Life on the Chrism Trail

Homily for the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity

Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity

June 7, 2020
Saint Patrick Cathedral
Fort Worth, Texas

Exodus 34:4B-6,8-9
Psalm: Deuteronomy 3:52-56
2 Corinthians 13:11-13
John 3:16-18

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. How many times do we say that? It is one of the first things that our parents teach us when they are teaching us our prayers. We are frequently able to say and to do it without thinking much about what we are saying and what we are doing. Yet, we know somehow, as Catholics, that we are supposed to do it and that there is something important about praying with it and repeating it. We can either do it redundantly or repetitively.

There is a distinction to be made between redundancy and repetitionRedundancy in the spiritual life is akin to a popular definition of insanity: doing the same thing repeatedly with the intention of manipulating a different result each time that one does the same thing. On the contrary, repetition in the Catholic spiritual life develops our incorporation into the mystery of the Triune God, freely offered and fully revealed in Jesus Christ. Repetition fosters the formation of our character with every full human virtue exemplified in Jesus Christ. Just as repetition is important in strength training for athletics and physical development, so repetition is important for developing the moral and theological virtues as habits in the spiritual life.

Redundancy has to do with vicious circularity (doing the same thing again and again without making progress or accomplishing anything except narcissistic absorption); repetition has to do with the spiral: there is always forward growth and momentum in a spiral even as it circles again and again over similar words, patterns, ideas, and themes. Redundancy enslaves us; repetition liberates us for the sake of true love.

The bitter fruits of redundancy are isolation, tedium, and imperious entitlement; the sweet fruits of repetition are gratitude, humility, and joy. Redundancy in the spiritual life drives a person towards simply “going through the motions” in prayer, the focus of which becomes trying to convince God to do what we want Him to do our way — to make our will His will. Repetition in the spiritual life guides a person into the deeper waters of conversion and trust carried by the gifts of the Holy Spirit — as if by a breeze that requires only that we listen, trust, and place the will of God first in our lives. This leads us to full configuration with the life of Jesus Christ in loving obedience to the Father.

What is at the heart of this redundancy? Is it atheism, the smug and arrogant refusal to believe that God exists? No. At the heart of this redundancy is a much older and stale malady, that is, idolatry — the worship of false gods. The real pastoral challenge that the Church faces today and against which She must courageously stand is not so much the pretense of atheism, rather, it is the seduction of idolatry.

Idolatry occurs when we lose sight of the Cross in our lives; when we refuse to love and to sacrifice ourselves for others. Idolatry results when we refuse to enter the mystery of the Holy Trinity into which we were baptized. Idolatry is when we make ultimate gods of ourselves and of our own preferences and drives; it is when we prefer redundant manipulation and control over selfless love and sacrifice. We forge these narcissisms into many different totems, the most pernicious of which is the false god of our autonomy — the most dominant idol in our contemporary pantheon. Its anthem is “my way.”

The false gods and idols that dominate our lives always keep us locked up in the emotional sphere of our lives; they make that which is reasonable secondary and under the servitude of our passions. The false gods keep us lustful; they keep us exhilarated; they keep us rageful; they keep us despondent. They grab us and yank us in one direction or another so that we end up controlled and dominated. These false and passionate idols have sway in much of our societal and family life today and they are constantly before us with their false promises of power. They destroy us. How do we become free of them?

Think again of how many times we begin and end our prayers with the Sign of the Cross by invoking the name of the Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It is the Sign of the Cross and the confident invocation of the Trinity that saves us from idolatry. Every time we make the Sign of the Cross, we invoke the Holy Trinity, we enter the presence of the true and selfless God. Every sacrament administered begins simultaneously with the Sign of the Cross and the invocation of the Trinity and then ends simultaneously with the Sign of the Cross and the blessing of the Trinity.

The Fathers of the Church who developed the doctrine and theology of the Holy Trinity used the Greek word “prosopon” for what we translate as “person” in speaking of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. This Greek word was the same word used in classical Greek as the name for “mask,” the type of mask that was worn by the actors in the theater of ancient Greece. These masks were not understood as a type of pretending, they rather revealed the character portrayed by the actors. They enabled the audience to enter the drama almost as a religious experience — albeit a pagan experience. As we continue to learn, human masks reveal, and they conceal. They can conceal the identity of a criminal or they can reveal the care and concern for the sick and vulnerable to contagion. The Divine Mask — the Prosopon — is revelatory even if it is beyond our full capacity to grasp and understand the divinity it reveals. It is faith that is our trusting of the self-revelation of the Persons of the Trinity because they are always revealing themselves to each other in perfect selflessness and love — that we are brought through the surrender of our will to the mystery of the Cross.

Our entrance into the loving communion of the Trinity is through the sacrifice and cross of Jesus Christ. Let it be clear that there is no other entry into this mystery of love except the cross; it is our only hope for salvation. The cross of Jesus unites perfectly divine love and human love in one action. The Divine Love is that of the Holy Trinity, a relationship among the Persons that does not dissolve or collapse into each other. It is also the communion of the loving human obedience of the Son to the Father transparently manifested by the Holy Spirit. As we proclaimed in the Gospel of today’s Mass, “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him might not perish but might have eternal life.”

It is our entrance because it is simultaneously human and divine. In the cross of Jesus, humanity and divinity meet perfectly without manipulation or domination. Idolatry is void of the cross; it is empty of love. That is why the priest begins the Mass as he does both simultaneously in the name of the Trinity and with the Sign of the Cross. We learn the lesson that God is the Creator of the world through the cross. We learn the lesson that God is the Redeemer and the Savior of the world through the cross. We learn the lesson that God sanctifies the world through the cross. The cross is made present through the unbloodied sacrifice offered by the priest in the celebration of the Mass. We know that without a priest there is no Mass; without the Mass there is no cross; without the cross there is no hope in the power of the Holy Trinity to receive us into communion. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

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