Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Holy Trinity Sunday!

I love these weeks of early summer, when the weather is fine and warm—even hot—and we come to a climactic end to a liturgical cycle that began with Advent in December of last year.  In the past six months or so, we’ve walked through the life of Christ, beginning with anticipation for him based on the great prophets of Israel (esp. Isaiah), celebrating his birth, pondering his holy childhood, witnessing his baptism and early ministry, observed the growing opposition to his message, sorrowed over his rejection, persecution, and death.   Then we gloried in his resurrection, meditated on his teaching about the Holy Spirit, and rejoiced in the outpouring of that Spirit last Sunday.  Now, before the Church Year returns to Sundays marked only by their number in Ordinary Time, we celebrate three more Solemnities that memorialize central points of our faith: The Trinity, The Eucharist (Corpus Christi), and Divine Mercy (Sacred Heart).

This coming Sunday is the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity.  While the Trinity might evoke a “Ho-hum, don’t we know that already …” response from many Catholics, the doctrine of the Trinity is essential to—and distinctive of—the Christian faith, and is vital to our daily prayer and walk with God.  The doctrine of the Trinity touches on who God is; if one has this doctrine wrong, one has the wrong idea of God and may in fact be worshiping a god who does not exist.
The Trinity is by no means a dead theological issue, either.  Most obviously, Jews and Muslims protest this doctrine, which they believe destroys the unity of God.  For them, God is monopersonal.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

The Outpouring of the Spirit: Pentecost (rev., w/ Gospel for Year B)


I recommend glancing through my post on the Readings for the Vigil before looking at the Readings for Pentecost, because both the lectionary readings and the posts build on each other.  

The First Reading for Pentecost Sunday is (finally!) the account of Pentecost itself, from Acts 2:1-11:

Gathering the Human Family: The Readings for the Vigil of Pentecost

Pentecost is a very important feast in the liturgical life of the Church, and it has it’s own vigil.  Not only so, but the Readings for the Vigil are particularly rich.  I cannot think of another that has such a wide variety of options, for example, for the First Reading.  Even though only one First Reading will be proclaimed in any given Mass, it is well worth pondering them all, in order to come to understand the significance of Pentecost more deeply:

The First Reading Options for the Vigil:

Thursday, May 14, 2015

You Shall Be a Royal Priesthood: 7th Sun. of Easter

Those of you fortunate enough to live in a diocese where the Ascension is observed on its proper Thursday will be able to hear proclaimed this Sunday the proper Readings for the Seventh Sunday of Easter.  Pre-empting this Sunday by the Solemnity of the Ascension is a bit unfortunate, because it damages the pattern of the Lectionary.  During the later Sundays of Easter, we read from the Last Supper Discourse (John 13-17), culminating in the Seventh Sunday, on which we read the grande finale of the Last Supper Discourse, namely the High Priestly Prayer (John 17).  Ironically, although John 17 is important enough that it is read on the final Sunday of Easter in all years (A,B,C), due to the transference of Ascension Day, this remarkable and beautiful chapter—the longest prayer of Jesus recorded in Scripture!—is never read at a Sunday Mass.  A passage that the framers of the Lectionary wished the faithful to hear every year is thus never heard.  Hopefully some kind of adjustment will be made in the future. 

Be that as it may, the Readings for the Seventh Sunday of Easter are very rich, including themes of kingship and priesthood for the Apostles, and by extension for all Christians.  At Mt. Sinai, God promised Israel that, if they were faithful to the covenant, “you shall be to me a royal priesthood” (or, “kingdom of preists,” the Hebrew is ambiguous).  But due to the Golden Calf and other violations, this promise was not fulfilled.  St. Peter proclaimed it fulfilled in the Church: “you are a royal priesthood,” (1 Peter 2:9).  In a very special way, this was fulfilled in the Apostles.  In today’s Readings, we see both the royal and priestly aspect of the Apostolic role. 

