Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Francis Xavier Church, Hyannis, MA
Trinity Sunday, Year A
May 22, 2005
Ex 34:4-6, 8-9; 2 Cor 13:11-13; Jn 3:16-18
1) Today we celebrate the feast of who God is. Every Sunday is, in a very real sense, dedicated to God and therefore every Sunday really is Trinity Sunday. But since the 1300s, the Church has celebrated, on the Sunday immediately following Pentecost, a feast dedicated to the Holy Trinity, to help all of us focus more explicitly on who God is in his profound mysterious depths, and therefore who we’re called to be made in His image and likeness.
2) The first thing we can say about our Triune God is that we cannot ever fully comprehend him. This is one of the messages that our new pope Benedict XVI has preached through symbol since the beginning of his papacy. If you watched his inaugural Mass on April 24, you noticed that his chasuble featured sea-shell designs. His new papal shield has prominently featured a sea-shell. This sea-shell comes from a story in the life of St. Augustine, on whom our new Holy Father did his doctorate fifty years ago. St. Augustine, the great North African convert, bishop and theologian (d. 430), was trying to come to grips with the Trinity for what became his multi-volume work De Trinitate. As he was walking along the beach, trying to take in God’s infinity through the infinite horizon of the sea, he saw a young girl going back and forth into the sea, filling a scallop shell with water that she proceeded to pour into a hole she had dug in the sand. “What are you doing,” Augustine tenderly asked. “I’m trying to empty the sea into his hole,” the child replied. “How do you think that with a little shell,” Augustine retorted, “you can possibly empty this immense ocean into a tiny hole?” The little girl countered, “And how do you, with your small head, think you can comprehend the immensity of God?” As soon as the girl said this, she disappeared, convincing Augustine that she had been an angel. St. Augustine, as smart as he was, and our new Holy Father, as great a theologian as he is, both recognize that before the mystery of the Blessed Trinity, one can never understand everything.
3) But that doesn’t mean that we can understand nothing. In fact, we understand a good deal, thanks to what Jesus Christ has revealed to us. We know what we know about the Trinitarian God because Jesus came to reveal the Father and with the Father send the Holy Spirit. He talked about the Father and the Holy Spirit and sent his apostles out to baptize in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. If we want to get to the heart of the mystery of the Trinity, we can turn to the most theological of his apostles, who meditated very deeply on all Jesus had revealed, and, inspired by the Holy Spirit, said – simply and synthetically – “God is love” (1 John 4:16). This statement strongly implies that the one God somehow had to be a Trinity of Persons. For God to be love, he could not have been solitary, because no one can love in a vacuum. In love, there is always one who loves, one who is loved, and the content of their love for each other. God the Father and God the Son, in all eternity, loved each other so much that their love generated (“spirated”) a third person, the Holy Spirit. They exist in an eternal communion of persons in love, in which the three persons exist in mutual self-giving that not only makes them united but makes them truly one, three persons in one God.
4) Because love is naturally expansive, their mutual self-giving was bound to overflow. Out of no necessity, our Triune God created the world – and created the human person – to share his love. We were made in God’s image and likeness and hence are created in love and for love. We’re created in the image of the divine giver. We’re called to live in a communion of persons in love. We see this image reflected in the way he created man and woman to exist in a communion of persons in love so strong that their love for each other can actually generate a third person, similar to what we see in the Holy Trinity. Pope John Paul II used to say that this is the deepest thing that can be said about the human person made in God’s image: we are in God’s image most not by our reason and our capacity freely to choose, but by our nature and call to live in a loving communion of persons. But this image of God is called to be reflected in the family, in the Church, and in society. And each of us, on this Trinity Sunday, is called to ask whether we really strive to live in as a loving communion of persons in God’s image and likeness, or whether we live egocentrically and individualistically. This is a particular challenge for us as Americans who pride ourselves in being “independent,” in “picking ourselves up from our bootstraps,” and in doing things ourselves. None of these things is bad in and of itself, as long as they don’t stop there and limit our becoming fully God’s image through a true communion with others.
5) How do we enter more deeply into God’s loving communion and share it with others? In today’s second reading, St. Paul tells us that we will understand and experience God’s love to the extent that we imitate it, that when we love and live in peace with each other, the “God of love and peace will be with you.” It’s like swimming; we can really only learn in the water. The way we experience God’s Trinitarian love is by jumping into the ocean of his love. The way we experience it with others is by jumping in that same ocean with them. But love is a word used so often, and misused so often, that to speak of God’s love is no longer very clear. Hence I’d like to focus on three aspects of God’s love that we are called to imitate if we are going to grow into the image of that love:
a. God’s love is SACRIFICIAL – We read in today’s Gospel, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” God loved us enough that he died so that we might live forever. This is why the greatest symbol of love is not Cupid with his arrow and a heart, but the CRUCIFIX. “No one has any greater love than to lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13), Jesus told us on Holy Thursday and put into body language the following afternoon. To the extent that our love will be true love – one that leads us into communion with God and with others – we need likewise to lay down our lives, to sacrifice.
