Rorate Caeli

Sermon for Trinity Sunday 2017

by Fr. Richard G. Cipolla
St. Mary's, Norwalk, Conn.

From St Paul’s Epistle to the Romans: “And this hope will not leave us disappointed, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”
But it seems that something has happened that has never happened before: though we know not just when or how or where.
Men have left GOD not for other gods, they say, but for no god: and this has never happened before.
That men both deny gods and worship gods, profession first Reason,
And then Money, and Power, and what they call Life, or Race, or Dialectic.

It is this passage from T.S. Eliot’s “Choruses from the Rock” that describes the current situation of man in this present age.  And Eliot is correct:  this has never happened before.  Human history is characterized by the awareness of the sacred, however that awareness has taken form.  It has always been a given.  But something has happened in this time: men have left God not for other gods but for no god. But, the answer swiftly comes:  “All the polls show that the great majority of Americans say that they are religious”.  The liberal press is fond of trumpeting the rise of professed atheism, but most people would describe themselves as religious in some way.  But because people say that they in some sense believe in God, does not mean that for all practical purposes this belief is not in fact a form of atheism, for if you go on to questions them about this god and their relationship to this god, you discover, and this is true about many religious people who even attend church, that this god is a mental, subjective construct who plays no role in their lives.  For this is a god who has to fit into the post- modern way of looking at things.  And what is this way of looking at things?

First of all, we measure worth, the ultimate measure and worth of man, by the notion of success, and this success has to be IN something, and something that can be seen.  We can deny that this is how we see things, but it is true.  It is part of the very air we breathe.  And this is something new—oh, not that new—but new in the sense that this way of looking at the worth of man replaced the older one that held up the saint as the measure and destiny of man.  The Middle Ages looked to the saint as the measure of man, as what marked his possibilities.  We, however, look to success in worldly endeavors as the mark of man, sometimes even suggesting that the one who does “great deeds’ on earth will go on to do even greater things in heaven.  The Divo, the self made man, the man who is successful in whatever field,  the Divo—or to be more inclusive—the Diva—has replaced the saints.  And again, let us not fool ourselves about our complicity in all of this.  What is the content of our hope for our children?  How many of us deeply and consciously hope not for their success and freedom from want but rather that they become like St. Paul or St. Perpetua or St. Thomas More?  Do we not rather hope for their success, leaving to them not a legacy of faith but rather enough money so they can be comfortable?  And in the process almost ensure that they will never become saints.  Those who looked to sanctity built cathedrals; we build portfolios.

When the Divo replaces the saint, then God is not so much denied as pushed to a place outside of the world, for it is in the world that we define our worth and our destiny in terms of ourselves.  We turn to nature to make sense of where our creative energies come from, what enables us to be successful in whatever we do.  It is the “natural”, then, that in its own way becomes a god, but a god to be explored by physical science, by psychology, by sociology, where instincts and drives define what is natural and therefore good.  All human acts that are defined as natural, that is, instinctual, and feel good are defined as good.  Ethics is then turned on its head as abortion and euthanasia, as well as random sex, become rights for the good of the individual.  And it is no wonder that in this situation the Christian God, a God who says yes or no, who prunes human instinct, who can even contradict the impetus of nature, a God who demands obedience to the moral law, must be banished.  And the banishment of God is nothing other than the banishment of, the deliberate forgetting of, sin—immemor peccatorum.  But what else can we expect from the Divo who is his own measure?

But the Divo is not content with glorifying instinct and feeling and naturalism.  He knows, because he is intelligent, that there is something wrong with nature, that there is still famine and disease, there is still war, there is still suffering, there is still death. And so the Divo uses his reason and sees that he can uncover the laws of nature, that he can perform experiments that give him insight into how nature works, and he then imagines that he can carry this all the way:  that he can manipulate nature, change it, and bend it according to his will and his will is his own personal happiness, which may or may not coincide with the happiness of his neighbor.  He sees himself as the true master of his life, of his own destiny, able to perform genetic manipulation to ensure perfection, able to clone this perfection to eliminate all imperfection in human nature:  the Divo as dominus, the Divo as lord, the Divo as he who needs no God, the Divo who protests that he is religious, that he believes in a god, but his very life, whose very context in which he chooses to live that life, is a life lived in isolation, where relationships become painful impossibilities, the Divo who so marginalizes God that even if He existed it would not matter.

This is the situation in which this Trinity Sunday must be celebrated.  One is tempted to say nothing or say something about a shamrock or say something about peace and love and call it a day, a day on which it becomes more and more difficult to say anything at all. For to speak of the Christian God to a world that has banished him for all practical purposes is to run the risk of unintelligibility, or, as is more common, the risk of incurring the wrath of the Divi and the Dive who are made uncomfortable by the presence of the living God who cannot be banished to a mythical heaven, for this God is the God who loved the world so much—loved, had a relationship with –that he gave his only-begotten Son to die on the cross to forgive our sins, who rose again on the third day to triumph over death and who has poured his Love into our hearts in the Person of the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

What sense can this make to the Divo asks the one in despair at the situation of the contemporary world?  The answer is and always has been:  Yes, it makes absolute sense.  For no one but the true God can resonate with what is real. And that is what this age is searching for—yes, even the Divo searches--, and if modern man has turned away from the light of reality and has chosen to live in the darkness of a disneyfied world, the hole in his heart is still there: the ache, the longing, the thirst. This is part of who he is.  And it is the light of the ineffable Trinity, the God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, not as some abstruse doctrine, but the God who is experienced as the Creator who gives being, the Author of all life, the Father who reaches out of his infinity to the other, reaches out in love.  The God who is Son, who is experienced as God with us, the God who does not stand apart and aloof but who enters, becomes part of our human history, the God who takes his flesh, our flesh, from the Virgin Mary, the God who is born in a manger, the God who plumbs the very depths of human suffering, the God who is spat upon and mocked, the God who is stripped, the God who endures pro nobis the shame of the Cross, whose death rips through the universe, exposing the father of lies who can no longer hide in the darkness the God who is with us at the time when the Divo knows he is alone, in the hour of death, when the horrible reality of sin threatens me with death, extinction, blackness, He is with us, embracing us, hiding us in his wounds, the wounds of life.  The God with us who is the Holy Spirit, whose existence is a fact in this world, and that fact is the Church, the God who is not confined by any space or place but who breathes where He wills, but who in-forms the Church, the place where sins are forgiven, where the Food of Life is eaten and drunk, the place where God is seen to act in human history, where the fullness of truth subsists and where that truth can be put into human words and where that truth can be understood, where that truth can be heard with the ears and accepted by the mind and heart that recognizes that truth and leaps for joy, a joy that alone can penetrate the armor of the Divo, a joy that melts the heart so that in its molten form, freed from the crystal lattice of sin, it can love in that freedom that is that perfect freedom, the freedom of God.