May 27, 2018
Christ the King Catholic Church
Deuteronomy 4:32-34, 39-40
Psalm 33:4-5, 6, 9, 18-19, 20, 22
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
In his collection of works on the Holy Trinity, the theologian Joseph Ratzinger relays a story told by Martin Buber about the visit of a young man to an old and learned rabbi. The young man very much wanted a deeper knowledge of the ultimate meaning and purpose of life. The visit would require that the young man make a long journey to meet with the rabbi and he would have to be away from his home and the family business for some time to make the journey. The young man’s father-in-law was very much against him making this journey because it appeared to be a frivolous reason to leave his family and business behind. Yet, the young man persisted and set out on the journey. He met with the rabbi and after six weeks returned home.
Upon his return home, his father-in-law was filled with resentment and disdain for what he took to be the young man’s silliness. He spoke to his son-in-law, “Well, what did you learn from the rabbi?” The young man responded, “I have learned that there is a Creator of the world.” The father-in-law was further infuriated and scornful, so he called into the room his 7-year-old grandson and asked him, “Are you aware that there is a Creator of the world?” The little boy replied, “Yes.” The old man coldly glared at his son-in-law with resentment and contempt. The son-in-law exclaimed, “Yes, everyone says that. But do they also learn it?”
On this Holy Trinity Sunday and in this Eucharistic celebration of the first solemn Mass of Father Wade Bass, we consider how God teaches us as Christians that as the Holy Trinity, God is the Creator, the Redeemer, and the Sanctifier of the world. We consider how it is the vocation and ministry of a priest—of Father Wade Bass in particular—to learn, to proclaim and to teach this mystery; and we give God thanks for all of it.
Father Bass has already begun to teach us. He did so when at the beginning of this Eucharist he invoked the name of the Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit accompanied by the Sign of the Cross. We hear this invocation so frequently and we recite it without thinking, that it can become redundant and not simply repetitious.
|Bishop Michael F. Olson with Fr. Wade Bass|
There is a distinction to be made between redundancy and repetition. Redundancy in the spiritual life is akin to a popular definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over again, with the intention of manipulating a different result each time that one does the same thing.
On the contrary, repetition in the Catholic spiritual life develops our incorporation into the mystery of the Triune God, freely offered and fully revealed in Jesus Christ. Repetition fosters the formation of our character with every full human virtue exemplified in Jesus Christ.
For us priests, repetition fosters our full configuration with Jesus Christ, Head and Shepherd of His Church. Redundancy has to do with vicious circularity (doing the same thing again and again without making progress or accomplishing anything except narcissistic absorption). Repetition has to do with the spiral: there is always forward growth and momentum in a spiral even as it circles again and again over similar words, patterns, ideas and themes. Redundancy enslaves us; repetition liberates us for love.
The bitter fruits of redundancy are isolation, complacency and entitlement; the sweet fruits of repetition are gratitude, humility and joy. Redundancy in the spiritual life of a priest leads him to functional minimalism; repetition in the spiritual life of a priest leads him into deeper waters of conversion and configuration with the life of Jesus Christ, Head and Shepherd of the Church—Who offered His entire life freely and obediently to His Father and in loving sacrifice for the life of His sheep—and He calls us, His priests, to do the same.
What is at the heart of this redundancy? Is it atheism, the smug and arrogant refusal to believe that God exists? No. At the heart of this redundancy is a much older and stale malady, that is, idolatry—the worship of false gods. The real pastoral challenge that the Church faces today and against which priests must courageously battle is not so much the pretense of atheism. Rather, it is the seduction of idolatry.
Idolatry occurs when we lose sight of the cross in our lives; when we refuse to love and to sacrifice ourselves for others. Idolatry results when we refuse to enter into the mystery of the Holy Trinity into which we were baptized and for which we as priests were ordained. Idolatry is when we make ultimate gods of ourselves and of our own preferences and drives; it is when we prefer redundant manipulation and control over selfless love and sacrifice. We forge these egoisms into many different totems, the most pernicious of which is the false god of our autonomy—the most dominant idol in our contemporary pantheon.
It is the Sign of the Cross and the confident invocation of the Trinity that saves us from idolatry. Every time we make the Sign of the Cross we invoke the Holy Trinity. In particular, for priests, every sacrament administered begins simultaneously with the Sign of the Cross and the invocation of the Trinity and then ends simultaneously with the Sign of the Cross and the blessing by the Trinity.
