Solemnidad de la Santísima Trinidad

A mí me gusta aprender palabras nuevas. Uno de los gozos de estudiar teología era aprender el lenguaje teológico. Muchas de las palabras que se usan en teología vienen de griega y latina. Entonces, hoy yo les voy a enseñar a ustedes una palabra nueva. Es la palabra kénosis. Es una palabra griega, y significa vaciamiento, en particular auto-vaciamiento. También es una buena palabra para Scrabble.

Hoy celebramos la Solemnidad de la Santísima Trinidad. Debido a que la Trinidad es el misterio de quién es Dios en Sí mismo, necesitamos conceptos que nos ayuden a entenderlo. Kénosis, auto-vaciamiento, nos proporciona una manera para entender la Trinidad. Dios Padre se vacía a si mismo completamente en el Hijo. El Hijo se vacía completamente en el Espíritu. La Trinidad es una relación de kénosis, de auto-vaciamiento en amor. Vemos esto en el evangelio hoy. Jesus dice, “Todo lo que tiene el Padre es mío. Por eso he dicho que [el Espíritu] tomará de lo mío y se lo comunicará a ustedes”. La Santísima Trinidad es auto-vaciamiento completo, regalo completo, kénosis completo.

Esa kénosis no es contenida dentro de la Trinidad misma pero se desborda. Se desborda en el acto de creación. Creación es la Santa Trinidad derramándose en amor. En nuestra primera lectura del Libro de Proverbios, la sabiduría de Dios, quien la tradición cristiana ha identificado con la Segunda Persona de la Trinidad, dice que estaba derramada en la creación. La Trinidad se vacía a si mismo en creación y, aunque más, en salvación. Como he dicho, la Padre se vacía en el Hijo, y el Hijo se vacía en el Espíritu, pero ¿en quién se vacía el Espíritu? En nosotros, la iglesia. Como San Pablo dice a los romanos, “Dios ha infundido su amor en nuestros corazones por medio del Espíritu Santo, que él mismo nos ha dado”.

Pero el auto-vaciamiento de Dios, su kénosis, es más que solo dándose. Dios no solo se da de sí mismo, pero lo hace en una manera que está vacía de todo egoísmo u orgullo. Dios no se entrega a nosotros para ganar algo para sí mismo. Dios no se vacía para ser adorado o alabado. Dios no exige nada a cambio de su amor. Mientras Él nos invita para vivir en el reconocimiento y recepción de su amor, Su amor no depende de nuestra respuesta. Dios no deja de darse si nosotros lo ignoramos o lo rechazamos. Un amor egoistico exige que el amado responde, y deja de amor si no hay una respuesta. Un amor que es vaciamiento ama a pesar de lo que es la respuesta.  El amor de Dios es auto-vaciamiento puro, sin exigir nada a cambio.

Como celebramos el Día del Padre, quizás la mejor imagen que tenemos de la kénosis de Dios es el amor de padres y madres. Los padres están llamados para darse de sí mismo para sus hijos. Ellos se derraman por el bien de sus hijos, no porque esperan de algo en cambio, pero en un amor que es vacío de egoísmo. Padres se vacían de sus propios deseos, sus propios planes, su tiempo y energía, todo por el bien de sus hijos. Y finalmente, cuando los hijos tengan edad suficiente para corresponder esto amor auto-vaciamiento, los niños se van de casa. Esto es quizás la última kénosis de un padre: después de te has vaciado de tu mismo para tu niño, necesitas vaciarte del rol que tenías en su vida.

En los padres, vemos una imagen viva de la kénosis de la Trinidad. Pero todos nosotros están llamados para imitar el auto-vaciamiento de Dios. Como enseña el Libro de Génesis, hemos sido creados en la imagen y semejanza de Dios. Pero esto significa que éramos creados en la imagen y semejanza de la Trinidad, quien es una relación del amor auto-vaciamiento. ¿Cómo parece esta kénosis? Por cierto significa dar de nosotros mismos para los otros, pero significa más que eso. Yo puedo dar de mí mismo para ayudar a alguien en una manera que es todavía bastante lleno de mí mismo. Puedo darme en una manera que es lleno de orgullo, lleno de un deseo ser reconocido o recompensado por mi regalo de mí mismo.

