Francis J. Caponi, O.S.A.
Ps 8:4-5, 6-7, 8-9
In my years as a priest, I have witnessed many amazing things. I have heard the sorrow of men and women who have come back to confession for the first time in a quarter of a century. I have watched Catholics rally around parishioners in need, go out of their way to comfort the mourning, struggle and sacrifice to raise their children in the faith. I have seen people’s lives turned around by prayer, watched people come out from under addiction, and witnessed remarkable acts of forgiveness. I have even seen people break years of a bad habit, and start to come to Mass on time.
And I have seen weddings. Sometimes I think these are the most amazing things of all, at least to a priest. When I celebrate a funeral, I often think, “One day, that will be me.” I don’t do that at weddings, and that gives me the freedom to observe more impartially. From years of observation, I have learned that the average wedding demands just slightly less preparation than the launch of a space shuttle. Some weddings require months, if not years, of preparation. Some weddings involve files: files concerning gift registries and showers and table assignments and caterers and musicians and photographers and florists and invitations and thank you notes.
Weddings require effort, organization - and diplomacy. If there are any tensions in a family, a wedding will light them up like an x-ray, as one question after another is addressed: Who will be a bridesmaid? Who sits in which pew? Who sits at which table? And, of course, the greatest of all wedding questions: who will be invited? Deciding this can be a very delicate business. It depends, in part, on who is paying for the wedding, where the wedding is being held, how large the families are, and who is in favor and who is out.
Several years back, a young bride-to-be was kind enough to explain to me how it works. Apparently, there are several categories of invitation. First, there are the people the bride and groom want to invite: parents, grandparents, godparents, beloved relatives, classmates, colleagues, good neighbors, and lifelong friends. Second, there are the people the bride and groom must invite, even though cost and personal preference make it a tough call: some distant and rarely seen cousins, friends who tend to over-indulge whenever there is an open bar, folks who felt they had to invite you to their own wedding but whom you haven’t seen since, and people your parents insist must be invited to “keep the peace.”
But there is a third category: people who will not come, but will send a gift. Some people live too far away, and the bride and groom don’t expect them to be able to make it. But these people are delighted to be remembered, and out of affection give a check or something from the registry. Others are people who are invited out of obligation, who know they have been invited out of obligation, and are glad to fulfill all righteousness with a wine glass or a crock pot. Then again, some people just want to buy their way out of going to a wedding. A gift is the price tag for keeping their Saturday free. The couple is happy, the invitees spend the day shopping or watching a ball game, the economy gets a boost...really, it’s the best of all possible worlds.
But imagine if someone in the first group acted like someone in the third. What if the parents of the bride sent a gift instead of showing up. Imagine if the groom’s favorite aunt and uncle wrote a nice check and tucked it in a card which read, “Sorry, but we have a prior engagement. Hope you have beautiful weather!” Imagine if their best friends sent champagne but stayed home.
Sometimes, we don’t want just the present. Sometimes, what matters most is that people show up. When we love someone, our first concern is not the size of the check or the shape of the box or the vintage of the wine. Flowers at a funeral are lovely, but they are no replacement for the people we love. Sending a card is thoughtful, but not at all like having loved ones there when a child is baptized, when we celebrate a new house or a wedding anniversary or a retirement. Because when we love someone, showing up is the best present.
Today, we celebrate the feast of the Most Holy Trinity. Christians believe that God never sends a gift. God Himself always shows up. When we pray, when we suffer, when we hear the Gospel, when we receive Christ’s body and blood, when our hearts unfold with new hope during confession, that is God Himself at work. Not a representative bearing gifts, not an ambassador with well-wishes, not a stand-in, viceroy, delegate, go-between, or messenger. God shows up. That is what we mean by “Trinity”: in Christ, we know that God has come to earth, and not left heaven; in the Holy Spirit, we know God lives in his Church, and overflows the universe, but is contained by neither. Because of Jesus Christ and his gift of the Holy Spirit, we know that God does not have to make a choice. God does not have to decide whether to be here with us or in some other church.God does have to visit one nation but not another, does not have to dwell
either here on earth or there in heaven. And when we pray that the Father will send forth the Spirit to hallow our gifts of bread and wine, it is no mere angel who comes among us. God shows up.
That is what Trinity Sunday asks us to consider. When the Father saved us, He did not send a son to us, but His only Son, completely God. When each of us was baptized, the Father did not send forth a spirit, but the Spirit Himself, completely God. Our hearts and our Church and our world are not the embassies of heaven, not the outposts of a distant commander, but the home of God, who has taken up his dwelling among men, pitched His tent besides our frail flesh.
This is the double challenge of Trinity Sunday: to see Christ in others, and to be Christ for others.
To see Christ in others. Your unreasonable boss, your loud neighbor, your argumentative in-law: Trinity Sunday does not ask us to pretend these people are not difficult and unpleasant. They are; yet God, who is both here and there, dwells within them. Through the Holy Spirit the love of God has been poured into the heart of the most unimpressive Christian you know: the relative who swears or ridicules or repeats cruel gossip; the spouse who is thoughtlessly selfish; the son or daughter who has stopped practicing the faith. God lives within the Christians you see every day: across the breakfast table, on the sidewalk, in the office, at the store. They are not the sort of people who appear on the covers of magazines or have shelves lined with trophies. They wear no halos, nor does music play when they pass. We see them without make-up, dressed for lawn work, ragged from a bout of allergies or a night with restless children. Trinity Sunday does
not ask us to believe that all these people are wealthy or beautiful or brilliant conversationalists or secret philanthropists or undiscovered geniuses. Trinity Sunday asks something much more difficult. It asks us to believe that the God we worship in this church, dwells within them.
To be Christ for others. Are Christians ambassadors of Christ? Yes, we are - but very odd ambassadors. We are not prophets of a far off hope, priests of a remote blessing. Christ reaches out to men and women not just through us, but with us. We are not implements, but friends. We are Christ to the hungry and the sick.
Are we messengers of Christ? Yes, we are - but unusual messengers indeed. We are messengers who carry words not scribbled on paper or caught in electricity, but written upon our hearts. In us, God shows up in person. We are Christ to the mourning and the forsaken.
Does Christ use us to witness the truth and raise the poor and bring back the lost? Yes; but we are not Christ’s tools. We are his body. A carpenter picks up a hammer, a surgeon uses a blade, we all take up knives and forks and spoons for our meals. But these are just tools, and they are set aside and left behind when the task is done. Not so with us. God Who is Three in One dwells within us, and is no less God. God Who is Father, Son, and Spirit makes us the Body of Christ, the heart and eyes and hands of Christ, and is no less God. God Who is Trinity shares His divinity with our humanity, and remains completely God. More familiar than family, more intimate than married love, more compact than body and soul, so is our God to us.
He always shows up in person.
God saves us by moving in, living in us, sharing our joys and sorrows, drawing close to the sick and suffering, the sinful and the wicked, the unpleasant and the plain. The challenge of the Trinity is to look at fellow Christians - all sinners, most strangers, many unpleasant, often unkind, and usually quite ordinary - to look at them, and at ourselves, and believe that we see someone so dear to the Father that a brilliant dawn or glorious angel or fearsome prophet is not enough to show us His love. God loves us so much, He shows up in person.