The Holy Trinity, desert/wilderness experience, and more on vaccines

THE HOLY TRINITY

Today we are blessed to celebrate the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity on the Church calendar. This feast, introduced in the ninth century and added to the calendar in the fourteenth century, is a glorious day for the faithful as we are invited to contemplate more deeply this eternal mystery. Now, it is true that we invoke the Trinity every time we make the Sign of the Cross (which we should do at least a couple of times every day), but this day is a special occasion to really dive into this bottomless ocean.

(By the way, one more way we are blessed and privileged to be Catholics [the Orthodox are with us on this, albeit with a bit of a twist] is that the Sign of the Cross is a visible part of our prayer. What a great witness, particularly in light of today’s Gospel!)

The greatest minds in the Church have tried to tackle, or at least approach, this mystery, ultimately acknowledging that our puny intellects can do very little to grasp it. That is not to say nothing can be said about it, but we have severe limitations. St. Augustine wrote the most famous work on the subject. De Trinitate. Note: the image in this post highlights his limitations on the matter as revealed by God Himself.

Today’s sermon by Bp. Barron is a bit lofty but does a nice job in succinctly explaining the theology of the Trinity. I would also recommend my friend Jim Papandrea’s book, Trinity 101: Father, Son, Holy Spirit, for a concise and accessible overview of Church teaching in this area (I used it, with great profit, in a course I taught on the Trinity). Of course, the Catechism of the Catholic Church should be your first source for information before diving more deeply.

Today’s Gospel (Mt 28:16-20) makes pretty darn clear the doctrine of the Trinity (even though that term is not explicitly used) — from Jesus’ own lips (some who claim to be Christians don’t believe, regardless). It happens to be the conclusion of Matthew’s Gospel, so these words of Jesus’ — in essence His parting words — should carry particular weight with us. “Make disciples of all nations,” He tells us. A call to evangelize! “Teach[] them to observe all that I have commanded you,” He adds. A call to catechize! And note that the formula for baptism is in the “name” of the Three Persons, not the “names.” There is one God (see Mk 12:29 which references Dt 6:4). As always, I recommend diving into Catholic Answers to learn more and to find help in defending this dogmatic teaching.

But before I leave this topic, I must mention that we don’t have to wait for Jesus’ ministry to find hints of the Holy Trinity. Scripture does not wait at all to show the power of God in His Persons. Let’s go back to the opening lines of the Bible:

In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth and the earth was without form or shape, with darkness over the abyss and a mighty wind sweeping over the waters—Then God said: Let there be light, and there was light.

Gen 1:1-3

God the Father, creator. God speaks the Word, Jesus (see Jn 1:1-18). The “mighty wind,” the breath of God, the Holy Spirit, carries the Word (we learned all about Him last Sunday at Pentecost).

A last note: today’s Responsorial Psalm reinforces what we already know from Genesis 1:

By the LORD’s word the heavens were made; by the breath of his mouth all their host.

Ps 33:6

God the Father breathes out the Word and all that is, is.

THE DESERT / WILDERNESS

In speaking with a holy friend recently, we discussed so called “desert experiences”: a time of particular challenge in one’s life. We tend to think of this, with merit, in the Old Testament as primarily referring to the “wandering in the desert” of the Chosen People after leaving bondage in Egypt. In the Gospels, first to mind is Jesus’ experience immediately before beginning public ministry. Certainly not the only instances of such a challenge in the Bible, but good places to start.

Well, I immediately got to thinking about how I might explore all of Scripture on this theme to understand the depth and breadth of its various aspects. A method of Bible study I have long advocated, and have used to great profit myself, is to simply search for a certain word throughout the entire Bible and then dive further into references, looking at context, that seem applicable to my inquiry. You will be quite amazed at the vistas that open up if you do this in as serious, thoughtful, and systematic way (add good commentaries to make it even more fruitful).

Well, I began by looking for “desert” in the Old Testament (I use this RSV search engine that I found years ago and really like for its simplicity). This yielded forty-five results that I was able to pare down to eighteen relevant passages in eleven chapters. Then I looked for the same word in the New Testament — I was shocked to find only four references, none relevant.

One of the challenges of this method of Bible study is considering not only a specific word, but also synonyms that get at that for which the researcher is looking (this is where going to the Greek and Hebrew really come in handy, but let’s save that for another time). So then I tried “wilderness.” Voilà! Thirty-five matches, nearly all relevant. Then I went back to the Old Testament. An astounding 245 matches popped up (suffice to say it will take me a while to work through these).

