Rorate Caeli

The Christian God: Sermon for Trinity Sunday

What can this Sunday mean, what should we be thinking about, saying. Trinity Sunday. The only Sunday dedicated to a doctrine, a teaching of the Church.  All the other feasts are commemorations of an event: Christmas, Epiphany, Good Friday, Easter, the Ascension, Pentecost.  But this feast is different: this is a celebration of the God we believe in, not in some abstract and idealistic way, but as who God is.  How many times have we said the Gloria Patri, Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit?  We say it automatically, without thinking, but this brief prayer of praise contains our understanding of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  This is the doctrine of the Trinity, the teaching about God, but where did this come from?  It did not come from a Council or from a theology book. It came from the early Church’s experience of God.  God as the Father, the one who created all things, the one who made us in the image of God, the Father who tends and loves his children:  this we inherited and affirm with our Jewish brethren.  This is indeed the God of the Old Testament.

 But the Church experienced God not only as Father.  The Church experienced God in the person of Jesus Christ: in his teaching and preaching about God and about how to live a life that conforms to the will of God, but above all in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Church saw and experienced the love of the Father in the death of His Son on the cross.  There we see and experience what love really means—sacrifice.  There we see how much the Father really loves us, so much that he gave his only Son to die for us so that our sins may be forgiven and that we might have the hope of eternal life. And in the resurrection of Christ and in his appearances to Mary and the apostles, the Church saw and experienced the God of life, not as something abstract and to be thought of and talked about. No, as someone real and awesome, a man who bears his wounds and yet is alive and alive for us.  

But the Church, on that awesome day we call Pentecost over two thousand years ago, experienced God  so deeply as the Spirit that breathes life and power into those who believe, that Spirit God that transformed Peter from a timid and stubborn fisherman into the great preacher, the prince of the apostles and the rock of the Church. That Spirit that moved the apostles to preach and teach and to convert an entire empire, an entire world, to the Christian faith and the triune God.

That is what we celebrate today: The experience of the true God, that God that is not merely one, in the sense of the only God., but that God who is a community of love within himself.  This is a unique understanding of God, a stumbling block to Jews and to Muslims.  It is so easy to say things like:  we all believe in the same God.  In some sense this is true, if we limit it to God as the creator, the Father of all things.  But our Jewish and Muslim brothers would deny that God is more than this. They would deny what we proclaim:  that the heart of God is community; God is not a solitary being but is a community within himself, and this community of Father, Son and Holy Spirit is bound by the love that God is.  This does not mean in any sense that there are three gods. No, there is one God, but this God we know in love is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. 

You say, but this is difficult to understand.  And it is.  For it is the mystery of God.  But because it is difficult, because it is mystery, does not excuse us from deepening our understanding of this God, does not excuse us from loving this God, for the only response to infinite love is our own finite love.  And that is what we do here in the Mass:  this is our response to the love of the triune God.  It is here that we experience the love of God as in no other time or place.  For here at this altar, the sacrifice of the Son is offered to the Father in the power of the Holy Spirit.  This is not a matter of feeling, this is not a matter of “getting something out of.”  This is where we experience in the silence of our hearts, in the depths of our being, if we will allow this to happen, this is where we experience, this is where the reality of God is present, and he comes to us here to teach us, to feed us, but above all to love us.  May we respond to God’s love for us with our own love for Him and for each other.

From “St. Patrick’s Breastplate”:

 I bind unto myself today

the strong name of the Trinity

by invocation of the same,

the Three in One and One in Three.

 I bind this day to me forever,

by power of faith, Christ’s incarnation,

his baptism in the Jordan river,

his death on cross for my salvation,

his bursting from the spiced tomb,

his riding up the heavenly way,

his coming at the day of doom,

I bind unto myself today.

 I bind unto myself today

the power of God to hold and lead,

God’s eye to watch, God’s might to stay,

God’s ear to hearken to my need,

the wisdom of my God to teach,

God’s hand to guide, God’s shield to ward,

the word of God to give me speech,

God’s heavenly host to be my guard.

I bind unto myself the name,

the strong name of the Trinity

by invocation of the same,

the Three in One and One in Three,

of whom all nature has creation,

eternal Father, Spirit, Word.

Praise to the Lord of my salvation;

salvation is of Christ the Lord!

Father Richard Gennaro Cipolla