TRINITY YEAR C HOMILY 2022
MYSTERY, SPIRIT AND TRUTH
Jn 16.12-15 Prov 8.22-31 Rom 5.1-5
“Probably no feast of the Church’s year presents such terror for preachers as that of the Holy Trinity.” Thus speaks Brendan Byrne SJ! I can’t say I am terrified, just a bit confused, and you might say, as usual, so what’s new?!
So now it’s time for Trinity, the mystery of faith we take for granted every time we make the Sign of the Cross when we gather to pray together, something which we can be sure the early Christians did not do. It took a whole lot of arguments and even physical fights, to formulate expressions of faith in the God of whom Jesus spoke, in the image of Father which he revealed, and then promising the Spirit as guide in his lengthy farewell discourse in John’s Gospel. Now, here we go again, in a short, pithy statement about the Spirit of truth!
This is not to be a Spirit in the manner of 16th century Nostradamus, who made a name for himself, pretending to be very good at reinterpreting things to suit his own distorted picture of what he saw as truth and reality. The Spirit of whom Jesus speaks is to guide and lead to the truth, about Jesus’ identity as person human and divine, and his message of Good News for all.
We talk about and learn about the gifts of the Spirit in preparation for Confirmation, but we know it’s not a magical transformation which occurs, but rather a reminder to respond to the gifts of the Spirit as we live and grow in the light of a faith which is to be practically applied to our lives, in word and action, producing the good fruits (I won’t repeat them yet again here!).
And so, the theologians and scripture scholars have wrestled with the whole idea ever since Jesus’s physical departure. Once again, the images take me back to Prep in 1958, the year Pope Pius XII died, and we got a day off school! Presentation Sister Bernardine (And I never knew, and suspect she didn’t either, that there was a 1958 Pat Boone song titled ‘Bernardine’ – “Oh, Bernardine, oh, oh, oh, Bernardine. I can tell by the dimple on your chin, You’re in beautiful shape for the shape you’re in”!!!), from was up at the blackboard, in front of us 50+ students, drawing a big triangle, even before we had done any geometry, but it all seemed simple enough to me. If Sister said that was Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Ghost, each at one tip of the triangle, then that was good enough for me at 5 years old!
Later in my Catholic education, we moved on to the supposed Saint Patrick’s model of the Irish 3 leafed clover, even the overlapping Venn diagram later in secondary school, and then there is Rublev’s icon of the Trinity, 3 angels around the altar in the Byzantine period. Claude Mostowik observes: “There is an empty place at the table and the circle of communion is incomplete until we take our place there as well. We all have our place in this circle… as does every other person. May we deepen our work for justice, where we embrace the stranger and the outsider and honour difference and diversity.” I do like this lateral insight! Then, when I was PP in Manly, from the Wicked Candles (a good ambiguous name!) shop, I found a 3-wicked candle to illustrate Trinity for a show and tell homily.
But let’s face it, we’re never going to get to the heart or the bottom of the mystery, by definition! When in the seminary, there was a Trinity course, with 90 pages of notes, after which students came out more confused than when they went in. Terms like ‘hypostatic union’ and ‘consubstantial’ just didn’t cut it, in terms of comprehension!
It took until the 4th century for credal formulations to be put together, such that we ended up with the Nicene and Apostles’ Creeds, which we still used today. And you mightn’t be surprised, there are others, as with the Athanasian Creed. It seems Athanasius wasn’t quite satisfied with the others, so made up his own! (After all, he had time, as, while he was Bishop of Alexandria, he spent more time out of his diocese than in it, given the many disputes there were with the local community! He seemed to like an argument, spending a total of 17 years in exile, being kicked out of his diocese 5 times, during his nominal 45 years as diocesan bishop!) He was lucky to have survived and died of natural causes in 373 at over 75 years old, not bad for back then, especially given the circumstances!)
Well, what to make of the mystery for ourselves? One commentator, Franciscan Silvester O’Flynn, says: “God has raised up the human race into sharing the inner relationships of divine life. Everything that the Father has is given to the Son, who shares it with us, in the gift of the Spirit.” Or, back to my old friend Brendan Byrne SJ, who puts it thus: “So, without injury to the basic monotheism which Christianity derived from the Jewish faith, the sense of Three Persons in the One God came into being as a way of expressing the Christian sense of being drawn into the divine communion of love.” That should do for current explanation, the mystery, of course, remaining!
“Truth” in John’s Gospel relates to the belief that Jesus speaks God’s Word and is the revelation of the God of Creation and life and love. This is the mystery in which we are immersed, with the Spirit promised by Jesus to guide and lead us to freedom.
This is the antithesis of the false sort of freedom mining magnate Clive Palmer pretends to offer with his yellow advertisements on billboards and newspapers, his fake truth and the obscene amount of money spent, in wasted and misleading advertising, nor the USA NRA, the rifle association that confuses freedom to bear arms, with true human freedom to live life without fear of guns freely available in the community. The madness and self-delusion in our world is unbelievable at times!!
We come back to the Gospel, where we are shown the truth of Jesus’ message, that the fruits of the Spirit are to be produced by those who believe in him and commit to living the faith he proclaims, and calls us to. There is meaning and truth in the law of love, to be applied by you and me when we hear and live the Gospel, guided by the Spirit.
john hannon 12th June 2022