Dear Friends,

One of my resolutions for 2024 is to become more familiar with poetry. For years, Father Niblick has been encouraging me to read poetry and I decided that this would be the year to heed his advice. It occurred to me that one way to get started would be to memorize some poetry, in order to try to “get it into me.” So far, I have memorized four poems: two by John Donne (1572-1631), one by George Herbert (1593-1633), and one by Elizabeth Drew Barstow Stoddard (1823-1902).

John Donne had an interesting life. In his youth, Donne was not particularly concerned with faith or morals, and he wrote erotic poetry. Later in life, he had a conversion and became a clergyman. His poetry then focused on spiritual matters, often using the imagery of human love to contemplate on the reality of divine love.

 

One of the poems I have memorized is entitled, “Holy Sonnet XIV.” It goes like this:

 

Batter my heart, three-person’d God; for you

As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;

That I may rise and stand, o’erthrow me, and bend

Your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new.

I, like an usurp’d town to another due,

Labor to admit you, but Oh, to no end;

Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,

But is captiv’d, and proves weak or untrue.

Yet dearly I love you, and would be loved fain,

But am bethroth’d unto your enemy;

Divorce me, untie or break that knot again,

Take me to you, imprison me, for I,

Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,

Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.

 

I love the way in which Donne uses such strong, passionate, language and images to say something about our need and desire for intimacy with God.

I thought about this poem when I read Verna A. Holyhead’s reflections on the Mass readings for today’s Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity. Holyhead was a religious sister, biblical scholar, retreat leader, and liturgist from Australia who died in 2011. After reflecting on each of the readings proclaimed to us today, she wrote:

Matthew gives us the solemn assurance that Jesus, Immanuel, “God-with-us” (Matt 1:23), as the personal promise of God, will be with the church until the end of human history. His is no “absentee lordship” but a presence of a servant Christ who wishes to liberate rather than to dominate. His church, therefore, must also be a humble servant that remembers that its authority is not absolute but is derived from Jesus; a church

that identifies with those who are a very human mix of faith and doubt; a church that avoids all triumphalism and insensitivity to the wounded people of the world.

And as we are the church, are we this kind of people? When we sign ourselves “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” could we sometimes reflect on this rather than making a very perfunctory “brush and babble” gesture? Can we instead have something of the passion of John Donne’s “Holy Sonnet XIV,” where Donne expresses his faith that, to be truly free, we must be rescued from sin and then taken captive again—but this time by the love of the “three-person’d God”:

 

Batter my heart, three-person’d God; for you

As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;

That I may rise and stand, o’erthrow me, and bend

Your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new.

 

(Verna A. Holyhead, Sowing the Seed: Welcoming the Word in Year B, pp. 95-96)

What I love about Donne’s poem, which Holyhead highlights in her reflections, is the passion with which he writes about the Trinity, our “three-person’d God.” Another poet whom I love, Dante Allegheri (1265-1321), speaks of the Trinity as “the Love that moves the Sun and the other stars.” (Paradiso, XXXIII, 145).

It can be so easy for us to think and act as if the mystery of the Trinity is an abstraction or equation; nothing could be further from the truth! As we gather to celebrate the Holy Eucharist this Sunday, and every Sunday, we are invited to enter the divine dialogue and dance of life and love between the Father, the Son, and the Spirit, so that we can become sharers in that life and love. And in that way, our passions and desires can be fulfilled by the One who blessed us with those passions and desires.

Peace,

Father Leo

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