Fr. Dean McFalls, St. Mary’s, Stockton, on
Trinity Sunday (June 19, 2011)
Last Sunday, the Word’s own interpreter made an appearance at St. Mary’s. Of course, the Mass is permeated with the Word, both in the scriptures read and in the content of our prayers – not to mention, we hope, in the homily – but this unique privilege was completely unexpected. I had returned to the sanctuary after our fifth service, when all was quiet and soft music played. No one was present, but the afternoon light painted life-tones across the walls as it passed from heaven through the stained glass windows. A man was pacing back and forth in that open space between the people and the altar, reading aloud, as it were, to the spirit of the church. He seemed to stop and go, as if uncertain how to pronounce the text. This encouraged me, since those who read loudly and with determination usually come to pronounce an anathema on Catholics and to condemn our habit of keeping statues around. “Sir”, I addressed our special guest, “Tell me, what does the Word of God tell us today?” “Well,” he reponded thoughtfully, “There are shadows amidst the light in this Bible.” Perplexed, I inquired, “Do you mean that some words are consoling and others are discouraging, or that you are feeling convicted?” “Not really”, he answered. “It’s that some things are written wrong in here.” “Wow. You mean your Bible has mistakes. That’s strange,” I sympathized. I half expected it to be the New World Translation which gets handed out for free, normally with a black cover, and contains many unjustified and in fact unjustifiable changes to the original content and meaning of the scriptures, for that reason rendering that “bible” unsuitable for use by a true Christian. But this was the “NKJV” – the New King James Version. “You’re telling me that this Bible has mistakes? Some folks say it’s the only valid Bible around.” Our visitor went on to describe how he had discovered the truth, and that even Jesus had gotten it wrong in the Lord’s Prayer when he instructed us to say, “Give us this day our daily bread.” “How can he tell us to pray for our daily bread when he himself said…” (here he fumbled for the passage from Jesus’ temptations in the desert) “…that man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God? That’s a contradiction.” “What a tragedy,” I mused, “That the very Word of God made flesh has made this horrible mistake in his Word, the Bible, about such an important thing.” “Well,” our scriptural scholar volunteered, “I have found the solution.” With that, he pulled out a small folded piece of parchment, opened it up, handed it to me, and said, “Go ahead. Read it.” There, before my wondering eyes, was the corrected version of the Lord’s Prayer, given to mankind by revelation a full 2,000 years after the day that Jesus had mistakenly formulated it – or at least since the day his uneducated disciples had misconstrued his teaching. “Fantastic,” I beamed. “Can I keep this?” “Sure,” he replied proudly. It’s yours.” “Are you sure? I don’t want to take your last copy!” “Don’t worry.” He looked up with a kind of glimmer in his eyes. “I have it memorized.” This eye-opener reminded me of an incident, five years ago, when a forty-or-so-year-old gentleman walked up to me in another church and declared, “You know, Father, I spent forty years of my life attending Mass, and the classes, and getting my sacraments, and in all that time didn’t learn anything at all.” “My God,” I had to confess, “You really amaze me. In those years you heard the scriptures proclaimed thousands upon thousands of times, you received the Lord in communion, you were confirmed in the Holy Spirit, and in all that time you learned nothing!” “Don’t worry, Father,” he assured me. “Now my eyes have been opened, and I know all there is to know about the truth.” “Amazing! I always wanted to become enlightened! You’ve beat me to it!” “Well, Father, I started to attend a Bible study two years ago, and now I’m done.” This poor soul began to explain how Jesus didn’t found the Catholic Church – nor any other, for that matter, except the one he currently attended – how the sacraments are all unnecessary (all you need is Jesus), how the Saints are all dead and gone, and how the doctrine of the Trinity is false. “May I see your Bible?” I politely asked. “Sure.” Sure enough, it was black. Four years ago, the Manteca alliance of Christian pastors and ministers did something that might surprise many of you, as it certainly did me. They, and I as well, adopted a resolution that those belonging to the association would have to declare their faith in a Triune God – that is, in the Holy Trinity. This was not actually a very difficult step, since all of us take the Bible seriously. Today, for Catholics (and for many other Christians) is Trinity Sunday. We recognize, acknowledge, embrace, and profess the biblically-based doctrine of the triune character of God. God has manifested himself in scripture and throughout the history of salvation as a communion of three “Persons”, yet remains always One in essense, of one divine nature. The Father’s authority is over the Son, but the Son is equal to the Father, and the Spirit demonstrates all the attributes of personhood, too. This is something we cannot fully grasp, but which we accept, based on the testimony of Scriture and the early church. Rather than rely on my efforts to communicate this beautiful doctrine and the mystery of a God who reveals himself to us as a dynamic of self-giving love, I’d encourage you to do your own research online. For the Catholic position, you can google “Catholic Catechism, Holy Trinity,” and see what comes up. What I do not recommend is that you waste your time and ours improving on the ancient texts of God’s revealed word and the testimony of two thousand years of saints guided by the Holy Spirit in seeking the fulness of truth. God is far too sublime, far too beautiful, and far too transcendent, and his Word far too powerful, for us to presume on our own opinions. We might suffer the fate of those blind people of whom Jesus warned: uncommitted to the True Light, they followed a trail of darkness and all fell, together, into the pit. Yet anyone who sincerely seeks for the Truth, and who receives it humbly, even at the cost of having to change his or her prized opinions, will find Life. This Life is available today in any church that proclaims the truth about God. Fr. Dean McFalls, St. Mary’s, Stockton, on Trinity Sunday (June 19, 2011) Ps: I wrote this reflection in St. Mary of the Assumption parish house Saturday in Turlock, CA, just after celebrating a big wedding. Running to the reception after I finished, I sat down to eat with friends. Soon a man presented himself at the microphone. He wanted to give the very first toast, in the form of a prayer. “Please prepare yourselves to receive this prayer,” he announced. “I’m certain you’re going to be very moved. As I sing, I will open my arms, and if you wish you may sing along.” “What in God’s name is this guy going to sing?” I asked myself. Such a dramatic introduction could only be followed by a masterpiece. Taking a deep breath, unleashing a bellowing operatic voice and a delivery worthy of Carnegie Hall (or even Modesto’s Gallo Performing Arts Center), our surprise virtuoso belted out, in a very loud voice, the classic “Our Father.” As he masterfully managed to hit every note to perfection, I sensed at once the discomfort of the crowd (this was a party, mind you) but also a certain sense of mending. No doubt this seemingly out-of-place contribution to an otherwise secular gathering was meant, in God’s unfathomable providence, to set the universe back in alignment, after that other fellow re-wrote the Lord’s Prayer.