Dear Friends, the boy in the image above was reading the Declaration of Independence emblazoned on the wall of the Jefferson Memorial when I visited there in October 2007. He represents our future.
Keith Carradine wrote and published this song below eight years ago.
I still identify with every one of his sentiments today.
I suggest that you read these lyrics carefully then listen to this powerful song sung by people all over the United States. They would identify with his sentiments as well.
Then spend some time to reflect this weekend on the future of our children and our country and let us ask ourselves what we doing to help re-birth America.
BORN AGAIN AMERICAN By Keith Carradine
Just a workin’ man without a job It got shipped off to China via Washington, D.C. And I know I’m nothin’ special, there are plenty more like me Just the same I thought I knew the rules of the game
I stood up for this country that I love I came back from the desert to a wife and kids to feed I’m not sayin’ Uncle Sam should give me what I need My offer stands I’ll pull my weight you give me half a chance
I went up to a congressman and said to him “you know Our government is letting people down” He said he’d need a lot of help to buck the status-quo I said there was a bunch of us around
I’m a Born Again American, conceived in Liberty My Bible and the Bill of Rights, my creed’s equality I’m a Born Again American, my country ‘tis of me And everyone who shares the dream from sea to shining sea
My brother’s welding chassis at the plant He’s earning what our granddad did in 1948 While CEOs count bonuses behind the castle gates How can they see When all they care about’s the do re mi
It’s getting where there’s nowhere left to turn Not since the crash of twenty-nine have things been so unfair So many of our citizens are living in despair The time has come To reaffirm that hope’s not just for some
The promise of America’s surrendering to greed The rule is just look out for number one But brace yourself ‘cause some of us have sown a different seed A harvest of the spirit has begun
I’m a Born Again American conceived in liberty My Bible and The Bill Of Rights My creed’s equality A Born Again American, my country ‘tis of me And everyone who shares the dream from sea to shining sea
It’s clear my country’s soul is on the line She’s hungering for something that she lost along the way The principle the framers called upon us to obey That in this land The people’s will must have the upper hand
I felt the calling once before and took a sacred vow And faithful to that vow I have remained I hear the calling once again, my country needs me now And to her cause I have been re-ordained
I’m a Born Again American conceived in liberty My Bible and the Bill Of Rights, all people living free A Born Again American, my country ‘tis of me And everyone who shares the dream From sea to shining sea And everyone who shares the dream From sea to shining sea A M E R I C A
This is an actual image of one of the four panels of the words of Thomas Jefferson emblazoned upon the walls of perhaps America’s most sacred shrine, the Jefferson Memorial. The image was taken in October 2007 on my first pilgrimage to pray for our country’s transformation.
As I offer my thoughts, I invite you to observe this Fourth of July by a deeper, interior observance of the heart. Take time to make these words, of the Declaration of Independence, your own. Realize, especially those of you who are young people, that these words conceived, founded and established our country. What existed only in the minds and hearts of our founding fathers and mothers became the United States of America. But, very sadly, it is my sense that we have wandered far away from this vision. We don’t realize that we must constantly re-birth America — for good or for ill.
It is my sense that at this critical point of American history that we — each and every American — ought to revisit that moment of our founding. And imagine what it was like. Imagine their vision of what did not yet exist in the external world. Imagine the courage they had. Next to the Word of God, there are no words that are more sacred to me than these. They are sacred because they reflected divine reality. God blessed these words of Thomas Jefferson. And our country was born on the Fourth of July 1776.
When I lived in Washington in the summer of 1979 when I was 36 years old, I would go often and sit in the rotunda of this sacred shrine and ponder the vision of these sacred words. I’d like to share with you what was going on in my head and my heart 38 years ago and today in America in which we are so in much in need of unity and healing, and inspiring leadership. They are faith-based thoughts. I just share them because they lead me to a very positive view of our country and our world, a view that resists the profound hatred and violence and self-indulgence of our comatose society. As you ponder my thoughts ask yourself what vision of America, what vision of the world and our future do you yourself have? What do you want for you, for your children, for our country, for our world, for our planet?
I believe your Holy Spirit inspired these words:
WE HOLD THESE TRUTHS TO BE SELF-EVIDENT THAT ALL MEN ARE CREATED EQUAL AND ARE ENDOWED WITH CERTAIN INALIENABLE RIGHTS. AMONG THESE ARE THE RIGHT TO LIFE, LIBERTY AND THE PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS.
I, as a Christian among other God-fearing women and men. address You and love You as my Father. You are my Father. But this means that You are not just my Father, but the Father of all those you have created. You care about every person on this planet who has ever lived or who ever will; Therefore, we are all equal in your sight. We are all persons. You conceivedand created each human being with a unique identity, a body and soul, in Your mind and heart from the very beginning and you sustain each one of us today and for all eternity.
