Sunday, June 11, 2017

The Communal Life - Homily for Holy Trinity Sunday (A)

When we were in grade school, we probably heard the phrase: “God is love.” For those of us who have heard this throughout our lives, it may be easy to gloss over—but for someone who wonders about the goodness of God, this is quite the statement. “God is love”—He is good, goodness straight through.

But let us peel this back a little. When we say that God is love, we mean more than just God loves you. We are also talking about who God is. Love, by definition, is relational; it requires at least two persons (else it is not truly the self-sacrificial love that Jesus reveals love to be on the Cross). So, already, we know something about God: there must be at least two Persons. And this is true: there is the Father and the Son. And they love each other. The Son, for example, when He is dying on the Cross, dies not only for love of us, but also for love of His Father. And the Father, who is the inspiration for the father in the Prodigal Son story, receives His Son, Jesus, with great love.

And, together, their love is so perfect, so good, so eternal, and so divine that their love is God and a third person: the Holy Spirit. Together, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are God: three persons, and yet one—the Holy Trinity. In common language, we would say that God is, in His very essence, family; community. And not “He is like a family”—no, God is the inspiration and the source for every family. We are the image—He is the source.

Everything about our faith redounds to this, that God so loved the world that He sent His only Son. And for what purpose? So that we may be in communion with Him. Yes, not only can we say that “God is love” and that “God loves me,” but also that God wants to be in communion with us—He wants us to be brought into one with Him. This is what Jesus prays on the night before He dies: “Father… may they all be one; even as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us…” (Jn 17:21) Or, easlier, when Jesus promised the Holy Spirit, He said: “In that day [that is, Pentecost] you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you” (Jn 14:20). That’s pretty awesome. Indeed, we are made for this.

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When God created us, going all the way back to Genesis, He said: “Let us make man in our image” (Gen 1:26). Notice the pronouns there. They are plural. (A nod to the Trinity). But notice, too, how we are made: we are made in the image of God. And who is God again? Love—a communion of persons whose life is love. In other words, at the heart of every one of us is the image of the Trinity—indeed, we are made for love and community. Hence, God immediately thereafter says: “It is not good for man to be alone” (Gen 2:18).

This isn’t just a statement about how a man needs a women else the man will starve (haha!). It’s not simply a statement about marriage. No, it’s a statement about who we are: that is, it is not good for us to be isolated; we are made for communion and when we isolate ourselves, it is not good. And why is it not good? Because our hearts are most alive and are truly discovering the goodness of God when we love and experience love. Selfishness breeds a sadness in our heart—an isolation that doesn’t allow itself to be loved or believe that it can be loved.

In our world, the enemy is working overtime to isolate and divide us. There is the stereotypical scene at the restaurant as the people in the booth aren’t talking to each other, but texting on their phones. Choosing to be on our phones is a choice to be alone. In some ways, it’s easier. We don’t have to be creative and come up with conversation or use our imagination to discover the person next to us. Yes, it’s so easy to just be alone.

Our social structures are not helping much, either. So many of us live in subdivisions and the houses are close by and it gives the illusion that we live in a community. But, honestly, so many people do not actually know their neighbors. Have you had them over for dinner? Or they you? I give communion to the sick and I can tell you they are all throughout our subdivisions and yet very few people know that the sick and elderly are there and that they are suffering. Alone.

And we don’t mean to be—it’s just that, either from our youthful days or in college, we got caught up in the me-project: “I’ve got a paper to write… I have to study for my test…” And then it is about me getting into a good school; and then me getting a good job; and then me getting a good place to live—I don’t have time to get married. People are actually saying this. I don’t have time for a family. And that’s true when life is isolated in the confines of self. Phone calls to parents—much less letter-writing-- is all but dead.

These trends translate into religion as well. It’s all about “me and Jesus” or “I am spiritual but not religious.” Neither of these statements embraces community (community which is a hallmark of religion); it simply embraces the self. And that’s a shame, because I know of so many young couples that are overwhelmed by having a kid or two and they feel as though they are going it alone and re-inventing the wheel, when in reality all they need to do is seek the wisdom of some of the couples here in this community. But few do that. And for whatever reason. Sometimes, people don’t want to inconvenience others. Maybe it’s easier to go it alone…

And let’s be frank: the enemy tries to drive a wedge in communities. Must I mention politics? Yes, politics are important. But I had a funeral some time ago where the parent had died and a couple of the kids were alienated from their parent because of their differing ideas in the political realm. Thankfully, just days before the parent passed, they reconciled. But the kids expressed deep regret—regret that something so passing and oftentimes so juvenile as politics got in the way of one of the most meaningful of relationships: that of a parent and a child. Yes, dear friends, we often get divided by who’s on the left and who’s on the right and we forget that there is an up and a down—up is where there is communion and heaven and the saints and love; down is isolation and regret and hell.

