice.

He knows them.

They follow him.

Everyone born in this world comes out of the womb already familiar with the native tongue of heaven, that is, the voice of the shepherd.  So when we hear it in the scriptures, in the sacraments, and in a powerful way, the lives of those who follow him, we hear something familiar.

Jesus says he knows his sheep.  Perhaps because his sheep know him.  We are truly ourselves when we know God.  We are truly what God made us when we hear his voice and get to know him.  When we are our truest selves we are as God knew us when he created us.

That’s why someone who plugs up their ears so they don’t hear their shepherd’s voice lose their knowledge of God.  They lose their selves.  They become someone other than who they really were.  They become someone other than who God knew when he created them.

For that reason, even God can say, “I don’t know you.”  This is much like how a friend might say to another friend who has lost his way, “I don’t know you anymore.”

We hear his voice.  We know him.  So we become more of who God made us to be.

Jesus knows those who know him.

The next step is to follow the one we know.


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Chowing Down on Spiritual Food

Homily for April 14, 2013

Who feeds you and me spiritually?

I meditate more and more on the fact that everyone is spiritually hungry.  Everyone.

So who feeds us?

If you say, Jesus Christ, you would be right.  But there’s more.

Jesus calls us his sheep.  He tells Peter, “feed my sheep.”

Peter, and his successors, feed us.  This they do this in collaboration with all of the shepherds throughout the world: the bishops and priests.

Every Sunday, you are fed the body and blood of Jesus from the hands of the priest, as unworthy as that priest may be.  Only the hands of the priest, consecrated by the bishop, can lift up the bread that transforms into the body of Christ.  And this transformation only takes place at the words of the priest.

Jesus indeed feeds us as a chief shepherd feeds his flock through his workers.  The workers for Jesus are his clergy.

We read in today’s Gospel then, the way in which the Resurrected Lord wants to feed his sheep.  He wants to feed the sheep through his sheep.  He wants to feed the Church through his Church.

Do you not see the implication here?  If Jesus wants to feed us through his clergy, who are sheep, then doesn’t he want the rest of his sheep, the laity, to do the same?

So the question now changes, doesn’t it?  We shift our query from, “who will feed us?” to “who will feed them?”

Who will feed them?: the needy, the lonely, the unbeliever, the ex-Catholic, the marginalized; in summary, the lost and hungry sheep.

Today, Jesus asks you, “do you love me?”  If your answer is like Peter’s, “Yes, Lord you know that I love you,”  then you will hear his response: “feed my sheep.”

How do you feed his lost and hungry sheep?

Some time ago, some of our dedicated volunteers brought to the Missionaries of Charity two large trays of barbecue sandwiches.  The sisters were amazed by their generosity.  One of the volunteers said to them, “if you want you can wrap the rest in freezer bags and put them in the freezer.  They reheat pretty well.”

The sisters responded, “Oh, no.  We don’t save anything.  Actually, we’re going to invite the neighborhood to come over and enjoy these sandwiches too.”  So the whole neighborhood partied with these nuns chowing on barbecue sandwiches.  Imagine how the sisters might have touched their hearts that afternoon.

Now those are women who know how to feed the sheep of Christ: perhaps some lost sheep.  They were also casting out nets, perhaps bringing some closer to the Church so that they can feast not just on barbecue sandwiches but also on the body and blood of Christ.

You also have a net in your hand invincibly strengthened by the Eucharist that you are fed at the altar.

Christ feeds all.  The Pope, bishops and priests feed you.  And you feed them!


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Joyful Persecution

Bulletin Reflection for April 14, 2013

The joy of the persecuted seems like a contradiction.  Yet is that not what we Christians are?

Peter and the apostles went out to teach “in that name” (Acts 5), that is, the name of Jesus.  They were scolded by the religious leaders in the court of the Sanhedrin.  One of the complaints of the Sanhedrin was that the apostles were making them responsible for the death of “that man.”  They did not even want to mention his name.  How do the apostles respond?

…with a contradiction.

They did not apologize.  They did not change their teaching to fit in with the times.  They did not shy away from the consequences of teaching the Gospel authentically and openly.

Peter calmly and honestly said, “the God of our ancestors raised Jesus, though you had him killed by hanging him on a tree.”

This entire exchange was very challenging for the apostles.  They really did suffer dishonor.  Yet how did they respond to this embarrassment?

….once again with a contradiction.

They rejoiced.  Why these contradictions?