Para nos vaciamos de nosotros mismos como Dios hace, para vivir la kénosis de la Trinidad, significa dar sin exigir que nuestra generosidad sea correspondido o reconocido. Esta kénosis cambia la manera en que tratamos otras personas. Cuando tratamos a otros en una manera auto-vaciamiento, invitamos en lugar de exigiendo. Escuchamos en lugar de insistiendo que nuestro voz sea escuchado. Estamos pacientes en lugar de siempre necesitando cosas a nuestra manera. Cuando vaciamos a nosotros mismos, permitimos que otras personas sean quienes son, en lugar de tratando conformarles a nuestras ideas. Y permitimos que Dios sea quien es, en lugar de insistiendo que Él conforma a nuestras ideas. Esta kénosis no es fácil. Cuando nos vaciamos, nos convertimos vulnerables; nos arriesgamos a que otros nos rechacen o se aprovechen de nosotros.

¿Y no es ese el ejemplo que Jesús nos da? En la Cruz, vemos la kénosis de Dios totalmente expresado. En Cristo, Dios se ha vaciado completamente. Se vació de su gloria y majestad, tomando nuestra naturaleza humana. A cambio, Él es rechazado, burlado, y crucificado. Y, en kénosis completa, Él se somete a ello.

Imaginen un mundo en que todos cristianos vivieron en imitación del amor auto-vaciamiento de la Trinidad. ¿Qué pasaría si hoy nosotros amáramos a los demás con un amor que no se contuvo, que no exigió nada a cambio, sino que solo dio? ¿Cómo sería si viviéremos esta kénosis con nuestras familias, nuestras prójimos, con todos? En la iglesia antigua, el escritor Tertuliano dijo que los paganos romanos exclamarían sobre los cristianos, “Mira como ellos aman a los demás.” Los cristianos fueron tales ejemplos vivos del amor de la Trinidad, un amor que se vacía, que la gente se maravilló de ello. Reclamemos ese papel en la sociedad. Como seguidores de Cristo, imitemos el amor de la Trinidad. Amemos con en una manera tan auto-vaciamiento, auto-dando, que la gente exclamará, “¡Mira como ellos aman a los demás!”

 

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Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity

I like learning new words. That was one of the joys of studying theology was learning a lot of theological parlance. A lot of the words that you end up using in theological studies come from Greek and Latin. So, today I’m going to teach you all a new word. That word is kenosis. It is a Greek word, and it means emptying, especially self-emptying. It is also a great Scrabble word.

Today we celebrate the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity. Because the Trinity is the mystery of who God is in Himself, we need concepts to help us understand it. Kenosis provides a way for us to understand the Trinity. God the Father empties Himself out completely into the Son. The Son empties Himself out into the Spirit. The Trinity is a relationship of kenosis, of self-emptying in love. We see this in the Gospel today. As Jesus says when speaking of the Spirit, “Everything that the Father has is mine; for this reason I told you that [the Spirit] will take from what is mine and declare it to you.” The Holy Trinity is complete self-emptying, complete gift, complete kenosis.

That self-emptying is not contained within the Trinity itself, but it overflows. It overflows in the very act of creation. Creation is the Holy Trinity pouring forth in love. In our first reading from the Book of Proverbs, the wisdom of God, which Christian tradition has identified with the Second Person of the Trinity, is speaking of the creation of the world and says, “From of old I was poured forth.” The Trinity pours itself out in creation, and, even more, in salvation. As I said, the Father empties Himself into the Son and the Son empties Himself into the Spirit. So who does the Spirit empty Himself into? Us, the Church. As we celebrated last week in Pentecost, the Holy Spirit empties Himself out upon the Church. As St. Paul says to the Romans, “the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”

But God’s self-emptying, His kenosis, goes beyond just giving Himself. God not only gives Himself, but does it in a way that is empty of any pride or self-interest. God doesn’t give Himself to us in order to gain something for Himself. God doesn’t empty Himself in order to be praised or worshiped. He simply does it. God doesn’t demand anything of us in return for His love. While He certainly invites us to live in an acknowledgement and reception of His love, His love is not contingent upon us responding. God doesn’t stop giving Himself to us if we ignore Him or reject Him. A selfish love demands that the beloved respond, and it stops loving if there is no response. An emptying love continues to love regardless of what the response is. God’s love is pure self-emptying, demanding nothing back.

As we celebrate Father’s Day, perhaps the best image we have of God’s kenosis is the love of parents. Parents are called to give of themselves for their children. They pour themselves out for the good of their children, not because they expect something in return, but simply for the good of their children. They empty themselves of their own desires, their own plans, their time and energy, all for the sake of their children. And then, when their children are finally old enough to reciprocate this self-giving, the children leave home. This is perhaps the ultimate self-emptying of a parent: after you have emptied yourself out for this child, you now have to even empty yourself of the role you had in their life as they set off to establish themselves.

