Preached June 16, 2019; St. Peter Catholic Church, The Dalles, Oregon
An ancient creed in use in the Catholic Church and, until the 1970s, recited by priests every Sunday morning, begins: “Whoever wishes to be saved must, above all, keep the Catholic faith. For unless a person keeps this faith whole and entire, he will be lost forever. This is what the Catholic faith teaches: we worship one God in the Trinity and the Trinity in the unity, neither confounding the persons nor dividing the substance.” The creed continues to expound the doctrine of the Trinity and then adds, “It is also necessary for eternal salvation that he believes steadfastly in the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ.” After expounding the doctrine of Jesus Christ the creed concludes: “This is the Catholic faith. Everyone must believe it, firmly and steadfastly; otherwise he cannot be saved. Amen.”
This profession of faith challenges the typical assumptions of our contemporary society and of many Catholics. Today it is widely accepted, even among Catholics, that all religions are equal, either equally good (they are different paths to the same God) or equally bad (they are all the products of human fantasy and deception). Today it is widely accepted, even among Catholics, that it really doesn’t matter what anyone thinks, so long as they treat other people well. Today also, it is widely accepted, even among Catholics, that everyone goes to heaven because a loving God would never condemn anyone to hell.
In other words this adamant insistence on belief in very specific and difficult doctrines for the sake of eternal salvation seems completely out of date, terribly “medieval”, altogether intolerant, and therefore something that must be rejected as being “hateful”. Truth does not matter; indeed any claim to truth, unless it is supportive of popular agendas, is deemed ‘hateful’ and ‘bigoted’.
All of this is of great consequence as far as our presence here at Mass today and any day is concerned. To put the matter simply: we are either engaged, through Jesus Christ, in the worship of the One God in Trinity and Trinity in unity that leads to salvation, or we are engaged in the sentimental perpetuation of a hateful, bigoted, superstition that stands in the way of progress. Non-Catholics generally grasp this point better than Catholics do.
Now I could try to evade the difficulty by trying to find a middle way, noting that the Church has never really insisted that God condemns people to hell who, through no fault of their own, were ignorant of the Holy Trinity and the Incarnation of Jesus Christ. That is true enough and it is a very typical way in which people try to reconcile the traditional faith of the Church with contemporary attitudes.
Nevertheless, the emphasis is wrong. The unfortunate result of the emphasis on the possibility of innocent ignorance tends to diminish the importance of right faith. This, in turn, produces a tendency to give in to the claim that in the end it does not really matter what a person believes.
Now it would be possible for a person who mistakenly took I-84 to Portland, when his destination was a wedding in Bend, to be transported by an angel at the last minute so as to arrive at the wedding on time. That is how those who are innocently ignorant are saved. It is not a recommended way of traveling.
So, on this Trinity Sunday, we need to learn to take seriously the importance of right faith, the importance of the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, indeed of its great practical consequence.
You see, what a person really thinks does matter.
Indeed, some people who profess their faith in the Holy Trinity, show by their actions that what they really think might be something quite different.
More to the point, we take it for granted that what it means to treat another person well is clear to everyone; indeed we take it for granted that regardless of what a person thinks, he will agree that we should all treat each other well.
Now in the past certain indigenous peoples on this continent engaged in combat with other indigenous tribes and thought that it was a great thing either to sacrifice to the gods those taken captive, or to torture them, kill them, and then eat their flesh so as to gain for oneself their warrior strength. Those were not just random sorts of actions; rather they were actions that were born of a particular way of looking at the world.
We recognize all that as pretty horrific, but today large numbers of people in this country think it is quite okay to encourage a mother to kill the child in her womb; the pro-abortion rhetoric today has dropped the mask of “safe, legal, and rare” and is now “abortion on demand without apology.”
Well the whole pro-abortion movement was actually born of a particular way of thinking about things. The ‘creed’ behind the pro-abortion movement goes like this: sex differences between men and women have no relevance to real life; equality requires that women be able to compete equally with men in the political and economic realms; the women’s capacity to get pregnant impedes her ability to compete equally with men; women must therefore have complete control over the reproductive process to the point even of being able to abort their children at will. Anyone who opposes this line of thinking, seeking to honor and protect the great dignity of motherhood, not to mention the lives of unborn children, is judged as being “anti- woman”.
