Sunday, May 27, 2018

All in the Family

   The Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity   B 

I was recently teaching a make-up class for one of our Confirmation candidates, to which she came with her grandmother.  The subject was the Creed.  Now, you can’t spend too much time with the Creed without having to confront our faith in the Holy Trinity.  “OK, we believe in one God…but we also believe in God the Father, and God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.  So which is it?”

I had barely started in on the subject when the grandmother’s eyes glazed right over. “No need to try and explain the Trinity, Father.  I’m just as happy to accept it as a mystery!”

For nearly 2,000 years, the brightest Christian minds have been wrestling with this mystery—one too great, too extraordinary, for our mortal minds to fully grasp. Because it is such a central tenet of the faith, it’s important to get it right, which is why specific theological language has developed over time.  We find some of it in the familiar words of the Creed: we believe in the Son who is “begotten, not made, consubstantialwith the Father” and in the Holy Spirit “who proceedsfrom the Father and the Son.”  This makes it that much easier to fall into the trap of thinking of the Most Blessed Trinity as a complex concept, an academic abstraction, an intellectual puzzle…and something most of us, therefore, are just as happy to leave to the trained experts, thank you very much.

And yet, at the very same time, there can’t be anything more ordinary for us Catholics.   When you entered this church today, chances are you dipped your hand into the Holy Water and crossed yourself,  “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”  We did it again when Mass began.  We do it when saying grace before a meal or the beginning of any formal time of prayer.  It would be hard to think of anything more commonplace among the faithful.

Let’s consider for a moment the gods of the world’s other religions—both ancient and modern. I see them basically falling into two groups.  The first is made up of those gods that seem all-too-human.  Think of the gods of Greek and Roman mythology that you once studied in history class.  They have their love affairs, get insanely jealous, and quite a few seem to have some serious anger issues (which is a rather big deal when you’ve got unlimited access to thunder and lightening).  These gods are simply more powerful versions of ourselves; we’ve created them in our own image.

The second group is of gods who seem impersonal, distant, almost completely cut off from this world. I think of the gods of many religions of the Far East.  Remember the Force from the Star Wars movies?  These gods are like that: an all-pervading energy, a unifying principle, a harmonizing ideal.  You can’t really relate to such gods…which makes it much less likely for them to require much from us.

But then there’s the God of the Bible, the God of Jesus Christ, the Most Holy Trinity. Here’s the God who created us in his own image and likeness (not the other way around).  Here’s the God who is all-powerful, all-knowing, the very logic behind the whole universe, but who also desires to be intimately involved in our lives.

Let me use the example I used with my Confirmation class.  For a husband to be a husband, he needs a wife—and vice versa. What holds husband and wife together is love—love for each other pledged for life in marriage.  Love makes these two into one…and, in most cases, one then becomes three when a child is born.  Husband and wife thus become father and mother.  Now, you can’t be a father without a mother and a child. And you can’t be a mother without a father and a child.  And you can’t be a child without a father and a mother.  (Did I leave anyone out?)  

What you have are three distinct persons, defined by their interdependent relationships, and bound together as one family by love.  That’s nothing overly intellectual; actually, it’s something any of us ought to be able to understand from direct human experience, since nobody in this room came into being in any other way.

While it’s only an analogy, and by no means exactly the same thing, the basic structure of a human family can go a long way toward helping us understand the God who is love. Love, of course, requires both a lover and a beloved; it cannot exist in total isolation.  We begin with the Father, who in order to be a Father needs a Son.  Likewise, the Son, in order to be a Son, needs a Father.  And because the love of Father and Son is perfect, creative, and eternal, their love for each other is a third Person: the Holy Spirit.  

The God we believe in is so personal that he is three divine Persons, defined by their relationship with one another, yet only one God, in the unity of absolute love.  And since this triune God made us in his image, it should come as no surprise that we find hints and traces of God’s mysterious inner life reflected in our own human nature.  

The God of our Creed, the God we believe in, is not some nameless, faceless life-force simply running the machinery of the cosmos; he is the very personal God who not only created us, but then did whatever it would take to be part of the nitty-gritty of our lives.

And so we find Moses asking the Israelites, “Has anything so great every happened before?”  God had chosen this people as his very own—and proved it repeatedly with signs and wonders—not because they were extra special or any better than anybody else, but in order to give them a mission: to draw all the nations to God.  We can answer Moses’ question by saying, “No, the likes of this had never been seen before!”  Not until then, anyway.  But God would go on to top himself.  

Out from that same chosen people, God raised up a Savior, coming himself to dwell with us in our human flesh.  And in our flesh, God demonstrated the depths of his love, dying on the Cross.  Jesus himself had said, “No man has greater love than to lay down his life for his friends.”  No manhas greater love, but God’s love goes even farther: loving not only his friends, but also his enemies; loving us in our sin in order to save us from it.

By our Baptism in the name of the Holy Trinity, as Jesus commanded, our sins were washed away in the Blood of his Cross, and we were united with him in the one Body of Christ.  We were adopted, becoming heirs of the kingdom, heirs of heaven, children of God in his Only Begotten Son.  We were filled with the Spirit who allows us to call God ourAbba, our Father, just as really and truly as Jesus does.  And all of this makes it possible for us to go forth and do as Jesus did.  He has entrusted his mission to us, his Church: to gather all the nations; to bring all peoples to know and love the God who loves them.

When you make the Sign of the Cross over yourself, what’s at the center?  You are!  God has pulled you into himself—into the relationship of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Is the Most Blessed Trinity a mystery?  Yes, of course!  But it’s not a mystery in the sense that trigonometry and organic chemistry are mysteries: subjects only the brightest minds can understand. No, the Holy Trinity is a mystery in the sense that love is a mystery: something you can’t figure out because it isn’t meant to be figured out; a mystery that doesn’t scare you away, but that draws you farther and farther into itself.

The next you make the Sign of the Cross, don’t do it so quickly or sloppily that you look like any other Adirondacker swatting at the mosquitoes and black flies. Instead, do it deliberately and with devotion, as someone who believes in one God in three Persons—the God who is life and love—who embraces you with his love now, and longs to share his life with you forever.

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After Holy Communion:
Eternal Father, by the power of your Holy Spirit, in the Sacrament of his Body and Blood, your Son has come into our midst yet again—fulfilling his promise to remain with us always. May the loving, living presence of Jesus within us in Holy Communion draw us evermore deeply into you.

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