We are made, men and women, in the image and likeness of God. That’s central to our faith and tells us we are to live up to something far greater than ourselves; it is our basic vocation.
What then does it mean to confess that God, in whose image we are made, is Trinity? God is three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. He is a unity with diversity; a singularity with multiplicity; encountered as an individual in his being the Creator, in Christ as our Redeemer, and in the Holy Spirit as our Advocate and Guide; yet God is a community of persons working in constant cooperation.
If made in the image and likeness of God, then we are to manifest both individuality and community.
We are not fully realized human beings until we become distinct individuals with fully integrated personalities: that is, we have a sense of who we are in particular, in both our strengths and our weaknesses; and that despite our foibles and failings, understand we are nonetheless beloved by God, and so take on that dignity.
We are not fully human until we exist in community, in relation to others, and are made to move out of ourselves and grow toward others, not simply in community but in that more intimate relationship we know as communion.
It’s funny what occurred to me in thinking about the Trinity; I thought of, of all things and people, of the Three Stooges.
Now most of you know who I am talking about, that famous comedic threesome: Larry, Curly and Moe. Even if you’ve never sat down to watch one of their movies; even if you’re someone born in this century, you’ve heard of these men whose entertainment careers were largely concluded sixty years ago.
We all know the schtick that sustained their forty-year run: relentless mutual physical abuse. Eye-gouging, slapping, punching, and so on.
They came to my mind as an incarnation of the opposite of a community expressing the trinity.
Then I considered our Catholic community: I am mindful as how we are often so discordant, so out of sync, uncoordinated, and often just stupid.
There are many expressions of Catholicism that survive to day, the Church most obviously, but we also have hospitals and schools.
With regard to “our schools” we should know they aren’t really ours – they exist as a constitutional arrangement for a publicly-funded school system reserved for Catholics. This is very different from having truly parochial schools. It is difficult to insulate the schools from the effects of a secularizing culture, a secularizing government that uses the power of public spending and its network of communication and influence to draw us away from each other and impose ideologies that are alien to a Catholic understanding of the world.
That being said, I must say we are very blessed, for example, in the grade seven teachers at the two schools within our parish bounds; but that, sadly has proven to not be enough.
If you’ve been around the schools, you will know they often speak of themselves as part of the “three-legged stool”: faith is supported by parish, school and family working together, they say.
And yet, at our celebrations of Confirmation this past week, when I looked out at the congregation, I could not help but think that the stool was broken. Families I did not know, who were ostensibly parishioners; children who I only knew from the classroom and from their being on the Confirmation retreat. One leg of this celebrated stool, the school, appears to be cracked and breaking, and another has been mostly sheared off: the family. And the parish; well, it isn’t so much taking the weight as it is part of a broken piece of furniture that no one is sitting on anymore.
When in the confirmation liturgy, one of the few grade sevens who come to mass, read scripture I was moved, well-impressed, and given hope that here was someone with whom God might just be able to work, to grow into a person of sanctity, service, spiritual competence and authentic communion. But she was one of seven who I see and know from parish life; the forty others and their families are strangers here. And it showed in their awkwardness, their lack of participation in worship, their odd mix of respectfulness and inappropriate behaviour that I saw, sitting and standing next to the bishop with not much to do but watch them.
I confess that when I saw all those other unfamiliar faces… I won’t say there was anger, but rather frustration, disappointment, sadness and also concern for them. We speak of the baptized who area absent by choice as sheep gone astray, now prey for the wolves of this world; but here were the yet more vulnerable lambs.
Their parents were there; most again have little or nothing to do with the parish; many aren’t registered. They share nothing of their time, talent or treasure with us. It is tremendous loss for us mutually.
I couldn’t give a fig about the money – but I do care about them in themselves. To what, to whom are they giving themselves? Perhaps family, and I suppose there is some good in that; but our Lord is quite clear that family is not of first priority in the life of his disciples.