In parents, we see a living image of the kenosis of the Trinity. But all of us are called to imitate the self-emptying of God. As the Book of Genesis teaches, we were made in the image and likeness of God. But that means we were made in the image and likeness of the Trinity, who is a relationship of self-emptying love. What does this kenosis look like? Certainly it means giving of ourselves for others, but it means more than that. I can give of myself to help someone in a way that is still quite full of myself. I can give of myself in a way that is full of pride, full of a desire to be recognized or reciprocated for my gift of myself.

To empty ourselves as God does, to live the kenosis of the Trinity, means giving without demanding that our generosity be reciprocated or recognized. This kenosis changes how we deal with people. When we interact with others in a self-emptying way, we invite rather than demand. We listen, rather than insisting that our voice be heard. We are patient, rather than always needing things to go our way. When we empty ourselves, we allow other people to be who they are, rather than trying to conform them to our views. And we allow God to be God, rather than insisting that He conform to our views. This kenosis is not easy. When we empty ourselves, we become vulnerable; we risk the chance that others will reject us or take advantage of us.

And isn’t that the very example that Jesus gives us? On the Cross, we see the kenosis of God fully expressed. In Christ, God has completely emptied Himself. He emptied Himself of His glory and majesty, taking on our human nature. In return, He is rejected, mocked, and crucified. And, in complete self-emptying, he submits to it.

Imagine a world where all Christians truly lived in imitation of the self-emptying love of the Trinity. What would happen if today we loved others with a love that didn’t hold back, that didn’t demand anything in return, but just gave? What would it look like if we lived this kenosis in our interactions with our families, with our neighbors, with everyone? In the Early Church, the writer Tertullian reported that the pagan Romans would exclaim with amazement of the Christians, “See how they love one another.” The Christians were such a living example of the love of the Trinity, a love that empties itself out, that people marveled at it. Let us reclaim that role in society. As followers of Christ, let our love imitate the love of the Trinity. Let us love in such a self-giving, self-emptying way that people see us and exclaim, “See how they love one another.”

 

Pentecost

I love the Cathedral Basilica here in St. Louis. I think it is one of the most beautiful churches in the world. Like most people, one of my favorite features of it is the mosaics. There is one mosaic in particular that is my favorite. In one of the archways on the main dome is the mosaic of the Last Judgment. As you stand in the sanctuary of the Cathedral and look out, this is the mosaic that faces you. In it, the saints are all unique and splendid. They all stand out from each other. In the bottom corner are the souls of those descending to hell. They are completely shrouded in dark cloaks. Their faces are hidden, their bodies obscured by the garments. Every shred of their individuality has been obscured by their sinfulness as they descend into the land of miserable obscurity.

The artist of this mosaic was making an important point in his contrasting depiction of the saints and the sinners. I think we can have a tendency to view holiness as a bland, uniform mode of existence. We see the Holy Spirit as a cookie cutter who comes to form us all into saint-clones. Meanwhile, the path of sin is often portrayed as a libertine paradise where we are finally free to act on our own uniqueness. In fact, it is the opposite that is true. It is the saints who are staggering in their individuality and uniqueness, while the path of sin leads to dull monotony.

In one of his best known quotes from the beginning of his papacy, Pope Benedict made this exact point:

If we let Christ enter fully into our lives, if we open ourselves totally to him, are we not afraid that He might take something away from us? Are we not perhaps afraid to give up something significant, something unique, something that makes life so beautiful? Do we not then risk ending up diminished and deprived of our freedom? . . . No! If we let Christ into our lives, we lose nothing, nothing, absolutely nothing of what makes life free, beautiful and great. No! Only in this friendship are the doors of life opened wide. Only in this friendship is the great potential of human existence truly revealed. Only in this friendship do we experience beauty and liberation.

This is the message that we find again and again in the readings for today’s great feast. In the account of the descent of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, we are told that the disciples began to speak in different languages “as the Spirit enabled them.” They did not all speak the same language, but they all spoke different languages. This is symbolic of the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives, as St. Paul told the Corinthians. “There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit.” The Holy Spirit gives to each of us different gifts, and these gifts are many and varied. As the Psalms proclaim, “How manifold are your works, O Lord!” The Holy Spirit does not give us all the same gifts, but rather gives us each unique gifts and talents, traditionally referred to as charisms. All of the things that make us unique, our special abilities and strengths, as well as our weaknesses, are part of God’s unique design for each one of us. Holiness is cooperating with God by using these gifts. Holiness, then, far from removing our individuality, enhances those unique gifts that the Holy Spirit has given us. It is through sin that we damage that which makes us unique, because, through sin, we turn our back on the one who gave us the very gifts that make us individuals.