I could give many more examples, but, moving now towards our faith in the Trinity, we could say that the contemporary rejection of the Trinitarian faith – the only thing that can really put a stop to serious evil – has a lot to do with a particular way of thinking about things, namely blaming God for the evil committed by human beings.
Well, then, why is faith in the Holy Trinity so important?
Let’s consider the popular magical meaningless justification for many contemporary perversions: “Love is love”. Well, actually, it would be rather more meaningful, illuminating, and true to say, “The Trinity is Love.” That is indeed the meaning of the scriptural expression, God is love. (1 Jn 4:8, 16) But God is not only love, God is also Truth. The Holy Spirit is not only the living breath of divine love, but he also leads us to all truth. God, the Holy Trinity is also the creator and origin of all that exists.
This means that the Trinity defines the meaning of true love; it means that the pure gift of Trinitarian love lies as the origin of all that exists in this dangerous and provisional world of ours; it means that the supreme revelation of love amidst all the evil of this world is found in the death of the Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the 2nd person of the Holy Trinity, upon the Cross; it means that we have been created to enjoy forever the eternal embrace of Trinitarian love.
Now Trinitarian love is not some blind, instinctual love, but is, we could say, a supremely rational love. Today’s first 1st reading gives us a poetic vision of the inner reality of God before the creation of the universe. There we see God delighting in his Wisdom, his Word, his Son who plays before him. The creation of the universe is conceived, we could say, in that mutual delight of God and his Wisdom.
All this has very practical consequences.
First of all, this means that each person (myself included) matters to God; my life matters, my choices make a difference. That means I must treat myself and others accordingly. That is the solid foundation for the commandment: love your neighbor as yourself. That commandment presupposes and depends upon: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. (cf. Mk 12:28-31))
Islam does not seem to believe this, at least not for everyone, not for infidels. The other religions of the world do not believe this, especially not pantheistic religions that see God as nothing more than the universe itself, evolving according to a blind interior impulse. The religion of science certainly does not believe this; for the religion of science no one’s life has any meaning or importance. We all are just random products of evolution.
The religion of “love is love” does not believe this either. For the religion of “love is love” we are all like strangers on a subway train, planning to get off at different stops. In the meantime, they say, let us just accept each other and try to get along. For this
religion, my value and my worth either comes from my loving myself, or other human beings loving and accepting me. If it reaches the point where my life no longer seems worth living, I can just go ahead and kill myself, or maybe have someone else do it for me, or maybe somebody else will make the decision that my life is no longer worth living and make the loving choice to put me out of my misery.
Ideas have consequences.
Now a second practical consequence of the Trinitarian faith is that the revelation of the origin and end of human life shows that we are rational creatures who are meant to direct our steps intentionally towards a goal that is known and freely chosen. The goal is not arbitrary, but a goal that is shown to us. That is the reason for the insistence on right faith in the Trinity; that is the goal that has been revealed to us by God and that we could not otherwise come to know. We should embrace this goal as our own, but we are capable of rejecting it and replacing it with a goal of our own choosing. The true goal is also personal, or tri-personal to be more exact. It is the goal of rational love to live for the vision of the One God and the embrace of the Three persons. That means that loving our neighbor, above all, involves helping each other on the path to our common goal. This truly unites us not as a lowest common denominator, but as the highest common good.
Finally, we discover that love is given to us as a challenge, and a risk taking adventure, not an entitlement to happiness. That means that even though my life matters to God, even though God loves me, where I am now in my life is not where I need to be. I need to take up the challenge and move towards the supreme goal that is set before me. Yet the happiness we attain if we take up the challenge and take the risk far surpasses anything to which we think we might be ‘entitled’.
What eye has not seen, and hear has not heard, and what has not entered into the heart of man, what God has prepared for those who love him, this God has revealed to us through the Spirit. (1 Cor 2:9-10)
Faith in the Most Holy Trinity has given the human race the highest, loftiest vision of the meaning, purpose, and greatness of human life. There has never been any comparison. The battle cry of St. Michael, “Who is like God”, proclaims the greatness of the Trinitarian faith. The Trinitarian vision has ennobled human life in this exile like nothing else. This beautiful and brilliant light has certainly been obscured by the failure to put the faith into practice, but the rejection of the faith has plunged humanity into the deepest darkness that encompasses the world today.
We must then turn anew to God the Father, who calls us to the heights of heaven, to God the Son, who walks with us on the way, and to God the Holy Spirit, who sweetly teaches and guides us from within.
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now, ever shall be, world without end. Amen.