Ascension of the Lord Exodus 34:4-9
Daniel 3:52-56
2 Cor 13:11-14
John 3:16-18

Holy Love

"... pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us for thy inheritance."

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

Each year we journey into these high mountains — beyond the high Sierras, Alps, or Himalayas and far above Olympus, reaching altitudes where the laws of nature fail and bend back upon themselves. Even the claims of death are annulled and voided. A great blast of wind shakes the earth, according to St. Luke, as God breathes His Holy Spirit into our lifeworld turning everything upside down, upsetting the social order as even slaves become heirs to a royal ordination with some later becoming bishops. All our assumptions are revised. Old values and biases and judgments and distinctions and aspirations are swept away. God acts in His Almighty power. And all we can say is, "I am here, Lord."

We mark our ascent into these high ranges completing the Octave of Pentecost and rising on the wings of a dove to behold the highest summit of all: the Most Holy Trinity. The three words belong together if only for the awe with which we approach them (though beyond our reach): Holy, Trinity, and then the superlative descriptor, Most. The phrase announces splendid solitude and aloofness from our world. Yet, as we read this morning in our Epistle lesson from Exodus, a still deeper mystery follows: that we durst approach the Holy God petitioning that He might accept us ... even as His children! And then a greater mystery by far: that we should be accepted. Well might we pause to look on this wonder!

If we should learn that we descend from the greatest of kings, that our blood, our own blood, is the most royal blood, we would be entirely absorbed in learning about our great grandsire — who he was, what he was like, when he lived. We would search out paintings or sculptures or even effigies to seek our own likeness in his image. We would want to know his ways and perhaps discover them in our own bearing and conduct. After all, are we not in the royal line of kings? And then, by a stroke of luck, we discover ancient manuscripts and chronicles that open the whole story to us. It turns out that his dearest hope is that we shape and form ourselves to have his royal bearing and to display his noble manners and conduct. We are His Heirs, at least within ourselves. What, then, should we do? Exactly what is this nobility and royal conduct?

Above all, we learn, He is Holy. Holy? Precisely what does it mean to be holy? Well, even in our most untheological of sources, the dictionary, we discover that to be holy is to be like God. But wait a minute! Isn't this circular reasoning? To be holy is to be like God, and to be like God is to be holy! But then we remember our physics: matter is defined as something that has mass. Okay. What is mass? Mass is defined as a measure of matter. Circular reasoning? But, we learn, that this is the nature of things if we should go deep enough, nearer to the heart of all things. They bear no reference points to other things, for they are unlike other things. They are bedrock.

In that case, let us simply observe early encounters with God. There is Moses meditating alone in the wilderness, staring at a bush that burns hot with fire, yet is not consumed! He draws closer and hears a voice: "Remove your shoes, for this is holy ground!" Holy ground! That word again! "But who shall I say that You are?" Moses asks. And the Great Emperor replies, "I AM WHO AM." Astonishing! Even His Name is defined in terms of itself! The verb to bepure being — linked to the verb to be by way of a relative pronoun, a kind of "equals sign" in English or Latin or Greek. The infinitive to be equals the infinitive to be. Even language bends back on itself as we draw close to Him, for there are no reference points in God to anything else. He is self-established, self-sustaining, utterly complete in Himself. There is nothing that links Him to anything outside of Himself, a kind of perfect purity of being. And the ground is holy for one reason: because it is near to Him. God is Holy. The things near to Him are Holy. Our study becomes paralyzed, not in contradiction, but in roads that lead only back to themselves.

Soon, we find that others have also have journeyed these roads, and they tell us, "Study not the Great Emperor, Who is beyond all human language or science or scrutiny of any kind! Instead, study the King. He is the visible Image of the invisible God, the knowable and comprehensible Son of the Father. So we turn our original questions toward Him: Who is He? What is He like? But on the matter of identity, which is, famously, the great question of the Gospels, the Son too seems to vanish into the ever-vanishing Father: "... the Father is in me, and I am in the Father" (Jn 10:38). and "I am in the Father, and the Father in me" (Jn 14:11). The Son asks "Who do you say that I AM?" and, upon reflection, we realize that this is a syntactical inversion of "You do say who ... that I AM."

