Sunday, June 7, 2009

Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity Year B

Readings: Deut. 4:32-36.39-40; Ps. 33:4-6.18-22; Rom. 8:14-17; Matt. 28:16-20

On this solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity our readings today remind us of two fundamental facts: that God calls a people to be his own and that by being baptized we become members of God’s holy people. The blessed Trinity is invoked over those who are baptized and so they enter into communion with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Towards the end of the Rite of Baptism for Children, the celebrant says to the gathered assembly, "these children have been reborn in baptism. They are now called children of God, for so indeed they are" (par. 68).

It is in the waters of baptism that we receive what St. Paul, in our second reading, calls "a spirit of adoption" (Rom. 8:15). By being baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit we are adopted into God’s family, the church, which, in turn, and by fits and starts, shares in the very life of the Trinity, which, like the church, is a communion of persons. This leads us to another important discovery, namely that sanctification, becoming holy, is not and cannot be a solo endeavor. As God’s triunity shows us, one person is no person. When we are baptized we join, not just the Christian community, but a particular Christian community.

Grace is the name for the dynamic process through which God communicates divine life to us, seeking to make us as divine, that is, as Christ-like, as we are capable of becoming. "Grace is participation in the life of God…[and] introduces us into the intimacy of the Trinity" (Catechism, par. 1997). Love is necessary for true intimacy. It is precisely because God is a trinity of divine persons that the essence of divine life is love. Love is not closed in, but directed outward and best exemplified by Jesus’ arms spread open wide as he hung on the cross in the concrete act of infinite love, thus showing us what it means to say "God is love" (1 Jn. 4:8.16). Jesus’ sharing our humanity shows us that we are most human when we empty ourselves in the service of others. This is what it means to be and, in turn, to "make disciples" (Matt. 28:19).

The passage we read from the end of Matthew’s Gospel is read on Trinity Sunday largely because of its trinitarian baptismal formula. These are the words of the risen Christ as he commissions the apostles, instructing them about how they are to continue the work he started. It is fair to say that these four verses are a tight summary of the whole of Matthew’s Gospel. It is from this Gospel that we know Jesus as Emmanuel, or God with us. As theologian Elizabeth Johnson observes, "If Jesus is God with us, then" he is the "answer to the question, 'Who is God'" (Consider Jesus 50)?

Our second reading today comes at the end of a long meditation on life in the Spirit, in which Paul focuses on the role of the Holy Spirit in the life of believers. By leading and guiding us, the Spirit makes it possible for us to be children of God and to address God as Jesus did: "Abba, Father." St. Paul is primarily concerned with how the Spirit brings us into relationship, into a concrete realization of the divine life of love God seeks to communicate to us. It is this Spirit-initiated relationship, which is always dynamic, that makes us God’s people in Christ.

If the Scriptures reveal nothing else to us, they reveal that God is always in relationship with his people and is passionately concerned with creation and the successes and failures of humankind. God is never merely content to be with us. God is for us because God is love. In the incarnation God even stooped down to become one of us. After Christ’s glorious ascension into heaven, God continues the work of creation, redemption and sanctification through the Holy Spirit, with whom he anointed the disciples at Pentecost. The most powerful means by which God remains present to us are the sacraments, which are the masterworks of the Holy Spirit, all of which flow from and back to the Eucharist, the axis around which the other six sacraments revolve in the dynamic action of the Holy Spirit on behalf of the whole world. While brought about by the Holy Spirit, all of the sacraments are Trinitarian actions. This is brought to something of a crescendo in the liturgy when, at the elevation during the Eucharistic prayer, the priest intones- "Through him, with him, in him. In the unity of the Holy Spirit, all glory and honor are yours almighty Father forever and ever," which we affirm by singing the great "Amen."

It is precisely because we recognize that we are all in this together that we are gathered here for Eucharist today. The liturgy reminds us over and over that while Eucharist is the fullest expression of Christian communio, it is not an end in itself. Our parish has a life outside of Mass, the life we are dismissed at the end of Mass to live, not just strengthened and reinforced by the Eucharist, but empowered by it, giving our life together a discernible form and dynamic.

In a special way during this, our centennial year, we are refocusing not just on what it means to be a community of disciples in some generic sense, but on what it means for us now as the people of St. Mary Magdalene on the cusp of the second decade of the twenty-first century. It is not a question that will be answered by a wordy and erudite document, but by your response. In baptism, confirmation, and Eucharist we do not receive "a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear." Rather, we are empowered by love to witness, proclaim, and serve in order to usher in God’s reign.

In the creed we declare that the church is one, holy, catholic, and apostolic. The church is apostolic in two distinct ways. The first way is by apostolic succession, which ensures the continuity of the church through time. The second and more important sense that flows directly from the first is that, like the apostles, we, too are sent to announce the Gospel of Lord, glorifying him by the manner in which we live together.

One of the gifts of the new millennium, to be promulgated in the next few years, is a new English translation of the Roman Missal, the ordinary of which has already been approved. As a deacon, I am very interested in the dismissals, which I have the privilege of singing at the end of Mass. I think two of the dismissals in the new translation particularly apt: Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord and Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life. After all, is this not what the Lord himself is sending the apostles to go forth and do, reassuring them that he is with them always, in today’s Gospel? In like manner, it is the Lord himself who dismisses you at the end of Mass, with the same assurance. Your "Thanks be to God" is measured by your response to his summons.

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