27 May 2018
Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity
Memorial Day weekend and our solemnity today, the Most Holy Trinity—it’s an interesting combination, but they actually work together quite nicely. There’s a commonality between both the Holy Trinity and Memorial Day, and that element is “love.” On Monday we’ll remember all those men and women who gave their lives for love of country. And this weekend we remember that at the heart of our God, the Holy Trinity, is love.
But that word “love” needs a little bit of nuance. And I think President Abraham Lincoln got at the nuance in his Gettysburg Address. He gave the address in 1863 at the dedication of the new Soldier’s Cemetery in Gettysburg, and in it he said, “from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion.”
And that idea of “devotion” gets to what we’re talking about when we talk about “love of country,” and the “love at the heart of the Holy Trinity.” It’s not a sentimental, warm-fuzzy love, but rather, it’s “devotion;” self-sacrificing, other-centered devotion. It’s the kind of love which looks outward, away from the self, and toward the good of the other. It’s the kind of love and devotion which says, “I want what’s best for…you; I devote myself to your good.”
Of course, it’s not entirely self-sacrificing because that kind of devotion and love actually builds up the person who’s doing the loving. The soldier is built up and honored because he or she “gave the last full measure of devotion.” And we come here and give “glory and honor” to the Holy Trinity because our God epitomizes “the last full measure of devotion,” especially on the Cross and in the Eucharist. The person who’s devoted to something bigger than him-or-herself doesn’t get lost; they’re actually enhanced and honored.
But, again, from the Gettysburg Address: “from these honored dead we take increased devotion to…that cause…” for which they gave their lives. This weekend we honor those who have died for our country; we honor our God who died on the Cross out of sheer devotion for us. They died for something—something worth dying for. Soldiers die for the American cause, and those “certain inalienable rights, among them: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” And God died for the cause of humanity, that “we might have life, life to the fullest.”
Among us Catholics we also recognize all those martyrs throughout the ages who “fought the good fight,” who died for the cause of truth, goodness, and right in the world. And we can understand this whole idea of “devotion;” dedication and love for something outside of ourselves.
For instance, when a bride and groom approach their wedding day, they aren’t thinking sarcastically, “Oh! This’ll be interesting!” No…they’re excited about devoted themselves to an idea—the idea of a happy marriage, a happy, long life together. They’re devoting themselves to each other, of course. But they’re devoting themselves to an idea they share: the idea of mutual, self-giving love. “I love you and I’ll do anything…for you.”
Or take a priest on ordination day. He isn’t thinking, “Oh, I could be doing anything else but this! What am I doing here?!” No…he’s focused on devoting himself to an idea—the idea of sharing the gospel, bringing God and his people together, making a positive change for the good of others; the idea of dedicating one’s life to God and the things of heaven. The priest says the same thing as the bride and groom, but he says it to God and to the Church: “I love you and I’ll do anything…for you.”
Of course, those causes don’t always turn out the way they’re supposed to. And so, the soldiers die, the martyrs die, the married couple has to work through aggravations between themselves, the priest has to go through “dark nights of the soul,” and God has to die on a Cross. Love and devotion aren’t all roses and sunshine. Love and devotion also have a cost, and we honor those who pay the price, who “give the last full measure of devotion” so that the cause might live on.
But that’s just it. They didn’t die so that we could just honor them in our words. Soldiers don’t die so we can have Memorial Day. God and the martyrs didn’t die so we could have something to do on Sunday morning. They all “gave the last full measure of devotion” as…an invitation, of a sort.
Soldiers die in order to say, “Be a faithful, involved, responsible citizen of your country.” The Christian martyrs die in order to say, “Be a faithful, involved, responsible member of the Church.” And God pours out his heart of devotion on the Cross with that eternal invitation: “Follow me.” They all die for some cause, and they want us to get on board with it, be it the country, or the Church, or God (or all three).
And we hear this invitation, too, in the Gettysburg Address. Lincoln says, “It is for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us…that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain.” We honor those who died for our country by: voting, by being a champion of freedom in our own way, by respecting our laws and our values, and so on. And we honor our God, the Holy Trinity, by: speaking the truth with kindness and mercy, dedicating ourselves happily to the Providence of God, fostering gratitude for all the blessings we have in life, being concerned for the well-being of our neighbor, and so on.
So, Memorial Day weekend and the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity have a commonality, that being “love,” or a spirit of “devotion.” But, especially as Catholics, we honor this weekend the Holy Trinity; the divine union which is possible only because of love: self-sacrificing, devotional love, which puts concern for “the other” ahead of “my own convenience.”
Christ died to open us up to the heart of God, that heart poured out in selfless devotion for us. May we let him lead us into “life, life to the fullest,” that cause for which he died.