1990 June 10 – Trinity Sunday (Prison Writings)
Trinity Sunday Cycle A
Ex. 34: 4-6, 8-9
2 Cor.13: 11-13
Jn. 3: 16-18
Back in the fall of 1975, when I was in the seminary the first time, I did an internship in Campus Ministry at Center East, the Catholic Student Center at the University of Iowa in Iowa City. I was in my third year of seminary training at Aquinas Institute of Theology in Dubuque. While I was to be working at Center East, the Seminary authorities thought it best that I also take a couple of theology courses at the U of I Graduate Theology School. Unlike the pastoral emphasis at Aquinas Institute and their understanding Dominican instructors, the people at the U of I’s Graduate Theology School took their academic discipline seriously. Bishop Dingman recommended I take a course from Fr. John Boyle, who was a Davenport Diocesan Priest and a tenured professor at the Graduate Theology School. Fr. Boyle was also one of the most difficult and hardest professors in the whole department.
I began the fall term enrolled in Fr. Boyle’s Doctoral Seminar on the Theology of Karl Rahner. There were five P.H.D. candidates and myself in the seminar. From day one, I was completely lost. I knew the seminar was in English because I understood the little words like “the, and, time, up” between the big words I never understood.
The theory of the seminar was that each participant would contribute to the class discussion to help all come to understand Rahner better. I was obviously out of my league. The P.H.D. candidates were kind to me but gained little from my contributions in class. During the term we were to make two major presentations in class. I remember my first assignment was to present Rahner’s understanding of the Trinity. The bulk of my presentation amounted to my reading selected text directly from Rahner’s own writings much of which I did not understand. A fact not lost on the rest of the seminar participants.
However, at the beginning of my presentation I did a little acting out of what I thought the mystery of the Trinity was all about. I lifted my two hands into the air with 3 fingers up on my left hand and one finger up on my right hand. I started to hum a little song; “Da-da-da-dot, Da-da-da: Da~da-da dot, Da-da-daa. (Repeat it and keep humming)” I brought both hands behind my head and then brought them out in front of me again changing the 3 finger gesture to my right hand and the one finger gesture to my left hand, and then repeated the two gestures back and forth several times humming my song throughout the demonstration and conclusion of this little act. I ended by saying “There lies the mystery of the Trinity according to Karl Rahner.” There was little reaction from the seminar participants to my show and tell effort. P .H. D. students aren’t much fun!
As I look back on that experience, the problem I was having with my attempt to understand the mystery of the Trinity through the writing of Rahner was that any attempt to understand the Trinity was doomed to fail. The Trinity is the central mystery of God’s revelation of God’s self-disclosure to creation. Therefore, the Trinity is not something that can be understood. It’s a relationship that must be experienced. Any reasoned argument on the Trinity at best can only be descriptive, not explanatory, Karl Rahner’s writing included. The Trinity is first and foremost a relationship, not a dogma.
“The Grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the Love of God and the Fellowship of the Holy Spirit be With You Al1!” 2 Cor. 13: 13
The above verse from 2nd Cor. found in our 2nd reading this week, is also the opening greeting I use after the sign of the Cross at Mass. It is easy to see why this text was selected for this week’s 2nd Reading. We are celebrating Trinity Sunday and Paul’s closing verse in his 2nd letter to the Corinthians ends with this Trinitarian blessing. In the mystery of the Trinity we have the full expression of God’s self-revelation to all creation through the Love of God, the Grace of Christ Jesus and the Fellowship of the Holy Spirit. God’s definitive relationship with Creation is so full and complete, in and through Jesus that it can best be experienced through these three distinct and separate God-persons, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Paul is wishing the fullness of God’s revealing self to the Church of Corinth, as I do at the beginning of each Mass with the sign of the cross and this verse from St. Paul’s 2nd letter to the Corinthians.
God The Father: “Having come down in a cloud, the Lord stood with him there and proclaimed his name, “LORD.” Ex 34:5:
God the Father is the God person who created all that is, all that was and all that ever will be. This Person of God is Almighty, all Powerful, all Transcended. This person of God is also self-evident. God the Father is a given, can’t be proved, can’t be disproved. Those who look to the Bible for proof of God will not find any. The Bible is not a proven text for the existence of God. It is a record of Gods dealing with creation and especially God s dealings with the human race. The Bible also records our flawed human response to God’s unconditional love. In this week’s 1st reading we have an account of God the Father’s intimate self-revelation to Moses on Mount Sinai. The whole book of Exodus is the story of God, the Fathers breaking into human history to alter the course of that history by setting the Jewish people free from Pharaoh’s slavery in Egypt. It is the story of God the Fathers leading the Chosen People through the desert and into the Promised Land.
