Sunday, May 30, 2010

Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity, Year C

Readings: Prov. 8:22-31; Ps. 8:4-9; Rom. 5:1-5; John 16:12-15

Like our patroness, St. Mary Magdalene, to whom the resurrected Lord said, "Stop holding on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father,'" we have a hard time letting go of Easter, which season ended last Sunday with our celebration of Pentecost (John 20:17). It is certainly understandable that we want to continue to bask in the immediate glow of our celebration of Christ’s resurrection. Liturgically, we don’t immediately let go, but neither do we cling. For instance, today we observe the solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity and next week we will celebrate the great solemnity of Corpus Christi. As our reading of Scripture today shows us, there is continuity, not abrupt discontinuity in our practice. A few verses earlier in the same chapter from which our Gospel today is taken that occurs during Jesus’ Last Supper discourse, the Lord says, "if I do not go, the Advocate will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you" (John 16:7). In this we see that Jesus’ glorious ascension into heaven has to happen for the Holy Spirit to come.

All of this should draw our attention to the fact that too often we engage the Trinity, which is most concisely expressed as one God in three divine persons, in a wholly abstract manner, like solving a differential equation, making it an endeavor that bears no fruit in our lives. Our departure point for any meaningful engagement about God, who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is the person of Jesus Christ. St. Paul captures this quite well in our second reading taken from his Letter to the Romans: we are justified by faith and have made "peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ" (Rom. 5:1). It is through Christ Jesus that we gain access "to this grace in which we stand" (Rom. 5:2). The key word here is grace. It is a word that often passes in one ear and out the other because we hear it so often. So, let’s take a look at this all important word. Grace is our English translation of the Greek word charin, which means, according to the great Protestant exegete, Ernst Käsemann, "the power of salvation which finds expression in specific gifts, acts, and spheres and which is even individualized in the charismata" (Commentary on Romans, pg. 14). Stated a bit more clearly, grace is God’s sharing divine life with us here and now, as the Catechism teaches us, the Father, through his Word, Jesus Christ, "pours into our hearts the Gift that contains all other gifts, the Holy Spirit" (par. 1082).

Charismata, the gifts that are the concrete manifestations of living our grace-filled life together, the new life given us through Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit, brings us to the relationship between faith and hope. Hope is the flower of faith. Without faith, which is faith in Jesus Christ, it is impossible to have hope. The Greek word we translate as hope from this passage is elpida, when translated a bit more literally, means expectation. It is important to note that Paul means expectation in the reasonable sense, like the expectation that in a few minutes we will come forward and receive communion, not an unrealistic expectation, like my Suzuki station wagon will be turned into a Ferrari when I leave Mass, which is why Paul writes that "hope does not disappoint" (Rom. 5:5a). Hence, we distinguish between hoping and wishing, the difference between childish and mature faith. According to Paul, what is it that produces hope, which is certainty about what will happen to us? In a word, experience, especially the experience of affliction, of which Paul experienced plenty for the sake of the Gospel.

Rublev's Trinity icon

Jesus ascends to the Father and then sends forth His Holy Spirit upon the disciples, who, in turn, pass it along by their witness. By our participation in this liturgy, we, too, are witnesses of this, being both recipients and ones charged with passing it along. Turning now to today’s Gospel, Jesus tells the disciples that the Holy Spirit is given them to guide them "to all truth" (John 16:13). Since the Father revealed everything there was to reveal in His Son, the Holy Spirit helps us over time to unpack the revelation of God in Christ. St. Vincent of Lérins, all the way back in the fifth century, demonstrated that not only is progress in our understanding of what God has revealed in Christ possible, it is necessary, a true hallmark of the Church.

More concretely, as Scripture scholar Luke Timothy Johnson stated so succinctly, the Holy Spirit is the mode of Christ’s resurrection presence in us and among us. In other words, the Holy Spirit is the way Christ stays with us. While, as Gerard Manley Hopkins pointed out, "Christ plays in ten thousand places," there are seven specific ways the Holy Spirit makes Christ really and truly present to us, we call these sacraments. It is through our participation in the sacraments, beginning with our baptism, that we are drawn into the divine life of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Like St. Mary Magdalene, whose people we are and to whom the Lord also said, "go to my brothers and tell them, 'I am going to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God'" we, too, are called to give witness to our new life in Christ, the life of grace, which is life in the Spirit, and nothing less than our participation in the divine life of the Most Holy Trinity (John 20:17). So, dear friends, as we move forward to next Sunday’s celebration of Corpus Christi, our annual celebration of the primary way that our Lord remains present to us, a mode of presence that would not be possible had He not ascended to the Father and sent their Holy Spirit, let us go forth and give witness to the fact that He is risen, bringing new life to a world that is in such desperate need of good news.

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