The Peace Pulpit: Homilies by Bishop Thomas J. Gumbleton
|Feast of the Holy Trinity||June 11, 2006|
A few Sundays ago I told an anecdote at the beginning of my reflection that Im going to repeat today because I think its appropriate for our reflections on the scripture lessons this morning. Some of you will remember the story about the little boy in the Confirmation class in which all of the children were urged to pick a certain part of scripture to memorize and when the bishop came to Confirmation he might ask them to get up and recite whatever they had chosen. When the bishop came, he did exactly that, and this youngster was very enthusiastic and raised his hand right away. The bishop called on him, and this youngster said, I memorized Psalm 23. Then he began to recite it. The Lord is my shepherd, there is nothing I shall want. And he stopped, totally blanked, couldnt think of another word. But then he blurted out, And thats all I need to know. [Congregation laughs] And thats what everybody in church did, they smiled and agreed, thats all we need to know.
Well today, as we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Trinity, we might be, at first, kind of overwhelmed by this mystery of God. And we might try to think of it in terms that we have been taught in the past, Im sure, most of us remember at some point in our catechism training hearing about St. Patrick, who is in the window up there [points to a stained glass image of St. Patrick in the church], holding up the three-leaf clover. One tiny flower, three leaves. Three persons, one God. Or the triangle: three points, one image, one symbol. In theology class, when I was in the seminary, we had to learn about the Trinity in very philosophical terms. It was a terrible distraction. We learned how in God was one nature, two processions, three persons, four relations and somehow you put all that together and you got the mystery of the Trinity. No way. It doesnt really help very much -- our abstract, intellectual efforts to figure out who is God.
Well theres a passage in scripture that I think we are all familiar with. Its in the first letter of John. God is love, and where there is love, there is God. Thats all we need to know about the Trinity. God is love, and where there is love, there is God. You see once you talk about God as love, then you know there is a love, a lover and a beloved. And theyre bonded. Thats the Trinity -- this God who is a communion of life, a community of persons, many persons. Its perfect harmony, exuberant life, total joy, everlasting peace -- this is God. Its all we need to know. You dont have to know what person, nature, procession, relation, whatever God is love, and where there is love, there is God.
And thats the way the people of the time of Moses experienced God, and perhaps we should take time to go over that passage -- not just now but at some other time -- where Moses reminds the people of how they had experienced God in such a powerful way. God was present to them. Ask of the times past, inquire of the day when God created human beings on earth. Ask from one end of the world to the other, has there ever been anything as extraordinary as this? And now reminds them of what they experienced. Has anything like this been heard of before? Has there ever been a people who remained alive, after hearing, as you did, the voice of the living God from the midst of the fire? Moses had experienced God in this way, asking What is your name? -- I am who am. God becoming known to Moses and to the people. They experienced Gods presence. They didnt try to figure out some metaphysical way of understanding God, they felt God, they knew God in their hearts, in their spirits. The God who had made everything. The God who was present to them. Never has there been a God who went out to look for a people, and take them out from among the other nations by the strength of trials and signs and wonders. Moses was reminding them of how they had experienced God when they were slaves in Egypt and God had come into their midst to deliver them from that slavery, bring them to the Promised Land, and make them Gods people. Through that covenant of love they experienced all of it and so thats how they knew God.
We in our prayers can also enter into that experience of the chosen people, but also our own interactions with God. As we enter into the quiet of our heart, our own spirit, we come to know God deep within the depths of our being. And we will know God, as St. Paul reminds us in the second lesson, as a God who has made us sons and daughters. That was a very powerful image for St. Paul and the people of his time. He was writing to the church at Rome where a large number of the people in that city of Rome and in the empire of Rome were slaves -- absolutely no rights, treated with cruelty and contempt. But once in a while, a Roman couple without children, would take a favorite slave and make that slave a son or daughter, with all the rights that come with being not a slave, but a child of the family. St. Paul is saying, This is what we have experienced. God has entered into our spirit, lives within us, and so now I am a child of God -- an heir of heaven, a brother or a sister to Jesus. And of course thats also how God is made known to us in Jesus who came into our midst -- to seek God as a person, as a human being in our midst. Jesus is the word of God. If we want to know God more deeply we must come to know Jesus more deeply. And there are so many places in the Gospel where Jesus reveals God as the God of love. Probably all of us have our special places where we go to remind ourselves that God loves me, that I am a child of God.
