Sunday, May 30, 2010

Sunday word, 30 May 2010

Solemnity of the Holy Trinity C (30 May 2010)

Pr 8. 22-31; Ps 8; Rm 5. 1-5; Jn 16. 12-15

Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.

Absorbed and Transformed

Pope John XXII established this solemnity for universal celebration by the church in 1331. Some who make the history of liturgy their study classify our celebration as an “idea feast.” Rather than celebrating an event from Jesus’ life at mass, we call to mind a dogma of faith. It is not so cut and dry: we celebrate our one God creating and saving us as Three Persons.

Worship—namely, baptism and its formula; our creed, the norm of our faith; as well as an event in Jesus’ life—his promise to abide with us as he commissioned his disciples: all name the Trinity personally, Father, Son, Holy Spirit.1 Indeed, worship and scripture predated creeds! From whom did we get the creeds? From those pastors of churches and holy men of the first eight centuries, known for their holiness of life, who taught the apostolic tradition and were intimately familiar with the scriptures. To several of these the church has given the honor of “church father.”

The fathers of the church lived in the Eastern and Western Mediterranean world: places like Antioch and Constantinople in the East to Alexandria, Egypt, Rome and Lyons in the West, to name a few. They were attentive to the world about them, and they were not at all lazy with their minds. More important, they experienced life and its unpredictable ups and downs, including slander, threats, exiles, imprisonment and bodily suffering. So when they made statements as pastors and about how to speak of God they spoke from experience, not out of touch with the rigors of life. We judge them unfairly if we think they were out of touch.

The church fathers have long fascinated me by their earthiness and direct speech, even their quirkiness. Augustine, for example, came to see that he was not created to have sex freely, but as he prayed to God for the grace to be chaste, he ended his prayer with “chaste—but not yet.”2 Others were short-tempered, impatient and not given to hear clearly their rivals. Human foibles and sinfulness never rule out holiness, in the past or present.

One characteristic of the Fathers in the East—the lands of the first sees and earliest worshiping communities, to which Eastern Orthodoxy and our Eastern Churches trace themselves—draws me strongly. They were more attracted, indeed absorbed by, mystery, worship, vision and contemplation in its beholding sense.3 They felt no need to explain the mystery because words would distract people from it, prevent them from feeling its power and being transformed.

The West favored the intellect more. As a result, being intoxicated by worship and transformed by the Spirit at work in worship got muted. Intellectual rigor has its place, of course, but for us its place is always beneath mystery, worship, vision and contemplation.

So to distill four centuries into a sentence: the need came to offer Christians a way to speak accurately about the one God. The Fathers, reading scripture with great respect, care and unwavering conviction and mindful of what they passed on to the newly initiated and what all sang in worship, taught that the one God creates and saves the world each moment as three Persons, Father, Son, Holy Spirit. This is quirky math on gone wild: one plus one plus one equals one! Yet it’s our Christian arithmetic, and we’ve experienced our triune God not out there but personally. I doubt anyone here would “imagine plain words can precisely or truly or appropriately describe the love of the Lord... [to save us or assure our hearts].”4 So I’ll not chatter at you and delay our worship of our triune God, who transforms us as we allow it.

In your daily 15 minutes with Jesus this week, enter the Trinity with worship to help you: trace the sign of the cross on yourself several times as you say the Divine Name slowly. Ask the disciples Jesus commissioned to baptize in the name of Father, Son, Holy Spirit to present you to Jesus. Ask Jesus to help you experience your baptized life in a more loving, active and generous fashion. Close, saying slowly the Lord’s Prayer. Saying Jesus’ words, Our Father, reminds us Jesus revealed God personally and that like risen Jesus, his Father brings us more alive by their Spirit in us.


  1. Matthew 28.20.
  2. Paraphrasing his Confessions, 8.7.17.
  3. theoría (θεορία) in Greek. Science, which I love, in its use of the word “theory” suggests a single connotation in which ideas rank (nearly) supreme. Christians today and our modern forebears have been wooed away from mystery and beholding something for its sake.
  4. St. John Climacus, The Ladder of Divine Ascent, Step 25 (New York: Paulist Press, 1982), p. 218. John lived from 579 to 649.
Wiki-image of the Rublev Icon of the Holy Trinity is in the public domain.

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