Sunday, May 26, 2013

The Gift of God

Sunday: May 26, 2013 –– Feast of the Most Holy Trinity
Proverbs 8:22–31 / Romans 5:1–5 / John 16:12–15
The Gift of God

Today is the one-year anniversary of my diaconate ordination. I had no idea fifteen years ago, when I recognized the need for more intimacy with God and then began to pray “Do with me what you will”, that I was embarking on a journey that would lead me to where I am today.

It is right, on the Feast of the Most Holy Trinity, to remember that we are pondering a mystery that cannot fit in our minds. God wants us to know him, and he gives himself to us as we open ourselves –– that’s the nature of love –– but we will never have God “figured out”.  All of life is to be a quest to know God more and more.

Who is God? God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit –– one God. Yet St Columban said, “If anyone wants to know what he should believe, let him not think that he will understand.... by words and arguments, but by perfect and right action.... by faith, which proceeds from purity and simplicity of heart.”  As I discovered, when we have open hearts we have no idea what God will do.

In last week’s homily, Monsignor noted that it’s easier for us to grasp the gifts of the Father and the gifts of the Son than the gifts of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is, among other things, the agent of the Sacraments. Sacraments are graces –– gifts –– that God has chosen to give us through the Church. In establishing the Church, God is telling us that we cannot be good enough by ourselves, nor truly spiritual. There is a popular sentiment that says, “I am spiritual but I’m not religious –– I don’t need a church.” Catholic Faith teaches that this is not true. By ourselves we are not smart enough to be sure of who God is, and by ourselves we are not strong enough to be truly good. We need help. The Sacraments are a tangible way that God has chosen to help us. This means the Holy Spirit is a gift generating from the Father and Son to help us in our quest of goodness and true spirituality –– in other words, grace for salvation and eternal life.

In this “rookie” year of my diaconate I’ve had a number of firsts. One was Confirmation. Monsignor and I met with each of the Confirmands, and I was faced with trying to make this particular gift of the Spirit meaningful to the young people who met with me. It was as daunting as trying to explain the Trinity (and rightly so, because Catholic Truth is seamless!)  So I used “gift” as key way to understand “grace”.  A true gift does not cost the recipient anything, but it does cost the giver. When God gives us a gift, we need to remember that Jesus paid for it with his life. He died on the cross in order to give us gifts of grace. What effect does a gift have on a person?  Well, it depends on what one does with it. Knowledge of God and his indwelling presence is a gift –– and what that means depends on what we choose to do with it.

When I was a child there was a TV program called The Millionaire, and each episode was about a person who was chosen by a very wealthy man to receive the anonymous gift of $1,000,000.  I presented the Confirmation kids with this scenario:  What if, when they came to be interviewed, I give them a check for $1,000,000?! In this fanciful situation a person can either think the whole thing is bogus –– the deacon is far too poor (which is the real truth!) or just crazy –– and not cash the check, or a person can cash the check, receive the gift and use it.

This is, I think, a great way to understand Confirmation (and all the gifts of the Spirit). When the Bishop extends his hands in blessing and, acting on behalf of Jesus Christ and his Church, gives the Sacrament of Confirmation, a great gift is given. This is the grace of our Lord extended through the corporate life of the tangible Body of Christ on earth. The personal issue then comes into focus: What will you do with this gift?  A person can treat Confirmation (and all the gifts) like a magnanimous check that is dismissed and left un-cashed. The gift has been given, but it is not being used.  Or, a person can “use” his Confirmation for both his good and the glory of God.

How does one know God? How does one “use” the gifts of the Spirit?  It starts with faith –– an attitude that chooses to act on the belief that something is real and worthwhile.  It can be a recognition that we cannot live unto God all by ourselves; we cannot make judgments according to our own understanding. When we choose to admit we need the care of our Father in heaven and we need to listen to Jesus through his Church, then we are “using” the gifts of the Spirit. When we embrace a humble attitude that remembers we are not strong enough to do right things by ourselves, we are “using” the gifts of the Spirit. When we ask God to help us choose right over wrong, and to choose the true good over lesser goods that are simply easier and more popular, we are “using” the gifts of the Spirit.

Every day we each have countless decisions to make. Some are small and seem relatively inconsequential; some are huge and we know our choice will affect us in a big way.  We will face such decisions as long as we live.  The issue of faith is this: will I believe that God has revealed himself as Father, Son and Holy Spirit? Will I open myself to the gifts he has given through the Church: the grace and power of the Holy Spirit bought by the shed blood of Jesus Christ?  Will I dare to live beyond myself and choose that which is right and good?  That is one way we know we are using the gifts we’ve been given, and learning to live in the life of the Most Holy Trinity.

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