Homily for Trinity Sunday
June 6, 2004
St. John Fisher, Newtown, Ohio
(Based on Proverbs8:22-31; Psalm 8:4-9; Romans 5:1-5; John 16:12-15)
"The Spirit will give glory to me because he will have received from me what he will announce to you."
For the past eight weeks we have been reflecting on the mystery of Easter and then the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Now that period comes to an end with the feast of the Trinity. It's as if we take one last circle around the 'big' mysteries before we have to confront the day-by-day living out of our faith in that period which is called so appropriately "Ordinary Time," which will run all the way up to the first Sunday of Advent.
So what are we to say about 'Trinity?'
I think the first thing we need to remember is that it is not a term that the early followers of Jesus would have recognized. It's not in Scripture, you know.
The term is the result of four centuries of the great theologians we call the Fathers of the Church wracking their brains trying to put the data from the New Testament into some sort of reasonable synthesis.
It might help if we recall the story of the great Saint Augustine -- it may be legend but if so, it still contains an important truth. According to the story Augustine was walking along the beach wrestling with the mystery of the Trinity, when he came across a little boy who was using a shell to scoop ocean water into a bucket. Augustine asked him what he was trying to do. And the boy said he was going to scoop the whole ocean into his bucket. Augustine said, "You'll never be able to do that, the ocean is too big." And the boy said, "I'll get it done before you solve the mystery of the Trinity."
So I'd suggest we leave the word behind and just stay with the picture as the early followers of Jesus knew it.
It begins with some fisherman meeting this wandering preacher and being attracted to him and his message. He had begun his public ministry by returning to his home town of Nazareth and going to the synagogue there, where he asked for the scroll from the prophet Isaiah. This is really his stump speech, announcing what he was sent to do. It's worth reading it once again:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring glad tidings to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives,
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.
And he ended by saying, "Today this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing."
Notice: it's all about spreading good news,\; it's about liberation and recovery and taking off the shackles of the oppressed.
And of whom? Of the poor and the blind and captives.
Jesus' proclamation is not about 'church' or going to church, about rituals. The word 'church' only occurs two times in the whole of the Gospels. He preached instead about the gradual coming --- the unfolding or revealing --- of his Father's kingdom.
And at the end of his life, as we read in today's Gospel, that same message will be the message of the Spirit being poured out: ""he will have received from me only what he hears."
You see, what later theologians called "Trinity" is all about mission. It's about the Son being sent and the Father and the Son sending the Spirit. There is this great movement, from the Source of life, the Father, to the world through Jesus and his Spirit. To us. It's about the power to free us, to take off our blinders and loosen our chains.
And here's the crucial point: the mission continues: "as the Father has sent me, so do I send you." We are sent, we are com-missioned. I think one of the most extraordinary, mysterious sayings of Scripture is when Jesus says, "The things I have done you will do --and greater than these." In the power of the Spirit we will do greater things than Jesus himself!
We are all sent, we have a mission. It is Baptism that is the foundation of the church, not Holy Orders.
And how were we baptized? "In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit." The 'name' means the power. We have the same mission as Jesus because that is what the Spirit reveals: what he has heard from the Son.
And that mission continues down into our day, carried on by the baptized.
I'd like to share some good news with you today. It's about the community of Sant'Egidio. This is a movement that was founded by a young Italian man not even 20 years old, in 1968. Today it embraces over 40,000 lay men and women across 60 countries -- much larger than any of the great religious orders.
And what is it about, what does it focus on? Five things: prayer; the proclamation of the Gospel, the good news; solidarity with the poor; ecumenism; and the practice of dialogue.
These are professional, middle-class men and women, like you and me.
Prayer: If you go to Rome, go to the church of Sant'Egidio on any Wednesday evening and you will join hundreds of men and women praying together. Then after prayer you will see the long picnic tables lined up down the center of the church (there are no pews). That is where these members serve a meal for the poor and homeless of Rome. When they began, they went out and set up a People's School in the slums on the outskirts of the city to bring education to kids who don't get to school.
Dialogue: when the island of Madagascar off the coast of Africa was torn apart by civil war, it was to the Sant'Egidio people they turned to mediate and bring about peace and reconciliation. (Check them out and learn their story on Google.)
Some of you here today are old enough to recall what was said at the end of the old Latin Mass, where we say "Go in the peace of Christ." Ite, missa est. Yes, go, the Mass is ended, but really it meant "go, you are dis-missed, you are sent out on your mission."
As we receive the life of Jesus in today's Eucharist, the one who was sent by the Father and sends us his Spirit, I'd suggest that we pray for three gifts.
First, for a deeper sense of our dignity as the baptized people of the Lord, a deeper appreciation of our mission to proclaim the liberating love of Christ for his brothers and sisters. (Let me tell you of one of the saddest things I run across as a priest. It's when someone says, "Say a prayer for me, Father" and I say, "You pray for me" and the person says, "Oh you have a direct line to God, Father." It's sad because people like that are putting themselves and their baptismal vocation down. I have no more 'direct line' to God than you.)
And second, let's pray for the realization that our mission is the same mission of Jesus.
And finally for the realization that with our mission comes the promise of the power to carry it out: "and greater things than these will you do."