Sunday, May 30, 2010

Fr. Matthias Neuman's Homily for Trinity Sunday

Readings: Prov 8:22-31; Rm 5:1-5; John 16:12-15

Trinity Sunday is often a really scary day for a lot of Christian preachers. They fear two things mainly as they approach preparing a homily for Trinity Sunday. First, they fear getting lost in trying to explain a really complicated doctrine, filled with a plethora of technical terms—many of which they don’t understand themselves...much less trying to explain them to their congregations. Secondly, they fear boring their congregations to death. These are legitimate fears.

One preacher who faced these fears straight on was St. Augustine. He tried to figure out a way to explain the doctrine of the Trinity easily to his congregation of simple people. He came up with this way: he said the whole Christian teaching on the Trinity can be compressed into seven statements:

-The Father is God.

-The Son is God.

-The Holy Spirit is God.

-The Father is not the Son.

-The Son is not the Spirit.

-The Spirit is not the Father.

-There is only one God.

He said that if his people hold on to these seven statements, they would be fine.

That’s all well and good, but it doesn’t do much for our spiritual lives. We need something that enters into and makes a difference in how we live our daily lives. That was a problem I often faced while teaching the seminary course for many years on "The Christian Doctrine of God." How could I introduce something in the course that really made a difference in people’s lives and faith? That bothered me for a long time until about twenty years ago when I discovered a wonderful little book: The Triune God of Christian Faith. The author was Mary Ann Fatula, a Dominican sister, who was teaching theology at Ohio Dominican College in Columbus, Ohio. She beautifully develops the implications of the doctrine of the Trinity for Christian spirituality. Her key point is that the very fact of mutual relationships between the persons of the Trinity means that mutual relationship is the deepest reality in all of creation. The human ache for love and meaning can only be answered in relationship, in mutual relationships between persons and in mutual relationship with God. It reminds me of St. Augustine’s famous statement: "Our heart is restless, until it rests in You." (Confessions 1,1) On the human side it’s like Fr. Eric’s calligraphy print that I have right inside my front door over at the chaplain’s house: "To love and be loved is the greatest joy on earth." Listen to Sr. Mary Ann’s own words: "The apostles and disciples spoke of what they had actually experienced in their own lives. Thus, the love which had radically changed them impelled them to preach, drawing others to open themselves to the risen Lord and the healing power of His Spirit. ...Here was a whole new way to live, not enslaved and bitter and alone, but as persons in relationship, growing in freedom and love in the midst of a community who cherished them as equals." (p. 18) The whole of her book is a drawing out of the implications of this key idea: we are created to be persons in relationships of love. This is a direct reflection of the Trinitarian God whom we believe in and who created us.

To celebrate Trinity Sunday is really about celebrating mutual loving relationships in our lives. This topic bears careful examination. Last week’s issue of TIME magazine had as its feature article: "FaceBook...and how it’s redefining privacy." The rise of social networking programs on the Internet is changing people’s perceptions of privacy, intimacy and relationship. This is probably more significant to younger generations that are growing up with this social reality. But many of the questions affect all of us. This Trinity Sunday let’s be very aware of our own mutual loving relationships and what we can do to keep them healthy. Because every loving mutual relationship is in itself also a praising of our Triune God.

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