You see: community is really hard. It takes work. And the fact of the matter is: people can be annoying. Priests can be annoying. I can be annoying. It takes practice and messing up and struggle and love to bite one’s own tongue and to listen and to not react, but to love. This is why we need community, else we live in echo chambers where, if our positions are threatened in any way, we don’t have the patience to be charitable and courteous. And to grow.

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God is love. And it is not enough to simply note and fight against the isolating trends in our culture. We must also teach how to care for our community. This requires teaching our children not only about rights but also responsibilities.

I hear of so many people who talk about how their grown child lives in their basement, focuses on the electronics, and is a bear to get them to make a contribution to the family and the home. Something must be done to help curb this epidemic. I offer this humble solution—which is not mine, but which I have gleaned from my conversations with all of you. Here’s how it goes:

Say you have a little son, Johnny, and he’s eight. At eight, he adores his dad and loves whatever he loves.

Ok, so, “Johnny, do you see mom there making dinner?”     
            “Yeah, dad.”
“Mom’s great isn’t she?”       
            “Yeah dad!”
“You love her, right?”
             “Of course, dad.”
“Ok, if you love her, then go help her. Because if you love, you help.”

And suddenly little Johnny is connecting the dots: that if we love, we must respond. We cannot sit idly by and let mom do everything. Love requires a response. Great lesson. And eight year olds understand this.

Later, when Johnny is twelve, a new conversation is had:

            “Johnny, you’re becoming a young man, so I’m sure you’ve noticed something.”
                        “What’s that, dad?”
“Well, every week, mom and me do the same things over and over: take out the trash, fold the laundry, set the table, and so on. You’ve notice that, right?”
                        “Well, now that you point it out, yeah.”
“And know you love us, but you’re smart and you’re becoming a young man, so I don’t have to tell you what to do—I mean, I have to tell your sister to always help mom, but you: you’re becoming a young man, right?”

At twelve, young boys don’t want to be treated like babies (sometimes they do if they are hurting), but most of the time, they want to be seen as one of the big boys.
“Ok, so I don’t have to always point out what has to be done. You can see it and do it without me even having to tell you, right?”
                        “Absolutely, dad.”
            “Ok, I’m relying on you. So, from that list that you know of, what will you do?”

Johnny is starting to learn initiative. He wants to be a young man, a contributor, a leader. So, ok, let’s give him the reigns and tell him that he has them: “I’m relying on you.”

Finally, when Johnny is fifteen or so and he’s going by “John,” another conversation can be had—something from The Lion King:
“John, you’re becoming a man and I want to have an adult conversation with you. I’m getting old and some day this will all be yours—you’ll have a house of your own and family to take care of. And I won’t be around to tell you to love mom or to remember your list, but you are going to have to look around you and see what needs to be done and to do it. So, I want you to look around our home. You’ll notice that I’ve done work on it and made some improvements. Tell me: what do you think? What needs to be done around here?—something I may not have thought of.

And he starts to think about it. And you walk him through. And help him as he struggles to begin to contribute to the home and to the family—as he struggles to love. In other words, we are teaching him ownership, how to own and feel responsible for his community.

And this is precisely where he should be learning this. Too often, our kids are sent off to college and they have no idea not only how to take care of themselves (mom always took care of everything!), but they have no idea how to contribute to the community. Thus begins the me-project.    

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Of course, I’m not talking about some fictional dad and his son. I’m talking about me and you. I’m that dad and you are my spiritual children. And I want us to grow in response, in initiative, and in ownership.

Response: I know you love the parish. And we have things to do around here. There is a parish picnic coming up. If you love, then help out. And, I know, some of you are saying, “I’m old, I’ve put in my time.” Ok, first: thank you for helping out so much. But we don’t retire from the community, we don’t retire from love. Teenagers in the basement say “I’m too old to be helping mom with dinner tonight.”

Initiative: I know you know the many things that go on at this parish beyond Sunday. Which ones are you going to do? Monsignor doesn’t have to personally invite you every time in order to do something, right? I mean, we are adults here, right? And we aren’t focused solely on the me-project—so we do have time, right? Take initiative.

Ownership: look out over the parish, and not only the parish, but the Cottleville area. What needs to be done? Again, I know there are many sick and elderly people in our subdivisions. We have to own that. When we own something, we feel responsible for it. We need to feel responsible that there are people out there who are alone and isolated and going to die alone and isolated. We have to own that. What else needs to be done? What can we do better?

Because it is not good for man to be alone. Because we are made in the image of God. God who is love. God who is Holy Trinity, community, family, unity. This is our faith. This is the faith of the Church. 

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