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PreachMay 20, 2024
Photo courtesy of iStock.

A surefire way to lose your congregation’s attention is to start a homily with “In today’s Gospel reading,” says Thomas Groome. “The purpose of good preaching,” he says, “is to bring our lives to God and God to our lives.” A preacher’s job, then, is to facilitate a meaningful conversation between the two.

This week on “Preach,” Tom, a professor of theology and religious education at Boston College’s School of Theology and Ministry, preaches for the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity, Year B. Rather than speaking in theological abstractions, Tom uses a relatable concept—relationships—to illuminate the mystery of the Trinity, making it accessible to all.

Tom joins host and co-producer Ricardo da Silva, S.J. and former student and co-producer Maggi Van Dorn, guest co-host for this episode, to share devices for connecting Scripture to everyday experience. He discusses his use of silence to deepen the congregation’s encounter with God and themselves, and shares insights gained from the 20 years he served as a priest and nearly 50 years as a teacher, including how he found his unique preaching voice.


Readings for The Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity, Year B

Reading 1: Dt 4:32-34, 39-40

Responsorial Psalm: Ps 33:4-5, 6, 9, 18-19, 20, 22

Reading 2: Rom 8:14-17

Gospel: Mt 28:16-20

You can find the full text of the readings here


Homily for the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity, Year B

When I pause and think about it, I have no greater joy in life than what I recognize as my “right and loving relationships.” And, happily, I’m blessed with a few that are eminently “right and loving.”

Now, by “right relationships,” I mean ones that are empowering and life-giving, that are respectful and accepting, that have compassion and justice for me, and foster as much from me for others.

By “loving relationships” I mean ones that are kind and affirming, and that encourage me likewise, relationships that treat me and encourage me to treat others with deep empathy, to affirm the dignity and value of all persons, and that lend me forgiveness as needed.

Now, let me be honest—not all of my relationships would qualify as right and loving. God knows, far from it. But on my better days, I continue to work on the ones that fall short, and I rejoice in those that at least approximate such an ideal. And of the relationships that are well-named as right and loving—these I recognize as the greatest treasures that I have in life. They are sacraments of grace that sustain my life-journey, helping me home to God.

Now, let me pause here for a moment and invite you to recognize some of the right and loving relationships that bless your own life. What relationships come to mind and heart immediately for you as being of such quality? And then, what is it that makes those relationships so right and loving for you? I’ll pause just for a few seconds and let you recognize your own wonderful relationships and what you might learn from them.

The example that comes to mind for me is my relationship with my late brother Bernard; we called him Bar in our family. I was the youngest of 10 children, nine that lived into adulthood. On a good day, there were morsels of right and loving relationship among all nine of us. And now that six of my siblings have gone home to God, we’re doing a lot better, shall I say! But my relationship with Bar—all across the years—was eminently right and loving. He had been in priesthood for some 20 years, resigned, married, raised a family, and made a living—none of which was easy for him. And yet throughout, Bar remained in right and loving relationship with me and with all of his siblings, and with our neighbors as well. Bar inspires me every day to try to live likewise.

Now, we well ask, why is the ideal of right and loving relationships at the very heart of who we are as human persons? Why can we think of it as our defining vocation in life?

Well, today’s Feast of the Most Holy Trinity offers a resounding response. Our deepest truth is that we have such a noble vision as human persons precisely because we’re made in the image and likeness of our God, who is a Trinity of right and loving relationships—both within Godself and always toward us. That is who and how our God is for us.

In other words, the very Source of Life from which we spring and the transcendent horizon into which we are to live is our God, who is a Trinity of right and loving relationships.

The first reading in today’s Lectionary, from Deuteronomy chapter 4, testifies that it is God who “creates humans upon the earth” (Dt 4:32). And then, it asks rhetorically, “did anything so great ever happen before?” implying that the pinnacle of God’s creation is humankind.

Here, Deuteronomy 4 is echoing Genesis 1, the more classic creation text, which reveals that God created humankind in God’s own image and likeness, with male and female being equally reflective of God—and both being made to be “very good.” To realize our potential to be very good, however, we must strive constantly to live into the kind of right and loving relationships that reflect how our Triune God is within Godself and always toward us. The more we so live, the greater our happiness will be in life, fulfilling our human vocation to reflect the image and likeness of our God.

