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Friday, May 24, 2013

Trinity Sunday: Non nobis, Domine

“...The love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” (Rom. 5:5, 2nd Reading)

When you sit back and think about what is being revealed in those words, it both strikes you that it is both completely astounding and utterly familiar, as though all of the Christian scriptures were saying the same thing, to be echoed finally by St. Athanasius when he wrote, “God became human that we might become God.” In every Eucharist, when the priest pours a drop of water into the wine at the preparation of the gifts, he says quietly, “By the mingling of this water and wine, may we come to share the divinity of Christ, who humbled himself to share in our humanity.” Here, incipiently in the letter to the Romans, this theology of theosis is nascent. If God’s love, that is, the essence of God, agape, is poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, then it is God’s life in which we begin to share. It is God’s life we are living. (Lest you think this is some kind of new age heresy, and the testimony of Athanasius and the liturgy aren’t convincing for you, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, says as much in pp. 460, 1129, 1812, and elsewhere.)

I'm steeling myself for the inevitable homiletic complaint about this being such a "theological" feast, and that all those years in the seminary didn't make a damn bit of difference in understanding what "Trinity" is. And there may even be attempts to speak of Trinity-as-community, as a relational (please God, deliver me from having to ever use that word in a sentence again) reality. I’m really OK with all that. But surely the power-sharing image of a trinitarian God and the kenosis that is made visible in Christ as the incarnation of divine agape have more global and political applications in our day and age. Surely even the pagans can see that it’s good for people to get along and be hospitable to family and friends? But I digress.

It may be a sign of my aging, and of the influence of some of the dialectic reflection on Vatican II during the last couple of decades, that I have the uneasy feeling that the focal point of the liturgy has been shifted away from its center, that is, on the loving action of God in the world, and moved toward the celebration of the community itself. I want to be very careful here. I firmly believe that in Christ, the distinction between the vertical and horizontal in religion has been permanently removed, that God-with-us is the radical truth of Christianity. I totally believe that, and I believe that the community is the visible manifestation, the sacrament, of the invisible reality of God’s action in the world. But the community is not God except perhaps eschatologically, and I’m not even sure about that (who is?) For us to be true to one another, and to be sure we’re not deluding ourselves about our political, social, and religious agenda, we really must keep God at the center of our belief, and specifically, the intimate, kenotic, communal God revealed by Jesus Christ.

The way we do that, I believe, is by the liturgical action of the Eucharist, which for us is the action of Christ worshipping the Father. To Jesus Christ, who is head of the body, all of us are incorporated by our baptism, and thus the worship of the Father is an action in which we all participate, but not through our own desire or intention. It is through, in, and with Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit, that we are able to participate in this great and eternal act of worship between Christ and the Father. This brings me back to the quote that hits me up the side of the head like a scriptural two-by-four from Rom 5:5  - “The love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” As Jesus said to the apostles on the morning of the third day, “Receive the Holy Spirit. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” It is the gift of God’s own Spirit, breathed into us by Christ on the cross as God did in the first creation of Adam, that gives us the power to live in agape, and share in the paschal mystery of God when we pour ourselves out for the sake of the lives of others, especially the poor and wretched of the earth. We are a new creation. We are not us any more. We are Christ.


Evidence of the shift away from the center is in the need to mention everyone by name and mention the name of every participant in the liturgy from presider through gift bearers, as though they/we were doing the world a favor by living our baptismal promises. Why are there numerous occasions for sustained applause during the liturgy encouraged by presiders, and no such applause for the God who called us together? Why does everyone need to be named aloud, priest, deacon, gift bearers, priest’s mass intentions, relatives of the sick and dead; the list is even longer in some parishes? What does this mean about all those whose names are not mentioned? Are the unnamed sick less on God’s mind, less on ours? The words of Psalm 115, in the haunting melody unforgettably sung by the victorious English after the battle of Agincourt in Kenneth Branagh’s Henry V movie, “Non nobis, Domine, sed nomini tuo da gloriam” kept popping into my head, I was even singing it last night and today. “Not to us, Lord, not to us, but to your name give the glory.” I’m reminded of Jesus’s admonition to the disciples: “When you have done all you have been commanded, say, 'We are unprofitable servants; we have done what we were obliged to do.'" Instead, we wait in line for applause at a party in honor of the God of the universe, and the shamans themselves are the main cheerleaders.

The picture above is a representation of Russian monk and iconographer Andrew Rublev’s “The Trinity,” one of the most famous icons in the world. The trio of persons sits around a table beneath what might be the terebinth of Mamre in the Abraham story. Their blue robes and halos bespeak their divinity, the circle formed by the line of their bodies suggests their unity. The Father is on the left in gold, the Son is adorned in the blood-red garments of his passion, the Spirit is vested in green, the color that suggests growth and hope. There is an empty place at the table on the side closest to the viewer, and it may be that the Spirit’s attention is drawing us to that place. Could it be set for humanity, for you and me, that place in the circle with the three divine persons? That is God’s nature - shared being, shared power, shared presence, in a dialogue that we on earth can only imagine to be the nourishing, hearty, and robust conversation we know as table talk. However gabby we get about our parish life and ministerial accomplishments, let’s not lose sight of the center, of the One from whom all these blessings flow, through, with, and in whom eternal praise is offered to the Father.

Not to us, Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory.