Sunday, May 26, 2013


This past Friday, Saint Joseph School, our regional Catholic school, celebrated the graduation of its 8th-grade students. Then last evening, here at Immaculate Conception, 15 of our parishioners received the sacrament of Confirmation from Bishop Stika.

When I graduated from 8th grade – on June 25, 1961 – our pastor suggested it was perhaps the first major accomplishment for most of us in our young lives. In his sermon, he made a point of contrasting it with our confirmation several years earlier, which, he noted, was something that more or less just happened when we reached a certain age.

Times have changed; and today, for far too many maybe, confirmation has come to resemble graduation – both in being treated as some sort of graduation from religious education and in being interpreted as something people have accomplished.

In fact, however, confirmation is nothing like graduation at all – something that would be much more obvious if we still celebrated it when and how it was originally celebrated before First Communion. Graduation really is the end of something, as well as also being something one really has in some sense accomplished for oneself. Confirmation, however, is part of a larger process – part of a sacramental sequence that began with baptism and looks ahead to full Christian life, lived in a new relationship with God and the world in the community of the Church and centered on the celebration of the Eucharist. Confirmation is also not an accomplishment at all but a celebration of the gift of the Holy Spirit, whom we first received at our baptism. Just as God the Father gave his gift of the Holy Spirit to the first disciples at Pentecost to empower them to continue the Risen Christ’s life and mission in the world, so too the same Father has given the same Holy Spirit to each one of us to continue his Son’s life and work in our world.

Today, the Church invites us to focus on the fundamental relationship that makes this all possible – who God is in his very self, the inner life of God, who has revealed himself to us in his relationships as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

From the day we were each baptized in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, the lives of all of us, both individually and as a Church community – have been defined, formed, and shaped by the awesome mystery of who God is, God’s inner relationships as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, that define the Triune God’s outward relationship with us and so in turn ours with God.

The doctrine of the Trinity expresses our uniquely Christian insight into the inner life of God – where the Son is the image of the Father, the Father’s likeness and outward expression, who perfectly reflects his Father, while the Holy Spirit in turn expresses and reveal the mutual love of Father and Son. At the same time, the Trinity also expresses something fundamental about how God acts outside himself. Who God is in himself is how God acts; and so how God acts reveals who God is.

It is, of course, the Son, consubstantial with the Father, through whom we have a new relationship with God.  As we just heard Saint Paul proclaim, through him we have peace with God and have gained access by faith to this grace in which we stand [Romans 5:1-2]. Risen from the dead and seated at the right hand of the Father, the same Son has sent us the Holy Spirit, who units us with the Father and the Son, the Holy Spirit whom we just heard Jesus describe as the Spirit of truth, who will guide us to all truth [John 16:13].

This Holy Spirit, who has been sent upon his Church, which is the Body of Christ and the Temple of the Holy Spirit, is inseparable from the Father and the Son, in both the inner life of the Trinity and his gift of love for the world. The Holy Spirit’s presence in us enables us to experience the presence and action of God in our lives not as an abstraction but as a real relationship.

The Holy Spirit unites us with one another in the Body of Christ, the Church, a relationship that truly has the potential to transform the world.

Homily for Trinity Sunday, Immaculate Conception Church, Knoxville, TN, May 26, 2013.

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