Saturday, June 2, 2012

Blessed Trinity!

HOMILY FOR THE SOLEMNITY OF THE MOST HOLY TRINITY, June 3, 2012:
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A long time ago, the Jesuits and Franciscans were both offered a large and beautiful church in Rome, but didn’t know how to decide who should get it. So, they held a debate to settle the issue. Each Order sent their greatest theologian to Rome; and just to make it more interesting, they decided neither theologian would be able to speak. The day of the great debate came. The Jesuit sat opposite the Franciscan for a full minute before the Jesuit raised his hand and showed three fingers. The Franciscan looked back at him and raised one finger. The Jesuit waved his fingers in a circle around his head. The Franciscan pointed to the ground where he sat. Then Jesuit pulled out a wafer and a glass of wine. And the Franciscan pulled out an apple. The Jesuit stood up and said, “I give up. You are too good. The Franciscans win!”

An hour later, the cardinals were all around the Jesuit theologian asking him what had happened. He said, “First I held up three fingers to represent the Trinity. He responded by holding up one finger to remind me that there was really only one God. Then I waved my finger around me to show him that God was all around us. He responded by pointing to the ground and showing that God was also right here with us. I pulled out the wine and wafer to show the power of the sacraments. He pulled out an apple to remind me of original sin. He had an answer for everything. What could I do?”

Meanwhile, the friars were gathered around the Franciscan theologian with the same question, “What happened?” “Well,” the Franciscan said, “First he played hardball and said we had three days to get out of here. I told him not one of us was leaving. Then he told me that this whole place would be cleared of Franciscans and I let him know that we were staying right here.” “And, what happened next?” the friars asked. The Franciscan said, “I don't know. He took out his lunch, so I took out mine.”

Today we celebrate the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity – the mystery of God as three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and yet one God. It is perhaps one of the most challenging mysteries of the faith to understand from an intellectual perspective. How can three things be one? St. Patrick famously tried to explain this using the image of the shamrock – three leaves, yet one shamrock. The Catechism of the Catholic Church has this to say about the Trinity, “The mystery of the Most Holy Trinity is the mystery of God in Himself…The whole history of salvation is identical with the history of the way by which the one true God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, reveals himself to people.” Does that clear things up for you? Probably not. And yet, I think we can come to a better understanding of the Trinity in our lives – spiritually and intellectually.

We all remember what we did at the beginning of Mass today. It is the same thing we do at the beginning of every Mass. We did this and please join me. + In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. It is a familiar gesture that we do often more as a reflex than a conscious movement. But it is a gesture that points to today’s feast. When we are conscious of what we are doing in that act, it is a simple act of faith in the complexity of God who is revealed to us in the mystery of the Trinity – Father, Son and Spirit.

I say “revealed to us” because we wouldn’t have a clue about the Trinity if Jesus didn’t tell us about it. Jesus talked about His Father in Heaven, He talked about Himself as the Son of God, He talked about going back to Heaven and sending to us the Holy Spirit. This is what the Catechism means when it says, “The whole history of salvation is identical with the history by which God reveals himself to people.” How does God reveal Himself to us? Precisely as Trinity; as three Persons in one God. Although the Trinity is a mystery revealed by God, it doesn’t mean it is mystifying; rather it is a mystery that God wants us to be drawn deeply into.

So, let’s think about the sign of the cross and how it can draw us deeply into this mystery. First we touch our forehead and say, “In the Name of the Father…” When I hear those words, I think of the beauty of the trees, and flowers and plant life coming into bloom this time of year; I recall beautiful red sunsets at the beach as the setting sun shimmers on the water; the grandeur of the mountains; the feel of the warm breeze in Spring; I think of all the beautiful children who receive First Communion this time of year; the giggling and crying babies baptized; and the pride and happiness on the faces of their parents. I think of all these things because God the Father is the Creator of a beautiful world – something we should always be aware of and should always cause us to marvel at His nature! That finger on my forehead is a reminder not only of a Creator but of God so totally in love with us that He sent His only Son to draw us back into His embrace. This same Father we speak of as “Our Father who art in Heaven.”

Next we move to our chest, to the place where our heart resides and say, “and of the Son.” Here I think of the love the Son of God showed us when He multiplied the loaves for the hungry, when He reached across the social and racial barriers of His time to the Samaritans, when He made room at His table for outcasts and sinners, when He chased the scavengers away from woman caught in adultery hungry for her blood, when He gave the ultimate and agonizing proof of His love for us on the cross. “No one can have greater love than to lay down his life for his friends.”

And then we move to our shoulders and say, “and of the Holy Spirit.” We recall the Holy Spirit who gives so widely of Himself that it takes the full span of our shoulders to remind us of that – left to right, from one side of the world to the other. And I think of God’s desire to be close to all of us; to be your friend and my friend, to be in your heart and my heart; to be in Boston, in Los Angeles, in Afghanistan, in Jerusalem, Rome, Tokyo and every corner of this world – all at the same time. I think of the Holy Spirit as a power in my life – the power in my life – as a great force for goodness and holiness, as one to turn to when decisions are to be made, as one who consoles me through difficult moments in my life. With the Holy Spirit around, we are never alone. God in His Holy Spirit is always with us. What we span in blessing, the Holy Spirit strengthens in life so that we may better shoulder our burdens and responsibilities.

And so, we come to the end of the blessing – the joining of hands and the concluding, “Amen.” And we remind ourselves that the word “amen” means “so be it;” it is itself an expression of assent, in itself an act of faith in all that has gone before. And so with my “amen” I renew my faith. I believe in you Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

My brothers and sisters, may all the signs of the cross we ever make be nothing less than a proclamation of our belief in a God who has revealed Himself to us as Trinity; as Father, Son and Spirit. May it signal our grateful acceptance of God’s love and our willingness to share that love with others. May the hands we join in faith be generous in giving and eager in helping others. May the shared life and love of the Trinity be reflected in our lives too. This is the lived, real meaning of the Most Holy Trinity in our lives.

And may God bless us all in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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