This column also appears in the June 13 edition of the Catholic Star Herald.
With our celebration of Pentecost last weekend, the Church kicked off an incredible four-week run of special Sundays. Here are a few reflections on each of the Feasts.
During a summer vacation when I was about 12, my distinctly monolingual family accidentally ended up at a Mass in Spanish. (The local worship schedule provided by our hotel was not very detailed.) Even though I didn’t understand any of the words, I remember getting a kick out of the fact that I could tell exactly where we were in the liturgy as it moved along. The rhythms and rituals were familiar.
It was my first experience of what the word “Catholic” means: universal. Even though we speak different languages and have varying traditions, our faith unites us into one family across the world. On Pentecost, we celebrate how the Holy Spirit incorporated the first believers into a single church. Luke, the author of the Acts of the Apostles, reports that Jews who were in Jerusalem from every nation heard the disciples speaking in their own language after the Spirit descended. Differences melted away. The Spirit continues to inspire unity today, urging us to resist our human tendency to build barriers that divide people based on race, ethnicity, class, or ability.
Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity
One of my grad school housemates lived 1000 miles from his fiancée throughout the two-year program. Finally, after the arduous, lengthy separation, they got married right before graduation, with our whole 17-person cohort in attendance. The liturgy was beautiful and the reception cathartic. My favorite memory from the party was a traditional Mexican dancing game called “the sea snake,” in which the bride and groom stood on chairs opposite each other and formed an arch with their arms. Guests linked up and danced round and round the room, passing repeatedly through the arch. I have rarely laughed so hard from pure joy. We were rejoicing in sacramental love a long time coming with the exuberance it required.
On the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity, we celebrate our belief that God is loving communion among Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We can never perfectly imitate that love on Earth, but whenever we participate in loving relationships, the triune God is at work. Rarely have I seen evidence of God so convincing as in that sea snake dance.
Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ (Corpus Christi)
Dorothy Day, founder of the Catholic Worker Movement and one of our tradition’s most important models of building kinship with those living in poverty, saw the intimate connection between her work and the Eucharist. A daily communicant, her participation in the Mass gave her a vision of how the world might be more just and harmonious – more closely in alignment with God’s dream for us. Describing a parish she loved, Day wrote that you cannot be there, “participating in the life of the Church, singing with the children, hearing the homily of the day, partaking of the bread of life, the Word made flesh, hearing the Gospel, the Word of God […] without wanting to let what you have received overflow in loving service for your fellows.”
When we celebrate the gift of the Eucharist in a special way on Corpus Christi Sunday, we are reminded that, like Dorothy Day, we are meant to “become what we eat”: nourishment for a hungry world, reaching out in love to those who are suffering.
Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, Apostles
Take a wild leap of faith for a second and imagine that the Phillies somehow win the 2014 World Series. Imagine that a few days after the victory, the team rides on a float down Broad Street, in front of millions of screaming fans. Now imagine that right behind the float of Phillies is an identical float carrying the New York Mets.
Probably not a good idea. Honoring two archrivals on one day with one event doesn’t make much sense.
I wonder what Saints Peter and Paul think about their shared Feast as they look down at us from Heaven. By most accounts, they didn’t get along too well in those first days of our Church’s history. They were rivals, in a way — maybe not Phillies/Mets-level rivals, but definitely not close friends.
The most interesting evidence of the Peter/Paul rivalry is found in Paul’s Letter to the Galatians, when he describes what is called the “Incident at Antioch.” Peter argued that any Gentiles coming into the Christian flock should be circumcised and follow Jewish Law before admittance. Paul disagreed, to put it mildly. He writes: “And when Cephas (Peter) came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face because he clearly was wrong.” Paul argued that faith in Christ was enough, and that Gentile should not have to follow the Mosaic Law to become Christians.
This was a big debate as the early Christians struggled to work out just what it meant to be part of the community. Ultimately, Paul’s position won the day, and Peter agreed to it. But the incident is evidence that saints in our tradition have disagreed with each other about theology and pastoral practice — even to each other’s faces.
As we face so many thorny theological and political issues of our own time, Peter and Paul remind us that it’s OK to grapple with big questions and even disagree from time to time, as long as we do so with respect, honesty, and a willingness to admit when we’re wrong.