TRINITY SUNDAY (A)
arly in the morning Moses went up Mount Sinai as the LORD had commanded him, taking along the two stone tablets. Having come down in a cloud, the LORD stood with Moses there and proclaimed his name, "LORD." Thus the LORD passed before him and cried out, "The LORD, the LORD, a merciful and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity." Moses at once bowed down to the ground in worship. Then he said, "If I find favor with you, O Lord, do come along in our company. This is indeed a stiff-necked people; yet pardon our wickedness and sins, and receive us as your own."
1) Blessed are you, O Lord, the God of our fathers, praiseworthy and exalted above all forever;
And blessed is your holy and glorious name, praiseworthy and exalted above all for all ages. (Refrain:)
2) Blessed are you in the temple of your holy glory,
praiseworthy and glorious above all forever. (Refrain:)
3) Blessed are you on the throne of your kingdom,
praiseworthy and exalted above all forever. (Refrain:)
4) Blessed are you who look into the depths from your throne upon the cherubim,
praiseworthy and exalted above all forever. (Refrain:)
Brothers and sisters, rejoice. Mend your ways, encourage one another, agree with one another, live in peace, and the God of love and peace will be with you. Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the holy ones greet you. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.
God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him will not be condemned, but whoever does not believe has already been condemned, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.
(Copyright 1970, 1986, 1992, 1998, 2001 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc. Washington D.C. All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by an information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the copyright owner.
Copyright 1970, 1997, 1998 Contraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc. Washington, D.C. All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by an information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the copyright owner.
The English translation of some Psalm responses, some Alleluia and Gospel verses and the Lenten Gospel Acclamations, some Summaries, and the Titles and Conclusion of the Readings, from the Lectionary for Mass copyright 1968, 1981, 1997, International Committee on English in the Liturgy, Inc., Washington D.C. All rights reserved.
The poetic English translation of the sequences of the Roman Missal are taken from the Roman Missal approved by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops of the United States, copyright 1964 by the National Catholic Welfare Conference, Inc. All rights reserved. Used with permission of ICEL.)
Today's gospel passage for Trinity Sunday includes what is probably the most quoted verse in all of the gospels. And it is all about God's love for us. Love is something which is very important to all of us. Consider the following ad which appeared in one newspaper.
- "SINGLE BLACK FEMALE. Seeks male companionship, ethnicity unimportant. I'm a sweet, good-looking girl who LOVES to play. I love long walks in the woods, riding in your pickup truck, hunting, camping, and fishing trips, cozy winter nights lying by the fire. Candlelight dinners will have me eating out of your hand. Rub me the right way and watch me respond. I'll be at the front door when you get home from work, wearing only what nature gave me. Kiss me and I'm yours. Call 555-9764 and ask for Daisy." When they responded to the ad, callers found themselves talking to the local Humane Society about an eight-week-old black Lab retriever.
From the outset, we need to make one thing perfectly clear: no matter what analogies we use, no matter what examples we take from creation (like the three leaf clover), they will all come far short of explaining the Trinity to us. There is only one thing of which we can be certain: the persons of the Trinity are in constant communication with one another. They have a very special relationship with one another, a relationship which forms the basis for our relationship with one another here on earth. And all of these relationships are based on one word: love.
In English, however, this one word covers a multitude of different types of love. The very wise ancient Greeks had four words to connote the different types of love, which my favorite author C. S. Lewis wrote about in a book called The Four Loves. These loves are: "storge" or affection; "philia" or friendship; "eros" or sexual love; and "agape" or charity, which is God's love for us.
So now we have some idea of why the church has given us this reading today: because agape is the love which exists among the persons of the Trinity. But there is a far deeper meaning, I believe, than just the simple statement that the three persons of the Trinity exist in mutual agape of one another. There are certain special qualities about agape which separate it from all of the other human loves that we know.
First of all, there is what I would call sacrifice. To love means to suffer and to experience pain at the loss of the beloved. The only way to avoid this suffering and pain is to lock our hearts away and shelter them from all human contact. Years ago there was a song that was written by Paul Simon which puts this very well.
- I've built walls,
A fortress deep and mighty,
That none may penetrate
I have no need of friendship;
friendship causes pain.
It's laughter and it's loving I disdain.
I Am A Rock, I am an island.
Don't talk of love,
But I've heard the words before;
It's sleeping in my memory.
I won't disturb the slumber of feelings
that have died.
If I never loved, I never would have cried.
I Am A Rock, I am an island.
I have my books
And my poetry to protect me;
I am shielded in my armor,
Hiding in my room, safe within my womb.
I touch no one and no one touches me
I Am A Rock, I am an island.
And a rock feels no pain;
And an island never cries. (1)
I could almost swear that Simon must have read Lewis in writing his lyrics because this is what Lewis has to say on this matter.
- "There is no safe investment. To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket - safe, dark, motionless, airless - it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell." (2)
What Lewis says here brings us to the second quality of agape: selflessness. The only way to avoid suffering and pain is selfishness, that is, loving only ourselves. But agape knows nothing about this. Again, Lewis puts this very succinctly.
