Sermon: The Family as Image of the Trinity
Over the past few weeks we have celebrated feasts in the Church’s calendar that commemorate the most important events in Jesus’s life: His Resurrection at Easter, His Ascension into Heaven, and the sending of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. All of these mysteries are tied together by the mystery that we celebrate today: the Most Holy Trinity. There are many things that we could say about the Most Holy Trinity. We could analyze how it is that the Holy Spirit proceeds both from the Father and the Son rather than from the Father alone. We could examine the many different heresies that have taught incorrectly about the Trinity, like that God presents Himself as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit rather than actually being the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (a heresy known as modalism). We could see how this mystery of the Triune God is foreshadowed in the Hebrew scriptures and confirmed in the teaching of Jesus. I trust that you have heard homilies that like before on this day and I hope that you will hear such homilies again, because they are important for understanding the content of our faith. But today I want to ask a different question: “Why does it matter?”
Why does it matter that God is one and three, that He is a communion of persons? What difference does it make in the way you live your life, that we believe God is not just One but also three – a communion of three persons? You and I are called to be God-like, to be like God. And yet, here, at the very heart of the matter, in who God most fundamentally is – a communion of three equal persons – we are seemingly incapable of being like God. Each of us is one human person, one among billions and billions who have existed over the course of human history. How could I, then, who am only one, be like God, who is one in three?
Because we are only one, we can only imitate God – the One and Triune God who is a communion of three divine persons – in communion with others. The same almighty God who subsists in the divine communion of Trinity, made us to need each other for this fundamental task that is the calling He gave us from the beginning of creation: “Let us make man in our image and likeness.” You and I are made, according to God’s plan from eternity, like Him, and therefore called to be in communion with one another – imitating God in our communion with one another.
This is a fitting theme for us to reflect upon this particular Trinity Sunday as we have experienced a profound yearning for the presence of others during the isolation that has accompanied the COVID pandemic for so many people. It has become increasingly obviously that we are not meant for isolation. Good things do not result when we spend too much time by ourselves. Did not God say in the beginning after He created Adam, “It is not good that the man should be alone” (Genesis 2:18)? Throughout the history of the Church, we can see that when people desire to grow in holiness they do so best in community, in relationship with one another. Christ called a community of 12 Apostles close to Himself to learn from Him and to be prepared for their mission. He sent them out in pairs to preach. The Church has traditionally seen the religious life as the greatest of the vocations, a life lived in community. “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another,” as the book of Proverbs tells us (27:17).
There are many ways in which this living as a community in imitation of the Holy Trinity can happen. I will focus on two. First, we live in imitation of the Most Holy Trinity at prayer. God is not content for us to honor Him merely by devoting some thoughtful moments to Him each Sunday. Quite to the contrary, He calls us together, inviting us into His house, the parish church, that is to be our home as well because it is a sacrament in brick, steel, and timber that gives us a glimpse of our true home: Heaven. In the Holy Mass, the veil between Heaven and earth grows thin as Heavenly realities are made present in an earthly way. The way that we worship here in this parish church each Sunday is not for our own deciding. Our use of an ancient ritual, modified over time it is true, places us in communion with the numberless cloud of witnesses who have gone before us, all of whom worshiped Christ made present in the Eucharist.
Another way that we are an image of the Trinity is in the exercise of charity. Now when I say “charity,” most of us probably think of benevolence – sharing our worldly goods and possessions with others. And it is true that this is an exercise of the virtue of charity. But charity is more than that. Charity is the self-sacrificing love with which Christ loved you from the cross. Every time that you sacrifice your own desires, comfort, or satisfaction for the good of another, you are imitating the communion of the Most Holy Trinity.
