Today is the Feast of Trinity Sunday, one of the most profound mysteries of our faith. We often declare our belief in this mystery. For example, last Sunday, I celebrated confirmation Mass, and part of that ceremony always is the candidates proclaiming their belief in the mysteries of our faith, and it's usually in the form of questions.
The Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity
I ask the candidates: "Do you believe in God the Father, creator of heaven and earth? Do you believe in Jesus, God's only son, who was born of Mary, suffered, died, rose from the dead, and is now seated at the right hand of God? Do you believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of life, who came to the disciples at Pentecost, who comes to you today in the sacrament of confirmation?" Each time, the candidates respond, "I do, I do, I do," and they usually say it with great enthusiasm and conviction as they're proclaiming their belief in this profound mystery of our faith.
We do it every Sunday as we recite the creed in our liturgy. But I wonder as we recite those words, as we proclaim this belief in this profound mystery of our faith, are we really aware of what we are saying? Yes, there's only one God, one God, but that one God is three persons: father, son and spirit. How can that be? This is one of those mysteries of our faith that escapes reason, like the Incarnation.
Jesus is fully human, but Jesus is also fully divine -- son of God, son of Mary. How can that be? Well, it escapes our reason, and that means it goes beyond, not against, reason. It wasn't, in fact, until the fourth century that the early church first formulated so precisely this mystery of the trinity: three persons, one God. They were using the tenets of Greek philosophy to try to draw out some explanation of what this mystery is.
We can spend time, or could spend time, trying to put into words -- human words -- a mystery that really is not expressible, not able to be spoken in human terms, and by trying to put it in some human context -- human wording -- it helps us at least to approach the profound mystery that is present. But maybe what would be more important for us is to try to experience God as those early disciples did: experience God as God the creator, God the loving savior, God the spirit. In that experiencing of God in these varieties of ways, we have at least the beginnings of some way of knowing this God who is profound mystery.
The early Christians depended upon their knowledge of God as God has revealed to them over the hundreds of years that they lived as God's chosen people, going back to the time of Moses and the covenant, when Moses first experienced God in that flame that he saw in the bush and realized he was on holy ground and took off his shoes, or sandals, and bowed down to worship. "I am the Lord, your God. There is no other God beside me."
Moses realized God was present; he experienced God. He was even so bold as to ask God's name: "Who are you? How shall I tell those who sent me?" Because God had asked him to go and proclaim God's presence to the people. "I am who am," God says, and that really was an expression of intimacy. Revealing God's name was something in the Hebrew tradition that was a way of coming to know a person, even, in a sense, to have power over the person by knowing that person's name.
And God's name is not just "I am who am," but "I am who is for you, who is with you, who goes with you on your journey." In other words, "I am love. I am love. I am with you. I am for you." In today's first lesson, after the chosen people had entered into their covenant with God -- "I am your God; you are my people" -- and then failed so terribly by worshipping an idol of gold, a golden calf, and Moses had come down from the mountain experiencing God, and realizing the people had fallen away, and he crashed the stone tablets. We remember that; such a vivid part of the story of the chosen people.
He went back to God, pleaded with God for the people, and it's then that God speaks the words that we hear in our first lesson today, words that again express how God is love, where God says to Moses (for it's recorded in the book): "God came down in a cloud and stood there with Moses, and then Moses called on the name of God. God passed in front of Moses and cried out, 'Yahweh, Yahweh!' God that is I am. I am is a God full of pity and mercy -- slow to anger, abounding in truth and loving kindness."
Even after the people had so dramatically failed to live up to their covenant with God, to be God's people, to be holy and faithful, God is still a God full of compassion, full of mercy, abounding in truth and loving kindness. That's how the chosen people experienced God. God is a God of love, and in our Gospel lesson today, we are reminded of how God again is a God of love. Yes, God so loved the world that is all of creation that God sent God's own son, that whoever believes in the son may not be lost, but may have everlasting life.