This week’s account from Exodus builds on the past experiences of the Patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph in telling the story of God the Fathers growing solidarity and commitment to the Jewish people. With Moses, the Chosen People are now a nation forged in the struggle of liberation from Pharaoh’s slavery. This is the same almighty, powerful, all transcended God who created the universe. In this salvation story, God the Father makes a clear commitment to the Jewish people, now a nation to be God’s Chosen with a great mission, to bring all peoples of the world to serve the one true God in peace and justice. Through the Chosen People God intended to set right the fall experience through the sin of Adam and Eve.
It was a phenomenal statement by the Creator, unmatched throughout the Universe. In God’s salvation effort the human race through the Chosen People have a unique and unparalleled role to play in the unfolding life of the Universe. No other Faith has claimed as much. No other people have been so blessed. The ultimate transcended being has self-revealed to finite mortal creatures with a pledge of uncompromising love. This was a quantum leap in the world of religion. Yet, Moses knew the limits of his own people. He pleads to God “Lord, do come along in our company. This is indeed a stiff-necked people.” EX 34″9. Moses knew well that God would need to stay close to the newly chosen nation if they were going to remain loyal to God.
GOD THE SON: “Yes, God so loved the world that he gave his only Son.” JN.3:16
As phenomenal and unprecedented as God’s promise and self-revelation to the Jewish people was, it was not enough. The Chosen People did not hold up their end of the deal. They did not remain loyal to their God. They did not understand the extent of God’s love. God needed to put more on the line, go the extra mile for his creation.
In this week’s, Gospel from John, Jesus tells Nicodemus,” God has sent his only son so all who believe in him will have eternal life.” Jesus tells Nicodemus that the world has been condemned not by God’s Son but by the world itself. Yet anyone who believes in the Son will avoid condemnation and gain eternal life.
Jesus is God’s Son. In the person of Jesus, God is radically connected to the human race. God makes another quantum leap from a transcended, self-revealing “hands on” relationship with the Chosen People to a self-emptying, creator made creature, human being. Jesus is God’s final and definitive statement of self-revelation and what a surprise, God’s only Son a human being like you and me!
And so the claim in Jesus is that the whole of the universe is re-set, made whole. The original Son of the fall is made up and replaced with the saving grace of Christ. A reign of God has been initiated, peace and justice will rule. For the believer it means eternal life, for the nations no war or injustice and for creation wholeness and life.
Yet, this is no cheap grace. Jesus demands no less loyalty from his believers as the Father demanded from the Chosen People with much more at risk. Jesus expects his followers to model their lives after his. Unlike his all mighty, all powerful, all transcended Father, Jesus leads a way that is all weak, all powerless all vulnerable to the ways of the world. Jesus, who laid his life on the line for the downtrodden and the oppressed, demands no less from his followers. He taught us all how to die so as to live. He never killed. He would never have us kill. All this on the promise of eternal life, assured in Faith yet unseen.
What a risk, what an utterly vulnerable position, God has put God-self in Jesus. True Faith in this salvation story goes beyond reason. It only comes in the experience and practice of radical love. Where does such love come from in a world so clearly condemned by its own ways?
GOD THE HOLY SPIRIT: “You Can’t Kill the Spirit, She’s Like A Mountain, Old and Strong, She Goes On, And On, and On… Peace Movement Song:
The 3rd, Person of the Trinity is the Holy Spirit. She is the feminine side of God. She is the God Force that has been “in” and “of” Creation from the beginning. She nurtures, sustains and brings to life. She is God’s Wisdom in the World. She is the bits and pieces of the Divine found in all things. With Jesus, her presence in Creation has quickened and focused
It is the Holy Spirit who sustains the Faith community. She gives the faithful courage to embrace and put in practice the radical love Jesus calls us to follow. She is boundless, no rules or structures can contain her. She’ll work within the system; she’ll work outside the system.