And His teachings, similarly, point away from the things we say and do and toward Himself and His Father: For everything in His parables seem to boil down to one sentence: "Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect" (Mt 5:48). And here we are given to know that as God exists in a fundamentally different realm of self-reference that we must somehow enter this alter-universe by becoming holy, which means becoming God-like. As the Lord Jesus said on this subject, "And the glory which Thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as We are One: I in them, and Thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one" (Jn 17:22-23).

From here, we are able to understand more clearly the giving of the Holy Spirit and His gifts. The great vocation of every human born into the world is to know and love God. But, as we have discovered climbing through these high peaks, God is holy; and to be holy is to be, first, near to God and then in the end to be at-one with God in a seamless unity. As the Eastern Church would say, the vocation of all humans is, mysteriously, to become God, in Whose Image we are made. The difficulty is that there is nothing in Him that connects to the world. For in Him is no darkness at all. He contains no reference points to the day-to-day world around us. The truth, difficult to hear, is this: the relationship between God and the world is one of everlasting enmity, with God loving the world and the world despising God. As the Lord Jesus said quite clearly over and over again,

"I am not of this world" (Jn 8:23);
"... the Spirit of Truth [i.e., the Holy Spirit] .... the world cannot receive" (Jn 14:17);
"If the world hates you, be aware that it hated me before it hated you" (Jn 15:18).
Of His Disciples He says,
"I have chosen you out of the world" (Jn 15:19).
And to the Father,
"They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world" (Jn 17:16).
The message is clear: God loves the world, and the world rejects God. The narrative from Eden to East of Eden to Babel to the world before the Flood to Sodom and Gomorrah, and finally to the murder of God's Son, the world hates God. Is it any different in our own time? Our world is one that reviles God at every turn, where the love of God, which involves your whole heart, soul, and mind, is nearly a crime for which you can be arrested if you act on it .... and people have been.

Sometimes, we hear Pentecost being referred to as a beginning. In fact, it is more a completion, an ending of what was begun. As we hear over and over in the Pauline Correspondence, in the Catholics Letters, in the Gospels, and .... really everywhere, we are called away from the life of this world and to enter another, very different one. This new world, which the Apostles called "the light" and early Christians called "the Way," is a fragment of Heaven but mysteriously lived on earth. Its boundaries are marked by the hearts of people who have devoted themselves to this new way of life and to God. It is .... the ultimate counter-culture. And those who practice its customs, enter into its traditions, and stand up for its values resemble more and more the great Emperor and His Son and less and less their neighbors and friends ... that is, until they, too, are converted.

In the world's eyes it is all so much foolishness. What?! Give up my ambitions to be affluent and respected in the community?! No longer participate in the ironic and sarcastic culture of demonizing people or enjoying arch humor at the cost of others?! Give up my recreations of drugs and alcohol?! Delete all my pornography?! Refrain from casual sex and the culture of abortion that follows it?! No longer laugh at coarse jokes nor use four-letter words?! Lose my two-day Saturdays, my weekends that are all Saturday and never Sabbath?! Not be accepting of cohabitation or the homosexual lifestyle?! Does this litany seem to cover the whole waterfront of our culture? Then you know how dark our world has become .... and how Heaven must view it.

It so happens that we gathered here remember a world that did not resemble this one at all. And the only thing that separated that world from this one was the sincere desire to know and love God.

But I will lose all my friends, you say! Worse, I will be shunned, vilified, and mocked! People will say that I am crazy! I could lose my job! Well, that's true. As St. Paul would say, ours is the life of foolishness .... in the eyes of the world. And this is fitting and right, for we seek to follow the Fool on the hill. But following Him is not really to offer a negative, but rather a very great positive: to enter a new world of light, not of darkness; of peace, not a mind that races on your pillow at night; of happiness, not anxiety and depression; of fulfillment, not a heavy emptiness; of meaning, not meaninglessness.

But what about my friends and children? Would I be leaving them behind? No, not at all; in fact, you would be showing them a way out of the mess of their lives. Look at them?! Are they happy? Are they fulfilled? Are they balanced and grounded? This culture is shrill and volatile ... with anxiety and anger exploding at any moment. You know, when I have spoken to the ones I know who are most grounded, the living saints, I learn that the most important gift they received in their formation was having a model for goodness, a truly Christian father or mother — who received the sacrament each morning, who prayed the prayers of the Church, who knew what they were about and what life meant, who served the poor, whose life was a thing of beauty and light.

