Sunday, June 19, 2011

Fr. Matthias Neuman's Homily for Trinity Sunday

Readings: Ex 34:4-9; 2 C or. 13:11-13; Jn 3:16-18

When I was teaching systematic theology courses in the seminary, the course on the Trinity was, without doubt, the most difficult to teach. All the systematics professors were agreed on that. The problem was that no matter how thoroughly and accurately a professor explained the theology of Trinity, you were lucky if one student in an entire class really understood what you taught. Most of them looked confused when you started and they looked even more confused when you finished. Teaching Trinity was one of those frustrating experiences that just had to be done to meet curriculum requirements. (The same holds true for priests preaching on Trinity Sunday. Practically no one likes to do it. At least I’ve never met one who did.)

As time went on, I began to try and place the Trinity in a larger context that included the whole search for a belief in the Mystery of God. That seemed to work much better. The key that opened up that approach to me was a comment by a particular theologian (I can’t remember who it was) who wrote that the Trinity in the New Testament was really a spirituality in search of a theology. In other words, the early Christians had three distinct experiences of meeting the divine (Father, Son in Jesus Christ and Holy Spirit). And they were convinced that each was a genuine experience of the one God. St. Augustine wrote a great big volume On the Trinity. It took him twenty years to complete. At the end of the book he tried to summarize the whole book in these words: "The Father is God! The Son is God! The Spirit is God! There is only one God!" For a lot of people today the Trinity is still a spirituality in search of a theology.

All that was summed up nicely in the passage we heard from Second Corinthians: "The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all!" That is, by the way, one of the earliest indications we have of this complex conviction of the early Christians about God. One of the most important things this teaches us is that God deals with us in a multitude of ways. If you recall last Sunday for the feast of Pentecost, I reflected that the Spirit’s bestowal of charisms on all the People of God shows us that God takes the initiative with us, giving us ideas and impulses to reach out and help each other. But that doesn’t exhaust the ways that God deals with us. The Son in Jesus Christ is connect with grace—the graciousness and mercy of God towards us. The Father is connected with love. Whatever in creation that connects us with love....shows us an aspect of the Father. The Spirit is connected with the formation of community. Any outreach that builds true community is the Spirit of God breathing among us. God deals with us in a multitude of ways.

There is one way that God deals with us that doesn’t come from the credal and theological traditions. But we learn it very clearly in the mystical tradition: namely, that God sometimes hides from us. God sometimes lurks just beyond the edge of our awareness. St. Theresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross understood this very well. This point was recently expressed very beautifully by Sr. Mara Faulkner, a Benedictine from St. Joseph, MN in a poem she wrote entitled: "Things I didn’t know I Loved." There’s a long list of such things, but towards the end she has this one: "And you, my God, so silent and cold, I didn’t know I loved you until you woke every morning in my little stove so lowly in your prison house of wood and flesh and fire so eager and so needful of my hands." That’s a wonderful thought to end with on Trinity Sunday: we may love God more than we really know. We all need to have faith in that.

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