Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Bernadette Parish, Fall River, MA
Trinity Sunday, Year A
June 15, 2014
Ex 34:4-6.8-9, Dt 3, 2 Cor 13:11-13, Jn 3:16-18
To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below:
The following text guided the homily:
The Central Mystery of Christian Faith and Life
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.
“The mystery of the Most Holy Trinity,” we read in an incredibly important paragraph in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “is the central mystery of Christian faith and life.” It’s the central mystery, note, not just with regard to what we believe but how we live. The Catechism goes on to say why: “It is the mystery of God in himself. It is therefore the source of all the other mysteries of faith, the light that enlightens them. It is the most fundamental and essential teaching in the ‘hierarchy of the truths of faith.’” The mystery of the Trinity enlightens the mystery of Creation, the mystery of Redemption, the Mystery of Sanctification. It illumines every page of Sacred Scripture. It helps us to understand the commandments. It sheds light on the four last things. It reveals what is at the root of all of the sacraments and prayer.
The Catechism paragraph concludes, “The whole history of salvation is identical with the history of the way and the means by which the one true God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, reveals himself to men ‘and reconciles and unites with himself those who turn away from sin” (CCC 234). Underneath the history of the world, underneath our own personal history from the moment of our conception in our mother’s womb, until now and beyond, has developed within this mystery of the Blessed Trinity. Therefore, it’s crucial for us as human beings, not to mention believers, to pour ourselves into the mystery of the Trinity. This means not just pouring our minds, but our heart, soul, strength and entire existence, into this reality. The Christian life is meant to be a Trinitarian life. Your life, my life, is meant to be a Trinitarian life.
Living a Trinitarian Life
How do we live a Trinitarian life?
We certainly are helped to live this reality liturgically, although often we fail to recognize it.
This whole Mass, for example, is lived in communion with the Trinity. We began this Mass in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. We will end it by receiving the blessing of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Everything we do and say during this Mass is nothing other than a dialogue between us and the Father, through the person of Jesus Christ, in the light and with the help of the Holy Spirit. The priest greets us all with St. Paul’s words from today’s second reading, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.” The Mass is supposed to help us to enter into God’s grace, love and communion. In the middle of Mass, we loudly proclaim that we have grounded our lives in the mystery of the Trinity, uniting ourselves to the entire Church on earth, in heaven and in Purgatory as we say: “I believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, the maker of heaven and earth… I believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God… I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son, who with the Father and the Son is adored and glorified.” At the end of the Eucharistic Prayer, as we lift up Christ’s Body and Blood to the Father and offer ourselves together with him, the priest on behalf of Christ’s whole mystical body summarizes the fundamental orientation of a Christian life: “Through [Christ], with Him and in Him, O God, Almighty Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all glory and honor is yours, forever and ever.”
As we see in the liturgy of the Mass, our whole life is meant to begin and end in the name of the Blessed Trinity and be a profession of the faith we proclaim together. We see this in the other Catholic liturgies that are likewise Trinitarian. Our spiritual life begins when a minister of God makes us God’s child and a temple of His presence by baptizing us, “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” At the end of our life, a priest, in the prayers after the anointing, will say, “Depart from this life, Christian soul, in the name of God the Almighty Father who created you, in the name of Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, who suffered for you, in the name of the Holy Spirit, who descended over you.” Between these two extremes — birth and death — our whole earthly existence is meant to be lived explicitly within the life of the Blessed Trinity: in the name of the Trinity spouses are united in holy matrimony; in the name of the Trinity, priests are ordained and consecrated for God’s service; in the name of the Trinity, our sins are forgiven. Our whole Christian existence develops in the company of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit: the three Persons are with us, the walk each step of life with us — and when we’re in the state of grace, they do so on the inside! But often we do not recognize this accompaniment. We can be like the disciples on the road to Emmaus who ever though they have walked several miles with Jesus, never really recognized him.
The Liturgy of Life
But liturgy should never be separated from life. The Catechism says we’re called to live as we pray, to put into practice what Triune God has come to reveal to us and make possible. And so this Trinitarian Life that is emphasized and effectuated by the Sacraments is meant to overflow into our entire life. Jesus has come to reveal to us who God is so that not only we may come to know him and experience his life and love throughout our daily existence into eternity but so that we can also grow to know ourselves, who have been created by Him in his image and likeness.
What it means to be created in the image of God who is love
St. John wrote in his first letter something so simple but yet so theologically deep. He said, ““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. 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 us — 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 and 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. Saint 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. This image of God as communion is meant to be reflected in the family, in the Church, and in society. And each of us, on this Trinity Sunday, is summoned 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 selfishly, egocentrically and individualistically.
We need to make this Trinitarian shape of Christian life practical. The question is: 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 and sharing it, so that others will jump into the deep end of that ocean of love with us as well.
The Characteristics of God’s Love that We’re Called to Imitate
Love, however, is a word used so often, and misused so often, that to speak of God’s love is no longer very clear. Today, love has been hypersexualized and even perverted, such that people have come to believe that a valid expression of love is sex without commitment or even sex contrary to nature. So if we’re going to say that God is love and that we’re created in love and for love, we need to ponder what love really is in order to understand God and ourselves. Today we can focus on three aspects of God’s love that we are called to imitate so that we can grow more and more into the image of that love:
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 piercing a heart, but the Crucifix with arrow-like nails piercing Christ’s flesh. “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.
