May 21, 2016

Sunday - The Holy Trinity: God speaks, We listen

Proverbs 8: 22-31
Romans 5: 1-5
John 16: 12-15

Good conversation is in an art between two people.  We may think the best way to get to know another is to tell them everything about myself. Maybe they will like what I have to say and find something about me interesting.

While self-revelation is a part any conversation the best conversationalists are the best listeners.  To really listen attentively to another person takes a certain amount of personal discipline.  In order to engage a person in friendship for example, I have to show interest in them. If I spend our time talking about myself with no effort to show real interest in anything the other person has to say, well that’s a formula for a doomed relationship.  And, truthfully, the same principle I think applies with God.  In order to get God’s attention, we need to listen to what he says.  

The opening prayer for our Mass on this Feast of the Holy Trinity, sometimes called the feast of God’s love, is essentially a reminder of the conversation God has had with humanity. It reflects what we say each Sunday in our Creed about what God has said to us. Let’s listen carefully:

God our Father, who by sending into the world
The Word of truth and the Spirit of sanctification
Made known to the human race your wondrous mystery,
Grant us, we pray, that in professing the true faith,
We may acknowledge the Trinity of eternal glory
and adore your Unity, powerful in majesty.

That prayer is packed with God’s attempt to engage humanity in conversation.  In fact it implies an effort on the part of a God who is not content to remain hidden.  He has invited us to listen to him and so he uncovers the truth of his very nature which is the truth we mark today on the Feast of the Most Holy Trinity. What has God said to us?

That he offers us a parental image of himself: Father.  Something we can all picture.  That he is engaged in action, a God who is active and involved when he “sent” someone to the world.  Who?

The Word (capital letter), so it implies a person who would speak on his behalf, the Word of truth but who would be separate from the Father.  There was another sent: the “Spirit of sanctification.”  A third person is implied here – a Spirit whose work is to make us holy. So this opening prayer reflects what we hear in our Gospel today from the mouth of Jesus: “I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now. But when he comes, the Spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth.” If Jesus is the Word of truth the Spirit speaks that same truth to us.

While this exercise may sound like a test of theological theory, it supports all we believe about God in our Christian faith.  Our God language is different and unique from other religions around the world. And what we believe about God makes all the difference as to how we view one another.

God in our Christian belief is forever three in one: Father, Son and Holy Spirit – one God in three separate but equal persons.  In Jesus, the Father’s Word, we hear God speak to us; he desperately wants us to know him and so he became one of us, and he invites us to listen to what he says: that he is love and he loves us, that he is mercy and invites us to conversion of heart and life, that he has forgiven and healed a broken relationship we had with him because of sin, that his Son paid the ultimate price by his death and resurrection, and that their Spirit will continue to engage humanity in conversation by revealing the deepest meaning and implication of all that the Father said to us through the conversation he began thousands of years ago with Abraham, Moses, the Prophets and ultimately through his own Son, Christ Jesus.  As Paul reminds us in our second reading: “. . . the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” Our triune God has spoken and continues to speak loud and clear to humanity and to history but do we listen and understand?  Do we care? Are we quiet and attentive enough to hear him speak? Do we immerse our daily lives in so many distractions that we are deaf to God?

This Sunday’s Feast of the Holy Trinity is a challenge each year that on the surface alone may not particularly grab our attention.  A baby in a manger, Jesus feeding 5,000, walking on the water, dying on a cross, even rising from the dead is far more scenes we can sink our teeth into.  But, the “Holy Trinity” leaves us a bit flat.  We may feel as if we are staring at a stained glass image of a shamrock with St. Patrick or a kind of triangle with the mysterious eye of God in the middle or some similar artistic portrayal.

Yet, to stand for a moment in awe before our God is maybe the right formula in this Feast.  God is not a static being, however.  He lives and is indeed active and energized with sustaining life in creation, bringing life into birth and welcoming in death. 

This concept of the Trinity finds its origin in the teaching of Jesus and has more deeply been unfolded for us in the early centuries of Christianity, finally settled in the 4th century at the Council of Nicea which gave us the Creed we recite each Sunday. No other world religion would define God as Trinitarian except for Christianity.  That alone makes us unique among world religions.  Though we share the understanding of God as totally other and only One with our Jewish and Muslim brothers and sisters, only Christian understanding departs from this in defining the One God as three persons. 

As we mark this Feast this weekend, we may want to imagine we are Moses before the burning bush (Ex 3: 1-10) or Abraham in the dark, silent desert pondering God’s majesty and his strange promise (Gen 15: 5-6), or Elijah on the mountain top waiting in awe for God to reveal himself (1 Kg 19: 9-13). Moses could hear because he listened, Elijah could hear because he was anxious to catch God’s presence and to respond when he sensed God speaking to him in the gentle breeze.    

In the celebration of our Eucharist, we stand before a great mystery yet also an invitation to listen.  So God speaks in a language we can comprehend in the scriptures but do we listen?  And even if we hear do I bother to reflect what it all means?  The Word (capital W, so the person who is the Word of the Father), offers himself to us not as an idea or as a theory but in flesh and blood sacramentally present as food!  He becomes life for us! 

This is God who speaks, who knocks, who pursues us as St. Augustine so beautifully implied in his Confessions, who constantly invites us to hear his story of self-revealing love and invites us to live with one another in that same love until we are welcomed to his heavenly home. And who, as we hear today, is incredibly “Awesome.”