If you’re a person of a certain age, like me, you probably at one time or another asked your religion class teacher, usually a religious sister, to explain the Holy Trinity. And often as not she would say something like, “It’s a mystery! You don’t explain it, just believe it.” I’ve been trying for 30 years to find a way to preach on the Feast of the Holy Trinity that inspires people and helps them experience of God as “three persons, one God.” I like to remind the congregations that one of the classes I struggled the most with during seminary was the course on Trinitarian theology. In the end, as I say in these homily notes, you don’t explain God, even if you’re a theologian. You experience the mystery and live “in love” until that day when “We shall see God face to face. On that day we shall see him as he is and come to truly know him.” (Funeral Liturgy of the Roman rite). Until then, we’ll have to ponder the reflections of God’s being we experience and try to name with imperfect imagery.
Homily for the Feast of the Holy Trinity
given at St. Stephen Caseyville, IL
June 19, 2011
Being human beings, we need images to get at the mystery of God that we celebrate, today. To get at the truth about the God we experience, the nature of the divinity, we humans need images; pictures, words that help us grasp what is the truth about God we believe.
A lot of Catholics seem to have a picture of the Holy Trinity in their mind, the image of God for a lot of Catholics might be described as it was by an editor of a Catholic magazine, recently, as “The Old Man” (with the beard, wrinkled face and flowing garments), “the young, good-looking, popular, charismatic Son” and “their pet dove.” Such imagery is not helpful. In fact the Dad, Son, pet dove is a totally inadequate parody of the profound mystery we are invited to experience.
The traditional language of the Holy Trinity, Father/Son/Holy Spirit is our human way to try to get at or wrap our minds around the unlimited, inexhaustible LOVE that we experience as a real presence in our lives. The images of Father/Son/Spirit describe, in a limited way the love that we come to know through the effects of the actions God initiates in the lives of humans that we experience and upon reflection name “God.”
Love is an experience, more verb, more action than a noun or thing. Love in its purest sense is really not a thing. God is not a thing – God is experienced through an experience of love. And, to experience love, that emotional response to the actions of another there must be a relationship present, a sort of tie between two individuals. This then, this Feast of the Holy Trinity, is a celebration of “relationship” at its core.
God is described as a group of relationships, that the very essence of God is relationship. There is Father and Son and the Spirit of love that flows between them and overflows into the cosmos creating and uniting all that exists to the Father and Son.
God is experienced, therefore, wherever humans enter into relationships that mirror the nature of God, relationships where offering of self to the other, especially for the creation of a richer life for the other takes place. We see such love in the bond of married folks, husbands and wives; parents and their children; Pastors and parishioners (I have seen God at work in you and I hope you in me as I have tried to serve you). We see such love in the relationships created between members of the body of Christ and the poor who Christians get involved with trying to give the hungry, the homeless, the grieving a better life.
God is defined by relational terms. God is experienced in the effects of the actions of people who put love into action.
Theologians have tried for centuries to “explain” God. But words will never capture, will never pin down who God is as if God were a thing to be dissected into parts to understand. Only when we leave our desire for the intellect to understand and instead open our heart to experience LOVE as we enter into relationship with the divine and one another will we truly “come to know” God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
© 2011 by Rev. Joseph C. Rascher