Deacon Cornell’s Homily


Exodus 34:4b-6, 8-9
2 Corinthians 13:11-13
John 3:16-18


May 25-26, 2002 Holy Trinity Cycle A

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

In this simplest of prayers we Catholics say, we proclaim the two major tenets of our faith that distinguish us as Christians. With the sign that we make of the cross, we proclaim the paschal mystery of Christ. And with the words, we proclaim the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. If we had to rank these in importance, I would have to put the Holy Trinity first because the paschal mystery hinges on Jesus being true God but yet different from God the Father.

Like any theological mystery, the mystery of the Trinity is not just a case of something we can figure out if we just had all the clues. It is not that kind of a mystery. It is a mystery in the sense that we can never fully understand it here in this world. But we can enter deeper and deeper into an understanding of it.

The Trinitarian formula rolls off our tongues so easily but I suspect that for most of us it is a cliché, something that has become so familiar as to convey almost no meaning. Perhaps one reason for this is our culture’s emphasis on reason over experience. For most Catholics, certainly those of us who are cradle Catholics, it is hard to imagine not thinking of God in Trinitarian terms. What seems obvious to us is out and out blasphemy to Jews and absurd to Muslims.

The concept of God as Three did not spring up fully developed one day. We always have to remember that God is always the same, it is our understanding of who God is that changes and evolves with human understanding. The idea of God as three persons developed out of the experience of the early Christians, just as the idea of one God developed out of the experience of the people of Israel. So I would suggest that we approach the mystery of the Holy Trinity by focusing on the experience of the early Christians as they started to shape the doctrine of the Trinity

Since many of the early Christians were Jews, they had a strong experience of God as creator, as awesome power, and as protector and lover. The first reading captures this experience of God the Father as Moses experiences the glory of God, too awesome for even Moses to view. God only shows Moses his back in the verses just before the ones we heard. And yet this God of might and power is merciful and gracious and ready to forgive.

At the same time that God was mighty and totally other from sinful humans, there was an experience of God in their midst. Even thought they were a stiff-necked people, God wanted to go with them on their journey. Even the name that God gave as his to Moses, Yahweh, can be translated as I am who am with you.

After Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, as the early Christians reflected on their experience of walking and talking and living with Jesus, they started to see this experience as one of walking and talking and living with, at first, someone who was in a special relationship with God, and later, someone who was God himself. This was an experience of a God who came among them to save the world, not to condemn it. It was an experience of a God who put on humanity very easily. This experience of a God who very naturally fit into the confines of mortal humanity was a very different experience from that of a God who created the heavens and earth with a word, and a God on whom no human could lay eyes and remain living.

And finally, after Jesus ascended into heaven, the early Christians experienced Jesus’ presence among them that found its most dramatic expression in the tongues of fire on Pentecost, but continued as a palpable presence in their gathering at table and in their living in community. This was a third experience of God, different from that of the mighty and powerful God of their fathers, and from that of walking and talking and living with a human Jesus.

In the second reading Paul expresses these three different experiences of God in that formula we so often hear at the start of Mass: “May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.”

Instead of just the names we have assigned to these experiences, this blessing describes the experiences: God (the Father) is love – mercy and forgiveness and graciousness and power; Jesus is our experience of God’s grace – God’s breaking into our lives in ways that we can perceive with our human senses; and the Spirit is our experience of our longing for oneness with God and with each other. Perhaps this mystery is not so incomprehensible as we think if we look to our experience rather than trying to figure it out in our heads.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

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