Sunday, June 19, 2011

Mysterium Tremendum et Fascinans

My Dear Friends in Christ

Grace and Peace to you in God, our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit. Today we gather to celebrate Trinity Sunday. When I was a kid, weekends in summer meant camping. I, in fact, remember camping with such fondness that I have purchased a camper of my own that I use on my day off. Most of the time that we went camping, we would go to Twin Acres Campground, which is located between Colo, Iowa and Nevada, Iowa. My parents, being good and observant Catholics, didn’t believe that vacation was a vacation from church so, of course, we had to get dressed up on Saturday afternoon and head to St. Mary’s Church in Colo for mass. The priest there was very stern. For example, he didn’t want someone using their left hand to receive the Holy Eucharist so he would reach down and adjust their hands if he felt like they were wrong. But, what I remember most about mass in Colo was that they would always sing the same four songs. I'm not sure if they were the only four songs the organist knew or if they were the only four songs the priest allowed. Regardless, one of them was called “Sing Praise to our Creator”. It had three verses, each extolling the three persons of the Holy Trinity. But the chorus was always the same: Oh most Holy Trinity, undivided unity, Holy God, Mighty God, God immortal be adored.

An updated version started appearing in music books a couple of years ago and I do use it for daily mass on occasion. Yet, I don’t just love the song because it reminds me of a simpler time of my life. I also love it because it portrays a teaching about God that, I fear, has been lost in a lot of Catholic teaching, namely the transcendence of God.

Our readings today are all about the transcendence of God. In the first reading, we hear about Moses going up Mount Sinai to receive the Ten Commandments. You will notice that, despite the fact that God is said to have appeared to Moses, there is no description of him. Moses falls on the ground in worship because, in the mindset of the Old Testament, if one were to see God, you would surely die. So Moses’ act of falling to the ground was just as much about preserving his life as it was about his love for the Lord.

Given this understanding of God, you can understand why the early church had such a difficult time communicating the message of Jesus to the Jews. In some way, the Gospel today is an attempt bridge this gap in understanding by communicating the relationship of Jesus to his heavenly Father. God could have sent his son into the world to condemn the world. We have all fallen prey to the sin of Adam and God could have sent Jesus here to wipe us all out. He almost did it in the flood. He could do it again. But, instead, he sent his son to save us from those sins.

So, given the complete “otherness” of God, given the fact that God is completely transcendent, how can we love God. It’s hard to love and to know the love of something that is totally unknown and unknowable. To me, that is why God revealed himself to us as a trinity of person. This means that the nature of God is relational. There’s diversity among the unity of God. So, even though, as it says elsewhere in the gospel of John, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are one, nonetheless, they are three persons of the godhead. Therefore, we come to understand in a fragmentary and imperfect way, a bit of the relationship between Father, Son, and Spirit in our own relationships with one another.

This is also why God gave us the church. For most people, salvation is not based solely upon one’s ability to have a personal relationship to Jesus Christ. Such a relationship is important to be sure but it is just as important that we be a part of Church of Christ. We need each other to correct our faults, to lean on in times of suffering, and to stand in solidarity during times of persecution. We need each other to support our faith and challenge that faith when it becomes too simple. And, in these relationships, we experience the love that is God.

O most Holy Trinity, undivided unity. Holy God, Mighty God. God immortal be adored.

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