People often ask how, as a priest, I am able to not remember what I hear in the sacrament of confession. The honest truth is that, most of the time, confessions are boring. Ninety percent of confessions sound pretty much the same. There’s nothing unique in sin; people have been sinning the exact same ways since the dawn of time. It isn’t holiness that is boring, it is sin that is boring.

We can see this in the lives of the saints. St. Francis of Assisi embraced a life of absolute poverty, while St. Louis lived a life surrounded by all the trappings of the French monarchy. St. Gertrude spent her entire life in a convent, while St. Francis Xavier traveled from around the world. St. Jerome was known for his serious and austere personality, while St. Philip Neri was known for his humor and jokes. Each of these saints lived out the charisms which the Holy Spirit gave them. Each of them pursued holiness according to their own calling. As St. Paul says, to each of them “the manifestation of the Spirit was given for some benefit.” The saints show us that holiness is not a one-size-fits all way of life. Holiness is different for each person, because each person is called to live out their particular gifts from the Holy Spirit.

Sometimes, we can view holiness as something that constricts and stifles our individuality because we associate living a life of holiness with living a life subject to a bunch of rules. It is true that God has given us commandments to follow. If we view the commandments the way a prisoner views the rules of a prison, then we can see them as things that limit our freedom and creativity. But that is not the kind of rule that the commandments are. Rather, they are like the fence around a playground. The fence exists to show where it is safe to play, and to keep things that shouldn’t be in the playground out. As long as the kids stay inside the fence, they are free to play however they want. In fact, they are more free than they would be without the fence, because the fence assures them that they are safe and so do not need to worry. The commandments are the fences within which we are free and safe.

The commandments can also be seen as the directions given to an orchestra. If the members of the orchestra follow the directions from the music and the director, they will create beautiful music. The directions exist not to stifle the individuality of the instruments but to perfect it. If the members of the orchestra do not follow the directions, then the orchestra devolves into meaningless noise. Not only does the entire orchestra fall apart, but each individual instrument is lost amid the noise. When the musicians follow directions, they are each able to shine and assert their individual instrument at the appropriate time and in the appropriate way. If the musicians do not follow directions, their individuality is lost amid the cacophony and discord. So it is with the commandments. They are the guidelines that allow us to maximize our particular strengths, allowing them to shine at the right time and in the right way.

It is the unique gifts of the Holy Spirit to each of us that we celebrate on this Pentecost Sunday. Just as He did with the disciples, the Holy Spirit wishes to come and fill each of us with His presence and His manifold gifts. Let us ask the Holy Spirit to fill each of us with a greater appreciation for the individual charisms he has given to us and the knowledge of how to best use them according to His design.

 

VI Domingo de Pascua

En caso de que alguien piense que los desacuerdos en la Iglesia son algo nuevo, la primera lectura nos muestra que los desacuerdos son tan antiguos como la Iglesia misma. Pablo y Bernabé han comenzado a predicar a los gentiles. Pero hay un desacuerdo. Algunos de los cristianos judíos dicen que los nuevos conversos deben observar todas las leyes del Antiguo Testamento. Pablo y Bernabé les están enseñando que no necesitan hacerlo.

Esto puede parecer una cosa extraña para nosotros, pero esta fue una gran controversia en los primeros días de la Iglesia. A medida que más y más personas no judías comenzaron a seguir a Cristo, hubo preguntas sobre qué leyes del Antiguo Testamento debían seguir. Claramente, leyes como “No matarás” o “No cometerás adulterio” todavía se aplican. Pero ¿qué pasa con las leyes que prohíben comer ciertos alimentos? ¿Qué pasa con la práctica de la circuncisión, que Dios le había dado a Abraham como una señal de la alianza? Este fue un desacuerdo importante que amenazó la unidad de la Iglesia en sus inicios.

Entonces, ¿cómo manejaron este desacuerdo? “se decidió que Pablo, Bernabé y algunos más fueran a Jerusalén para tratar el asunto con los apóstoles y los presbíteros”. Se dirigieron a la autoridad de la Iglesia. Ellos no intentan resolver la pregunta por sí mismos. Se dirigen a la Iglesia. Los apóstoles se reunieron y, guiados por el Espíritu Santo, tomaron una decisión. Este evento es considerado como el primer concilio de la Iglesia, llamado Concilio de Jerusalén.

