Saturday, June 18, 2011

Mission: Possible

Trinity Sunday is traditionally one of the most dreaded days for preachers. No, it’s not a lack of material that intimidates, but rather a superabundance. What could be a richer inspiration than the inner life of the living God?

But there’s your problem: the inner life of God. It’s so difficult to see, or understand, or explain; so theological and complicated, so arcane. It can be oversimplified (Saint Patrick and his shamrock, or St. Joseph Calasanz and his threefold blanket) and overcomplicated (any theological text; the recurring word circumincession).

But don’t cry for me yet, Argentina. The awareness that God has given us in revealing His inner life to be Three Persons in one God is already woven into our life and understanding of everything. It is not foreign to us, nor far from us. Just like me, until you have to explain it, you are very comfortable with the Triune nature of God.

You see, as far away and arcane as can seem this talk of Trinity and Unity, there really is a lot there about us, ourselves, too. Every time you make the sign of the Cross, you invoke and express the Holy Trinity, even if only for grace before meals. You use words that you use in other conversations about your own life: name, father, son, spirit. Hello, my name is --; What name do you give this child? Wait ‘til your father gets home; Happy Father’s Day! My, but your son has a lot of spirit!

It is really fabulous and amazing news that God is in relationship, in conversation, even before anything else comes into being. It announces a sort of pre-existing openness to relationships and conversations that can, should, and will include you and me. That is a pretty radical thing for God to be up for. And it reveals that the kind of relationships and conversations that God has are consistent, mutual, and life giving; they are, in fact, the work of love.

Now, you probably do not think about that very often, even if you make the sign of the Cross a hundred times a week. But it changes your understanding of who you are, and what you are for. In case you wonder whether I am making this up, all you need to do is spend some time getting to know people or societies who have not accepted, or had the opportunity to accept, God’s revelation of Himself: Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists. It changes everything about the way they understand themselves, what they want, how they live, love, and pray, and how their societies are ordered.

You could never say “In the Name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit” at the beginning of a government event anymore, but our whole society is shot through with the awareness that centuries of Trinitarian faith have given. The problem is that as we move away from an explicit acknowledgement of this understanding of God as the basis for our self-understanding, the less we know what makes for right relationships and right order in our society.

Once our personal relationships and societal order cease to be called explicitly to be consistent, mutual, and life giving, that is, the work of love, then our personal and public life will deteriorate. Obscuring the revelation of God will lead us into darkness.

So, pray for your preachers this weekend; pray for us, and with us. We don’t actually dread preaching on the Holy Trinity; we dread failing to preach the Holy Trinity. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

Monsignor Smith

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