I was speaking with one of our parishioners the following day and I remarked that these families had come, contributed nothing to putting on the celebration, seemed only vaguely aware of the volunteers who did so much work, and lamented how wonderful it would be to have even a few of these families here and part of our life together in Christ. He then said, “I think they just feel entitled to it all.”
I do remember one lad who did swagger up the aisle to receive the chrism; and I had to wonder where such an attitude came from, to walk hands-in-pockets smirking to receive the holy unction.
In the confessional I’ve had to respond to the faithful person who has confessed that they can’t think of any sins. Are they all good with God, then?
The best answer I’ve come across was an analogy to receiving an award, a Nobel Peace Prize, but you did absolutely nothing for the cause of world peace; or getting an academy award but you’ve never been in a movie; a grammy, but you haven’t recorded a single note.
You’d feel a little stupid accepting it; why would you give me this? I don’t deserve this.
So, do we believe you deserve eternal life in the presence of the source of all love and truth? And what did we do to deserve that? Perhaps you and I are called to something more than keeping our noses clean. We’re actually supposed to be doing something, and not just a bit of community service here and there, but in terms of personal transformation, sanctification, holiness.
When the bishop began to speak of just such things, I did see a few shift nervously in their seats, but there were many who still didn’t have sense enough to be embarrassed. Frankly, I think they resented it.
If a faithful person can fall into the conceit that they are “all good to go” provided he keeps his nose clean, what’s going on with those who hardly bother with worship, prayer, spiritual development, and yet somehow come to assume that a Catholic identity has secured for them and their children everlasting life? Or maybe they don’t think that. It’s just nice to get the family together from time to time, get the kids dressed up, come home after sitting in a pew for an hour to have cake and ice cream. That is an even more troubling rejection of what the faith teaches.
The Church’s first instinct might be to emulate Moe, the leader of the stooges, who when looking at the mess things were becoming as the they tried to, say wallpaper a room, paint a house, fix kitchen plumbing, and so on, he’d resort to smacking Larry on the head with a wrench, or shove a paint brush in his mouth; then Larry would then turn to Curly, and pass on the abuse. Then all would descend into chaos.
There’s a bit of Moe in me, and many of us, in being tempted to knock some sense into all these Catholic “knuckleheads” who don’t get what we’re supposed to be doing, why we’re here; and why it’s important.
In his homily, Bishop Lobsinger spoke of some of the gifts of the Holy Spirit; he spoke about wisdom. He talked about how those who had siblings probably have had conflicts with them, how a poke is responded to with a push, and that in turn a punch, and so on. And he said that is when we must ask the Holy Spirit to come and give us wisdom to find another way to respond. The response the Spirit will prompt you to will surely be better than something out of a Three Stooges’ film.
We need to find that wisdom to deal with what has become of our Catholic community. And no, we can’t put it all down to COVID; that’s only accelerated the deterioration that’s been in evidence for decades.
The divine dynamic of the Trinity has often been described this way: the Father loves, the Son is loved; and the Son loves and the Father is loved; and the Spirit is that movement of love between them. It is for us to emulate this, allow the Holy Spirit of Pentecost to be that love that animates us and flows freely toward rebuilding our parish community in the likeness of the Holy Trinity.
It is work for us all to rebuild and repair; just as we would care for this beautiful old building to keep it standing, how much more important then the souls of faithful who are gone from this place, or have never shown up in any meaningful way? It is fortuitous that, by and large, we know who they are.
St. Francis was famously charged by God to “rebuild my church” and initially he took that to mean fixing a ruined old building but quickly came to realize that it was about rebuilding the Christian people by starting with himself, in renewed reverence, piety, prayer, study, and above all expression of love others. This starts that necessary flow outward that reconnects, renews and refreshes the Church, grows the loose-knit community of Catholics back into a true communion of brothers and sisters in Christ.
So, we must ask, how will we do this? What will you do? What will I do? Then let the Spirit answer the question; and go do as he advises with confidence that the Father, the Son and Holy Spirit are with us.