+ In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
That sounds very appropriate for Trinity Sunday, doesn’t it? I begin my homilies that way because being a Trinitarian Christian is important to me. Not all Christians are Trinitarian. Our Unitarian sisters and brothers believe that God is one person, that Jesus was not God’s son, and that the Holy Spirit is an aspect of God’s power. And they are not alone. Christian Scientists, Mormons, and Jehovah’s Witnesses are also non-Trinitarian Christians. And of course, atheists and agnostics, are by definition, non-Trinitarian. Suffice to say that in diverse, secular America, we find a wide ignorance of the Trinitarian nature of God.
That ignorance generates one of the questions Christian clergy are frequently asked, which is, “what is the Trinity?” I don’t respond by saying “Go look it up in the Bible.” That’s because the word “Trinity” does not appear anywhere in the Bible. I could respond to that question by laying out a detailed theological dissertation comparing the Western and Eastern Trinitarian doctrines, about the Cappodocians, the Economic Trinity, the Immanent Trinity, Modalism, Perichoresis, and the Filioque clause. But I will spare you that, and instead, try to talk about the Trinity in earthling language.
So when people ask me, “What is the Trinity,” I respond, “Look at yourself.” Youare a real, live, walking talking Trinity. You have a mind that creates, just like God the creator, who created, designed, and brought into being all that is seen and unseen anywhere and everywhere. You have a physical body of flesh that walks the earth that was the product of an act of love, just as Jesus was the physical manifestation of God made flesh on earth, given to us out of God’s love. And you are alive, with the power of a will and collection feelings from which arise the fruits of your existence, just as the Holy Spirit is the spirit that gives life, that does what it wants, and from whose fruits our success as persons arises. The Trinity within us, our minds, our bodies, and our feelings interact, with each other in the same manner as the persons of the Holy Trinity, interact with each other. Each person of the Trinity is part of each other person of the Trinity. The Father is in the Son and the Son is in the Father. The Father is in the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit is in the Father. The Son is in the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit is in the Son. Thus, the relationship between the persons of the Trinity is not one person acting on another, or one person allowing the other to act on him or herself. It’s not one person doing something to another. Instead, they move together with each other. They act in rhythmic response to one another. They dance. Think of the Trinity as a circle dance of three persons, joining hands and dancing around an axis of joy in an ongoing circle. That is the same way our minds, bodies and feelings, interact within us as part of us. Our minds dance with our bodies, our bodies with our feelings, and our bodies with our minds. They act as if they are all part of the same entity, each with a different role in harmony with each other. Our human bodies mirror humanity around us, not only in the sense of our commonality with other people, but our bodies model human existence by being a community of mind, body and feelings, in the same way that the essential nature of humanness is, to live not alone, but in community with other persons. The Trinity is a family. It is a community. It is the supreme and ideal community, built on love. St. Augustine described the Trinity as the Father who loves, the Son who is the beloved, and the Holy Spirit, who is pure love in and of Herself. The Trinity is the model human community. Its dance of love is how we should all relate to one another. The Trinity presents God as a network of love. The Trinity outpours an oasis of love, from which we should drink, in our relationships here in church, and in our relationships with others beyond our doors.
Some would say that to compare humans to the Trinity might be sacrilegious. No, it is not. It is recognition of reality. We, as human persons, are created in God’s image. That is in the Bible, it’s in the first chapter of Genesis, verse twenty seven, where it says, God created humankind in His image; in the image of God, He created them; male and female He created them.” We are, to use the Latin phrase, the Imago Dei, the image of God, a phrase to describe the relationship between God and human persons. Human existence is coexistence with God. Human life is sacred. We are holy. We are God’s temple. God dwells in us. If we think of ourselves as not worth anything, we are making the same statement about God. Being aware that we are made in God’s image allows us to be part of God’s plans and purposes and to participate in God’s ongoing creativity. God commanded humanity to fill the earth and subdue it, and to have dominion over all plants and animals of any and every kind. In doing so, God recognized the supreme importance of humanity in relation to the rest of creation.
The irreducible primary of what it means to be Catholic is the dignity of the human person. That dignity was given to humanity at creation, when God blessed humanity, and entrusted the earth to humanity. The dignity of the human person is the foundation of a moral vision for society. That is why any comparison between humanity and the Trinity is right on target.
Today’s Gospel lays out the Trinitarian formulation for baptism, the rite of entrance into the Christian community. In Baptism, we are united to the Trinity as we become part of the Body of Christ. In Baptism, we accept the Baptismal Covenant, a promise to God to do certain things, to renounce evil, and to respect the dignity of every human person. We make that promise, because that image of God, the Imago Dei, is present in every person. That is why when we respect the dignity of another person, we respect God. Today’s Epistle reminds us that we are allchildren of God. We are all part of the same human family. As children of God, we are heirs of God. What does it mean to be an heir? In the legal world, an heir is one who, if a dead person does not have a will, is entitled to inherit a designated part of that person’s property. To be an heir, therefore, is to have an entitlement to something. In relation to God, we are heirs of God’s kingdom. The old Anglican catechism declared that when persons are baptized, they are made “a member of Christ, a child of God, and an inheritor of the kingdom of Heaven.” In Baptism, we become part of the Church, the Body of Christ, children and heirs of God, sealed with the Holy Spirit and marked as Christ’s own forever.
