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PreachMay 28, 2023
Greg Chisholm, S.J., gestures while giving a homilyGregory C. Chisholm, S.J., gestures as he delivers his homily during the annual Black History Month Mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York Feb. 5, 2012. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)

The best advice Greg Chisholm, S.J., received about preaching a homily was not taught in the seminary. “I was helped as a young priest by a woman in a church that I served in Detroit, Michigan,” he said. “She came to me and she said, ‘When I go to church, I want to hear about Jesus, and you didn’t have a lot about Jesus in that sermon.’ I have never forgotten that.”

Greg Chisholm, S.J., the superior of the Jesuit community in Maryland and a former pastor of St. Charles Borromeo in Harlem, is the premiere preacher on “Preach,” our new podcast where we take you into the minds and hearts of some of the finest preachers in the Catholic Church today.

The show is hosted by Ricardo da Silva, S.J., a Jesuit priest from South Africa, associate editor at America and associate pastor at the Church of St. Francis Xavier in Manhattan.

“On this show, you won’t only hear and learn from Jesuits about preaching,” says Ricardo. “I will talk with lay liturgical preachers, women and men who ordinarily exercise a preaching ministry in their respective communities. I’ll talk with deacons, priests, bishops and maybe even a cardinal or two.”

“Preach” will usually be released on Mondays. But we simply could not pass on the significance of launching a podcast about preaching on Pentecost Sunday—when the church celebrates the descent of the Holy Spirit on the disciples in the upper room—which the Scriptures tell us “enabled them to proclaim” God’s word to all nations.

[Listen now and follow us on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or on your favorite podcast service.]

“I was helped as a young priest by a woman... she said, ‘When I go to church, I want to hear about Jesus, and you didn’t have a lot about Jesus in that sermon.’ I have never forgotten that.”

Scripture Readings for the Solemnity of The Most Holy Trinity, Year A

First Reading: Ex 34:4b-6, 8-9
Responsorial Psalm: Dn 3:52, 53, 54, 55, 56
Second Reading: 2 Cor 13:11-13
Gospel: Jn 3:16-18

You can find the full text of the readings here.

Homily for the Solemnity of Most Holy Trinity, Year A, by Greg Chisholm, S.J. 

Accepting the God of Jesus Christ as your own savior and giving God praise in church on a Sunday—that comes naturally to most of us. After all, we need God, and Jesus has been an arm to lean on more times than most of us can count. Last week was Pentecost Sunday, and many of us, I hope, enjoyed the celebration of the birth of the Church of Jesus Christ that came as a result of the outpouring of God’s Holy Spirit. I hope you celebrated it with enthusiasm and joy. If you were fortunate, the choir sang up a storm, the church danced in celebration (and you know what I feel about dancing!) and many dressed joyfully in red. The entire Easter season ending in the celebration of Pentecost is our time. It is our time to celebrate all that God in Jesus Christ and revealed by the Holy Spirit has been to us.

Yet, if we are honest, coming to acceptance of Jesus Christ as Savior and immersing ourselves in praise to God did not happen overnight. Arriving at a place of comfort, acceptance and joy takes time. I don’t mean that it takes time to get yourself together on Sunday morning, although that is true for some of us, that it’s always a bit of a lift to get up on Sunday morning! I really mean it has taken some time for you to look forward to being in the sanctuary of this church on Sunday morning. It has taken time for you to appreciate who God is for you. It has taken time to enjoy the presence of Jesus Christ in your life. It has taken time, years, in fact, to open your heart to the revelation of the Holy Spirit you get in fellowship and communion with friends in this church.

As adults we have come to accept that God has a purpose for our lives. God had a purpose in creating each of us. God has expressed his purpose through his Word. That is how the reality of God is expressed in the very first chapter of the Gospel of John. God has spoken his purpose through his Word, Jesus Christ. We know God’s purpose for us through the Lord Jesus Christ, who has shown us all God’s path of light by his life, his death and his resurrection. Jesus Christ continues to reveal his light and God’s purpose through the Holy Spirit, which the Lord has sent to continue God’s care among us.

Several years ago I attended a Mass in Washington, D.C. It was a Mass for the installation of Wilton Gregory as Archbishop of Washington. You and I know the history of our Catholic Church has not ever included the selection of an African American as archbishop of such an important city. The installation of Wilton Gregory drew bishops, priests and laypersons; Catholics and non-Catholics; white people and people of color to the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception. The church was completely filled with believers. I was pleased to see so many African American clergy, clergy who were my friends and my contemporaries, I was happy to see them join in the celebration of the Mass. We listened to the Word of God proclaimed. We heard the words of the new archbishop as he expressed gratitude and joy in the Risen Savior and confidence that the Lord would be with Archbishop Gregory throughout the length of his ministry in D.C. We acknowledged the presence of Jesus Christ in the assembly as we shared in the Lord’s Body and his Blood. The Mass was beautiful.

When the choir sang at Archbishop Gregory's installation, that was the moment when my belief and my humanity and my particularity as a Black American were all at peace in the presence of God.

Yet I have to let you know that I was most affirmed at the Mass that day—as a believer in God’s purposes, as a Christian bathed in the light of Christ, as brother in fellowship with Wilton Gregory and all others—when a choir from St. Augustine’s Roman Catholic Church, the oldest predominantly Black church in D.C., rose to render the hymn “Total Praise,” written by Richard Smallwood. The choir stood and sang:

“You are the source of my strength,
You are the strength of my life,
I lift my hands in total praise to you.”

