Look and Listen!

Holy TrinityToday’s reflection is for the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity, Sunday, June 16, 2019, and the readings can be found by clicking here. This reflection was given as a homily at the Deuel Vocational Institute, California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, in Tracy.

Today the Church celebrates the Solemnity of the Holy Trinity. It is, of course, a bit strange to celebrate a Dogma of the Church, right? And while we do indeed celebrate a Dogma—which I will talk about—the thing that I would like to really emphasize today are the courageous men and women who were open to what God was revealing to them in their time and place.

The Dogma of the Most Holy Trinity, the truth that God is three in one; an interconnected, yet distinct, communion of persons is an absolute requirement for belief if we are going to call ourselves Christians. The distinctive mark of the disciple of Jesus Christ is repeated every time we make the sign of the cross, in the NAME of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It’s the inexhaustible mystery of the Triune God.

At different times and in different ways, humans have tried to wrap their minds around this great mystery using different images or symbols. Some are more helpful than others, but all are worth considering, and all ultimately fall short of the full reality of the mystery. St. Patrick used the image of the 3-leaf clover as a way to explain the triune God; three distinct leaves, one clover; three distinct persons, one God. Or maybe a triangle is helpful; three distinct sides, one triangle, or three angles and one triangle. Or the Celtic knot—three loops, one knot. Yesterday I was at Starbucks sitting in front of three window panes, that made up one big window.

Probably the one I appreciate the most is one of experience. I’ve heard that the Trinity is like steam, water, and ice. It is all H20, but we experience the H20 in different ways depending upon the temperature. God is one, but the one God was experienced by Abraham and Moses in a way that was different than the disciples experienced Jesus. And that was different than the way that they and we experience the Holy Spirit. This is indeed a great mystery. It’s a fun exercise to walk around and try to discover threes and twos. I mentioned that I saw three window panes while at Starbucks, the cool thing was that each of the panes was made up of two parts—reminding me not only of Trinity, but also about the dual nature of Christ—fully human and fully divine in one person. What a joy to discover how nature and human construction can remind us and reveal to us the mystery of Jesus Christ and the Trinity all around us! Stay awake!

Just take a look around right now. What threes and twos can you find right where you are? [Pause] Discovering the presence of God right where you are, where you hadn’t seen God before is precisely the joy that was experienced by Jesus’ disciples. They were Jews. The only God they knew was God the Father—the God of their ancestors, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. But God was doing something new. They came to understand and believe that Jesus of Nazareth, the carpenter’s son, was actually God. You have to appreciate just how groundbreaking that was! For over four-thousand years Yahweh, and Yahweh alone was God…and then came Jesus. And then at Pentecost, God reveals the Holy Spirit! Absolutely incredible.

This was not an easy thing for any of the disciples to come to terms with—that God was one, and then two, and then three! But they were courageous! They were willing to struggle with what God was teaching them. They had ears to hear and eyes to see how God was making some very important changes in the way they understood and experienced God. They were men of strength, and prayer, and courage, and they remained open to what God was telling them, and they obeyed God rather than men. Some were jailed and then put to death for it, but they knew what they saw, and no one could make them deny it.

Jesus says to his disciples in the Gospel today, “I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now. But when he comes, the Spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth.” My brothers, the Holy Spirit still has much more to tell us. The Holy Spirit continues to guide the Church into greater truth. In each generation the Spirit is able to reveal what a previous generation unable to bear. The last council of the Church is proof that the Spirit of God is as alive today as it was 2,000 years ago—guiding the Church, leading the Church, challenging the Church, and courageously empowering the Church.

We celebrate Trinity Sunday as an important reminder that God is not done speaking to us, teaching us, and guiding us to all truth! Through science, technology, philosophy, art, engineering, and yes, even, theology, the Spirit of God wants to show us something new, something life-giving, something that will change the way we see God, each other, and the world around us. Trinity Sunday reminds us that if we are faithful and if we keep our eyes, ears, and hearts open, that God wants to speak to us, teach us, and fill us with incredible joy. God wants to continue to surprise us with something new, that you never would have believed before.

As you leave this communion service today, be on the lookout for what God is trying to show you. You might discover a relationship that you never thought possible, or joy in a place of darkness, or…well, I don’t know, but God does. So be open, be led by the Spirit, and be courageous.

By Deacon Stephen Valgos

Grace Revealed: Pentecost

I make all things newToday’s reflection is for Pentecost Sunday, June 9, 2019, and the readings can be found by clicking here. This reflection was given as a homily at the Deuel Vocational Institute, California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, in Tracy.