And then, today’s Gospel reading, Matthew 28, further verifies that our highest human vocation as persons is to live as reflections of the Blessed Trinity. The text is what we well name “the Great Commission”: when Jesus, by now the Risen Christ, assembled the remnant of his little community on a hillside in Galilee—only to send them forth into the world to share his Gospel.

Beginning by claiming “that all authority in heaven and on earth” had been given to him, the Risen Christ then commissioned his disciples to go evangelize, to make disciples of all nations, and precisely to baptize them into the very inner Triune life of God—or, as the text says, “in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.”

So, by baptism we participate all the more deeply in the divine life of the Trinitarian God. The text well adds that this requires us to observe all that God commands—in other words, to live the Gospel, at the heart of which is Jesus’ greatest commandment: to ever live in right and loving relationship with God, self, others and creation. And to empower us in this Trinitarian vocation, the Risen Christ promises to be with us “always until the end of time.”

Now, heresies have been hatched and wars have been fought around the precise and most theologically correct way to state the three-ness and the oneness of our God. Great debates have given rise to technical language like perichoresis, circumincession, filioque and so on. But that’s for another day! Personally, I like Karl Rahner’s simple summary that the Trinity represents “God’s three different ways of being there for us—yet ever united as one.”

Or perhaps the old story I heard as a child of St. Patrick and the shamrock might still be suggestive—and not just for the Irish on St. Patrick’s Day. The story goes that Patrick had made great headway toward converting the High King of Ireland to Christian faith (this was around the year 430 C.E.). All went very well until they came to the doctrine of the Blessed Trinity. At that, the High King balked and dismissed as nonsense this notion of a God who is both three and one. And Patrick was about to give up, when he noticed the little shamrocks on the ground beneath him. Picking one up, he asked the High King how many leaves the shamrock had. The King said “three.” “And how many shamrocks am I holding?” Patrick asked, and the King said “one.” “Then,” says Patrick, “it is likewise with God—three in one.” The King was converted, and we have cherished the shamrock ever since!

So, on this Trinity Sunday, how are we to take seriously this central dogma of our faith: that our God is a Trinity of right and loving relationships whom we are to reflect through our personhood and lives in the world?

Let me pause here again for a moment for your own discernment before I make a few proposals for my own faith and perhaps for yours as well. So, how might you and I take seriously this celebration of Trinity Sunday? 

Well, I propose that we need a renewed appreciation of the amazing gift it is to be made in the image and likeness of our Triune God, and the great horizon this lends to our lives: that they have ultimate meaning and purpose, which we realize precisely by living in right and loving relationship with God, self, others and all of creation.

Further, we must practice such life-giving relationality on personal, interpersonal, socio-political and ecological levels—in other words, throughout every aspect of our being in the world. Our Trinitarian vocation calls us especially to compassion for those in need of any kind and commitment to justice of every kind. And might today’s feast be an opportunity for us to look honestly at all of our relationships, perhaps to face the ones that are more wrong than right, and to re-cherish and further nurture the ones that are what they should be. 

On that note, let me personally confess that this Trinity Sunday prompts me to face honestly one particular relationship in my own life that would not at all qualify as right and loving—far from it; today I pray for the grace to heal that broken union. And might you have a particular relationship that requires some remedial work? If so, on this Trinity Sunday, might you also pray for the grace to repair?

So, instead of being a mystery that we cannot explain, as we’ve so often dubbed the Trinity, it is the mystery that explains everything about who we are and how best to live our lives to reflect our Triune God.

I close with a personal memory. In a neighboring village close to where I grew up in rural Ireland there was a sacred well called the Trinity Well. Its waters were alleged to hold cures for all kinds of illness and disease. And every year, on Trinity Sunday, there was a great festival held around the well, with people coming from far and near to celebrate the feast and obtain a drink from the well’s healing waters. Those memories come back to me today—and fondly. They help me to recognize again that the doctrine of the Blessed Trinity is like a great well of life-giving water. As the very heart of Jesus’ Gospel, and as he promised to the Samaritan woman, this well will always be like a spring of fresh water, ever gushing up to eternal life (Jn 4:18). Amen.

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