I have come to recognize that ALL of us are in Your family, Father. And that makes us but sisters and brothers. Help me to embrace Your children on this planet in my heart. Help me to want for every one what you have so generously provided for me – a little place to call home, simple food on my table, a decent education and decent health care.
Help me, Father, to recognize and support the right of every human person to life, liberty and the pursuit of other people’s happiness as well as my own. Help me not to be only concerned about my own needs, my own family’s needs, but to realize that we are all one family. Yet we are torn apart by hatred and violence; brother still kills brother. Help us export love not hate, peace and development for all people, not war and destruction.
This is my daily prayer, heavenly Father, for the world in which I live.
I pray that you would allow me the grace in some small way to help bring that about.
To you, heavenly Father ~
Father of my Redeemer and elder brother Jesus ~
all honor and praise and thanksgiving, now and forever.
This, dear friends, is my prayer for the world in which I live. It has ever been such since my lazy summer of ’79 in Washington and always will be. I do not expect you to use my words as you pray. I just invite you to make your own prayer. Make this Fourth of July a re-dedication to our ideals. We need God in our world today. But we rely on ourselves and not on God. Capitalism, by definition, creates that illusion. I urge you to rebirth the vision of our founding fathers and mothers in your own heart this Fourth of July 2017. We need to renew that vision, that commitment every year, indeed, very often from the mightiest to the lowest of our land. And I warn you (me too), if we don’t constantly attend to our renewal, we will lose what we have and are. Great civilizations have collapsed because of their complacency before us.
Nevertheless, it is my sense that God will transform us if wepray and bind together!
Before the hotdogs and the baby back ribs and the fireworks, let’s be at prayer and reflection, this Fourth of July. Ask God for guidance. Ask forgiveness for taking all of this for granted. We need God to bring us through these critical times.
And now, before you go, here’s a powerful song with historical images to inspire your reflection. Click here.
Be sure to enter full screen and turn up your speakers. Enjoy your celebration for we still have a beautiful land.
THE FEAST OF THE SACRED HEART OF JESUS ~ Friday, June 23, 2017
The church tells us “the term ‘Sacred Heart of Jesus denotes the entire mystery of Christ, the totality of his being and his person. . . . Devotion to the Sacred Heart calls for a fundamental conversion and reparation, of love and gratitude, apostolic commitment and dedication to Christ and his saving work.”
Reflecting on the Love that flows continually from the heart of Jesus has been a devotion of mine since childhood.
I wrote the article below in 1981 at a difficult time in my life and then preached it as a Good Friday homily in 1992.
I hope you enjoy it; I think it can have some practical value for you in managing the suffering in your own life ~ and in America and our whole world today.
* * * * * *
The Heart of Jesus
(Jesus the Tremendous Lover)
“What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul? What wondrous love is this, O my soul?
Jesus is the one who is our tremendous Lover. He came to live among us to reveal to us, his sisters and brothers, that we have a Father/God who loves us with a Love that is once a passionate, unconditional love and yet gentle, always inviting, never coercing. Jesus came among us to be our Love, to show the human race how to use the supreme power which God could give us: the intimate, infinite Love which is ours, if only we would claim it and model our lives after Jesus, who is Love itself.
Jesus was to be for us the model of Love because he was willing to experience in his heart the depths of human emotion. He risked time and again to embrace the sorrow, the agony, the unfreedom, the need of those who came to him to be healed. He risked being burdened by the needs of others. He risked being disheartened by those who would take from him and not even say thanks. He risked being misunderstood and rejected by the authorities of the day and even his neighbors in his home town. He risked the pain of realizing that even his closest disciples and friends had narrow vision and missed the main point of his message.
He risked all, and realized that, in spite of the pain and sorrow, in his heart, the soft Voice of the Father within him was asking him to keep going, to risk even more. To go deeper into his heart and to carve out still more and more places for those he would touch and heal, untilone day there would be room in his heart for the whole world.
I doubt that Jesus ever forgot a single individual that he encountered, not even those who oppressed him. He kept them all in his great heart, remembering them, praying for them, hoping that they would open their hearts to the One who Loved them with a passionate Love — the Father/God of all. He must have realized how important it was to see and feel the tragedy of the corruption he witnessed among the religious and political leaders of the day, to keep even these things in his heart. As painful as it was, he hoped that by keeping them there some of the great evil he saw would be disarmed and tamed.
