Sunday, May 26, 2013

Trusting the Father, Following the Son, Listening to the Spirit | Trinity Sunday

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. Finally, the Jesuit stood up and said, “I give up. You are too good. The Franciscans win!”

An hour later, the cardinals were gathered 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.  St. Ignatius, the founder of the Jesuits, used the image of the musical chord – made up of many notes, but making one single sound.  Others have used the image of water – steam, liquid and ice – yet all chemically the same. 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.

And that is the key – the mystery of the Trinity is lived, not dissected under a microscope.  Pope Francis said today, “The Holy Trinity is not the product of human reasoning, but the face with which God has revealed Himself, walking with humanity.”  I started today with my little joke about Franciscans and Jesuits and, as you know, I am a member of the Franciscan Order, and I think today, looking at religious life might be a helpful way to understand the lived mystery of God in Three Persons.
As you may know, members of religious communities like mine, the Franciscans, take three vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.  Maybe you didn’t know that diocesan priests like Fr. Mark and the other priests who serve here don’t take those three vows – they only take one: a vow of obedience to the Bishop. They also make a promise of celibacy.  But, in religious life, we take those three – poverty, chastity and obedience; or as one of our older friars likes to shorthand it, “No money. No honey. No say!” 

The vows have historically been viewed in a Trinitarian way; as a devotion to God in Three Persons.  For example, poverty can be viewed as a complete devotion to God the Father; as an opportunity to put your trust completely in the Father’s care.  As Jesus said in Luke’s Gospel, “Do not worry about your life and what you will eat or about your body and what you will wear. Your Father knows what you need. Seek His kingdom and these things will be given you.”

The vow of chastity is viewed as a special devotion to God the Son.  Jesus Himself lived a chaste and single life as all religious do. He thought of Himself as being a member of every family but belonging to no one family. Most importantly, the vow of chastity is a profound expression of the personal love we strive to have for Jesus, our Lord and our model as we try to follow Him as closely as possible.

Finally, the vow of obedience is a devotion to the Holy Spirit.  The word “obedience” comes from the Latin word meaning “to hear.”  When we take a vow of obedience, we dedicate ourselves to “listening” for the voice of God in His Holy Spirit to learn more clearly God’s will for our lives.  And, we believe that the Holy Spirit speaks that will for us through our religious community and our religious superiors.

But, these three principles can be an effective way of understanding Trinity in the lives of everyone.  They come down to this: trusting the Father, following the Son and listening to the Holy Spirit.  Even though we don’t all take the same vows, we are all called to live those same Trinitarian values – trust, follow and listen. 

When our world throws us its various ups and downs in the workplace, in our relationships, in our families and in our friendships – we are called to trust deeply in God our Father; that He has a plan for our future and that He will provide for what we need.   In a world full of selfishness and self-centeredness that wants us to seek money and power and fame, to accumulate more and more for ourselves to the detriment of our brothers and sisters, we need to be committed to following God the Son who reminds us in the depths of our hearts, “This is my commandment: love one another.”  And in a world that is full of conflicting voices and ideas; ideologies and principles, we need to listen for the guidance of the Holy Spirit.  There are so many times when we don’t know what is right or what the best way to handle a situation is.  Especially at these times, we need to pause in prayer and listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit.

Trusting in the Father, following the Son and listening to the Holy Spirit – these are the ways to walk with God as He has revealed Himself to us as Holy Trinity.  After all, that’s what this feast is really about – the celebration of a Father who we can truly trust, a Son who we can always follow, and a Spirit who is our constant companion offering us the surest guidance if we take the time to listen.

Let us end with the great prayer to the Trinity together: Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now and will be forever, world without end. Amen.

And may God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit give you His peace.

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