All of that sounds great. But we all know life is not that great sometimes. Now, I realize that the idea of respecting other people as God’s children, created in God’s image, is a challenge when we are stressed, and things aren’t going the way we want. We all dislike or disapprove of the character or behavior of certain other people. I’m talking not only about the criminal behavior that makes news, but also people who give us grief on a personal level, when people don’t do what we want them to do, particularly when they’re quite stubborn about it. It is easy to say, “just love that person”, but very hard to do, when that person’s actions are challenging an important part of your life, particularly your health or finances, such as an insurance company representative who won’t approve the medical care you need to stay healthy, or a lender who denies your request for a loan you need to buy a car, so you can get to work. It is very easy to treat these people disrespectfully based on what they’re doing to you. Sometimes you feel like you want to call them every name in the book. But there’s another way to deal with those situations. Look at the Trinity within those people. They have a mind. They have a body. They have feelings. Those three things are the keys to turning them in the direction that you need them to go. First, approach them on an intellectual level. Think about providing the decision makers the information they need to do what you need doing. If that doesn’t work, appeal to the common humanity they share with you: invite the person to whom you are speaking to empathize with your situation, as one person to another. Ask how they would feel if they were in your shoes. Finally, communicate on an emotional level. Try to determine how the other person is feeling and respond to that. So what if you are on the other side of the desk? You’re the decision-maker and someone wants you to change your mind. Don’t play hardball. Put aside the ideology of the business world, that contracts, rules and money are more important than people. Remember first that you both you and the person with whom you are dealing is a child of God, just like you. Listen to the other person. Ask questions. Try to develop information that will help you do what you need to do to get the best result for that person. Keep in mindthat the other person is human just like you are. Put yourself in their shoes: how would you like done to you what you’re doing to them? Finally, pay attention to the other person’s feelings. There are ways to be truthful with people without hurting their feelings.
You’ve now heard how the inherently Trinitarian structure of human beings can be helpful in negotiating life’s important situations. But that’s not the whole story. The Trinity can be helpful in moments of theodicy, when our loyalty to God is compromised due to surrounding circumstances, those times when we don’t understand why something bad is happening to us, causing us to ask, “from where does suffering come,” “what kind of God would permit innocent suffering,” and “what good is God when we suffer?” These questions highlight how intertwined the Trinity is in our existence as human persons.
At the heart of the question of theodicy is how we conceive of God. Is God a dominating, controlling and judgmental power who consciously intervenes in a supernatural way in the natural world and among persons? The true answer is, we don’t know. The exact nature of God, the mind and actions of God, will always remain a mystery to us. That is why for every speculation one might have about what God is doing and why, someone else will have an opposite one. What we do know, based on the message of Jesus as God among us, is that God is love. Jesus said, “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you.” So, how about the idea of God as a whirlpool of love? Can we imagine being with God as jumping into a soothing hot-tub and allowing God to surround us with healing waters as God cares for us? God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, have something to offer us when life isn’t kind to us.
Think of God the Father as a wise and loving parent. Some of us grew up with one or both bad parents, so I understand that is a stretch for many people. So imagine the kind of parent you would want if you were down on your luck. Think of someone whose wisdom could offer advice based on knowledge and experience, to help you see your particular situation objectively, and to guide you into an appropriate course of action. Seeking advice from appropriate professionals, be that a pastor, a lawyer, doctor, accountant, or psychologist, is allowing God the Father as creator of knowledge, to assist your situation, to place you in the serene center, the eye of the storm, so you can figure out what’s going on, and where you have to go, rather than just react to the events around you.
Think of God the Son as someone with you in the present moment, someone who empathizes with your situation. Jesus, as God, came to us as a human person, who experienced sorrow, suffering, grief, and all the other things we feel. Jesus is the fellow sufferer who understands. Jesus suffers with us. Jesus was searching and longing just as we are, going to John for Baptism, seeking his mission in the desert, trying unsuccessfully to explain himself in his hometown, weeping over the death of Lazarus, and seeking deliverance from the cross in Gethsemane. All the while, He lived among us as one of us, as teacher and healer. In all of this, the God the Son participates in, and responds to, our human situation.
And last but not least, don’t forget God the Holy Spirit. She’s there for you, too. The Holy Spirit is more than your feelings. The person of the Holy Spirit is that property of God, which gives and restores life. When Jesus was dead in the tomb, the Holy Spirit breathed life into Him to make His resurrection possible. Life is often more than we can bear, yet people do rise up from tragedy. The Holy Spirit is there for us to raise us up when we fail or fall. The Holy Spirit, as the Divine breath of God, is the wind at our backs, carrying us forward, particularly when events in our lives take the wind out of our sails. Be open to the Holy Spirit. She will give you life, and take you where you need to go.
Trinity Sunday is an invitation to dance. Just as your mind, body and feelings move with each other, and just as we move in harmony with the world around us, we dance with God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. AMEN.