I recently read about a woman who was a fantastic organizer. She even pre-paid her own funeral expenses. But she didn’t like the headstone at her husband’s grave. So she handed her daughter $3,000 to buy “a lovely stone.” A year after she died, one of her sons stopped at the grave site before he went to his sister’s home for dinner. He saw the same old stone at the grave. So he asked his sister: “Didn’t mom ask you to buy a new stone?” The sister replied: “Yes. I’m wearing it on my finger…isn't it a lovely stone.” So much for miscommunication!
Today we celebrate the mystery of the triune God, a fundamental truth of Christianity: one God in three; completely beyond us and yet completely within us. To put this mystery simply: the God of this universe, a God of wonder and awe, became flesh in Jesus (the mystery of the incarnation, a second fundamental truth) and lives among us by the power of the Spirit. Yes, one God in three distinct modes or movements: Father, Son and Spirit. And that’s why we begin prayer in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
One of my favorite Broadway musicals was Godspell. Especially the song adapted from a prayer attributed to the 13th century Saint Richard of Chichester: O dear Lord three things I pray: to see thee more clearly, love thee more dearly, and follow thee more nearly, day by day. A powerful prayer in an age when many people don't believe in God or live as though there's no God. I of course think Blaise Pascal, a 17th century mathematician/philosopher, got it right. Pascal's Wager goes:
One does not know whether God exists;
not believing in God is bad for one's eternal soul if God does exist;
believing in God is of no consequence if God does not exist;
therefore it is in one's interest to believe in God. Think about it!
In our better moments, or when some crisis may begin to overwhelm us, we may think about fundamental questions such as: what is the meaning of life? What is my purpose? Surely we can't be content with the adage “eat, drink and be merry,” or worse, the 17th century philosopher Thomas Hobbes’ judgement that life is “nasty, brutish and short.” No. Bad stuff like suffering and evil cry out for Someone greater than ourselves. The will to live requires that we discover some purpose for living. I would argue, as Pascal did, that within each one of us is a space which “can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself.” (Pensées VII)
Pascal likely read Saint Augustine who wrote in his autobiographical Confessions, “You have formed us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless till they find rest in You.” Yes, we were born to live in relationship with God--the triune God--and that's what today's feast highlights.
The word of God takes us back over 3,000 years to a key moment in salvation history, the Exodus, or liberation of the Hebrews from Egypt. God calls Moses up to Mount Sinai a second time (after the Hebrews had broken their covenant) and reveals He is a merciful, compassionate and faithful God. Moses then begs God to dwell with his people. And God does! We might ask: how faithful are we to our baptismal promises? Do we live as sons and daughters of God?
Paul in his farewell letter appeals to the Christian community in Corinth to live a godlike life and then blesses them with that introductory prayer we hear so often at the beginning of this liturgy. Paul might ask us: Do we try to live a godlike life? Do we practice the virtues in our daily lives?
In the Gospel according to John, the author describes God as the “Tremendous Lover” who became one of us so that we might have eternal life. The question for us is: do we live our lives in light of our ultimate purpose: eternal life with God and one another?
The mystery of the triune God--a God utterly beyond us and yet utterly within us, a God who is one as well as diverse, a God of distinctive relationships--invites us to ask ourselves: What kind of a relationship do we have with God?
Most people have a relationship with God, perhaps more subconscious than conscious. And why do I say this? Because we are forever trying to find answers to those fundamental questions of human life that people often ask in moments of crisis, for example, the death of a family member, a life-threatening illness, a broken marriage, the loss of a job or savings, misunderstandings and so forth. In moments such as these, people often do ask questions such as: What is the purpose of my life? Where is my life going? Does anyone care what happens to me? These are religious questions, questions we cannot help but try to answer.
As we grow old, we may wonder: what was my life all about? We appear to have accomplished so little and now it is almost over.
Moreover, life seems to be filled with so many tragedies— senseless murders in our streets, mindless violence in failed states, and natural disasters everywhere.
But we also have those occasional experiences that shake us out of our dull routine—moments of awe and wonder, and not necessarily a spectacular experience like the Grand Canyon or Niagara Falls. Perhaps it’s a glorious sunset or the joy of a friendship or the accomplishment of a goal. Such experiences can lift us out of ourselves into the presence of a power beyond us. We begin to experience the transcendent dimension of our own lives.
Yes, we say, there must be an awesome power beyond us, a purposeful, gracious and compassionate God who is responsible not only for this incredible universe but also for our own very lives.
Catholic Christianity says that our God is indeed a merciful God who can heal the brokenness of human life. This God became flesh in Jesus and is alive among us by the power of the Spirit. That is the mystery of the triune God: Father, Son and Spirit.
This is the same God who freed the Hebrews from their oppressors in Ancient Egypt, who renewed His covenant with them at Sinai. This God showed his face to us in Jesus of Nazareth. Through Him, with Him and in Him, we live in God’s triune life and the triune God lives in us.
This triune God, the model of self-giving love, empowers us to reach out in love to one another with compassion, forgiveness, a smile, a kind word, a helping hand. And in reaching out to one another in love, we become like the triune God in self-giving love.
And so I come back to that prayer in Godspell: three things I pray: to see thee more clearly; to love thee more dearly, and follow thee more nearly, day by day. Let us pray on this feast that we might see our triune God more clearly, love God more dearly, and follow God more nearly.