I will provide updates on my discoveries in this endeavor from time to time. But, let me start right now with a passage that struck me with an aspect of the desert experience I had not considered:

He opened the rock, and water gushed forth;
it flowed through the desert like a river.

Ps 105:41

The context provides these words in a lengthy segment of verses speaking of the glory of God in nourishing the Chosen People in the Egyptian desert after they were freed from bondage. But what else jumps out at us? The “rock.” Who is the Rock? Well, certainly Peter, whose name means Rock. But who is that rock built upon? Christ! And when was that Rock opened up with water flowing out? On the Cross. When else do we open that Rock? When we open the Word, who, as we mentioned above, is Jesus. All of Scripture speaks of Jesus, a refreshing water for our thirsty souls. As for Peter, representing the Church, here, too, we have a solid foundation, giving us divine revelation without error as guaranteed by the Holy Spirit. Nothing slakes one’s thirst for the truth like the indefectibly holy Bride of Christ, the Church He founded.

So how does this relate to the desert experience? Well, it seems to me that no matter where we are in our lives, no matter how bad things seem to be, if we want to be reinvigorated and refreshed, we go to the Rock: Christ and His Church. This life-giving water of Word and Sacrament (remember the waters of baptism), turned to in faith, is an unfailing help regardless of our situation.

VACCINE UPDATE

For those still deciding on whether or not to get vaccinated, this podcast from Catholic Culture should be very helpful in informing your conscience. It is a far and thorough look at concerns regarding the morality of taking the various vaccines currently available for use. An important issue that does not seem to be widely addressed in U.S. dioceses.

In the podcast, Dignitas Personae (Instruction on Certain Bioethical Questions) is mentioned often. This 2008 CDF document is worth a read (paragraphs 34 and 35 are the most relevant for this discussion).

Additionally, two important articles:

I contacted the National Catholic Bioethics Center regarding the status of research related to ethically sound vaccines and I received this reply (the first link provided, in particular, is worth checking out):

At the outset, I need to clarify on behalf of the National Catholic Bioethics Center (NCBC) that we do not provide medical or legal advice. At the NCBC, we help people to engage in ethical discernment regarding bioethical issues based on the teachings of the Church and on the Catholic moral tradition. This being said, the question of whether COVID-19 vaccines are ethical is a huge one with a lot of differing nuances. As I am sure you know, there is a lot of information available about these vaccines and not all of it is 100% accurate. We at the NCBC tend to trust information put out by the Charlotte Lozier Institute. They have an updated resource on their website (link) that includes a chart (scroll down) indicating which vaccines are being ethically developed and produced (not using any abortion-derived cell lines), those that are not ethically produced (use abortion-derived cell lines), and those for which there are questions. If a vaccine listed has all green squares in all its boxes (see the chart) it is morally fine. If it has red triangles in the “Design & Development” and “Production” boxes (Johnson & Johnson/Janssen and AstraZeneca), then it is heavily dependent upon the abortion derived cell lines. If it has a red triangle in the “Confirmatory Lab Test” box only (Moderna and Pfizer) then it is less dependent on the aborted fetal cells.

Right now, there are vaccines being developed here in the US that do not have any connection with abortion derived cell lines, but they are still in preclinical trials (see the Charlotte Lozier chart, linked above) and will likely not be available anytime soon. There is, however, a company called Ocugen that is looking to bring the COVAXIN vaccine from India here to the US. According to Charlotte Lozier, this vaccine has no connection with abortion derived cell lines. See this link: https://ocugen.com/vaccine/overview/ . Hopefully Ocugen will be able to make this vaccine available in the relatively near future. 

I will continue to follow this closely.

MY LATEST MUSICAL OBSESSION

A song I have been going back to often in recent weeks is Just a Shadow (Extended Remix) by Big Country. Known by most Americans as a one-hit wonder, having gotten to know its catalog pretty well, and having seen the group in concert last year (days before we were shutdown), I can confidently say that the only wonder is why these guitar-driven Scottish gents did not gain much more popularity this side of the pond.

Benozzo Gozzoli (1420-1497) fresco of the Life of Saint Augustine – Scene 12 – in the Apsidal chapel, Sant’Agostino, San Gimignano (detail)

God bless.

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