That’s all he could do, after all — absorb the tragedy, the struggle, the sin, the failures in Love of the human race in his great, great heart. Yes, he healed a few sick and gave the gift of sight to some, but most of all he Loved: He let people into his heart (that’s the definition of Love, after all: to let someone into one’s heart) there to be comforted, if just for a moment. For one brief moment in the heart of the Lord Jesus is enough for any of us.
He had room for young John and impetuous Peter. And for Judas. He had room for the outcasts of his day, Zacheus and Matthew and Mary Magdalen. And he brought the outcasts in and seated them at his table He had room for beggars and lepers and blind people. And he had room for the Pharisees who broke his heart by their refusal to see and understand.
We remember that he was capable of deep emotion. He wept profoundly when he saw in prophecy what would happen to Jerusalem because of the hardness of the people’s hearts. And yet, even the gift of his tears and the greatness of his Love would not stop the destruction that would come because of Israel’s hardness of heart and lack of vigilance.
In the end, he wept in the garden. I like to believe that his agony was not focused on the trauma he personally was about to endure but because the Father permitted him, in that moment, to experience to the depths the reality of evil and tragedy in the world. He must have experienced some of the pain and loss that many of us feel when we encounter hardness of heart and misunderstanding.
Jesus embodied the compassion of God — the mercy, the tenderness, the Hesed of God (to use the wonderful Hebrew word). God wanted to be known as the Merciful One. And we, likewise, are instructed to “Be compassionate as our heavenly Father is compassionate.”
Jesus became for us the “Man of Sorrows”, familiar with suffering” — the suffering Servant of Yahweh. He bore the weight of the world’s refusal to Love and even worse its refusal to be Loved by the God of Love. He allowed that evil, that senseless tragedy of the human race, to be absorbed, and thereby redeemed and purified, with his own blood. In his own bloodstream the cosmic battle between the forces of Love and Hate was waged. And “his sweat fell to the ground like great drops of blood.” In him the great cosmic battle was focused. Our great compassionate God sent his Son to bear within his soul the brunt of that cosmic storm.
We are filled with awe at such overwhelming Love. And so we honor this evening his great, great heart. But most importantly we should realize that he has become for us Love itself so that we will also might become Love.
The one essential ingredient of the Christian religion is to Love as Jesus has Loved us. We are to become compassionate as Jesus is compassionate. We, like Jesus, are called not to be afraid to embrace the suffering, the tragedy, the sin of the world, so that in Love we will join our hearts to his and, as St. Paul says, “to make up what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ.”
Perhaps we can say, therefore, that there are two kinds of people in the world — those who are willing to accept their own share of suffering in the world (and a bit more for Jesus’ sake) and those who cannot or will not bear even the suffering caused by their own failures and sins. The compassionate ones do what they do out of Love, a seemingly foolish Love. Some Love because they have been opened up to a mystical awareness that they, like Jesus, are making their own soul and body available as an arena for the cosmic drama of interaction between the forces of light and the forces of darkness.
I do not pity those who suffer. I rather pity those who are afraid to suffer. Out of suffering comes understanding — a larger perspective of the world and with it a practical wisdom that tempers Law and Life with Mercy. Out of suffering comes the ability to see the face of Christ in even a hardened criminal or a seemingly pitiful alcoholic.
The ability to see, to understand, the inner workings of people’s lives is a gift far greater than the suffering one must endure to attain it. To-suffer-unto-understanding (a definition of compassion) is to be able to look upon the world as Jesus does and as he invites us to do in the Beatitudes.3 (Of course, a person can suffer without understanding — especially when we are angry about and refuse to accept our lot of suffering. But if we pray faithfully while we suffer, God will most assuredly gift us with his own very special kind of understanding.)
Understanding is the goal of suffering for those who have eyes to see. Understanding which sees through the eyes of Jesus. Understanding allows us the courage to be with Jesus hanging on the Cross and to see what he saw from that perspective. Understanding allows us the courage to go with Jesus into the bowels of the earth and descend into hell and to see what Jesus saw. Then, too, understanding allows us to feel what Jesus felt when he was lifted from the grave.
I have always had an inner sense that the fastest, most efficient way to handle a crisis was to face it head on — not to avoid it. And so, I invite you to “go with” the suffering. Explore it. Allow yourself to experience the feelings, as painful and confused and frightening as they may be. The more you fight it, the more you will suffer. Ask Jesus the Light to lead you through the darkness. Then have faith and confidence that he will. (After all, the worst you will experience is what Jesus experienced, as long as you follow the will of God. (Other persons have suffered more cruel deaths than crucifixion.) And if you truly want to follow the will of God and are praying daily, then be assured that God is leading you. Take his hand in the darkness and follow — even if you can barely see the ground in front of you!
