Sunday, June 11, 2006

The trinitarian God who is love

My Dear sisters and brothers: Grace and Peace in God, our Father, through our Lord Jesus Christ whose Spirit enlivens our hearts and makes us sons and daughters of the one true God.

We heard in the first reading, this series of Questions,

“Did anything so great ever happen before? Was it ever heard of? Did a people ever hear the voice of God speaking from the midst of fire, as you did, and live? Or did any god venture to go and take a nation for himself from the midst of another nation, by testings, by signs and wonders, by war, with strong hand and outstretched arm, and by great terrors, all of which the LORD, your God, did for you in Egypt before your very eyes?”

The writer’s answer to his rhetorical question is,

“This is why you must now know…that the LORD is God…and that there is no other.”

In many ways, the core of this celebration is different than most other times that we gather together for Eucharist. In some ways, it seems to have more in common with the people of that first reading than the other two, the people we refer to as the Jewish people. I say this not because the Jews have come to believe in the trinity but because we are here to come to a greater understanding of the very nature of God, a question that is so close to the heart of the unique revelation given to our elder brothers and sisters in the faith.

If you will indulge me, I’d like to read an excerpt from a book that seems to sum up the nature of the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity. In this book, the author is telling a story from an author named Harvey Cox in his book The Secular City.

“According to this story, a traveling circus in Denmark caught fire. The man­ager thereupon sent the clown, who was already dressed and made up for the performance, into the neighboring village to fetch help, especially as there was a danger that the fire would spread across the fields of dry stubble and engulf the village itself. The clown hurried into the village and requested the inhabitants to come as quickly as possible to the blazing circus and help to put the fire out. But the villagers took the clown's shouts simply for an excellent piece of advertising, meant to attract as many people as possible to the perfor­mance; they applauded the clown and laughed till they cried. The clown felt more like weeping than laughing; he tried in vain to get people to be serious, to make it clear to them that this was no stunt, that he was not pretending but was in bitter earnest, that there really was a fire. His supplications only increased the laughter; people thought he was playing his part splendidly—until finally the fire did engulf the vil­lage; it was too late for help, and both circus and village were burned to the ground.[1]

According to Cox, this story shows the importance of an updating faith. He says that, far too often, we bring old-fashioned ideas and cliché answers to difficult questions of believers. If we strip away the outmoded ideas of the middle ages and offer new explanations, we will be effective ministers of the gospel. Of course, a part of that is true, but the author offers a critique of this attitude as well. He says,

“Perhaps we should admit that this disturbing analogy, for all the thought-provoking truth contained is still a simplification. .For after all it makes it seem as if the clown or in other words the (believer), is (in possession) of full knowledge who arrives with a perfectly clear message. The villagers to whom he hastens, in other words, those outside the faith, are conversely the completely ignorant, who only have to be told something of which they are completely unaware; the clown, then need only take off his costume and his makeup, and everything will be all right. But is it really quite such a simple matter as that?”[2]

Of course not. The author is using this story to show that both doubt and belief plague both believer and unbeliever alike. This leads the author to the interesting conclusion,

“Per­haps in precisely this way doubt, which saves both sides from being shut up in their own worlds, could become the avenue of communication. It prevents both from enjoying complete self-satisfaction; it opens up the believer to the doubter and the doubter to the believer; for one, it is his share in the fate of the unbeliever; for the other, the form in which belief remains nevertheless a challenge to him.”[3]

On this Trinity Sunday, we are forced to face the fundamental question, “Existiert Gott?” Does God exist? Despite our best efforts to focus on other questions, this will not easily go away. It perdures. We are invited to probe the depths of the mystery of this difficulty and, in the process, come to a greater understanding of God.

We begin in the first reading by firmly establishing the unity of God. We believe in ONE GOD (period!). We do not believe in three gods; father, son, and spirit. We believe in the God of the Old Testament who is one. This is why the gospel mandated baptism in the Name, singular, not in the Names of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Yet, it has been divinely revealed that God, who is one, has three divine persons, “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” One God in three persons. We try to use images like a triangle or a three leaf clover to explain the meaning of this theological concept but both of these can be misunderstood. So, where do we turn for guidance?

As a kid, I never understood all that my Father and Mother did. I never knew of all the sacrificed they made to ensure that I had a rood over head, food on my plate, a good education and even a few of the things that were simple pleasures. And, to be honest, I still don’t know everything they did to make my life better. That’s sort-of what Paul is trying to convey to us in the second reading by using the analogy of adoption. As God’s daughters and sons by adoption, we will learn about the relationship between Father, Son and Spirit by being in relationship to them, in prayer and in acts of justice. When we share in the sufferings of Christ and, so, share in his glory, we are living in the spirit who reveals to us the Father through Jesus Christ. We shouldn’t be too surprised when we get to the heart of the mystery and we find the God who is live and once again find ourselves to show the God who is love to one another.

[1] Ratzinger, Joseph Introduction to Christianity, c 1969 Ignatius Press.pp.39-40
[2] ibid pp. 40-41
[3] ibid p. 46