This was the moment when my belief and my humanity and my particularity as a Black American were all at peace in the presence of God. My praise of God was expressed from the depth of my soul. I experienced that day and that moment the goodness of the Lord’s gift of himself to me. My fellowship with each person present in the Spirit of God knew no bounds. The singing of that hymn at the end of Wilton Gregory’s installation overwhelmed me. Because the Lord is my strength, the strength of my life. There is little I can do that is of value to me or of worth to the world without God. Let the church say amen.

Being filled in your soul with the glory of God takes time for most of us. I was sixteen years old before I recognized the purpose and the significance of the God of Jesus Christ in my life. God was revealed to me in a community of other young men who were just like me. We were teenagers, living in Harlem and the South Bronx in New York City, attending Catholic churches and Catholic schools. Our parents were all African American Catholics from the American South and the Caribbean. We had all been baptized as children and were all schooled in the Catholic catechism. We had almost all been altar servers at one time or another. Yet in those high school years through their companionship at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, once each month, I came to know God as I had never known God. God mattered to me. And from the experience of worshiping God at Mass with these 20 other men like me, I realized that I—that we—mattered to God.

My teenage experience of the Mass with men like me revealed a kind of lighted path for my life which I have enjoyed. I’m not saying that I haven’t stumbled. You and I know I’ve stumbled. And life certainly “ain’t been no crystal stair.” Nevertheless, I have sought comfort in the worship of God with others who understand their otherness in the world. Along the path I have enjoyed communities of others like me who could not escape the difference we made in classrooms; we could not escape the fear we encouraged in people simply walking along the street; we could not escape the exceptions we were in college or the concern we caused in the workplace; we could not even escape the doubt we regularly raised in our own minds. In every city I have lived since my teenage years, I have sought out a community of believers for whom the worship of God mattered and within whom it is clear that we matter to God.

The depth of God present anywhere, in any church, is fully known and understood only by the Spirit of God.

I would like to say that we can worship the Trinity, the God of Jesus Christ, anywhere. I would want to be able to walk into any church in this country, and in the world, expressing my love for God and experience in the worshiping community God’s love for us all. Is that not what we learn from John’s Gospel, that God so loved the world that he gave his only Son? Should I not, then, walk into any church and experience the presence of Jesus Christ and God’s love for me there? Should I not experience the revelation of the Holy Spirit coursing through my communion with the men and women around me anywhere I go?

The truth is that in trying to answer my own questions, I am in no position to judge the Spirit of God. Before the Spirit of God, I have learned to humble myself. I know best my own spirit. The depth of God present anywhere, in any church, is fully known and understood only by the Spirit of God.

I sometimes think that in my own spirit I am like my grandmother, to be frank. She knew when and how her own spirit was moved or not moved. My grandmother would travel with us whenever my family went on vacation when I was younger. She would always sit in the back seat of my dad’s car and comment audibly on the people in the towns we would pass through in New York, New Jersey or Connecticut and Massachusetts, wherever we were traveling. “There go Aunt Hagar,” she would say. “There go Aunt Hagar’s children.” We had no Aunt Hagar in our family that I knew of. But later I would appreciate that Hagar was the servant of Abraham through whom he fathered Ishmael. Hagar was rejected by Abraham’s wife, Sarah, and Hagar was separated from the tribe by Abraham. Hagar was a woman of color who had joined Abraham’s clan out of Egypt. Black people in our country have long called ourselves Aunt Hagar’s children, belonging yet separated from the clan. Enjoying our own music, our own language, our own dance, our own spirits and finding it historically difficult to overcome our separateness from the clan.

In searching for the loving God, my spirit has inclined me since I was a young man toward communities of Aunt Hagar’s children. The graces of our Lord Jesus Christ are more discernable to me there. The fellowship of the Holy Spirit is more familiar. That is the path I have been on since I was 16 years old. Sometimes it means that the search takes me long distances from where I live. During the pandemic, that search had me, and many like me, visiting churches across the internet. I search for church communities where the God of Jesus Christ is more palpable, where the graces of the Lord are poured out on men and women and children who know what it is to need God, and where the fellowship of the Holy Spirit often includes the warm embrace of a brother or sister who shares my struggle.

Nevertheless, let us never give up on worship of God in Spirit and Truth anywhere that believers in the God of Jesus Christ gather. Worshiping in Spirit and Truth is the kind of worship to which Jesus invited the Samaritan woman at the well in John’s Gospel. The Samaritans were more comfortable finding God at Mt. Gerazim in Samaria and the Jews worshiped him on Mt. Zion in Jerusalem. However, you may not find the spirit of God in the church nearest where you live. You may not find the spirit of God in the most popular church in the city where you are. Maybe you must find the church where believers who are most like you seek spirit and truth. But don’t give up finding God where he may be found, but always in Spirit and Truth. Let us be directed by God’s purpose following the Lord’s path revealed to many of us in our youth, through fellowship in the Spirit with brothers and sisters we have loved. Wherever we are let God be the source of our strength. Let God be the strength of our life. Let us lift our hands in total praise to God. Amen.

“Preach” is made possible through the generous support of the Compelling Preaching Initiative, a project of Lilly Endowment Inc.

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