It’s not because they were rebels.  It’s not because they were angry at the world.  It’s not because they were revolutionaries trying to “buck the system” in order to create another one.

It’s because of one simple fact: they were humbly obedient to “that man,” Jesus.

In the Gospel, Jesus commanded Peter, “feed my sheep.”  So he did.  He fed the flock of Israel, and eventually all the gentiles, with the Word of God.

Joy flows from obedience to Jesus, under success and persecution.  Does this sound too hard?  Pray to the Holy Spirit for strength and it won’t be.


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Locked Doors and Open Wounds

A Divine Mercy Homily: April 7, 2013

We all hurt.  We are sick, overworked, stressed, angry, divorced, grieving, and resentful.

The whole world hurts.  The Age of Enlightenment saw the worst forms of cruelty stemming from atheistic views of the human person.  This led to genocides and a world that wages perpetual war even today.

We live in a generation that spends trillions of dollars to pursue military dominance while a fraction of that can end the most extreme forms of poverty in the world.  Ironically, poverty among peoples leads to war.

I must also mention the colossal number of lives lost among our children due to starvation, lack of medical care, abandonment, and abortion.  The vast majority of our children die because they were aborted.

How do we respond to all of this hurt.  Your hurt, my hurt, and the world’s hurt?

Well, you may be surprised to hear that how you and I respond is not the most important thing.

The most important thing is how Jesus responds.  All human suffering is rooted in sin, either our own sins or those of another.  Does Jesus respond with wrath?

When he rose from the dead, Jesus could have justifiably responded to his horrific death and abandonment with horrific wrath.

How does he respond?

He goes through the locked doors and says to his friends who abandoned him: peace be with you (John 20).  He breathes on them the Holy Spirit: the greatest gift that Jesus can give.  Jesus also gives the apostles the power to forgive sins that we enjoy in confession.

But that’s not all.  Thomas doubted his resurrection.  Perhaps he was the one hurt the most.  Maybe he was bitter from the whole tragedy of the crucifixion: “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nail marks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe” (John 20).

How does Jesus respond?  He appears and invites Thomas to touch his wounded body.

Even to the most hurt, skeptical, and hardened sinner, Jesus presents his body and from his wounds issues out the one thing that cures all our hurts: mercy!  Just as from his pierced side gushed forth blood and water in response to the lance of the soldier, so from his pierced side gushed forth mercy and sanctification in response to the doubts of Thomas.

You know, that wasn’t to be the last time Jesus would appear to a hurting and doubting man.

In response to our hurts and the hurts of the world Jesus does not respond with wrath.  During a century torn by the greatest evils humanity had ever known, Jesus once again appeared to us and showed us his wounds.

On February 22, 1931, through St. Faustina Jesus showed us red and white rays shining from the pierced side of his risen body.  He said to her and to all of us: “immerse yourself in my mercy.”

Only the mercy of Jesus Christ can cure all of our hurts.  How do we immerse ourselves in his mercy?  Jesus, in his great generosity gave us a constant bathing of his mercy through the ministry of his priests.

This is clear when after he breathed on his apostles and they received the Holy Spirit, they went out and proclaimed the Gospel, curing the sick and those possessed by demons, as we hear in the first reading.

Through his priests he gave us the sacrament of confession.  Just as Jesus appeared behind the closed doors of the apostles he appears behind the closed doors in confession.  He is present with the priest as the priest non-judgmentally hears our sins and speaks Christ’s words of forgiveness: I absolve you of all your sins.

Through his priests he gave us the sacrament of the Eucharist.  Just as Jesus invited Thomas to touch him, Jesus invites us to touch him in the Eucharist.

He also gave us the holy image of the Divine Mercy as well as the beautiful yet simple Divine Mercy chaplet that we can pray at any time.

You see, he loves you and me.  So he holds nothing back.  He was not satisfied with us grasping for his mercy just in the silence of our hearts.  He wants us to immerse ourselves in his mercy that he visibly and communally gives to us in the sacraments and in the devotion to the Divine Mercy

He wants what is good for us.  He wants us to be happy and not to hurt.  Although sometimes we must endure hurt to reach happiness.

So, back to the original question, how do we respond?

We respond like the apostles.  We immerse ourselves in the mercy of Jesus Christ.  Then we become instruments of that mercy for others.  The only answer to our suffering and evil is the mercy of Jesus Christ.

St. Faustina, pray for us!

Jesus, I trust in you!


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