When first the claim of Christ is made, she is what Christ builds on and sustains in the faithful. She helps sift through the incidentals and cultural bases of the proclamator’s Proclamation and helps retain the essentials of the faith. She is not easy to follow especially for the institutional church, yet she is our lifeline to God. She makes possible the phenomenal Salvation claims of the Father and the Son. In her fellowship the Trinity is a loving relationship with the Father, a graced experience in Jesus. She is not to be ignored, put off or put down. A sin “against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven.” MT.12: 31
90 06 10 Prison Writings
Special Treatment vs. Decent Treatment:
It seems the Federal Government is in no hurry to send me anywhere soon. The longer I’m here at Sarpy Co. Jail the clearer the restrictive limitations of this facility become. Built with the idea of being a regional holding center for Federal Prisoners, there are 30 to 40 federal prisoners here at any given time. The Federal Governments pays around $55 a day for each prisoner. (A Sarpy Co. Commissioner gave this figure to us.) Often, these Federal prisoners are detainees, most of them Spanish Speaking. There is no Spanish-speaking staff person at this Jail. There are no blacks on staff. At this jail, though most inmates spend less than a month here, many spend several months and up to a year here. There are serious problems in the policies and structural designs in this jail, for anyone having to spend an extended period of time. To name a few:
Prisoners are allowed two one hour visiting sessions a week at prescribed times, all during working hours, for example, my visiting times are between 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. Monday and Wednesday. All visits are non-contact visits made through a glass partition with phone sets to speak through. Visits can be and are monitored. Only five people can be on your approved visiting list at any one time. This includes family members. If your visiting time lands on a Holiday, you lose, there is no makeup time.
At a Federal Prison Camp and at most Federal Prisons there are contact visits. Inmates and guests meet in open rooms or outdoors in a designated area. Visiting days for all inmates are Friday, Sat, Sun. and Mondays between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. Family are automatically on visiting lists, other visitors must be approved beforehand. You are allowed a reasonable number of approved visitors.
Here at Sarpy County Jail we get 4 one hour sessions in an indoor 3/4 gym with one usable basketball and a small room off the gym with a broken exercise machine. We are never allowed outside. At Federal Prison Camps and at most Federal prisons a full range of outdoor/indoor group and individual sports are available. A full weight and exercise area is provided. There are basketball, tennis and baseball fields available. There is simply no comparison, between the two setups.
Programs, Work Opportunities and Commissary:
At Sarpy Co. Jail limited work release is available to a select few. There
is a trustee program. Trustees help with the meals and cleaning of the Jail. They have their own living unit. For their services they are allowed a T.V. and 24 hr phone privileges. For the majority of inmates there is nothing to do with their time. There are a couple of Church Bible Studies and Worship opportunities and a weekly AA meeting. The Commissary provides very little, a small selection of candy bars, toiletry items, writing paper and batteries for radios.
At a prison camp, there are many self-help groups. Everyone has a work assignment. There are arts and crafts available. Numerous church programs TV’s VCR’s, movies readily available. Their commissary selection is a full range of food items and other things too numerous to list. There are usually High School and College degree opportunities with a separate Education Department. Again, there is simply no comparison between the two.
Library and Reading Material:
The Library here consists of one room not much bigger than a cell filled with paperback books. The selection is thin, mostly Grade B novels and Science Fiction. There are few books to speak of. The religion books are of the fundamentalist bent. Good reading material is sorely lacking.
The Law library has only the State of Nebraska Law books. There are no Federa1 Law books despite the high number of Federal inmates. There are no typewriters. Only pencils are allowed in the jail.
For the first three weeks I was able to get books both hard back and paperback sent into me along with magazines and newspapers. Then on Monday May 21, two books were withheld, “Aborting America.” a history of abortion in the United States, and a book of poems called “In Some Quiet Place”. Also withheld were recent issues of the National Catholic Reporter and Sojourner magazine. I have written grievances about this censorship. The Corporal in charge told me that he was under no obligation to let me receive any reading material. I am contesting his decision. I hope to get reading material through the Catholic Chaplaincy. This is a serious issue for me. Without good reading material this time will be very difficult.
At Marion Federal Prison Camp I was able to receive as many paperback books as I wanted. They had a good Law Library and access to typewriters. Most Federal prisons have generous book, magazine and newspaper policies.
Doing extended time in Sarpy County Jail is like being at a level 4 or 5 security joint in the Federal system with less mobility. While I am here I plan to advocate for better conditions and policies. I’ve been told by some guards not to expect special treatment. I keep telling them I’m not looking for special treatment. I am only looking for decent treatment for everybody and me.