Affliction Makes For Hope
Ellen, aged eighty years and more lay in the hospital bed, her movement painfully constricted by a brace meant to help her broken hip. In those hours of strain, however, she was thinking less of herself than her stepson, Leo, whom she had raised from boyhood. A Catholic man of sixty, he had recently got divorced and entered a civil marriage. Ellen knew that she was living on borrowed time, but if Leo could only be reconciled to the Church, she would die happy.
This was her anxious prayer, but her petitions and sacrifices had not yet brought about his change of heart. But one day, she took her priest into her confidence. Something encouraging had happened. Now, Ellen was no “visionary” but a practical and able mother and housewife. Nevertheless, she had lately had a dream, she told him, that had deeply consoled her.
“I dreamt I was lying here,” she said, “when suddenly the door opened and a little boy came in and stood beside me. He had rings of golden hair and was so beautiful I couldn’t resist him. So I leaned over and took him up on the bed and hugged him. As I did so, he said one word: `Hope!’ Then the dream ended.”
After that heartening experience, Ellen renewed the vigor of her prayers. When she died a few years later at the age of 89, Leo had not yet come around. But she had passed away confident. Not long after her death, her stepson did return to the sacraments.
This true story fits in well with the second reading of today’s Mass for Trinity Sunday. Here St. Paul reminds us that “affliction makes for endurance and endurance for tested virtue and tested virtue for hope.” The peace of heart that makes us always hopeful is the special loving gift, not of the Holy Spirit alone but of the whole Blessed Trinity. In giving us hope, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit still require patience, but they forbid despair.
-Father Robert F. McNamara
Q426: I have heard that Catholics were called “pagans” and “heretics” at one time. Do today’s readings shed any light on this?
Early Catholics were surrounded by heathen nations in the Roman Empire who neither knew nor believed in the Trinitarian God that these Christians proclaimed. Since Catholics refused to participate in emperor-worship and in the worship of statues to the heathen gods (“heathen” means neither Christian nor Jew), they were seen as Outsiders (read “pagans”) and a “threat” to the established norm of societal behavior (read “heretics”). This led to severe persecution by the heathen authorities against the early Christians.
Even the Jewish leaders at that time viewed Christians to be heretics. They thought that these Christians believed in “three” Gods, not the one God of monotheistic Judaism. The same held true with the religion of Islam, started centuries later by Mohammed (in the early 7th century).
It took centuries for the precise language of our Creed to appear in dogmatic form (Councils of Nicea, Ephesus, and Constantinople). The early bishop-theologians had to create a “new technical language” to deal with this awesome “mystery” of the Holy Trinity. Our readings today contributed to the early development of our still-limited understanding. St. John seems to stress the relationship between the Son and the Father, throughout his gospel. At one point he even says that “the Father and I are One” – but doesn’t offer us guidance in what that means. In fact, in today’s gospel (John 16:12-15) Jesus tells the apostles (and us) that we couldn’t handle the truth all at once! So the Holy Spirit will gently unfold these divine mysteries to us in ways that bring us always closer to the Reality that one day we will know in heaven.
KNOW YOUR CATECHISM! The Father sends the Spirit of Truth, in answer to Jesus’ prayer. This Spirit will teach us everything and lead us into the truth (CCC #729). Pray to the Holy Spirit for the gifts of Wisdom and a Discerning heart, to enable you to use his gifts wisely.
Q582: Please explain the Holy Trinity to me (John 16:12-15).
If there is ever a time when even the most brilliant genius, the most saintly pope, or the most intelligent professor must stop and humble him or herself, it is when he or she is confronted with the Mystery of the Most Holy Trinity! We just cannot get our arms around this wonderful concept that one equals three, and three equals one – symbols we use in our weak human attempts to try to describe this lovely Mystery. We do know from God’s self-revelation that there are three Divine Persons, even though they are somehow still only one. We do know that it is all about a divine love relationship in which we are called to participate.
That is what is so wonderful about the concept of Mystery. We are forced to use symbols and metaphors, words to signify or describe something beyond our human experience – something we can’t really describe at all! For example, think of the first time we really and truly fell in love with our life mate, and the way the love between us developed over time. There is that wonderful, mysterious, initial magnetic attraction. We really don’t know precisely what triggered the appeal of this particular person as the one and only person with whom we want to spend an entire lifetime. But it happened, and we spend the rest of our lives growing in our love for and devotion to that spouse.
Our faith, our unquestioning belief in the Most Holy Trinity is like that. Because of our faith in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, we believe that he is the Messiah, the only Son of God. This Son told us that he was sent by the Father; he also told us that after his Ascension he would send us another advocate, the Holy Spirit. Wherever one Divine Person is, all three Persons abide. Thus if the Holy Spirit dwells within us, the entire Holy Trinity is present. It is truly Mystery – and that is why no one can really “explain” it fully to you; it is a faith-belief.
KNOW YOUR CATECHISM! Jesus announced at the Last Supper that he would send us another Paraclete or Advocate, the Holy Spirit. He now lives with and in us, to teach and guide us into all truth. He is revealed as the Third Person in the Holy Trinity (CCC #243).
In His Own Image He Created Them
Men and women most clearly show their humanity when they are true images, reflections of the God who made them — the God of relationships, the God who reveals himself as the diverse and living reality of community. This is a great mystery that demands more in imitation than in understanding. There is an icon that portrays the Trinity. It is based on the Genesis story of God visiting Abraham and Sarah in the form of three angels. The icon shows three Angels sitting around a square table looking out at the viewer. In the center of the table is a large cup of wine. There is a fourth seat which is empty. It seems to invite us to sit there and join in the communion of the Three, to taste and see the fullness of the Lord, the God who creates us, who frees us, and guides us through life. When we were baptized in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, we were welcomed into that community of the Sacred Trinity as well as into a diverse human community, and we were commissioned to carry to others the invitation to share in this relationship.
Let us give praise to the Father who created us in his image, to the Son who brought us to new life, and to the Spirit who abides with us and fills us with his gifts.