The pain may feel unbearable for a while, and the temptation is to avoid it as long as we can, and, of course, to worry about it. (I have always found worry most bothersome, like walking around with a pebble in my shoe. Far easier to bend down and take it out than to walk around with it for years!) So, too, with suffering. Even in one of my earlier bouts with emotional and mental suffering, I somehow found myself diving into it to seek its cause.
From what I can see there is always a cause of suffering. Discovering the cause can often lead to alleviating the suffering. In fact, the pain oftentimes will be transformed the moment the cause is recognized and diagnosed, so it is to the person’s advantage to stay with it and find out who or what the “bugger” is. (Perhaps there is an analogy to the oyster who “suffers” an irritation that will eventually through which it may become a pearl of great price.) If we see the larger picture of reality, seen through the eyes of Christ, some joy and satisfaction and relief will enter our soul. We will thus be on our way to recovery and new life.
The easiest way through suffering is to stretch out our arms and allow ourselves to be nailed to our cross. Don’t fight it. Surrender to the will of God. Jesus in his agony on Thursday night saw through the nails in his hands and the crown of thorns on his head to the Resurrection. He didn’t ignore the Cross; he saw it and the horizon beyond it.
Jesus didn’t focus on the pain. The pain of the Cross was only a brief moment (which he knew he had the strength to endure) in the history of his lordship presiding over the business of the universe. So you, too, should not focus on the painful aspects of our life. Look instead for the cause of the pain. Look for the reality — the truth! And remember that Jesus said “the truth shall make you free!” See as Jesus sees; that is, see and accept the truth. And leap from your cross as a butterfly leaps from the cocoon and as Jesus leapt from the grave.
“Impossible!” you may say, especially if you have been suffering for years.
“Not so!” says Jesus and the whole company of prophets and martyrs and confessors and virgins.
Ask for strength and you will receive strength.
Ask for guidance and you will be led through the darkness to a point you will recognize.
Ask to understand and Jesus will let you see yourself through his eyes.
But remember! Don’t focus on the pain. All those gory pictures of Jesus in agony and bloody crucifixes of the past generation, hopefully, are, hopefully, gone for good.
The Cross is the focal point in that we realize the great Love which Jesus has for us and what he personally has done for us. But one must not forget to look at the horizon beyond the Cross. The sky on that first Good Friday afternoon undoubtedly was an awesome sight to behold. The cross, the pain that is our lot in life to endure, is there only to be transformed and transcended. The cross is but a moment.
Suffering in life is only a means to greater life. It is not our final lot. Resurrection is. Glory is. Triumph is. Though the paradox is that we must accept our cross totally to be through with it. We are invited to surrender to our Father in complete abandonment as Jesus did, as if we were to leap off a cliff and know that we will land in the Loving arms of our great God.
A further delusion of spirituality of the past generation is that our reward will not come until the next life. What is delusional about that is that we fail to realize the kingdom is already inaugurated by Jesus in history by his triumph on the Cross. Our lives are already illumined by the light of the resurrection. And there is no reason that we cannot triumph here and now — if we accept our cross. And, in fact, I am convinced that it will be Christians bold enough to take up in their hand and in their minds the Cross of Jesus who will lead us in XXI and XXII Centuries, just as this has been true in every age of the Church.
And so, the question that we ponder this feast day is, once again: “What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul? What wondrous love is this, O my soul?
And the answer is: “The great, great Love of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who Loved us so much that he stretched out his arms in the most loving, indeed, the most-nonviolent act, the world has ever seen. He stretched out his arms in the face of his enemies and said from his Cross: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
Come, then adore the Lord who wants to be for us all our Beloved. Come, then, adore the Lord, the tremendous Lover. Renew your Love for him and know even more than ever before that it is by the holy Cross that we have been redeemed.
What wondrous love is this, O my soul? What wondrous love is this?
And now, before you go, here’s that wonderful hymn, What wondrous love is this? Click here. Be sure to turn up your speakers and enter full screen.
And here are the Mass readings for tomorrow’s feast. Click here.
THE FEAST OF THE BODY AND BLOOD OF CHRIST (CORPUS CHRISTI) ~ Sunday June 18, 2017
Today is our Roman Catholic feast of Corpus Christi in which pause to appreciate and give thanks for the wonderful gift of the holy Eucharist.
I’d like to reflect for a moment on what we Catholics believe about this wonderful sacrament.
We believe in the Real Presence of Jesus — that the bread and wine are transformed into his Body and Blood. Thus, for us communion is an actual sharing in Divine Life, not just a symbol.
It is stumbling block for many ~ not only for many Protestants but many a Catholic who never really gets it because they don’t let it transform their lives.