Nowhere is this more evident than in marriage and in the family. In the Trinity, the love between the Father and the Son is so strong that it has a name: the Holy Spirit, who proceeds from them both as from the same origin. In the sacrament of marriage, likewise, the love between a husband and a wife is so strong that it has a name: their child, who proceeds from them both – each parent being equally necessary for the generation of new life. The only difference is that while the Holy Spirit is an unrepeatable reality, perfectly making present the love of God, no child has ever been so perfect, save the only Son of God, Jesus Christ. I am sure that any parent here could testify to that! Thus, Holy Mother Church has always encouraged spouses to be generous in welcoming new life into the world – not because of the imperfections of any individual child, but more fully to be a sacrament of God’s love, making present in this world the abundantly generous love of God the Father.
Today, this image of the human person who is called to a loving communion with others is under attack. This is one of the greatest concerns we ought to have about our collective reaction to the COVID pandemic – the fear of other people. Have you felt that instinctive twinge when someone is coming towards you too quickly and seems unlikely to remain six feet away? Or maybe the fear of the person coming down the sidewalk. Or the anger and frustration at the person in the supermarket who is coming the wrong way down a one-way aisle. Or the horror and confusion when someone extends his hand in greeting. Or the impulse to intervene when you see people sitting too closely together or standing next to each other to take a selfie. After all, they might be asymptomatic carriers!
I do not mean to belittle the legitimate concern many people have about their safety during this pandemic. I have felt this twinge and even the beginnings of panic as well. It probably does not help that some friends of mine keep playing that autotuned version of a press conference given by the Prime Minister of Canada and the refrain of “keep two meters apart” keeps echoing in my head. “Keep two meters apart” is prudent advice during the COVID pandemic. It is not a good philosophy of life. I recognize in myself a fear of the other, and I have to wonder if that fear is related to the racial prejudice that has been so justly decried in recent weeks. I do not think that these two fears are so far apart.
These two images of the Most Holy Trinity, of people living in communion of worship and communion of love, are the antidotes to the fear of the other increasingly present in our society. Many people ask whether going to church on Sunday is really necessary. Aren’t there many other ways to become a better person than going to church on Sundays? But church – or more specifically, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass – does not exist to make us better people. It is not a moral improvement plan or a life-coaching session. The Holy Mass exists – and in fact, we exist – to worship God. What we do here today is much more for the praise and glory of His sovereign majesty than for our own good. It is precisely in this being directed towards the community of persons that God is in Himself through worshipping Him that we can become transformed in His image and likeness not merely as individuals but precisely as a community of persons. And nowhere is this phenomenon clearer than in the family that strives to live in imitation of the Most Holy Trinity.
When one of my friends from college got married, I told him and his wife at their reception that what they were doing on that day had the power to save the world. It was corny and sappy – two modes of self-expression I normally avoid – but it was true. Now, we know that the world has only one Savior, Jesus Christ, who came not to condemn the world but that the world might have life through Him and have it to the full. As Catholics, we know that His saving action, His death and Resurrection, is made present to us at this altar, from which the fruits of His sacrifice are shared with us – His most holy Body and Blood. However, what we often do not consider is that that same sacrifice is meant to be present in you. In a world in which the human person is increasingly encouraged to live in isolation rather than in communion, the mission of the family is more important than ever. It is the family that has the power to show to the world the image of the Trinity – to reveal the face of God – in a communion of persons who lay down their lives for the good of the others, whose sacrifice, no matter how difficult, does not end in grief and pain but in the joy of new life. This is why the generation of new human life necessarily has something to do with the total self-gift of the sacrament of matrimony – with a loving communion of persons, with a love that is free, faithful, total, and fruitful, just like the love of the Trinity. The fruit of that loving union must not be allowed to become a technical product of human innovation, but must be the fruit of the love of the parents in order for the family be the image of the Trinity.
Within the Christian family – lived with true devotion, love, and self-sacrifice – there is the power to cure the isolation of contemporary society, to show modern man and woman a new way, a different way, a way out of our modern malaise and the fear of the other and into the light of Christ’s truth. In a world in which so many do not know this loving communion of persons that is the Trinitarian God, you – yes, precisely you – have the power to be His face through the loving communion of the family, the image of the Most Holy Trinity.
The Rev. Royce V. Gregerson
Parish Church of St. John the Apostle and Evangelist, Goshen
Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity, A.D. MMXX