A couple of places that I think of are in Johns Gospel -- the account of The Last Supper. Remember how John describes Jesus showing his love for his disciples by getting down in front of each one of them to wash their feet? He loved them so much he wanted to show them I will do anything for you, I will be your slave -- this is the Son of God. Peter objected, remember, Dont, Lord, you cant wash my feet! He says, If I dont wash your feet, youll have no part with me. So Peter said, Yeah, go ahead, wash my feet, wash my whole body, because Peter wanted to be a disciple of Jesus, loved by Jesus.
And remember, later in the conversation Jesus had with those disciples how he was trying to explain what love is and how love has to be without limit. You cant put conditions on love if it is really love and you cant put limits on it. Its a total giving and so Jesus says, Greater love than this no one has than to lay down your life for your friends. We can all recognize that -- there is no greater love that you could give someone than your very life. Jesus says, And you are my friends. And he gave his life for us. Thats the kind of love that God is, the kind of love that God pours forth upon us -- the unlimited, unconditional, total love that Jesus demonstrates and that we remind ourselves of every time we celebrate the Eucharist together. Greater love than this no one has than to lay down your life for your friends and you are my friends. When we begin to absorb this beautiful, powerful truth, experience deeply within ourselves, Im a friend of Jesus. Jesus is my friend, then we begin to understand again who God is -- God is love. We must not leave it at that, though, just our experience of God as love and our being loved by God. In the Gospel, Jesus tells us, Now that you know who I am, know who God is, go and tell everybody! Go out into the world and proclaim this! Teach everybody all that I have commanded you! And its all summed up, he told us, in those two commands, Love God with your whole heart and soul, with all your strength, and love your neighbor as yourself. Go out into the world and teach that, live that. And of course it hasnt happened. We have a long way to go.
In a very terrible way, in a sense, I was reminded of this this week. I presume all of us are aware of what happened when we bombed that house in the south side of Baghdad, and we would declare that a victory in this terrible war. How sad. As Pope John Paul said, War is always a defeat for humankind. Its a defeat. Why? Because we hate and we kill. Its totally against what God has called us to be as sons and daughters of God, brothers and sisters of Jesus. So how can we rejoice when we kill? Its a victory?! Not really, is it? Its a defeat and every war is a defeat for all of humankind because weve been made in the image and likeness of God who is love and God calls us to love.
Just this morning I heard on the radio, and perhaps you did too, of the three persons in Guantánamo who committed suicide. They had been on a hunger strike. Again this is what we do to one another in spite of the fact that God calls every person to be part of his human family. These three were so desperate that they succeeded in doing what others had tried to do -- kill themselves. They were bereft of love and friendship. They couldnt live as human beings. How terrible it is and how contrary to what God calls us to be and what God calls to do. Go out into the world and proclaim the Good News, -- God loves us, God calls us to love one another and its this way that Gods goodness and Gods peace will be brought into the world.
The peace of the Holy Trinity might seem like an abstraction when we first confront it, but as you really listen to these scriptures and you try to understand who God is as three Persons in one God -- a community of life and love, a community into which were drawn -- then you know that this peace is a very important peace. It calls us to action, calls us to carry the love of God everywhere we go and to bring that goodness and love of God throughout our whole world. I hope that we will pray deeply over what God reveals to us and try to bring ourselves to be more faithful sons and daughters of God, brothers and sisters of Jesus, making the whole human family Gods family.
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