And ~ um ~ I know some priests who don’t get it or live it either.
As for me, it would be very hard for me to live without the holy Eucharist.
Here’s what I believe and (try to) live:
Communion means union. Closeness and intimacy with our Lord.
And with one another.
In other words, communion is love.
But do we really believe? Do we want to accept the implications of that closeness?
Do we want to be transformed by Jesus’ love?
Do we want to live in common-union with our brothers and sisters?
Do we take for granted this gift ~ for us?
It is given to us so that we might become that gift ~ for others.
So that we might become the Real Presence of Christ in the world!
A couple of years ago in the liturgical magazine Magnificat, editor Father Peter John Cameron, O. P. asked the question:
“What are we celebrating on the Solemnity of Corpus Christi?”
He suggested an answer with the amazing made-up word of J. R. R. Tolkien: eucatastrophe.
(Tolkien, you may recall, is the author of the amazing tales of the Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings and many other fantasy stories.)
“What is “eucatastrophe?
In one of his letters, Tolkien writes:
I coined the word ‘eucatastrophe’: the sudden happy turn in a story which pierces you with a joy that brings tears (which I argued it is the highest function of fairy-stories to produce). And I was there led to the view that it produces its peculiar effect because it is a sudden glimpse of Truth, your whole nature chained in material cause and effect, the chain of death, feels a sudden relief as if a major limb out of joint had suddenly snapped back. It perceives – if the story has literary ‘truth’ on the second plane (….) – that this is indeed how things really do work in the Great World for which our nature is made.
Just as the hero of a mythical tale is on the verge of a disastrous dead-end, with his demise looming before him, terrible and inevitable, the eucatastrophe happens:
The good catastrophe, the sudden joyous “turn” ….. this joy is a sudden and miraculous grace …. It denies (in the face of much evidence, if you will) universal defeat …., giving a fleeting glimpse of joy, joy beyond the walls of the world, poignant as grief.
Tolkien considered the Incarnation as the eucatastrophe of human history, and the Resurrection the eucatastrophe of the Incarnation.
Eucharist as eucatastrophe
On Good Friday, as the Apostle John stands before the gruesome sight of his friend scourged to a pulp and splayed out on a cross, why doesn’t he cave in despair?
Because of what John had heard the night before. The Lord’s words at the Last Supper and the Lord’s death on Calvary remain caught up with each other.
The beloved disciple refuses to regard the crucifixion as ‘a mere execution without a discernible point to it’ precisely because he lives in memory of the Eucharistic words of his redeemer: “This is my body; this is my blood given up for you.” The sacrifice in flesh and blood happening before his eyes on Golgotha, Jesus pre-enacted at the Holy Thursday Table.
The eucatastrophic words of the Eucharist enable us to see beyond the substance of scandalous failure and disgrace. What seems on the outside to be savage brutality becomes an event of total self-giving love when viewed from ‘within.’ The Eucharistic words foretell that, on Calvary, violence will be definitely transformed into love, and death into life. By the sudden joyous turn and miraculous grace of the Eucharistic words, we penetrate the act of self-giving love offered to us from the cross.
As Pope Francis says, in the encyclical The Light of Faith: ‘To those who suffer, God does not provide arguments which explain everything; rather his response is that of an accompanying presence . . . which . . . opens up a ray of light'” (# 57)
~Father John Peter Cameron, O. P. , Editor, The Magnificat
For me, the Eucharistic words have sustained me many times with “joy, accompanied by tears” as I experienced my sinfulness, my woundedness, my brokenness.
When I receive our Lord in holy communion I pray deep in my heart ~ and perhaps you can too:
Lord Jesus, You became — You are still — bread-broken
and blood-poured out for the sake of the world.
As I receive the precious gift of the Eucharist
may I become Your body
and Your body become mine.
May Your blood course through my own blood stream.
I want to be transformed by my communion with you, Lord.
Transformed from my self-centered lusts and angers and petty jealousies
Let me become Your Body-broken
and Your Blood-poured-out
into a world that needs You
now more than ever.
To You, Jesus, be honor and glory and praise
this day and forever!
So be it! Amen!
Now, before you go, here’s a hymn to go with it for your reflection. Click here.
The Feast of the Most Holy Trinity ~ Sunday, June 11, 2017
This is the Sunday when we give praise to God as we Christians understand and know God — Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
For me, it’s all about being caught up in ~ getting lost in ~ finding my true self in the awesome dynamic relationship with our God as we come to know that God is love.
The Christian religion is different from the other world religions in that it sees God is intrinsically relational. Other world religions see God in relationship with creation and of course, with humanity. But as the Bette Midler song suggests, there’s no personal relationship there: “God is watching us—from a distance.”