i. We see this first in the family. For a family to grow in love, the members of the family must be willing to sacrifice for the others. They need to be able to sacrifice their own individual wants for the good of the whole, to put others’ interests first. That capacity to love through a willingness to give up something good for the sake of someone becomes contagious in a family. When egocentrism and selfishness invade, when people start stressing what “I want” more than what the family needs, that’s when things get rocky. But this desire for sacrifice needs to show itself in little things. Most husbands and fathers I know would willingly jump in front of a bullet if it were intended for his wife or kids, but often times hesitates to bite the bullet if it means giving up the booze, or simply sitting down and talking about his day with his wife, or praying together as a family. Likewise most wives and moms would willingly die to protect their children, but often won’t die to having to get their own way in some of the things about which their kids or their husbands think they nag about. For family love to grow, for the family to become a true communion of persons in love, there needs to be a healthy spiral, a good competition, to sacrifice for the sake of others.
ii. We see this need for sacrificial love in God’s family the Church. The Church will thrive to the extent that people sacrifice for others. This type of sacrifice involves their time, the talents God has given them, and the material blessings he has bestowed upon him. The more Catholics give in these three ways, the stronger the Church will be; the more Catholics are selfish with their time, gifts and money, the worse off the Church will be. But this applies not just to the Church, but to the individual Catholics and their families. The more generous they are with the Church, the more happy they are. The more they’re takers, rather than givers, the more they’re spectators rather than contributors, the less they’ll receive.
iii. We also see the need for sacrificial love in society as a whole. Our former parishioner, President John Kennedy summarized it best in his 1961 inaugural, “Don’t ask what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” To the extent that we look for entitlements from our government, to the extent that we add to the litigiousness of our society, to the extent that we try to get away with whatever we can, we do great damage to the fabric of our nation. If we love our country, then we will volunteer, we will sacrifice for its good and health. The great example of the type of sacrificial giving to which we’re all called, in one way or another, we see in our soldiers, who are willing to risk their lives so that we might be safe and free.
b. God’s love is OTHER-CENTERED – When you pay close attention to the Gospels, you notice that each of the persons of the Blessed Trinity speak about the OTHER.
i. God the Father speaks three times in the Gospel, and each time he speaks about the Son. At Jesus baptism, he says, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Mt 3:17). At his Transfiguration, he says, “This is my Son. Listen to him!” (Mk 9:7). During the Last Supper he speaks to say that through the Son his name has been glorified will be glorified again (Jn 12:28 ).
ii. When Jesus speaks, he’s constantly speaking of the Father. When the disciples ask to learn how to pray, he teaches them how to pray the Our Father. During the Sermon on the Mount, he focuses on how good the Father is, how he will give good things to those who ask him, that he loves us so much more than the birds of the air or the lilies of the field (Mt 6:26-34). He tells us that he and the Father will send the Holy Spirit into our hearts.
iii. We also see clearly what the Holy Spirit’s mission is. The first is to help us cry out, not “Ruah!” (Spirit), but “Abba, Father!” The Holy Spirit’s mission is to help us to cry out, not “Ruah!” (Spirit) but “Abba, Father!” (Gal 4:6; Rom 8:15). He will remind us of everything Jesus has taught us (Jn 14:26).
iv. Their love for each other has no egocentrism, and likewise, if we’re going to share in a loving communion with God and others, there can be no self-centered aspect to our love. We need to live humbly, hoping that others be exalted, seeking to make the other happy, striving to fulfill the others will. Think about what would happen in a young family if the father always spoke to the kids about how great their mom is, and if the mother were always stressing what a great dad they’re blessed with; if both always stressed to each other the good qualities in their children, and if the children were taught not to say “mine!” and to be selfish with their toys and talents, but to share and to give to make others happy. What great peace would reign in that family! And this is not an impossible ideal! It starts with each member’s trying to put the other first.
c. God’s love is MERCIFUL – This is perhaps the greatest and the most important thing we could say about God’s love relative to us (because there’s no need for mercy within the Trinity). It’s also the most important aspect of God’s love that we’re called to imitate if we seek loving communion with God and others. In today’s first reading, God says to Moses on the top of Mount Sinai: “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.” God is merciful and we’re called to be merciful. Jesus says to us clearly in the Gospel, “Be merciful, as your heavenly father is merciful” (Lk 6:36). He tells us clearly that it’s easy to love those who love us – even sinners do that much. The love to which he calls us is a merciful love, one we give even to our enemies (Lk 6:35) and those who have made themselves our vested antagonists and adversaries. In doing so, we will be loving others as God loves us. We see this in the first reading, when God gives the Israelites another chance after their idolatry. We see this in the way he treats us, whose sins killed God the Son. We see this in the first words of Jesus from the Cross, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Lk 23:34). The greatest destroyer of communion is an incapacity to forgive, which is why, if we wish to enter into loving communion is to live in a relationship of forgiveness and reconciliation with God and others. “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy” (Mt 5:7).
6) God who is love loved us so much that he wanted us to share in this love, not just in the next life but in this one. The way we best prepare for heaven is by entering into a communion of love here on earth. If God in his mercy grants us the blessing of heaven, we will enter into the communion of persons in love that is the communion of saints, within the loving communion of persons who is the Blessed Trinity. This Trinity Sunday is a chance for us, once again, to hear God calling us to live up to our dignity and enter more deeply into the communion with Him and with others that will bring true joy to our lives in this world and eternal joy in the next. Out of love, God has created us in his image, made us capable of receiving his own love and life within, and given us the joyful privilege of sharing it with others. Today we thank Him for that gift and that calling, and ask him for all the help he knows we need so that we might truly be men and women in a communion of love and say, by words and deeds, “Glory be to the Father, to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be.” Amen