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. I remember one couple celebrating a 50th anniversary who told me their secret for a happy marriage: their motto was, “Honey, you got your way the last time; I want you to get it again!” That type of loving sacrifice of their own preferences is so much in contrast to the “you got your way the last time; now it’s my turn” of the world. When egocentrism and selfishness invade a marriage, when spouses start stressing what “I want” more than what the family needs, that’s when things get rocky. This desire for loving sacrifice, however, needs to show itself in little things. On this Fathers’ Day weekend, we can note with gratitude that most husbands and fathers would willingly jump in front of a bullet if it were intended for his wife or kids, but we also have to note that often dads and husbands hesitate to bite the bullet if it means giving up the booze, or simply sitting down and talking about his day with his wife, or leading family prayer. 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, a virtuous circle of sacrificing for the sake of others.
We see this need for sacrificial love also 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, as all of us are invited to do through the Catholic Charities Appeal and so many other means. The more Catholics give in these three ways, the stronger a parish will be; the more Catholics are selfish with their time, gifts and money — the more they’re takers, rather than givers, spectators rather than contributors — the worse off a parish and the Church as a whole will be. And this equates with happiness in the faith. The more we give, the more we sacrifice to enter into communion with others, the happier we are, because we can only be fulfilled by love and true love doesn’t exist without sacrifice.
God’s love is other-centered
When we pay close attention to the Gospels, we notice that each of the persons of the Blessed Trinity speak about the others.
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 he will glorify his Son’s name once again (Jn 12:28).
When Jesus speaks, he’s constantly speaking of the Father and the Holy Spirit. 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 speaks only what he hears the Father say to him and that his whole will is to do the will of the Father who sent him. During the Last Supper, as he’s preparing for his death (!), he also speaks extensively about the Holy Spirit, and even says humbly that it’s better for him to go so that the Spirit can come.
We also see clearly what the Holy Spirit’s mission is. 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 comes into our heart not so that we can cry out, “The Holy Spirit is Lord,” even though it’s true, but as we saw in last week’s second reading, “Jesus Christ is Lord.” The Holy Spirit reminds us of everything Jesus has taught us (Jn 14:26).
So the Father speaks about the Son, the Son about the Father and the Spirit, and the Spirit about the Father and the Son. 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 other’s 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.
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 speaks Moses on the top of Mount Sinai how to relate to him: “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, as Jesus prayed for us from the Cross, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Lk 23:34). The greatest destroyer of communion is sin and an incapacity to forgive, which is why, if we wish to enter into loving communion is to live in a relationship of mercy and reconciliation with God and others. “Blessed are the merciful,” Jesus tells us, “for they will receive mercy” (Mt 5:7).
Living in God’s grace, love and communion
God who is love loved us so much that he wanted us to share in this sacrificial, other-centered, merciful love, not just in the next life but in this one. The way we best prepare for heaven is by entering into that type of communion of love here on earth. If God in his goodness 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. Both are meant to be anticipated here on earth, in our families, in our parish, in our society. 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. It’s a time for us to receive the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God the Father and the communion of the Holy Spirit, to dwell in it and to let that grace, love and communion overflow. Today we thank Him for the gift and calling to that communion of love, 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, in this world and forver, “Praise the Holy Trinity! Undivided Unity! Holy God! Mighty God! God Immortal be adored!” Amen!
The readings for today’s Mass were:
EX 34:4B-6, 8-9
as the LORD had commanded him,
taking along the two stone tablets.
Having come down in a cloud, the LORD stood with Moses there
and proclaimed his name, “LORD.”
Thus the LORD passed before him and cried out,
“The LORD, the LORD, a merciful and gracious God,
slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity.”
Moses at once bowed down to the ground in worship.
Then he said, “If I find favor with you, O Lord,
do come along in our company.
This is indeed a stiff-necked people; yet pardon our wickedness and sins,
and receive us as your own.”
DN 3:52, 53, 54, 55, 56
Blessed are you, O Lord, the God of our fathers,
praiseworthy and exalted above all forever;
And blessed is your holy and glorious name,
praiseworthy and exalted above all for all ages.
R/ Glory and praise for ever!
Blessed are you in the temple of your holy glory,
praiseworthy and glorious above all forever.
R/ Glory and praise for ever!
Blessed are you on the throne of your kingdom,
praiseworthy and exalted above all forever.
R/ Glory and praise for ever!
Blessed are you who look into the depths
from your throne upon the cherubim,
praiseworthy and exalted above all forever.
R/ Glory and praise for ever!
2 COR 13:11-13
Brothers and sisters, rejoice.
Mend your ways, encourage one another,
agree with one another, live in peace,
and the God of love and peace will be with you.
Greet one another with a holy kiss.
All the holy ones greet you.
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ
and the love of God
and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.
so that everyone who believes in him might not perish
but might have eternal life.
For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world,
but that the world might be saved through him.
Whoever believes in him will not be condemned,
but whoever does not believe has already been condemned,
because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.