Hoy somos miembros de la misma Iglesia de la de los primeros cristianos. Y hay desacuerdos ahora como entonces. Piensa en cuántas denominaciones cristianas hay, todas que afirman tener las enseñanzas de Jesús, pero todas enseñan cosas diferentes. ¿Cómo se supone que debemos saber cuál es el correcto? Jesús en el Evangelio de hoy dice que enviará al Espíritu Santo, quien “les enseñará todas las cosas y les recordará todo cuanto yo les he dicho”. ¿Eso significa que podemos confiar en nuestro propio juicio en todo? Eso no puede ser correcto, porque hay miles de interpretaciones diferentes de la fe que tienen las personas. Más bien, confiamos en que el Espíritu Santo guíe a la Iglesia. Esto es lo que hicieron los primeros cristianos. Tuvieron un desacuerdo y, en lugar de confiar en su propio juicio, confiaron en la Iglesia. Sabían que el Espíritu Santo guía a la Iglesia.

Para demasiadas personas hoy, cuando se trata de cuestiones de fe, simplemente confían en sus propias opiniones. Deciden que todo lo que les parece correcto debe ser correcto, como si fueran la única autoridad de la verdad. En lugar de confiar en la autoridad de la Iglesia, confían simplemente en su propio intelecto. Esta es una mentalidad muy orgullosa. Por un lado, tenemos la Iglesia, que fue fundada por Cristo, está guiada y protegida por el Espíritu Santo y tiene 2,000 años de sabiduría. Y, por otro lado, estoy yo. Pensar que yo, con mi limitada experiencia y comprensión, sé mejor que la Iglesia, es muy arrogante.

La Iglesia primitiva nos da un ejemplo de humildad a seguir. No confiaban en su propio juicio personal, sino que se dirigían humildemente a la Iglesia en busca de orientación. Para muchos, esta idea de humildad intelectual puede parecer desagradable. Vivimos en una sociedad que rechaza la autoridad en todo tipo de áreas. Las personas son más propensas a creer una publicación en las redes sociales que los expertos. Y, en la fe, es más probable que las personas confíen en su propio juicio que en el juicio de la Iglesia. Pero la fe exige humildad. La fe nos obliga a admitir que no somos la autoridad absoluta cuando se trata de la verdad. Estamos llamados a imitar el ejemplo de la Iglesia primitiva. En su desacuerdo, recurrieron a la autoridad de Pedro y los apóstoles. Del mismo modo, en nuestras dificultades o desacuerdos, debemos recurrir a la autoridad de la Iglesia. Esto no es porque el Papa o los Obispos son perfectos. Pedro y los apóstoles no eran perfectos. Pero Dios prometió que Él mantendría a la Iglesia del error. La enseñanza oficial de la Iglesia nunca nos desviará, porque está garantizada por el mismo Cristo. Mis propios pensamientos pueden desviarme; La sociedad y la opinión popular pueden desviarnos; Las modas pueden desviarnos. Pero la enseñanza oficial de la Iglesia nunca puede desviarnos, porque está salvaguardada por el Espíritu Santo, que nos guía a toda verdad.

Se opone a nuestro sentido de independencia y autodeterminación. Pero cuando confiamos en nuestra propia opinión, hay incertidumbre constante. ¿Qué pasa si me equivoco? ¿Y si alguien más tiene razón? ¿Qué pasa si cometí un error? Cuando tenemos que ser la autoridad en todo, nunca podemos estar completamente en paz. Pero cuando confiamos en Cristo y su Iglesia, podemos estar en paz. Cristo promete hoy en el Evangelio: “mi paz les doy. No se la doy como la da el mundo”. Hay una paz al saber que tenemos la verdad, garantizada y protegida por Cristo y el Espíritu Santo. Hay paz en saber que tenemos una base firme sobre la cual apoyarnos, no las arenas movedizas de la opinión pública o nuestra débil comprensión. Cuando tenemos la humildad de admitir que no lo sabemos todo y de confiar en la guía del Espíritu Santo, experimentamos la paz que viene de Cristo.

 

 

Sixth Sunday of Easter

In case anyone thinks that disagreements in the Church are something new, the first reading shows us that disagreements are as old as the Church itself. Paul and Barnabas have begun preaching in earnest to the Gentiles. But there is a disagreement. Some of the Jewish Christians say that the new converts must observe all of the Old Testament laws. Paul and Barnabas are teaching them that they don’t.

This may seem like a strange thing to us, but this was a major controversy in the earliest days of the Church. As more and more non-Jewish people began to follow Christ, there were questions about what Old Testament laws they needed to follow. Clearly, laws like “You shall not kill” or “You shall not commit adultery” still applied. But what about the laws that prohibited eating certain foods? What about the practice of circumcision, which God had given to Abraham as a sign of the covenant? This was an important disagreement that threatened the unity of the Church at its very beginnings.