That means not just end of life; it means the new life with God even now. Whoever believes in Jesus -- the one that God sent because God so loved the world and the one who gave himself for us in a pouring forth of love, even as he's being tortured and put to death, showing us how love transforms evil, transforms our world. This is Jesus -- son of God, son of Mary, human divine, our brother -- but also son of God, the one who pours forth upon us his love that enables us to begin to live with the very life of God.
Of course, we experience the Spirit as the bond of love which joins the father and the son, and that Spirit is poured forth upon us in our sacraments, in our coming together: "Wherever two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in their midst through the Spirit who lives in me, who is God, who lives in you." Jesus had promised that Spirit at the Last Supper. The Spirit was poured forth upon the disciples at Pentecost. The Spirit lives in our midst, to within our hearts, within our spirits at every moment, and when we quiet ourselves and look deeply into our hearts, we experience the presence of God's Spirit.
This is how the first disciples experienced God: a God who is love, a God who is the word of God, a God who is the spirit of God. Three persons, one God. As we reflect upon this and simply try to experience God the way the chosen people did, the way the first disciples did, we come to know God as a God who is love. "Where there is love," John says in the first letter to the Christian community, "where there is love, there is God, because God is love. A communion of persons bound in a spirit of love, bound together as one in a spirit of love," and God poured forth that spirit of love upon us.
As we begin to experience deeply how this love of God is present to us, how God is present to us, lives within us, how we share the very life of God, a life that is forever, we begin to appreciate the gift of this mystery of the trinity. But also I hope as we come to know this God who is a communion of persons, a God who is love, we begin to understand that God has sent us into the world to proclaim this good news: that God so loved the world, God sent Jesus. And Jesus so loved us that Jesus gave his very self for us, and pours forth his Spirit upon us.
As we experience that, we begin to understand, I hope, that we, too, have this task now of making knowing God's love, of spreading God's love, of helping to transform our world through love -- the greatest power ever to be, the power of love. It doesn't take much for us to realize that we live at a time where this message of God -- who God is, God who is love -- where we realize this message is so important to our world.
There is so much hatred. This past week, we are shocked by what is happening now in the country of Iraq, a country that has been torn apart by war since 1991, a country that people in their 20s now have been born growing up with never knowing a day of peace, a day without terrible violence happening in their midst. And that war threatens to spread into other parts of the Middle East.
We're living at a very dangerous time because there's so much hatred, so much violence in that international arena, but also even within our own nation. We have a culture of violence that frightens us at times, I think, devastates us with sense of sorrow and tragedy: the killings on our campuses, killings in our schools, the terrible violence that seems to be erupting everywhere.
This violence, this hatred, needs to be transformed, and the one way that it will be transformed is through this message of our God who is a God of love, who so loved the world that God sent Jesus, and Jesus so loved us that he pours forth his love upon us and upon our world. We must begin to imitate the way of Jesus, the way of love. Break down the barriers created by violence and hatred. Give up violence; give up hatred. Seek only love, compassion, to be like God.
That is how we will transform our world, each of us. Let's begin to look deeply into my heart, into my spirit, to discover the God of love deep within my heart, and in every relationship that I have within my family, within my community, within my nation. As part of a community of nations, I must work to bring that transforming power of love into every part of my life.
That's what it means to be devoted to this God who is one God in three persons, this God who is love. Where there is love, there is God. As we do try to change our lives -- to be the generous, compassionate, merciful person that God calls us to be, an imitation of Jesus -- we will find that we will experience what St. Paul writes in our second lesson today to the church at Corinth: "Finally, brothers and sisters" -- this is the end of his letter -- "be joyful.
"Strive to be perfect. Have courage. Be of one mind. Live in peace. And the God of love, the God of peace, will be with you. And so the grace of Christ Jesus the Lord, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, may this grace be with you all." We will experience that deeply as we try to live this way of our God, who is love.
[Homily given at St. Leo Church in Detroit. The transcripts of Bishop Gumbleton's homilies are posted weekly to NCRonline.org. Sign up here to receive an email alert when the latest homily is posted.]