1. Our First Reading is Acts 1:15-17, 20a, 20c-26:

The Kingdom of God: Readings for Ascension Day

In the Diocese of Steubenville, as well as in most of the USA, Ascension Day is observed this Sunday.  I wish the traditional observance on Thursday of the Sixth Week of Easter was retained, but reality is what it is.

Therefore, this weekend we will look at the powerful readings for Ascension Day. 

This is an unusual Lord’s Day, in which the “action” of the Feast Day actually takes place in the First Reading.  We typically think of all the narratives of Jesus’ life as recorded in the Gospels, overlooking that Acts records at least two important narratives about the activity of the Resurrected Lord (Acts 1:1-11; also 9:1-8).

Friday, May 08, 2015

All We Need is Love: Readings for the Sixth Sunday of Easter

In 1967 the Beatles wrote and performed a song for one of the first world-wide TV broadcasts called, “All You Need is Love.”  It became a classic and as late as the 1980’s I can remember working on the trombone line of an adaptation of it for my high school band.  It’s one of a number of Beatles songs where they stumbled on something true out of their Christian heritage, without understanding the full implications.  In fact, they actively distorted the real implications of love by overly-eroticizing the concept.

Be that as it may, “All You Need is Love” could serve as the theme for this Sunday’s readings, but as we will see, the Readings define “love” in a far more demanding way than the Beatles would have. 

1.  The first reading is the descent of the Holy Spirit on the Roman centurion, Cornelius, sometimes called the "Gentile Pentecost" of the Book of Acts:

Monday, May 04, 2015

The War Among Us: New Documentary on the Chaldean Catholic experience of Islam, from the Baath Party to the Islamic State

It was one of the great joys of my time at JP Catholic to attend the ordination ceremony of now Fr. Ankido Sipo and Fr. Simon Esshaki (pictured in front row). Fathers Sipo and Esshaki have received their theological formation at JP Catholic through the Chaldean Seminary of Mar Abba the Great here in San Diego.

For those of you who may not be familiar with the Chaldean Rite, it is one of the various eastern rites of the Catholic Church, one that traces its origins to very early in Church history.

Due to the instability in the region, Bishop Sarhad Jammo of the Catholic Chaldean Diocese of St. Peter the Apostle (located here in San Diego) opened the first Chaldean Seminary outside of Iraq six years ago (Mar Abba the Great); Fr. Sipo and Fr. Esshaki are the first seminarians to be ordained, and two of their classmates are about to be ordained priests this August (Deacons David Stephen and Royal Hannosh).

The ordination of these four excellent young men is particularly significant considering the current situation of the Chaldean people, for as many of you may know, many Chaldean Catholics living in northern Iraq have been either forced out of the region or killed by the members of the Islamic State. In fact, the Arabic "N" (for "Nazarene") that has now become a symbol for Christian solidarity in persecution, is the symbol that was placed on many Chaldean doors by the Islamic State.

While this story did garner some media attention at times last year, the life and faith of Chaldeans remains largely unknown not only to the wider world, but even to other Christians. It is my hope that this will soon change, both through the priestly work of our students noted above and through a new documentary being produced here at JP Catholic entitled "The War Among Us."

This documentary originally emerged out of my philosophy of God class last winter, during which I encouraged media students to consider developing either documentaries or movie scripts that demonstrate the role that both philosophy and theology play in our contemporary world.

Along these lines, I showed the class a documentary produced by Vice News on the Islamic State, and this documentary inspired one of our finest media students, Lisa Spehar, to develop a documentary about the Chaldeans' relationship to Islam, and in particular, their experience of the rise of the Islamic State.

While the documentary has yet to be produced, it is now in "launch" phase, which includes a five minute trailer, produced for the purpose of raising funds for production.

Here is the website for the documentary:

In the trailer, the four Chaldeans who are being interviewed are Frs. Sipo and Esshaki, and as well as Deacons Stephen and Hannosh, along with background music taken from the Chaldean liturgy as sung by one of our students, Olivia Nelson.

Please take a look, and if possible, give to the project, it is a story that needs to be told.