The all-embracing love of the Father and the Son and the Spirit sustains us in existence. We are drawn into the dynamism, exuberance and power of that love.
In God, as Richard Rohr shows us “Everything belongs.”God splashes [his] love on us all with such abundance and exuberance that we’ve discovered that within one galaxy there are billions of suns! You and me included! (Today’s Gospel is John 3:16 ~ God so loved the world . . . we’re all included!)
The Holy Trinity ought to be for a Christian the foundation for a whole new way of being! But we have made the Holy Trinity into a dry, boring doctrine that we dismiss as beyond our comprehension and therefore, irrelevant to our lives.
William Young’s book The Shack brings the doctrine of the Trinity—the very foundation of Christianity—to life in a clever, imaginative description of how three persons in one God might interact with each other and with us. It reveals a God who is so easy, relaxed and delightful in God’s self that we are eager to be caught up and sustained in that delight and love. The image above is the famous Rublev ikon. When I was out west a few years ago, the refectory of the Benedictine Monastery in Abiqui, NW had a painting of this ikon that filled the whole wall behind the Abbot’s place.
Sadly, however, so many of us Christians—Catholic or Protestant—relate to God as if he is eager to trip us up and send us to hell! If that is what we believe, we’re not going to be very interested in relating to him, are we? We’ll want to stay away as far as possible; to relegate God to the periphery of our lives.
The revolutionary notion of Christianity is that we are the “Thou” to whom God relates! We are not just part of God as Eastern religions view the divine. We are co-creators of our world. For me the Father, my elder Brother Jesus and the Holy Spirit are even more real and involved with me than my neighbor Loreto who my dog Shoney and I visit when we walk in the evening as we watch the sun setting.
Here is a story I love to tell when I’ve preached on Trinity Sunday.
I hope you enjoy it, even if you’ve heard me tell it before.
My first assignment as a priest was to Holy Name of Jesus Parish across the street from the Atlantic Ocean. I have fond memories of that place, not only of the whole parish but also of its geographical and ecological setting. Today I see it as one of the finest parishes in the continental United States in the wonderful ways in that hundreds of parishioners are involved in 85 ministries.
And so, that first year of priesthood rendered a story that I’ve told on Trinity Sunday almost every year of my priesthood. It’s about some sea turtles. You’ll probably be wondering as you read what turtles have to do with the Trinity. But I’ll save that for the end. It is a powerful connection.
Indialantic, Florida, summer 1969. I had just arrived in the parish and was meeting my new parishioners. Several asked, “Have you seen the turtles yet?” I assumed they were talking about turtles who came to our beach but I couldn’t figure out what the big deal was. So I accepted Tony’s invitation, a teen from the youth group I had just met: “Meet me on the beach at 9:00 tonight; bring a small flashlight.”
I was a little early, so I sat on the steps watching the 2-foot waves lap the shore. It soon learned what a joy it was to live across the street from the ocean! I lived there the first three years of my priesthood. That night was a quiet, dark night; there was no moon. I took off my shoes and put them beside a small-sized dune. I could see the light of flashlights bouncing across the sand towards the south but the beach was dark to the north. Apparently, prize turtle-watching happened on the south stretch of beach. Indeed, the most active area for loggerhead turtle nesting is south of Cape Kennedy.
Tony came along and we walked south and the waves washed further up the shore. He quietly explained that loggerhead turtles grew to about 38 inches and had huge heads with short necks and powerful beaks that can break open mollusk shells. He said they weigh from 200 – 350 pounds.
We were silent for a while. I noticed that the flashlights were all turned off; apparently the sea creatures are spooked by light. A dark night is best.
“What will we see?” I asked.
“The huge creature will lumber slowly up the beach to reach an area above the high water line. The tracks she makes resemble caterpillar or tank tracks. She will then turn around facing the ocean and use her rear flippers to dig a hole. Sometimes she will not leave any eggs and fill in the hole again to fool us turtle-watchers. There are sometimes egg poachers around. But if she does lay eggs there will be about 100-126 white-colored eggs about 2 inches in diameter.”
We soon saw some turtle tracks, leading out of the surf up the beach. None of us used our flashlights, keeping some distance and, interestingly, even the children kept silent, as if there were a spell over us.
That was my first experience of turtle watching. I had many more. But there was one night I will long remember. It is that night that I have told in my Trinity Sunday homilies all these years.
I was alone that night — no companion, no other turtle-watchers. The moment opened up for me to be a profound mystical awareness, a moment I still remember vividly. I watched the giant turtle lay her eggs and slowly make her way back toward the surf. I moved a little closer as she came to the edge of the water. It was really dark.