So how did they handle this disagreement? “It was decided that Paul, Barnabas, and some of the others should go up to Jerusalem to the Apostles and presbyters about this question.” They turned to the authority of the Church. They don’t try to resolve the question themselves, nor do they just dig their heels in and say, “This is what I believe so it must be right.” They turn to the Church. The Apostles met, and, guided by the Holy Spirit, they rendered a decision. This event is regarded as the first council of the Church, called the Council of Jerusalem.

We today are members of the same Church that those early Christians were part of. And, just like then, there are disagreements. Think about how many Christian denominations there are, all claiming to have the teachings of Jesus, but all teaching different things. How are we supposed to know which one is right? Jesus in the Gospel today says that He will send the Holy Spirit, who “will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you.” Does that mean that we can just trust our own judgement in everything? That can’t be right, because there are thousands of different interpretations of the faith that people have. Rather, we trust that the Holy Spirit guides the Church. This is what the first Christians did. They had a disagreement, and, rather than trust their own judgement, they trusted the Church. They knew that the Holy Spirit guides the Church.

For far too many people today, when it comes to questions of faith, they simply trust their own opinions. They decide that whatever seems right to them must be right, as though they were the sole authority of truth. Rather than trust the authority of the Church, they rely simply on their own intellect. This is a very prideful mindset. On the one hand, we have the Church, which was founded by Christ, is guided and protected by the Holy Spirit, and has 2,000 years of wisdom. And, on the other hand, there’s me. To think that I, with my limited experience and understanding, know better than the Church, is very arrogant.

The early Church gives us an example of humility to follow. They didn’t trust their own personal judgement but rather humbly turn to the Church for guidance. For many, this idea of intellectual humility can seem distasteful. We live in a society that rejects authority in all kinds of areas. People are more prone to believe a post on social media than experts. And, in the faith, people are more likely to trust their own judgement than the judgement of the Church. But faith calls for humility. Faith requires us to admit that we aren’t the absolute authority when it comes to the truth. We are called to imitate the example of the early Church. In their disagreement, they turned to the authority of Peter and the Apostles. Likewise, in our difficulties or disagreements, we should turn to the authority of the Church. This isn’t because the Pope or the Bishops are perfect. Peter and the Apostles aren’t perfect. But God promised that He would keep the Church from error. Official Church teaching will never lead us astray, because it is guaranteed by Christ Himself. My own thoughts can lead me astray; society and popular opinion can lead us astray; the latest fads and fashions can lead us astray. But the official teaching of the Church can never lead us astray, because it is safeguarded by the Holy Spirit, who guides us to all truth.

Again, this grates against us as Americans. It grates against our sense of independence and self-determination. But, here’s the thing. When we rely on our own opinion, there is constant uncertainty. What if I’m wrong? What if someone else is right? What if I made a mistake? When we have to be the authority on everything, we can never be completely at peace. But when we trust Christ and His Church, we can be at peace. Christ promises in the Gospel today, “My peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you.” There is a peace from knowing that we have the truth, guaranteed and protected by Christ and the Holy Spirit. There is peace in knowing that we have a firm foundation to stand upon, not the shifting sands of public opinion or our own weak understanding. When we have the humility to admit that we don’t know everything and to trust in the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we experience the peace that comes from Christ.

Fifth Sunday of Easter

“This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have a really good understanding of theology.” Wait, no, that’s what Jesus said. “This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you keep all the commandments perfectly.” No, not that either. “This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you share pictures of me on Facebook.” Pretty sure He didn’t say that one. “This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you tell people that they are sinners.” Definitely not that. What did Jesus say? “This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Love. Love is how we will be known as His disciples. But not just any kind of love. “As I have loved you,” Jesus says, “so you also should love one another.”

So how did Jesus love us? He loved us with a self-giving love. Jesus gave everything out of love for us. On the Cross, He gave Himself – His Body, His Blood, His very life – out of love for us. And He gave even more than that. On the Cross, Jesus emptied Himself of everything that He could possibly call His. He had no possessions; He was hung naked on the Cross while his garments were divided among the soldiers. He gave up His mother. As He looked down and saw Mary standing with the beloved disciple, He told her, “Behold, your son,” and He told the disciple, “Behold, your mother.” Mary was there to comfort her son with her presence, but in self-emptying love He gave her away. He even gave up, as much as He possibly could, His intimacy with His Heavenly Father, as He cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” On the Cross, Jesus completely emptied Himself of everything. There was literally nothing left that He could call His that He did not hand over out of love. The love of Christ is a self-giving, self-emptying love. It is a love that gives without counting the cost. That is the love that Jesus calls us to have for all people. Not a Hallmark Card love, but a love that gives of oneself completely, even when it hurts.

