The Humble Pursuit of Truth

In Romans today, St. Paul tells us that whoever does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. Conversely, if we allow the Spirit to dwell in us, then we will have life. This Spirit is none other than the Holy Spirit. This raises an important question: how do we allow the Holy Spirit to dwell within us? St. Thomas Aquinas tells us that the Spirit of God dwells in us through our love. (Commentary on Romans, C. 8, L. 2, n. 626) Even though we received the Holy Spirit in Baptism and again in Confirmation, we drive the Holy Spirit out of ourselves when we sin. Venial sin damages and mortal sin destroys the relationship of love we have with God. The book of Wisdom tells us that God does not abide iniquity, sin, which logically means that our personal sin drives out the Spirit of God. (Wisdom 1:3, cf. Romans, C. 8, L. 2, n. 626)

Driving sin out of our lives is extremely challenging. It is a life-long endeavor, but it is not something we do alone. God assists us regularly with his grace, and He walks with us through this life. He has also left us with the holy Scriptures. Readings the Scriptures and meditating upon them can allow us to grow closer to God and can allow the fertile ground in our hearts to be readied for the Spirit of God to dwell. Christ teaches us in today’s Gospel that he reveals all these things to little ones. Why does he reveal them to little ones and not to mature adults? I can think of a number of answers to this question; however, the strongest answer, I think, is that children have not lost their sense of wonder about the world, nor have they lost their sense of openness to others. A child is not afraid to look up at the clouds and the stars and to see all sorts of shapes and plants and animals. A child, to the horror of many parents, is not afraid to go talk to someone they don’t know. A child trusts his or her parents, and, generally, anybody multiple feet taller than him or her. A child wants to learn everything and is always seeking out truth in adventures, in friends, and in stories. A child also recognizes that sometimes he or she is wrong. In other words: a child has humility. Zechariah, in today’s first reading, tells us that the Messiah will be humble as well: he will not ride into Jerusalem on a horse, but on a donkey.

These three traits of children, of wonder, openness or docility, and humility, are essential to growing in love. No matter how hard we try to hold on to these virtues, we struggle to maintain them as we age. When was the last time you just looked up at the clouds or stared at the stars? When was the last time you admitted—to yourself—that you might not be the most knowledgeable person about any given thing? When was the last time you allowed yourself to be taught? When was the last time you admitted you were wrong?

Not counting the question about looking at the sky, none of these are “fun” things to do. As hard as the questions themselves are to stomach, it gets worse when I recognize that the answer is, to every single one of them, “it has been longer than it should have been.” We live in a society that proclaims that truth is whatever we make it. This relativism, which started in the realm of morality, has infected every area of our society. If we don’t like a truth, if it makes us feel uncomfortable, society teaches us that it is OK to decide that it is not true for us. Society tells us that this is good. Society tells us that we should be comfortable and that we should never have to experience the trauma of being wrong.

Society is wrong.

There is truth, and it is universal. If something is true, that will not change. If you jump up, you will come down. This is a truth. Just as gravity doesn’t change based on our feelings and what we want it to do, neither do the observable properties of the universe, such as the behavior of air molecules, non-living RNA and water droplets, etc. A newly conceived child is a human being made in the image and likeness of God and therefore has a right to life no matter how we feel about the circumstances in which that child was conceived. No matter what our feelings are about something, no matter what our favorite political leaders tell us, truth does not change, because truth is grounded in God, and God does not change. This has been the teaching of the Church throughout all of time, and has been reiterated over and over again, for example, in the Second Vatican Council Document Dignitatis humanae (Of the Dignity of the Human Person), then again in  St. Pope John Paul II’s encyclical Veritatis splendor (The Splendor of Truth), and again by the saint in Fides et ratio (Faith and Reason). Fides et ratio specifically discusses how, as Catholics, we are not only able to, but must use our reason in conjunction with our faith, because our reason is a gift from God. The Catholic Church, despite what some people may say, has always believe that science is a good thing. Through science we learn about creation. When we learn about creation, we learn about its creator, that is, God.

After informing myself on matters like this, I know more about creation than before. I have learned more about the truth. As Catholics, we must take one further step after learning the truth: We must allow the truth to inform our actions. As a result of my study and research this week, I am wearing my mask more. This is neither a mistake, nor is it a fluke. It is intentional. This is not due to government mandating that I wear a mask; however, Christians are, in most cases, bound to follow civil authority. 1 I am wearing my mask more, because I have come to the knowledge that it is the right thing to do. After informing myself with information from sources that make it their business to know these things, doctors and physicists and chemists, I see that the evidence is fairly clear that they help. I didn’t think wearing a mask was important, but I was wrong. Masks are effective, especially when combined with social distancing, at preventing others from catching disease from me. While the research shows that a mask does not protect me, it does protect those around me, that is: the mask protects my neighbor. Is it perfect? No. But it is significantly and scientifically proven to be better than nothing.

