Mass readings for the Solemnity of the Holy Trinity:
Exodus 34.4-6, 8-9 Psalm 3.52-56 2 Corinthians 13.11-13 John 3.16-18
The doctrine of the Trinity expresses the idea of God as community; and that is the model, in all its mystery, that we are called to follow as the Church.
And the logic of God as Trinity, that God really could only be a Trinity – three persons who are one in substance and therefore, all God, tells us that in taking this as our model we are living out a profound truth.
The definition of God formulated by St. John is that “God is Love.” And to clarify, this is divine love, agape, which is a self-sacrificing, self-giving love whose object is always and entirely the good of the other.
So that love requires another to be the object of love, and between them there is love that moves back and forth. If God is love, there needed to always be a beloved; and not something God created to love because that would mean that God is something other than love; and love is just something he chooses to do.
There are other conceptions of God as being so perfect and self-sufficient he doesn’t need anything or anyone outside himself, and so, God is perhaps that perfect peace that we can somehow tune into. But that is not our Christian understanding – we believe in the only begotten son before all worlds, God from God, a beloved who is the Christ, the Son of God. So, there is the Father who loves, the Son who is loved, and the love between them which is the Holy Spirit from out of all eternity. There was nothing before this divine love.
So, God loves us because that is his nature. As I said, He didn’t make the world and then love it; his love made it all. Love creates, it gives rise to life. Without love, there is no creativity and no life.
As we know, we are made in the image and likeness of God, and our proper and good activity is derived from the divine example, but we as individuals cannot have community. I alone can’t manifest this trinity of existence, and yet, like Adam in the garden, like every person who has ever lived, I have an instinct for community because I carry God’s image and likeness. When God made Adam, he saw something missing, something that could not be fulfilled between them as Creator and Created, he said, “It is not good for the man to be alone.”
And so, from the Adam’s substance came Eve, and there now was this community of love between man and woman who, in imitation of God, fully expressed humanity and shared in having a common substance: they were both human. And that mirrors the Heavenly Father and the Christ who have the same divine substance. And as the Holy Spirit proceeds from them, again sharing the divine substance, there are human counterparts in the love we express for each other, in the children we have, in the communities we make and serve and defend, all these being human in substance.
This is how we express that self-giving divine love that is eternally present in the Trinity of God; by the sacrifices we make for each other to continue human life in the community of family and village and nation.
As Christians we have the divine example of this sacrifice in the Son of God – God does not have that peace of perfect unity, but sacrifices that to be love; and the incarnate Son of God sacrifices his very real humanity for us; and I think we sometimes fail to appreciate that.
I don’t know if you saw this in the news, but the great American film director, Martin Scorcese was recently in Rome and had an audience with the Pope (Scorcese is a Catholic and if you know his films, they have profound religious themes). Anyway, he announced that he was going to be making “another Jesus film.” I’d almost forgotten that he had made one already – The Last Temptation of Christ, back in 1988. The film was controversial because of its take on the passion because it poses the question, what if Jesus chose not to die on the cross? The temptation is one of living his own life, satisfying the desire for physical love, sex; for family life and work. A good portion of the film shows us Jesus doing just that, then living to an old age and then realizing his mistake. The film ends with an old and frail Jesus making his way back to Calvary even as the Roman army is in the process of destroying Jerusalem, and where his cross once stood, calling up to God, “I want to be the Messiah!” – I want to offer myself, to make the ultimate sacrifice. Jesus then finds himself once more on the cross, having overcome the “last temptation” of escaping death, being married, raising a family. He forgoes satisfying his human flesh to accomplish his divine mission – we forget that Jesus is a man, a human being like us; and in his humanity he would have the same longings and aspirations we all have, to love and be loved in our humanity; and that he gave that up, what for so many of us, too many of us, is seen as the only purpose of life.
I don’t know that Scorcese needs to make another Jesus movie; maybe he just needs to re-release this one.
Our current culture, at least in speaking about its leaders, its popular creators, I believe they struggle with this gospel message of the God whose nature is self-sacrificing love. To find fulfilment in sacrificing one’s dreams and goals because there is a higher cause, a greater aim that concerns the good of another, perhaps of everyone else but oneself. And we look around us and see how people are trying to form community around something other than this principle. That effort is being led by our governments, our major corporations, and institutions, and it is having a detrimental affect on our civilization, on young people, children, on all of us as we are led away from understanding ourselves as a society constituted by the Trinity.
In the Catholic Church the month of June is dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus – in the secular civic world of Canada it is Pride month, and the flag of that movement is flying over our public buildings, our schools, even our Catholic schools. The Prime Minister has taken down the Canadian flags that hang around his offices in Ottawa and replaced them with the Pride flag.
What I take from people who advocate for it, is that they take meanings from it that are distant from its origins as a banner celebrating adult sexualities. They see in it an expression of caring and kindness; indeed, that is what the children in the elementary schools are told it is about: kindness and love. But that’s not really what that movement is about. To say that it is a “kindness” movement would be like saying the Church is a “kindness” organization, that Christianity is a religion of kindness – that would be to forget the gospel which is more than a call to be nice. Kindness is an effect of the gospel message on those who believe in it. The advocates of almost every other religion and ideology pretty much all say that following their ideas will lead to a more caring society – the question is, “but will it?”
And the use of the word “Love” can be the source of confusion: what kind of love? For sympathetic Catholics, they choose to conflate the divine love of Christ with the more worldly love that the flag represents. Children have no idea of this distinction; and for them, love is not sexual at all. Indeed, their understanding as naïve as it might be, is likely closer to grasping the love of Christ than we might think. So, this is all inappropriate for them who are innocent of the adult preoccupations of the movement.
One of the principal reasons the Church resists this and similar identity ideologies is that such movements encourage people to dwell on themselves, to make what is personal to them of the utmost importance in defining their humanity, their god and the purpose of their lives. It is an inwardly directed spirituality, and contrary to the outward direction of divine love as seen in the Trinity, as expressed from the heart of Jesus. It demands of others sacrifices and concessions for personal fulfilment.
I understand what the impulse of those looking for an alternative is: a true desire for caring community and justice for everyone – my concern is that we have had a civilization based on a concept of community grounded in God who is Trinity that has shown demonstrable progress toward this in any fair reading of history, but now we are turning away from this with predictable results in terms of growing division and disorder.
We live in a time of great conflict around what will be the guiding principles of our society, to be advocated by our leaders, enforced by our laws and taught to our children. The Church in advocating for community made in the image and likeness of the God who is the community of the Trinity must live what it proclaims and practice what it preaches, lifting high the banner of the cross, showing others the heart of Jesus in how we love everyone.