I felt drawn to her by some compelling or impelling force. I wanted to follow the turtle! As it disappeared beneath the waves, I was drawn to follow her, to enter the unknown world beneath the sea.
But I hesitated. I pulled back.
I was on the edge of mystery.
The turtle has its own mystery; the turtle is at home in two worlds — land and sea. We also live in two worlds — the physical and the spiritual, the seen and the unseen. For a brief moment, I was drawn to follow the turtle down beneath the waves. But actually I was drawn into the mystery of the life of God which the feast of the Holy Trinity celebrates for us. And there, too, I hesitate. I pull back. I prefer to get close, but not too close. I prefer to stand upon the shore, to walk along with my toes only in the water, not to plunge in.
The shoreline is highly symbolic. It is the liminal space (the margin) between land and sea. As such, it is a powerful space, a place of mystery in its own right, as any liminal space can be. I have stood on several of the shores of the world and it’s always a powerful experience. Perhaps the shoreline runs down the middle of my soul.
So, what do we make of this feast of the Holy Trinity?
In having this feast the church is telling us we live on the edge of mystery. We live on the edge of God’s wonderful life — Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
This is not to be solved like a Perry Mason or Agatha Christie mystery. In religious experience, a mystery is to be lived and to be unfolded as we uncover its multifaceted dimensions, as we allow it to envelop and sometimes enrapture us.
The immensity of God’s love is a mystery for us, for sure. But we should not be afraid of mystery. We should not be afraid to immerse ourselves in the mystery of God as the turtle immersed herself in the mystery of the ocean.
The day will come, sooner or later, for me and for you to let go of our hesitancy and fear and to fall into the ocean of God’s love. To no longer live on the edge of mystery but to be immersed fully in the mystery of God’s love — Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
I had the experience a couple of years ago when I got off the shore and onto a dive boat. After three years, I finally got my Scuba certification, and like the turtles went below the surface of the Atlantic ocean for the first time and entered a brand new astonishingly beautiful, silent world!
There’s a similar story told about the great St. Augustine who lived in the Fourth Century. The story or legend goes that he was walking on the beach contemplating the mystery of the Trinity when he saw a boy in front of him who had dug a hole in the sand and was going out to the sea again and again and bringing some water to pour into the hole. St. Augustine asked him, “What are you doing?” “I’m going to pour the entire ocean into this hole.” “That is impossible, the whole ocean will not fit in the hole you have made” said St. Augustine. The boy replied, “And you cannot fit the Trinity in your tiny little brain.” The saint was instantly confronted with the mystery of God.
And so, dear friends . . . .
Follow a turtle!
Before we sign off, let’s ask, what about the baby turtles?
They hatch in sixty days and are completely on their own. The hundreds of condominiums on the Florida shoreline are in themselves a threat to the newborn because the little ones are drawn to the light and away from the ocean where they should be. There is a law that only a few lights are to be on the sea-side and these are to be covered. Like so many other little babies they are endangered. May we protect them all!
Now, before you go, here’s a cute music video about “Caretta, the Sea Turtle.” Click Here. Be sure to turn up your speakers and enter full Screen.
“[Then] suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind,
and it filled the entire house in which they were.
Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire which parted
and came to rest on each one of them.
And they were all filled with the holy Spirit
and began to speak in different tongues,
as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim(Acts 2:1-21.)
The word for “wind” is important here. “In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless wasteland, and darkness covered the abyss, while a mighty wind swept over the waters.”
“When the day of Pentecost came it found the brethren gathered in one place. Suddenly from up in the sky there was a noise like a strong driving wind.”
The Holy Spirit is associated with that wind. The wind that blows where it wills. The wind that stirs things up and gets them moving.
The word for “wind” in Hebrew is “Ruah” — the same as the word for “breath.”
I was trained in meditation to pay attention to my breathing, and I do so almost all the time, even now as I’m writing this..
I often imagine that the Holy Spirit is breath entering me, and when I exhaled, I am breathing out the Holy Spirit as well.
What a wonderful image is breath. Breath is life itself. No breath, no life in the body.
The mighty wind of Pentecost stirred things up as the church was born. The apostles and the others who were part of their company, including the women, were given enthusiasm. No longer afraid, they courageously preached the message that Jesus established a new order for people’s lives. They began gathering the church. The Acts of the Apostles is in effect the gospel of the Holy Spirit.
In the beginning of scripture, there is a story about the tower of Babel, a story that tries to explain why there are so many different languages on the earth that we cannot understand each other, so much discord, so much disharmony.