With all this talk about the Cross, it may feel like we’re back in Lent. It’s the Easter season. Christ is risen! But with the Resurrection comes a question. On the Cross, Jesus gave up everything: His Body and Blood, His Life, His mother, even His intimacy with the Father. But after the Resurrection, it seems like He has those things back. He is alive again. His Body, now glorified, is His again. His intimacy with the Father is returned, for He is seated at the Father’s right hand. While the Gospels do not recount any meeting between Jesus and His Mother after the Resurrection, we can assume that it happened. So does that mean Jesus took everything back? After giving up everything on the Cross out of love for us, does the Resurrection represent some sort of reversal on Jesus’s part?

No, because, while Jesus again has His life, His body and blood, His relationship with the Father, these things no longer belong to Him exclusively but rather they belong to the Church. His life is given to us in the Sacrament of Baptism. By grace, we are also made sons and daughters of God, sharing in the intimacy that Christ has with the Father. His Body and Blood are given to us in the Eucharist. Mary is now no longer just the Mother of Christ but the Mother of the whole Church. Everything that Jesus once had as His own is now ours through the Church. And Jesus continued to give us what is His, when after His Ascension He poured out the Holy Spirit on His disciples at Pentecost and on each of us through the Sacrament of Confirmation. In the Resurrection, Jesus did not take back what He gave. Rather, through the Resurrection, He is able to continue pouring out all that He has upon us through His Church. The Resurrection does not cancel Christ’s self-emptying but rather extends it eternally.

The Resurrection also safeguards our love. We are called to love like Christ. We are called to love all people with a self-giving, self-emptying love, a love that gives without holding back. But that scares us. And that little voice of temptation sneaks in and says, “Be careful, you don’t want to give too much. What if you give and then you have nothing left for yourself? If you empty yourself for others, you’ll be lacking.” Temptation tries to keep us from loving too much, from giving too much. Ultimately, this is a lack of trust. We don’t trust that, if we really give ourselves completely in love, if we hold nothing back, God will take care of us. We think, in our self-sufficiency, that we have to take care of ourselves, and so we hold back. We don’t love like Christ with a perfect, self-emptying love.

The Resurrection is the proof that, if we give ourselves completely in love, God will not leave us empty, but rather will fill is abundantly in ways that we cannot imagine. As Jesus says in the second reading today, “Behold, I make all things new.” If we allow ourselves to be poured out completely in love like Christ, He will make us new as well. If, on the other hand, we hold back, if we are self-reliant, then we will simply remain our old selves. Christ cannot make us new if we are too busy holding on to our old self.

Christ calls us to love like Him with a self-emptying love. This is hard. It grates against our pride and self-reliance. Paul and Barnabas say in the first reading, “It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.” The greatest of these hardships are not the external struggles but rather the internal struggle. It is hard to love like Christ. The temptation is to stay in a shallow love, a love that only gives partially, rather than to love like Christ. But remember what Jesus said, “As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” If our love is shallow, if we do not love like Christ, then we give false witness as His disciples. There is nothing more scandalous, nothing that does greater harm to the proclamation of the Gospel, than Christians who claim to follow Christ but do not love like Him. On the other hand, there is nothing that draws people to Christ more than the example of a Christian who truly loves like Christ. If we want to be His disciples, we must love one another like He does. Ask Christ, how is He calling to give of yourself in love? Where have you been holding back something for yourself rather than emptying yourself like Him? Ask Jesus for the grace to love like Him, in a self-giving, self-emptying love that embraces all people without counting the cost.

Fourth Sunday of Easter

When a priest is ordained, his hands are anointed with chrism. The anointing is a sign that he has been consecrated, body and soul, for the service of God and His Church. After this, he uses a cloth to wipe the chrism off his hands. This cloth is called a maniturgium, which is just a fancy Latin word for hand towel. There is a beautiful custom in the Church that this maniturgium is then presented by the newly ordained priest to his mother. She is buried with the maniturgium, so that, when she gets to the pearly gates and St. Peter asks her, “What did you do for my Church?” she can present it to him and say, “I gave you my son.” Today is Mother’s Day. It is also the World Day of Prayer for Vocations. There’s a beautiful overlap between these two celebrations. Priests and religious brothers and sisters don’t just fall out of the sky. We grow up in families and parishes like everyone else. Vocations don’t just appear; they have to be nurtured and supported. Parents, especially mothers, have an important role in nurturing vocations. For many priests and religious brothers and sisters, their mother was the first person who knew about their vocational discernment. Often, their mother had a sense that God was calling them to a special vocation even before they did.

