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Trinity Sunday
May 22, 2016

Listen to this homily (mp4 file)

    Years ago, when I was a college student, I spent a couple of weeks up in the Skagit Valley teaching catechism to a bunch of first and second graders. I should probably say attempting to teach catechism.  One of things I needed to teach them about was the Holy Trinity.  True to my Irish heritage, I used St. Patrick’s tried and true method: I used the shamrock.  But there was a problem.  The kids up there didn’t have a clue what a shamrock was so I had to do a little lesson on shamrocks. At the end of the week when I was quizzing them to see what they had learned, I asked, ‘What can you tell me about the Holy Trinity?’ One hand quickly shot up and the little guy told me, “The Trinity is some kind of a plant!”

     So much for my early attempts at teaching (I’m not so sure they’ve improved that much!).  In being true to my Irish heritage I managed to turn the Holy Trinity into a botanical problem.  And, you know, I think we often do something similar when we try to shed light on the mystery of the Trinity.  Too often, we turn the Trinity - not into a botanical problem but into a math problem (“three is one, one is three”) - and in doing so, we end up with frustration rather than adoration. The Trinity becomes a puzzle, an enigma and, for many, this assures it a place on the outer margins of our faith.

     But the Trinity belongs at the very heart of our faith, not at the margins.  And the Trinity is not about numbers, it’s about persons: a community of persons, Father, Son and Spirit, eternally locked in a loving, passionate, life-generating embrace that includes all of creation and all of us.  It is by the power of the Trinity that we were created and it is in the name of the Trinity that we were baptized -- becoming the Father’s beloved daughters and sons, sisters and brothers of Jesus Christ, made holy by the Holy Spirit who dwells within us.

     So should it make a difference to us that there is a Trinity? It should make all the difference. The Trinity is not only the source of all that we are, the Trinity is the pattern for all that we do. The endless, mutual giving and receiving of love within the Godhead not only speaks of the love to which we are called, it makes that love possible. God’s love within us is what makes it possible for us to love God in return, and it’s also what draws us into loving relationships with others – draws us into community. And this love is within us all the time whether we know it or not. Our great challenge is to tap into it, to wake up to it.

     I once lived with a priest who had a unique way of waking up to the presence of the Trinity. On his desk, and near his easy chair, and on his bathroom mirror, and on his bedside table were little framed pieces of calligraphy with the words, “You Three are here!”  Now, I’m not proposing that you do that but it did seem to work for him…!

     There’s one more thing I hope you will take away from today’s feast. It relates to this Holy Year of Mercy and is prompted by that beautiful reading from the Book of Exodus where God comes down in a cloud, passes before Moses, and identifies himself as “The Lord, merciful and gracious, slow to anger, rich in kindness and faithfulness.”  In those few words God let Moses in on a profound secret. He told Moses who he was, revealed to him the mystery at the very heart of the Godhead and, in so doing, gave him an advantage, for to know who God is - to know God’s heart - is to have a certain power over God.

     Those defining words: mercy, kindness, faithfulness, are all Moses needed to know about God and they’re really all we need to know, too. In Hebrew, the word ‘merciful’ is the word for womb. It means that God’s intimate, personal attachment to us is like a mother’s attachment to the child of her womb. It’s hard to imagine anything closer, isn’t it?  And the words “kindness” and “faithfulness” simply fill in the picture of who God is.

     My friends, God’s mercy, love, and faithfulness are what we celebrate on this feast of the Most Blessed Trinity, and we should celebrate them every day. Mercy, love, and faithfulness are who God is and they are also God’s gift to us – not rewards granted to us because we are faithful, but gifts that make us faithful!

     I return to where I began. This feast is not about solving a problem or unraveling a mystery. It’s about waking up to a relationship - waking up to the God who is love and mercy; it’s about resting in the love of God who is a community of persons and who wants nothing more than to draw us into that community.  And the more we do, the more we end up embracing all those whom God loves, all those God puts in our path - family, friends, strangers, even enemies. We are to love in the way we are loved.

     And so, my friends, let me conclude with words of St. Paul that we hear at every Mass: “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all!”        

Father Michael G. Ryan




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Seattle, Washington  98104
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