The story has God confusing the languages of people at Babel (Gen. 11: 1-9) and from that day onward they were scattered.
On the day of Pentecost the opposite happened. People were gathered together. Parthians and Medes and Elamites; people from Cappodacia, Pontus, Asia, Phrygia, Pamphylia and Egypt — all heard the apostles speaking to them in their own languages.
On the day of my ordination, I was filled with enthusiasm. It was the day before Pentecost, May 24, 1969.
I was reminded of this prophecy of Joel:
“I will pour out my spirit upon all humankind.
Your sons and daughters shall prophesy,
your old men shall dream dreams,
your young men shall see visions.
Even upon the servants and handmaids,
in those days, I will pour out my spirit.” Joel 2:28,29)
Those were the days immediately following the Second Vatican Council. There was a lot of enthusiasm all over the Church. Those of us who were young, had wonderful opportunities to serve.
The enthusiasm that poured onto me and into me lasted the first full three years of my priesthood. The Spirit really touched my ministry, as he did with another priest who was ordained the same day as me.
Nine years later, the opposite happened. My life crashed in upon me. And I was reminded of still another scripture about the Spirit — the prophecy of the dry bones.
“Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord:” See I will bring spirit into you that you may come to life again. Breathe into these slain, O Spirit that they may come to life.” (Ezekiel 37: 1)
That’s what Pope Francis is trying to do. Breathe new life into the Church The Holy Spirit will draw the church together in a new way!
~ ~ ~ ~
There is still another thing to note from the Pentecost story. Tongues of fire rested individually on the heads of each person. The Spirit of God has a special relationship with each of us. The Spirit will enliven us according to the gifts and talents of each one.
So this Holy Spirit does wondrous things!
The Spirit is the source of inspiration for all who would design and create.
“There are different gifts but the same Spirit; there are different ministries, but the sameLord; there are different works but the same God who accomplishes all of them in every one. To each person the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.
The body is one and has many members, many though they are, are one body; and so it is with Christ. It was in one Spirit that all of us, whether Jew or Greek, slave or free, were baptized into the one body. All of us have been given to drink of the one Spirit.” I Cor. 12
In the seminary I learned to pray for the inspiration of the Holy Spirit before each class. And for me it was a powerful devotion. I realized that the work I produced was more than the sum of its parts. I realize that that is still true some 47 years later. If we seek and cooperate with God’s grace, wonderful things can and will happen that are so far beyond what we ever imagine!
The Holy Spirit can make that happen in your life, in your children’s lives, and in mine too.
This Pentecost 2017, with all that is happening in our country, in our world and in the church, may we clearly see our need for the Holy Spirit in our life and ministry. Without the Spirit, there is no meaning. Without meaning, there is no reason to live.
The lesson I relearned as I wrote this reflection is that to seek the Spirit’s involvement in our work is to refuse to settle for mediocrity. As we get older, we may not have the energy of our youth to go for the brass ring, but we still can regainenthusiasm as we go about our work.
The Spirit of God is as close to us as our own breath. I have trained myself to become conscious of my breathing throughout my day. So too can we train ourselves to be conscious of the Holy Spirit from moment to moment, especially in making decisions and beginning your projects at work or artistic endeavors.
May we celebrate today the role of the Holy Spirit in our lives, in the Church, in our world and in, indeed, all of creation!
Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful,
and enkindle in them the fire of your love.
Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created.
and You shall renew the face of the earth.
May it be so. May it be so.
Now, here’s the ancient Sequence for the Feast ~ or if you will, a poem that occurs within the Mass . . .
Come, Holy Spirit, come! And from your celestial home Shed a ray of light divine! Come, Father of the poor! Come, source of all our store! Come, within our bosoms shine. You, of comforters the best; You, the soul’s most welcome guest; Sweet refreshment here below; In our labor, rest most sweet; Grateful coolness in the heat; Solace in the midst of woe. O most blessed Light divine, Shine within these hearts of yours, And our inmost being fill! Where you are not, we have naught, Nothing good in deed or thought, Nothing free from taint of ill. Heal our wounds, our strength renew; On our dryness pour your dew; Wash the stains of guilt away: Bend the stubborn heart and will; Melt the frozen, warm the chill; Guide the steps that go astray. On the faithful, who adore And confess you, evermore In your sevenfold gift descend; Give them virtue’s sure reward; Give them your salvation, Lord; Give them joys that never end. Amen. Alleluia.
And before you go, here is a new song that I found about the Holy Spirit that I liked. Click here.
And if you have time, here also is the haunting chant melody “Veni Creator Spiritus” and the English “Come Holy Ghost.” Click here. Be sure to enter full screen. There are many images of Pentecost in art displayed there.