22 May 2016
Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity
I imagine most of us have seen the “Coexist” bumper sticker: the word “coexist” is spelled out using the symbols of various world religions and such as letters. The “t” is the Christian Cross. The “x” is the Star of David. The “c” is the Star and Crescent of Islam. There’s even a Pentagram, the symbol of Satanism, which dots the “i.” Of course, the idea is that all these things (and every form of humanity) should be able to coexist and be in harmony with one another.
And the reason I bring up the “Coexist” bumper sticker is that it tends to open up a can of worms. It tends to bring out the politician and the philosopher inside each one of us. And that’s good, especially in an election year.
On the one hand, it’s a good concept: the idea of everybody respecting each other and being at peace. And, really, it gets at the principle of “unity in diversity,” which is a very Catholic idea. You know, every now and then I’ll be asked why Catholics vote (sometimes) for more liberal politicians. And this is a reason why: because Catholics value the concept of “unity in diversity;” it’s a principle that comes from the Lord. But it also comes from the revelation that our God is a Holy Trinity: three distinct, diverse Persons: “one in three, and three in one.” The God we worship is the definitive “unity in diversity.”
So, on the one hand, it’s a very compelling and Catholic idea: Coexisting in peace. But on the other hand, “it takes two to tango.” Coexisting in peace only works if everybody’s dancing the same dance, and playing the same game. The Holy Trinity “works” because the Father, Son and Holy Spirit share nothing but mutual admiration and love and interest in each other. We worship and wonder at the perfect harmony that exists within the three of them. If God had a bumper sticker, it could certainly say, “Coexist,” because our trinitarian God is the perfection of coexistence.
But, while it’s a good idea (and certainly one to aim for), the human race is not the Holy Trinity. As we know very well, the diversity of cultures and such here in the United States are hardly characterized by mutual admiration, love, and selfless giving. And sometimes that’s a real problem (and I’ll talk more about that later). But other times, it’s good and even necessary that we don’t all get along.
If we go back to the Coexist bumper sticker for a minute . . . we see there are symbols and values which are simply incompatible. I mentioned there’s the Pentagram, a symbol of Satanism. Well, the values of Satan (if Satan has values) don’t mesh at all with the Cross, that symbol of Christianity. Christ is all about love and peace, mercy and forgiveness, mutual respect and unity. But Satan is absolutely opposed to those values.
Satan is bad for humanity . . . because Satan wants us to live in fear and anxiety, unforgiveness and intolerance, misery, disunity and isolatino. Satanism is bad for humanity. And we should never try to coexist with the devil. Of course, we have Satan’s little minions running around the world, too; names we all recognize: ISIS, the Taliban, Al-Queda for example.
Now, it’s true that they suffer from a lack of love—very definitely. They need love. They need very desperately the love and mercy of God. They’re starving for it. But they don’t even know it’s what they need because they’re too busy killing and maiming and terrorizing people. They’re filled with . . . emptiness. Where is their compassion? Where is there basic sense of empathy or unity with other human beings? They’re the closest thing we have to the living dead. And we should never try to coexist with such dark evil.
When Christ came, he said, “Be gone, Satan!” He exorcised demons from people, and he triumphed over sin and death because the ways of sin and death—the ways of evil—are incompatible with human life. Now, Jesus welcomes all people into the Kingdom: men, women, children, sinners, saints, ourselves, and the people we don’t always get along with. Jesus welcomes everybody. But he does not welcome evil.
And so, sometimes it’s good and necessary that we don’t all get along. We support whatever is good for humanity, not what is destructive. We support whatever builds people up and gives them hope and peace and healing, and not things that tear them apart. It’s always good to remember Saint Paul’s vision of the “many parts of the one body.” Now, in our physical bodies, we (ideally) only put into them whatever’s good: you know, healthy food, water, vitamins, and so on.
And we do the same for our spiritual body—the Church, and the body which is all of human society. We bring into it whatever’s good; and we fight against whatever is bad. In a similar way, Jesus doesn’t welcome evil (and evil takes a lot of different forms) because it’s totally contrary to the health and the very nature of the Holy Trinity. There is no evil in the Trinity. There is no evil in real love and justice. Jesus isn’t being mean by excluding Satan; he’s being wise and prudent and protective of life.
And so, now we’ve reached the other end of the political spectrum, haven’t we. Why do Catholics (sometimes) vote for more conservative politicians? Because we Catholics know that evil is very real, and not everything in human society in good for us; and some of it actually destroys society.