We need more priests and religious. In less than 10 years, the Archdiocese of St. Louis will have at least 50 fewer priests than we do now. There will be numerous parishes in the diocese without a pastor, simply because there will not be enough priests to staff all of them. We see that already. Three nearby parishes – St. Robert Bellarmine, St. Francis in Portage de Sioux, and Immaculate Conception in West Alton – do not have a single priest. And the problem will continue to get worse. Similarly, many once-vibrant religious communities of brothers or sisters are on the verge of disappearing because of a lack of vocations. Many of you grew up in a time when every parish had religious sisters; now they are a rarity. We desperately need to pray for vocations. But we need more than prayer. We need to actively promote vocations.

All of us can promote vocations. We can promote vocations by talking to young men and women, especially your children and grandchildren, and encouraging them to consider the vocation to the priesthood or religious life. Here at Borromeo, we have started a vocations chalice program, as a way to encourage families to have that discussion with their children about considering a vocation. Too often, when people pray for vocations, what they really mean is, “God, please send more priests, but not my son, not my grandson. Please send more religious sisters, but not my daughter or granddaughter.” They want more priests and religious, but they don’t want their own family member to become a priest or religious.

I think many people are afraid of the idea of a priestly or religious vocation, either for themselves or for their family member, because all they see is the sacrifice and the challenges. And there are sacrifices and challenges. But look back at our first reading. The disciples are suffering violent abuse, jealousy, contradiction, persecution, and finally being exiled from the city. Clearly they faced challenges and sacrifices also. And yet, at the end of the reading, it states, “The disciples were filled with joy.” Where does that joy come from? Certainly not from their situation. Rather, their joy was from something much deeper. Pope Francis said that true joy is “born of our personal certainty that, when everything is said and done, we are infinitely loved.” Joy is from the certainty that, whatever happens, we are loved. That is the joy that the disciples had. They knew that they were infinitely loved by God. And so even when they were abused and persecuted, they had joy, God loved them.

This is true not just of the disciples, but of us as well. We are infinitely loved. As Jesus says in the Gospel, we are the sheep of His flock; He is our Good Shepherd, and no one can take us out of His hand. No matter what happens in our lives, no matter how hard things get, Jesus loves us and holds us in His hand. If we really appreciate the importance and the reality of that statement, we should be people of joy, just like the disciples were. Even in the hardships of life, we can have joy, because we know that we are loved.

And that’s the joy that exists in the priesthood and religious life. In spite of all of the sacrifices and challenges, I love being a priest. I don’t love being a priest because I love managing budgets, or overseeing the seemingly endless list of repairs needed to keep our buildings standing. As an aside, please use your capital improvement envelopes, because we have many expensive repairs that need to be done this year. No, I love being a priest because I get a front row seat to seeing the love of God working in people’s lives. In both the big, dramatic moments of people’s lives and in the ordinary, everyday moments, I get to be the instrument that God uses to tell His people how much He loves them. In the midst of whatever they are going through, I get to be the living, breathing sign to people of God’s love. That’s amazing. That makes all the other stuff worth it.

And that brings us back to promoting vocations. The call to the priesthood or religious life is a call to dedicate one’s life in a particular way to the service of God and His Church. But all of us are called to serve God. What is our attitude towards serving God and the Church in your life? If young people look at us and see that we treat serving God as a chore or a burden, why would they want to devote their lives to serving God? If we treat going to Mass as an inconvenience, if we avoid talking about God, if we do everything we can to avoid getting involved in serving the parish and the Church, are we really surprised that our young people don’t want to dedicate their lives to serving God and the Church? If, on the other hand, we serve God and the Church with joy, regardless of what our vocation is, we are providing the right foundation for our young people to discern whether God is calling them to a particular vocation of service as a priest or consecrated religious.

As we celebrate Mother’s Day, I want to make a special appeal to mothers. Pope Francis said that joy comes from knowing with certainty that we are loved. For most of us, long before we could understand the concept of God’s love, we knew that we were loved from our parents, and particularly from our mothers. Mothers have a special role in being images and sources of the love of God in their children’s lives. Mothers, do not be afraid to talk to your children and grandchildren about discerning a vocation to the priesthood and religious life. Pray for them daily, that they can know the vocation God has for them. And, above all, live your vocation joyfully. That is the best gift that you can give your children as they discern their vocation in life.

All of us are called to serve God with joy. That joy comes from knowing with certainty the infinite love of God, made perfectly manifest in Jesus, our Good Shepherd. Love leads to joy. Joy leads to service. May we grow each day in our appreciation of God’s great love for each of us, so that we can follow Him wherever He leads.