In the very last book of the Bible (Chapter 21) we see Jesus, ascended to the Father, seated on his throne in glory, and worship going on in heaven. It’s a beautiful sight, indeed. Jesus says something very important that we must not miss. In verse 5, Jesus says, “Behold, I make all things new.”

Today we celebrate Pentecost, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon Jesus’ disciples, the birth of the Church, the commissioning of its ministers, and the fulfillment of the promise that God made to Abraham four thousand years earlier–and six thousand years before today.

You might remember the story about The Tower of Babel. In the very beginning of the Bible, the Book of Genesis, Chapter 11. Those first eleven chapters of the Bible reveal the tragedy and consequence of original sin. Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Noah and the Flood, and finally, The Tower of Babel, all reveal a humanity entirely unwilling to follow very simple directions. What ensues are narratives that teach the hearer of, 1. Humanity’s sin, 2. The consequence of sin, and 3. That God’s grace has the last word–always. So it’s a cycle of sin, punishment, and grace.

God gives Adam and Eve rules, they break them and are kicked out of the garden, but God loves them and clothes them. Cain kills Abel, God condemns Cain to be a restless wanderer, but loves him still and marks him to protect him. The world is filled with wickedness, God sends the flood, but God loves his creatures and calls Noah to build an ark. Finally (and this is the key for today) we end up with the Tower of Babel. Humanity has achieved greatness without God. They seek to make their name great by building a tower to the heavens essentially supplanting God. God confuses their language and scatters them around the earth. But God loves them and…wait…where’s the grace? The pattern is broken. We see sin, and consequence, but grace is not revealed until Pentecost. It begins with Genesis chapter 12 when God calls Abraham and the history of salvation begins. However, the fullness of that grace for the whole of humanity is not realized until the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. God makes US his temple. He forgives our sins. He makes us great. Simply amazing.

God worked through Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, the twelve tribes, Moses, Kings Saul, David, and Solomon, the prophets, and then Jesus, the Messiah, the Savior of the world. As we bring Easter to a close, we know that Jesus suffered, died, was buried, rose again, ascended to the Father, and will come again to judge the living and the dead. But how will we ever know Jesus that we might call out to him, be saved by Him, and cling tightly to Him–enter the Holy Spirit! We are taught that, “No one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit.” (1COR 12:3)

Jesus sends his Spirit on Pentecost to make the sinner aware of his/her sinfulness, to convict us in the heart and to be moved to repentance! His desire is to make the sinner whole through the forgiveness of sin, to bind sinful, sorrowful, but forgiven people together and call them to holiness! He sends the Spirit to help us remember the saving acts of God and to not only guide us toward Jesus in every generation, but to make Jesus truly and substantially present, body, blood, soul, and divinity, at every Mass until he returns. That great work of the Spirit is done by God’s design through the ministers of the Church. That’s awesome.

The Gospel today teaches us that Jesus appeared to his disciples, breathed on them and said, “‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.’” (JN 20:19-23)

Today, then, is not only the revelation and celebration of God’s grace to the people of Babel, and God making good on his promise to Abraham, but it is also a recognition that God powerfully sent his Holy Spirit on the Apostles so that they might continue his work of redeeming humanity. Today, through the ministers and ministry of the Church, by the power of the Holy Spirit, people still hear the voice of God in every generation, have the opportunity to call Jesus Lord, confess their sins, and be reunited with the God of grace and mercy.

We call these people the Church. (That’s us.) These people are not perfect, but strive mightily to be. We are the sick who day after day and week after week return to the hospital that is the church, and are healed by confession and reconciliation, are nourished by the body and blood of Jesus, and eagerly await the end of all things, when the Savior returns in glory to judge the living and the dead. We receive the Sacraments of the Church to help us to our final destination, the heavenly Jerusalem. And we fervently pray, “Lord, send out your Spirit, and renew the face of the earth.” (Psalm 104:30) The renewal begins in you and me, in our families and in our workplaces, in our community, and in the world. And from the throne in heaven Jesus can say in truth, “Behold, I make all things new.

By Deacon Stephen Valgos

Can I Get A Witness?

WitnessToday’s reflection is for The Ascension of the Lord, June 2, 2019, and the readings can be found by clicking here.