I don’t do this (wearing a mask) because I want to: Honestly, I don’t. But what I want and what I feel… it doesn’t matter. God demands that I love my neighbor as myself, always. This is truth, and like the truth, this demand will never change. If I don’t love my neighbor, I cannot love God, because it means my love is messed up. If my love is messed up and I can’t love God, then I am not allowing the Holy Spirit to live in me. God asks us, on a regular basis, to do things we don’t want to do for the good of ourselves and the good of others. This is, in fact, the essence of Christian love: to sacrifice for the sake of my neighbor. This is something every married couple knows: “I don’t always get my way, because I love my spouse.” As a priest, I see the situation a little differently. Daily, priests pray about sacrifice and remember what Jesus did to save us. The crucifixion is simply a part of priestly spirituality. Jesus was tortured, beaten, and crucified for us. It wasn’t fun or enjoyable. I can’t imagine that he really wanted to do it (at least, on the part of his human nature). Most importantly, Jesus did not need to die for himself. He suffered and died purely because he loves us, his neighbor, so that he could eradicate and conquer the most primordial contagion known to plague humanity: sin.

Brothers and sisters, let us always seek the truth with openness and humility, like children do. Let us allow the truth to inform our actions so that we can truly love our neighbor, and in doing so, open our hearts to the life-giving Spirit of God.

Today’s Readings:
July 5, 2020
14th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A
Zechariah 9:9-10; Psalm 145:1-2, 8-9, 10-11, 13-14; Romans 8:9, 11-13; Matthew 11:25-30

The limits of human comprehension

Note: Sorry this didn’t come out earlier. I just started my new assignment and have been very busy!

If you ever meet someone who says that they understand the Trinity, that person is either lying or his name is Jesus and the second coming just happened. Alongside the Eucharist, how Jesus is both God and Man, what the Church actually is, and a few other things, the Trinity is one of the mysteries of our faith. We’ll never fully understand these things on earth, and even in Heaven we’ll be pondering them for eternity, but while we’re here, we can try and make at least a little sense of this whole Trinity thing.

How anything can be both one and three at the same time is baffling. Many analogies have been made over the last 2,000 to explain the Trinity, but none really work. All we are left with to describe the Trinity is words: words which can sometimes be very abstract, very confusing, and, frankly, very boring. I’ll keep this part as brief and simple as I can, but I think that is very important to try to understand a little bit about our God. He is, after all, who we come to visit when we come to Mass on Sundays. He is the one we receive in the Eucharist. We try to get to know our spouses and our friends, understanding that we never will know them fully, often through words. Why should we try to learn about God any differently? OK. Buckle up.

Shield of the Trinity, a visual representation derived from the Athanasian Creed.
Shield of the Trinity

The Trinity is God. Specifically, the Trinity refers to the fact that God is both one and three: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. That doesn’t mean we have three gods. The three persons—Father, Son, and Spirit—are not different things. They are one Trinity of Divine persons. The Father, the Son, and the Spirit are, together, one God. But at the same time, they are each distinct. The Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God, but the Father is not the Son, the Son is not the Spirit, and the Spirit is not the Father.

If your brain is hurting, that’s a good thing. So is mine. That means that your beginning to grasp how mysterious God is to us. It is strange and confusing. It doesn’t make sense to us. Only God will ever truly understand what it means to be the Trinity. For us, it is important to know that God is the Trinity. Even more importantly, we must know that this Triune God loves us. God loves us more than we could imagine. God created us. After we fell the Father sent his only-begotten Son to us; so, God became one of us and to suffer and die for us. The Spirit was breathed into the world and into our hearts at Pentecost; so, that God could remain with us every moment of our lives. With all of himself, our Triune God loves us from before we are created by our parents and through all eternity. Even when we turn away from God, and deny Him, and cause him anguish because we sin against Him, he continues to love us.

Paul tells us that we must boast of this glorious God we have. No other religion makes such audacious claims as ours! Who else believes in a God willing to suffer and die for our love? Who else has a God who calls them to such perfection, yet offers such great mercy when we fall? Who else has a God who promises—and yes, as Catholics we believe what I’m about to say—that when we die we will become like him? St. Thomas Aquinas wrote that “the true bliss of man and end of human life” is to fully participate in the very life of God. 1 St. Athanasius said it very clearly: “the Son of God became man so that we might become God.” 2

This is a glorious promise that God has given us! We can start living this way now, by emulating God in our daily lives. We do this by following the commandments, the teachings of Jesus in scripture, and the teaching of the Spirit through God’s Church. This is hard work. It will bring us suffering and affliction in this life. But God suffered through many afflictions for us, and he did it as one of us. Paul teaches us that these afflictions teach us endurance. Endurance proves our character. This character teaches us to hope in God, and this hope does not disappoint, because through this hope God pours love into our hearts and transforms us to be like him right now, in this very place, today.

Today’s Readings
June 16, 2019
The Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity
Proverbs 8:22-31; Psalm 8; Romans 5:1-5; John 16:12-15