Capturing the Triune God
Here is another homily from Fr. Bill O'Malley, who has an article in this week's America. The homily below is for June 19, Holy Trinity Sunday. Click here to read Fr. O'Malley's homily from Pentecost.
I know you’re all breathless with anticipation for the new liturgical changes that begin next Advent. One of the principal shifts will be that, in the Creed, instead of saying Christ is “one in being with the Father,” we’re now ordered to say, “consubstantial with the Father.” Now doesn’t that start your synapses sparking, doesn’t it just set every nerve ending a-tingle?
There’s a whole booklet out on understanding the changes that tells us how we’re really gonna like them. That’s sort of like my Mom telling me I’ll enjoy taking the shyest girl in the neighborhood to her senior prom, or the dentist saying, “This’ll only hurt just the tiniest wee little bit.”
These learned theologians give you the impression they really know what they’re talking about. I really, really believed that–-at least until I reached the age of reason. Which in my case, at least in reasoning about God, was about 32. Then I began getting very serious temptations to let my left brain open communications with my own right brain–-to let all the things I knew about science in the coldly rational lobe be seduced by all the warm and colorful images and symbols in the imaginative lobe. I began to think, for instance (as a voyeur on this at first improbable tryst), that–-if God pre-existed time--then God has never aged! That means, unavoidably, that God’s younger than we are. That God is nowhere near as stodgy as the pictures the Church has allowed. That God is infinitely more playful than the people who have been trying to box him in since the caves–-whether that prison was a totem pole or a definition in the Summa Theologica.
The theologian Sondra Schneider has a terrific insight: “God is not two men and a bird!” I find that denial far more satisfying than all the certified definitions.
What the theologians have kept secret from the ordinary Catholic (simply by stopping Catholic learning before age 32) is that even St. Paul had no worked-out idea of the Trinity. He simply accepted that it was, like presuming our mothers love us. The first time the Greek word for “Trinity” arose was in Tertullian, 200 years later, and the first time the Church came up with a reasonably firm assertion was in the Councils of Nicea and Constantinople–-350 years after the crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension. And yet today’s bishops have issued a serious warning (I kid you not!) about using a feminine pronoun about the Holy Spirit–-when even the flinty John Calvin said “God has manifested himself to us as both Father and Mother.” Our bishops’ warning comes even despite Thomas Aquinas himself, declaring at his death, that everything he ever wrote about God was “nothing but straw” compared to the ineffable Reality.
Over the course of those 350 years, as Elizabeth Johnson says, “the monotheistic view of God flexed to incorporate Jesus and the Spirit.” Isn’t that so much humbler–-therefore closer to the truth--than certitude? “Flexed.” At first early Christians, she says, saw the One God as utterly beyond them, other-worldly. But then they began to realize God had now become historically present to them, in Jesus. Then, when he went back into another way of existing, his presence remained–-at one and the same time–-beyond and with. In fact, he was now within them as members of the same Body. That’s what comes when the dominating, “masculine” insight yields uncharacteristically to the submissive, “feminine” ways of understanding.
St. Augustine tried at least 20 times to find more accessible words for the Trinity, and the best he came up with (for me) was: “Lover...Beloved...Love.” The Father is the Lover, the Son is the Beloved, the Spirit is their Loving.
When Jesus tells us to love one another as we love ourselves, he’s suggesting we try to love them as whole-heartedly as God loves “Themselves.” The earliest Christian theologian, Paul, says we are a living Eucharist, because we are the embodiment of God, enlivened by His Spirit–-as Jesus was. WOW!