Our entrance into the loving communion of the Trinity is through the sacrifice and cross of Jesus Christ—be clear that there is no other entry into this mystery of love except the cross; it is our only hope for salvation. The cross of Jesus unites perfectly divine love and human love in one action. The divine love is that of the Holy Trinity—a relationship among the persons that does not dissolve or enmesh into each other. It is also the communion of the loving human obedience of the Son to the Father transparently manifested by the Holy Spirit.
It's our entrance because it is simultaneously human and divine—in the cross of Jesus humanity and divinity meet perfectly without the tinny alloy of manipulation or domination. That is why the priest begins the Mass as he does both simultaneously in the name of the Trinity and with the Sign of the Cross. We learn the lesson that God is the Creator of the world through the cross. We learn the lesson that God is the Redeemer and the Savior of the world through the cross. We learn the lesson that God sanctifies the world through the cross. The cross is made present through the unbloody sacrifice offered by the priest in the offering of the Mass. We know that without a priest there is no Mass; without the Mass there is no cross; without the cross there is no hope.
The priest's vocation then is to guide and to shepherd the people of God through teaching this lesson by his entire life as he is configured to Christ at his ordination. The priest especially must be on guard against the seductions of idolatry that reduce his vocation as a shepherd to either a casual employment as a hired hand or even worse to degeneration into a rapacious wolf.
This caution requires humble transparency on the part of the priest. It is a transparency only offered by the grace of the Holy Spirit who points always to Jesus Christ and to the Father and not to Himself. Without the guidance of the Holy Spirit such transparency becomes lacking in a priest and is soon replaced by a Gnostic secrecy of entitlement or the blackmail of the devil.
The devil employs seductions against us as priests that distract us from our own entrance into the mystery of the Trinity—that is the entrance that is the acceptance of our particular share in the cross and the willingness to sacrifice our lives for the sake of Christ's people. These seductions are legion. They can be as inebriating as alcohol; they can be as stultifying as our excessive attention to hobbies; they can be as aggressive as greed or as alluring as lust. Nevertheless, make no mistake about it; they take us away from the communion of the Holy Trinity and the love of the cross and they isolate us from God and from each other. The only defense against this is our share in the cross.
The degree to which the priest is available to the people and loves them as Christ loves them in the sacrifice of the cross; is the measure of fidelity and fulfillment in a priest's life and ministry. Without the cross, a priest's identity is confused by the totems of entitlement instead of the selfless love and communion of the Holy Trinity. When the cross is absent the priest then only says that the Triune God is the Creator, the Redeemer, and Sanctifier of the World—but he doesn't learn it or worse—he ignores or forgets it and becomes unable and unwilling to teach it.
It’s important to note that in today’s reading from Matthew’s Gospel the disciples are specifically entrusted with teaching all the nations to keep everything that Jesus has commanded them to keep and to baptize the nations in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. This is a different commissioning than the commissioning that they received earlier in Matthew’s Gospel. The commissioning recorded in today’s Gospel reading involves the Holy Trinity and only is offered after the disciples have entered into the mystery of Christ’s death and resurrection. The Gospel of the Holy Trinity can only be proclaimed and taught in tandem with the cross and resurrection—which is unconditional love.
Matthew’s Gospel begins with the angel’s proclamation to St. Joseph in his dream that the birth of Jesus will bring “Emmanuel”—God is with us. Matthew’s Gospel ends with the promise of Jesus that He is with us until the end of the world. The life of a priest is meant to begin and end with this covenantal mission of “God with us”—His priests and His Church. The mission is to serve and not to be served.
The beauty of the priest’s life and ministry is that they are imbued by a Trinitarian character. The priest imparts the Holy Spirit in administering the sacrament of Baptism; the priest governs and shepherds a parish with the life-giving generosity of the Father; and because a priest is configured to the Son at his ordination, he is invited into the intimacy of the Son’s sacrificial prayer of consecration spoken to the Father at the Last Supper, when the priest at Mass speaks Christ’s words in Christ’s person but with the voice of his own first person—“This is my body, this is my blood.”
Father Wade Bass, yesterday, Christ gave you a particular and special share in His Sonship as He has done generously with every priest whom He has called since He first called His Apostles and entrusted them with the mission of His Church. In so doing, as a priest you received from Christ the participation of intimacy between Jesus and His Father, with Whom He has first conversed in choosing to call you by name to follow Him as His priest. With a special grace, you address in persona Christi, “Abba Father”—as we read today in the letter to the Romans.
Yesterday was a beginning for you in learning that God is the Creator, the Redeemer, and Sanctifier of the world. It is a beginning in Christ who is not just ALPHA but is also OMEGA. We pray that you and each of us priests will end as you begin—with Christ. We pray that He will be with you, and through your priestly ministry be with us until the end of the world. We pray for this in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.