And so, we Catholic Christians are kind of “stuck.” We have this beautiful, beautiful image of the Holy Trinity—our God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit; the perfect “unity in diversity.” And we want to be like that. We want to coexist with others with mutual respect and mutual curiosity about each other. But, we also know there are values in this world with which we cannot and should not coexist. We’re stuck between a beautiful vision and a harsh reality. And this all gets played out (among other places) in politics: Who are you going to vote for—a visionary who ignores reality, or a realist who denies the goodness of the vision? I don’t have an answer to that.
But the “good news” on this Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity is that we have the vision. And thanks be to God we know the principle behind the vision; the principle of “unity in diversity.”
I mentioned before that sometimes our lack of mutual admiration and love and curiosity about others here in the United States can be a problem. And it’s a problem because unity depends on diversity. Just imagine: In the Holy Trinity, what would happen if the Father decided to overtake the Son and the Holy Spirit? What if he just trampled all over them and got rid of them? Well, we wouldn’t have a Unity anymore; we’d have an “Aloneness,” a divine “Isolation;” a single God turned entirely in on himself.
Unity depends on diversity; unity depends on there being more than one in the relationship. In other words, diversity is essential to life, both divine life and human life. Just think of marriage. Two distinct people—there’s the diversity; who share a mutual respect, admiration, and curiosity for each other—there’s the unity. Now, what happens in adultery? What happens in spousal abuse? The mutually loving diversity is gone, and so goes the unity.
We can say the same for friendship, for relationships with co-workers, the Church, people on the news, politicians, and so on. When fear or hatred steps in—from either side—the diversity can’t do what it’s meant to do; then diversity becomes an obstacle to unity. Or rather, fear and isolation and pride (and all the rest) become a weapon against unity—and diversity of humanity becomes the battlefield.
It even happens within the individual self. As we know, there isn’t just “me.” There’s “me, myself, and I.” We relate to ourselves—individually. There’s a “diversity” even within the individual. And it’s a sad thing to see someone fall into self-hatred. Some people—and I imagine most of us know someone like this—some people are not at peace with themselves. In order to really love ourselves we have to respect our whole self; we have to learn to accept (and even love) though parts of ourselves we don’t like. Unity (whether that’s our individual integrity and unity, or the unity of family and friends, or the unity of the Church, or the unity of the country) . . . Unity depends on diversity; we can’t be unified and, at the same time, be alone.
On this feast of the Most Holy Trinity, we’re reminded of who our God is: a perfect “unity in diversity:” a perfect relationship of shared mutual trust and admiration, mutual humility and curiosity about the other, mutual respect, and mutual self-giving. And for us to bring that vision of God to a reality, I think it begins by first looking outward.
It’s one of the great gifts we have as children, which most often gets lost in adulthood. Look around. Wonder about your neighbors, your family, your friends. Let them share themselves with you; and share yourself with them. Be curious about people. Be curious about people you disagree with: What makes them “tick;” where are they coming from; what’s their background; what are their motivations for what they think.
We might still disagree with them (or not), but we can still be in union with them as fellow humans by letting them speak their piece, and then really listening. Of course, as I said, “it takes two to tango.” And some people may not—will not—want to dance with us. They’ll want to say to what they have to say, but then shut us out. And what to do with that?
In that case, we pray. We pray for their good. We pray for their well-being. We pray that God bless them. And we pray for ourselves: we ask God for an increase in the gifts of patience, charity, goodwill . . . and fortitude. Because “unity in diversity” isn’t about denying ourselves; it’s about letting others walk all over us. It’s about bringing ourselves and sharing ourselves with others; and letting them share themselves with us. It’s a two-way street.
It’s like what we hear in Scripture today: finding “delight” in the “other,” seeing others (even our supposed “enemies”) as fellow humans; greeting others (at least, in our hearts) as “brothers and sisters.” That’s who we are as the Church: we’re curious about everybody, even people we’re not quite sure about. And in that mutual curiosity and even love, the life of the Trinity comes among us.
And so, next time you see the “Coexist” bumper sticker, remember to consider both sides of the story. It’s a wonderful vision that the Holy Trinity gives us: living in peace and harmony with one another. But not everything, not every viewpoint, not every passion in our human soul is good for us. If we can remember those two things, we’ll be well on our way toward real peace and unity.