It's often joked that Trinity Sunday is "the preacher's nightmare." But while the Trinity can be viewed as the most arcane and inaccessible Christian doctrine, it's also the most ordinary and obvious. Every Catholic invokes the Trinity whenever he crosses himself in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Moreover, every single baptized person has been baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Through baptism we've been sealed by the Trinity, brought within its dynamic, and sent out on mission.
I’m delighted that on this Pentecost Sunday, I can reflect on one of my favorite passages in the New Testament. It is taken from the fifth chapter of Paul’s letter to the Galatians. In this passage, Paul gives those who belong to Christ their marching orders by laying out the works of the flesh—those attitudes and actions that stand against the way of love—and the works of the Spirit.
As the Easter season draws to a close, we hear from one of the most magnificent passages in the Gospel of John—namely, the high-priestly prayer of Jesus the night of the Last Supper. It is by far the longest discourse by Jesus anywhere in the New Testament, and it contains the seeds of Christian spirituality in its entirety.
Today's Gospel presents the distinction between a generic spirituality, which emphasizes our decision for God, and authentic Christian faith, which is the recognition that God has chosen us in Christ. It is God's choice—his election of us in Christ as not only his followers but his friends—that matters most.
I would like to focus my attention this week on the magnificent first reading, taken from the pivotal ninth chapter of the Acts of the Apostles. I say pivotal because this is the chapter in which the conversion of Saul is recounted. Hans Urs von Balthasar refers to Paul as one of the great archetypes in the life of the Church, and so we can benefit from a close study of the spiritual lessons from his life and his manner of discipleship.
Our first reading for today proposes a very serious challenge to the inclusiveness and non-judgmentalism that is taken for granted in our culture today. The chief of the Apostles says, “He is the stone rejected by you the builders, which has become the cornerstone. There is no salvation through anyone else, nor is there any other name under heaven given to the human race by which we are to be saved.” Stay with how uncomfortable this is—because in a way, that’s the point.
On this Second Sunday of Easter, Divine Mercy Sunday, we remember the dedication of this day by Saint John Paul II in honor of St. Faustina’s vision of Christ, in which the Lord’s heart radiated forth with divine mercy for the world. But what does mercy mean? It designates the suffering of the heart, a type of compassion, a deep, loving identification with people in their suffering. It is the characteristic of God, for God is love. Nothing in the world would exist if it were not, at every moment, loved into being by God—a great act of tender mercy. How is this love made manifest in us? Precisely through following God’s commands and through forgiveness.
Many people enjoy visiting the graves of famous people, from Abraham Lincoln in Springfield, IL to St. Peter in the Vatican. We feel a sense of peace and finality around graves. But the one thing we would never expect in a cemetery is action. Yet that's precisely what we find at the center of Christianity, as St. John recounts in today's Easter Gospel.
Entering Holy Week, we see numerous stirring examples of Jesus' fulfillment of Old Testament prophesies. From the direction he enters Jerusalem to his mode of transport, we find again and again how he is the one intended to reclaim the temple and prove to the world that he is indeed the son of God, chosen to save us through his revolutionary example of love and forgiveness.