For two generations Catholic have been taught that they must fit in and not stand out. But that time is past, for the world has greatly changed to the point when the family — one man married to one woman raising the children of their union — has become the minority, the out-lier, the oddity. Such families as these are regularly mocked on our television and computer screens.

But what of our children who have followed the culture? Affirming these children or, worse, signaling that you are part of their culture .... this is not unconditional love, but rather unconditional surrender to an Enemy who wants their souls and yours! Affirming them?! The Lord Jesus said that one would better have hung a millstone around his neck and thrown himself into the sea than participate in the corruption of children. Rescue your children by showing them a way out of darkness! The goal of this life is Heaven, not a nervous armistice with evil.

On Trinity Sunday let us consider what our world must look like from the perspective of Heaven. The Latin West explains the Trinity as a perfect love between the Father and the Son with the Holy Spirit proceeding from their love, enveloping the world with that holy love. With that in mind please join me in meditating on the icon that appears on this page — a Hungarian icon of the Most Holy Trinity. In it we behold the dead body of the King being handed into the arms of the Emperor. The Emperor had sent His Son into the world that the world might know God's love, and in return His body is delivered to Him beaten and murdered. The Holy Spirit hovers above them averting His eyes in unspeakable pain. This is not a scene from the life of God; it is an icon, and icons seek to capture the essence, the very nature, of their subjects. And here displayed before us in painful detail is the essence of God as God touches the earth. First of all, it is the perfect image of love. As we read in our Gospel lesson this morning, "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son," perfect in holiness. He so loved the world that He sent His Holy Spirit — exquisitely sensitive to every foul word, every indecent act, and every moral perversion — to be the love of God, which never fails, ceaselessly giving holy love in a darkness of depraved hatred.

Have you ever been completely and deeply in love and to have this love refused, even reviled? Then you have begun to live God's life on earth. God loves our nobility, the image of Himself that He sees in us .... as we refuse Him, preferring to defile ourselves. And yet He does not give up on us. Moses pleads that He accept us as His children and to pardon the evil we have embraced. Accordingly, His life is one of tumult and pain, for His Son has journeyed into our sordid lives to save us for Himself, even to become like Himself, which is the reason He made us. As we attempt to follow Him, we will suffer as He does. As Jesus says, father will be set against son, and son against father; mother-in-law against daughter-in-law; and, yes, most grievous of all, wives set against their husbands, with families poisoned or destroyed in the process. The culture wars that now dominate are just that: war .... between humankind and God, and the great casualties that we see are what God loves best: our own holiness and the sanctity of marriage and family.

What do we say to the young people who have been born into this dark age? Many of them are already attuned to the subject (in their own way), for these are the great themes of the Harry Potter, Narnia, and Lord of the Rings books. And why not? Is this not the great subject of our time? I ask young people to think on Middle Earth and the land called Hobbiton, where Hobbits desire only to live in peace and the consolation of family comforts. But the world beyond this little circle of light has been taken over by evil forces, the Land of Mordor, with its spreading plague of darkness. It is no use for the Hobbits to ignore it. When one is born into such a time, the only choice is to understand that everything depends upon the good lives who must and will resist it. Our world's only hope is upon those who will embrace the Fellowship of the Ring and look for the Return of the King.

How do we do this as Christians? First of all, remember your God. Say your prayers, not forgetting the St. Michael prayer, every day, and confide your hearts to Him and to His Holy Spirit, Who is ever near to you. You are not alone, and your guardian angel, attested by the Lord Jesus, is with you through all. And never forget this: that God is Love and that the substance and reality of this Love is holiness, which pours out its love to the end, even to the destruction of our mortal selves.

He has promised us His Kingdom. It is our birthright: to be holy, like Him. We bear His kingly Name and Nature. For God's sake, do not be ashamed of this, but rather bear this high dignity with honor and courage! The rest .... He will do, for these are the promises of Christ.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son of the Holy Spirit. Amen.