- "God is love. Again, 'Herein is love, not that we loved God but that He loved us' (1 John 4:10)...In God there is no hunger that needs to be filled, only plenteousness that desires to give...God, who needs nothing, loves into existence wholly superfluous creatures in order that He may love and perfect them. He creates the universe, already foreseeing - or should we say 'seeing'?, since there are no tenses in God - the buzzing cloud of flies about the cross, the flayed back pressed against the uneven stake, the nails driven through the mesial nerves, the repeated incipient suffocation as the body droops, the repeated torture of back and arms as it is time after time, for breath's sake, hitched up. If I may dare the biological image, God is a 'host' who deliberately creates His own parasites; causes us to be that we may exploit and 'take advantage' of Him. Herein is love. This is the diagram of Love Himself, the inventor of all loves." (3)
So this is the kind of love which must be our own goal, a love that involves sacrifice, pain and suffering, and, most of all, selflessness. If I could sum it all up in story, I think the following one would do very well.
- A Rolls Royce stopped on a skid row street. A well-dressed, refined woman got out of that fine automobile and rushed into a dilapidated hotel nearby. She inquired about a certain man who was staying there. Informed of his room, she hurried on, impervious to the stares of the other residents of this run-down establishment. Finding the man's room, she courageously opened the door, where she found a dissipated man lying on a ripped mattress on a rusty iron bed. The man was her husband. He had been born in an iron worker's family. Totally undistinguished as a young person, he squeaked into the state college where he met this coed from a very wealthy family. Despite their differences, they became fast friends. Then they became more than friends. Finally, he was emboldened to seek her hand in marriage. She accepted! With ecstasy!! He proved to be acceptable to her family and he did well in the family business. Despite the ensuing successes, however, he began to have doubts about himself, whether he belonged in such a world and whether he deserved the success that was his. His lack of self-worth was complicated by a growing attachment to alcohol. He began a tragic slide that caused him to conclude that everyone would be better off without him. Eventually, he ended up diseased and alone. Word of his problems had somehow gotten back to his wife, and she made this trip to find him dying. Hugging the fallen man to her breast she wept, repeating over and over, "Ronnie, I've always loved you! Why couldn't you believe me?" (4)
This woman was able to love her husband no matter what. In our own lives, we are also called to do the same, to reflect the divine love to the best of our ability, that is by loving others selflessly. We must be willing to risk the pain and suffering that come with loving others, the willingness to place their needs above our own. This is agape, this is the divine love which loves us even when we are the most unlovable. And, just as we will never, ever, fully comprehend the mystery of the Trinity, we will never, ever, be able to achieve the full depth and breadth of the divine love which is agape.
But nevertheless, this is the love we are challenged to have for those among us who are the most unlovable: for example, criminals and, yes, even those who hate us. For "God so loved the world" and all who are in it, "that he sent his only Son in order that all who believe in him might have eternal life".
1. I Am a Rock, copyright 1965 by Paul Simon, BMI.
2. From The Four Loves, by C. S. Lewis. Copyright 1960 by Helen Joy Lewis. Harcourt, Brace & Company, Orlando, FL.
4. From Running From God. By Daer Platt, Houston, TX. Quoted in Dynamic Preaching, copyright 1997 by King Duncan. Seven Worlds Corporation, 310 Simmons Road, Knoxville, TN. Used with permission.
(Copyright 2017 by the Spirit through Deacon Sil Galvan, with a little help from the friends noted above. Permission is freely granted for oral use in whole or in part in local communities. For permission to use in written form, please contact the human intermediary at email@example.com )
Lord Jesus, you are the Word of God the Father who came down to earth. Lord, have mercy.
Christ Jesus, you are the Son of God and the Son of Man. Christ, have mercy.
Lord Jesus, you sent the Spirit to teach us the truth of your Word. Lord, have mercy.
Christ Jesus, through your intervention we gain access by faith to the grace of salvation. Christ, have mercy.
Lord Jesus, through your intervention we have hope to one day share in your glory. Lord, have mercy.
Celebrant: By his death and resurrection, Jesus Christ has reconciled us with the Father. Therefore, confident that he will intercede for us, we bring our prayers and petitions to the Father.
Deacon/Lector: Our response is "Lord, hear our prayer".
That the Spirit of truth may guide and inspire the leaders of the Church, we pray to the Lord.
That the leaders of the nations of the world will treat God's creation with respect and use its resources wisely, we pray to the Lord.
That the sick and those who are grieving the loss of a loved one may feel the healing presence of the Spirit in their lives, we pray to the Lord.
That the self-giving love which characterizes the relationship of the Father, Son and Spirit may be a model for the relationships of all family members with one another, we pray to the Lord.
That all of those who have contracted the Coronavirus will be healed of their affliction, that all of those who have died will be welcomed into the loving arms of their Savior and that their families will be comforted in their grief by their faith, we pray to the Lord.
For all of the intentions we hold in our hearts and which we now recall in silence. (Pause) For all of these intentions, we pray to the Lord.
Celebrant: O Loving God, three Persons yet one being, you have given us an example of what our relationships with one another should be. Grant us the grace of your Spirit to love you and one another as ourselves. We ask this through Christ, our Lord. Amen.