16 June 2019
Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity
Several years ago there was controversy in the Church about baptism—whether or not it should be said, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” or to say, “I baptize you in the name of the Creator, the Redeemer, and the Sanctifier.” And you’ll still hear about this from time to time today.
Of course, there never really was a controversy because the Church wasn’t going to change the sacrament of baptism. But it’s not because the Church is stubborn or refuses to get politically correct. It’s because there’s a fundamental difference between referring to God as “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,” and referring to God as “Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier.”
Now, there’s nothing especially wrong or incorrect about calling God our Creator, our Redeemer, and our Sanctifier. God certainly is all those things for us—thanks be to God. But those are all things God does “for us.” God creates “us.” God redeems “us.” God sanctifies “us.” If that’s the only way (or the primary way) that one approaches God, then God becomes defined by what he does “for us.” God’s purpose for being is dependent upon “us.” (Of course, in reality, it’s the other way around.)
But if we refer to God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, then we begin to appreciate him as he is...in himself—apart from what he does “for us.” God is who God is, regardless of who we are, regardless of how we define him. And really, this is basic stuff when it comes to relationships.
One of the questions we ask engaged couples is: “Are you placing any conditions on the marriage” you’re about to enter into? And we ask that because if either person thinks, “I’m going to be married...as long as the other person does this or that,” then we have ask: Is this person really in love with his or her fiancé, or is this person in love with an image of what they expect their future spouse to be? In other words, are the bride and the groom accepting of each other...as the other is?
When we approach God, do we approach him as he is, as he reveals himself to be? Or do we approach God through the lens of what he does “for me”? Or both? And these are really key questions that we each have to consider. And they’re questions that our solemnity this weekend puts to us.
When we speak of “the Most Holy Trinity,” it has nothing to do with us; and it has everything to do with God...as God. God wants to share himself with us—just like we want to share ourselves with others. But, you know, we want others to take us as we are, to love us for whom we are, and not for whom and what others expect us to be. And God wants the same from us. He wants to be known and accepted...as he is, and not as we make him to be.
Saint Francis of Assisi is reported to have prayed: “Who are you, Lord God; and who am I?” And that really is our most basic prayer: “Who are you, Lord? Who are you?” If our most fundamental commandment is to love God, then we can’t avoid that question: “God, who are you? Show yourself to me. Help me to know you as you are.” And, honestly, when it comes to building a “relationship” with God, that’s where it all begins; by asking in prayer, “God, who are you?” And then you spend the rest of life (and all eternity) learning about, and experiencing God—as he is.
And that sounds very lovely and all—and it is. But, it takes a certain discipline to set “me and my expectations” aside, and to just encounter God as he is.
For instance, when we come to Mass, our focus is supposed to be on God. Now, people go to Mass for all sorts of reasons. But the primary reason is to offer what we call a “sacrifice of praise.” We come here to adore God, to worship God, to praise God. When Saint Francis asked, “Who are you, Lord God,” what came out of his mouth was this:
“You are holy, Lord, the only God, and Your deeds are wonderful. You are strong. You are great. You are the Most High. You are Almighty. You, Holy Father are King of heaven and earth. You are Three and One, Lord God, all Good. You are Good, all Good, supreme Good, Lord God, living and true. You are love. You are wisdom. You are humility. You are endurance. You are rest. You are peace. You are joy and gladness. You are justice and moderation. You are all our riches, and You suffice for us. You are beauty. You are gentleness. You are our protector. You are our guardian and defender. You are our courage. You are our haven and our hope. You are our faith, our great consolation. You are our eternal life, Great and Wonderful Lord, God Almighty, Merciful Savior.”
Now, Saint Francis mentions a few things that God does “for us.” But, for the most part, it’s a “sacrifice of praise” for all that God is...in himself. When we sing, “Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of hosts; heaven and earth are full of your glory, hosanna in the highest,” we’re focused on God, praising him. When we sing (or say), “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to people of goodwill; we praise, we bless you, we adore, we glorify, we give you thanks,” we’re focused on God as he is.
When we hear the words of Scripture, we’re hearing “the Word of the Lord,” we’re focused on God. When we hear the homily, hopefully, we hear God speaking to us through the preacher. When we pray the great Eucharistic Prayer, our focus is on God. And, you know, that’s something to stop and take note of.
Every Sunday we hear: “For on the night he was betrayed he himself took bread, and, giving you thanks, he said the blessing, broke the bread and gave it to his disciples, saying: Take this all of you, and eat of it....” “He himself took break, and, giving you thanks....” We’re still focused on God; we’re talking to God (the Father). But then there’s that phrase, “he gave it to his disciples, saying, Take this all of you and eat of it....” The trick—the discipline here—is that we don’t suddenly stop talking to God and start talking to ourselves (because we’re his disciples). We’re still focused on God.
In effect, what we’re doing is we’re reminding God (as if he needs reminding) of what Jesus did and said on the night of the Last Supper. And we’re asking God to make the grace of that moment also present for us here, today. We’re simply remembering—with God—what Jesus did. We’re not reenacting what Jesus did. It’s why the priest isn’t looking at us when he says those words, “Take this all of you and eat of it....” He (and everybody who’s participating) is still addressing God; we’re still focused on God. And that takes discipline to remember, because, of course, it runs contrary to the “me-centered” culture we’re immersed in today.
The idea of coming together, to turn our attention away from ourselves and onto the mystery of God—as he is—is really counter-cultural. It takes discipline, it takes focus to actually worship and adore God—not as we want him to be, but as he is. This is a reason why so many people stop coming to Mass; they don’t get that it isn’t about “me and what I want,” it’s about God. It’s about adoring God our Partner in life, worshiping God our “significant other,” loving God who calls himself our Spouse. It’s about loving God, offering a “sacrifice of praise” to him, primarily because of who he is, and not because of what he does “for us.”
Actually, if all we do is praise God for what he does “for us,” then we really haven’t embraced God as our Friend, our Spouse. We haven’t embraced real relationship with God. Instead, we keep God as our servant, as our service provider, as our hired worker. And that’s doomed to fail because, as he says, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways” [Isaiah 55:8].
When there’s a disaster and people die, some ask, “If God is so caring, why didn’t he help them?” When there’s a tragedy and innocent people are hurt, some ask, “If God is so powerful, why doesn’t he wipe evil from the face of the earth?” When God seems distant and silent, some ask, “If God promises to be with his people, then where is he?” Of course, these questions have little to do with God; instead, they have everything to do with “me and my expectations of God.”
When God fails to do “for us” what we expect or ask for—even in prayer—how many people walk away from God. How many lose faith and hope? It’s like on Christmas morning when a child is expecting a particular gift, but he or she doesn’t get it. It just ruins everything. Instead, Christmas morning should be about being surprised by...whatever you get, whatever it is. When it comes to God, it takes a lot of discipline to just let God be God, and to receive the gift of who and what he actually is, and how he actually works in our lives. It takes discipline, but that’s what builds real relationship with God, our Friend, our Companion, our Spouse.
On this solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity (and every day of our life), we ask that basic question: God, who are you? God, who are you? And the answer...well, leave that up to him. He offers us unconditional love and acceptance. Can we extend the same to him?