I remember attending a Southern Baptist church when visiting a friend in Oklahoma years ago. I remember a small, black preacher talking about the salvation that was won for us in Christ Jesus’ resurrection. I don’t remember exactly what he said beyond the key theme, but I do remember that he was on FIRE! Standing up there drenched in sweat, finger in the air, and Bible in his hand; he wanted to know if he could get a witness!

“And then-uh, the Lord Jeeezus-uh, rose from the grave-uh! Can I get a witness? I says-uh, can a bruthuh get a witness?!” Many in the congregation began to yell out, “Amen! Amen!” The sermon was without a doubt one of the most energetic and spirit-filled that I’ve ever experienced, but it was his desire to get a witness that caught me and possesses me still.

As we celebrate Ascension Sunday we celebrate not only the truth of Jesus’ resurrection, but also the truth of Jesus’ ascension to the Father. The author of the Acts of the Apostles teaches us today that Jesus, “presented himself alive to [the apostles]… spoke about the kingdom of God,” and told them to wait, “for the promise of the Father,” and that they would be, “baptized with the Holy Spirit.”

Jesus promised them a baptism not only of water and repentance, but a baptism of the Holy Spirit and power! He tells them they don’t need to worry about when he’s going to come back because that was for God to know. The only thing they should look forward to is to receiving the very Spirit of the living God! He told them, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” And then, just like that, he was lifted up and was gone.

Jesus gives his disciples this most amazing gift of the Holy Spirit and the Spirit’s supernatural power for but one purpose–to be his witnesses to the ends of the earth. That is it. Each of us is given the Spirit and power of God so that we might with force, determination, and zeal get out there and give our testimony, to bear witness to the truth of the resurrection in the world and in our life. We are an Easter people, a resurrected people, and we are obliged to give witness to the transforming power of the resurrection in our life. We who were once dead in sin have been given new life in Jesus’ death and resurrection.

As Hebrews teaches, Jesus died to take away sin and to bring salvation for those who eagerly await him. Jesus’ resurrection is the completion of God’s great work of overcoming sin and spiritual death due to sin. No one is saved outside of Christ’s work on the cross! His redemptive work was for the whole of humanity, and if Jesus never got out of the grave, then, as St. Paul teaches, we are still dead in our sin and salvation is not ours!

He tells the Corinthians, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is vain; you are still in your sins. Then those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished…But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” (1COR 15:17-20) You see, the Good News depends entirely on the resurrection, because without it there is no forgiveness of sins, and if no forgiveness of sins, no salvation and no good news! It’s as simple as that.

I’m afraid too many Christians are entirely unable to explain why we believe in the resurrection. And that’s probably the case because too many Christians are unaware that we are called to give witness to that very fact! When the Apostles replaced Judas, they drew lots and Matthias was chosen for that one purpose. Jesus ascended, and then just a few verses later Matthias was chosen. St. Peter, in Acts explained it like this, “It is necessary that one of the men who accompanied us the whole time the Lord Jesus came and went among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day on which he was taken up from us, become with us a witness to his resurrection.” (Acts 1:21-22)

In fact, the Catechism of the Catholic Church makes it clear that the primary and principle effect of Confirmation is to make us profess boldly the name of Jesus. Below are the effects of confirmation from the Catechism, paragraph 1303:

Confirmation brings an increase and deepening of baptismal grace: it roots us more deeply as children of God; it unites us more firmly to Christ; it increases the gifts of the Holy Spirit in us; it more perfectly bonds us with the Church; it gives us a special strength of the Holy Spirit to spread and defend the faith by word and action as true witnesses of Christ, to confess the name of Christ boldly, and never to be ashamed of the Cross.

Jesus’ Apostles and the disciples with them knew that they had but one job to do–be a witness to the resurrection of Jesus. To be a witness was not an option for Jesus’ disciples then nor for us today. While there are many ways to give witness; through service to God and neighbor, acts of kindness, generosity in giving, being steadfast in prayer, or in our care and concern for others, to name only a few, to NOT give witness is to NOT be a disciple. I have gone door-to-door inviting people to know the name by which humanity is saved, and I see others going door-to-door still, and am always impressed with their commitment and courage.

I don’t know the particular way in which God has called you to be a witness to his resurrection, but I KNOW he is indeed calling you, has equipped you, and desires to send you out to be a witness, “That the Christ would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day and that repentance, for the forgiveness of sins, would be preached in his name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.” Like that Oklahoma preacher, Jesus wants you. Can He get a witness?!

Lord, give me the courage to speak your Holy name and to boldly bear witness to Jesus Christ.

By Deacon Stephen Valgos