FOCUSING ON THE WHY, NOT ON THE WHAT

Solemnity of the Blessed Trinity
May 18, 2008

Readings: Ex 34:4b-6,8-9 / 2 Cor 13:11-13 / Jn 3:16-18


Reading 1 (Ex 34:4b-6, 8-9)

Early in the morning Moses went up Mount Sinai as the LORD had commanded him,
taking along the two stone tablets.
Having come down in a cloud, the LORD stood with Moses there
and proclaimed his name, "LORD." Thus the LORD passed before him and cried out,
"The LORD, the LORD, a merciful and gracious God,
slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity." Moses at once bowed down to the ground in worship.
Then he said, "If I find favor with you, O Lord, do come along in our company.
This is indeed a stiff-necked people; yet pardon our wickedness and sins, and receive us as your own."

Responsorial Psalm (Dn 3:52, 53, 54, 55, 56)

R. Glory and praise for ever!
Blessed are you, O Lord, the God of our fathers,
praiseworthy and exalted above all forever;
And blessed is your holy and glorious name,
praiseworthy and exalted above all for all ages. (R)
Blessed are you in the temple of your holy glory,
praiseworthy and glorious above all forever. (R)
Blessed are you on the throne of your kingdom,
praiseworthy and exalted above all forever. (R)
Blessed are you who look into the depths
from your throne upon the cherubim,
praiseworthy and exalted above all forever.

Reading II (2 Cor 13:11-13)

Brothers and sisters, rejoice. Mend your ways, encourage one another, agree with one another, live in peace,
and the God of love and peace will be with you. Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the holy ones greet you.
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.

Gospel (Jn 3:16-18)

God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish
but might have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him will not be condemned, but whoever does not believe has already been condemned, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.

REFLECTION/HOMILY:

All three readings today are short, pithy and direct to the point. No discourses; no lengthy treatises; no high-falutin analyses of what God is like. All three readings, however, for their brevity, actually provide rich fare for reflection. Never mind the tomes and pages written by theologians that describe the nature of God ad intra. Never mind, for now, all that has been handed down by centuries of deep theological reflection on the Trinity. As a mystery, there is nothing anyone can do to make this important tenet of our catholic faith become other than what it really is: a mystery to be accepted in faith, before it is an object of scrutiny of even the most perspicacious of minds to unravel.

Mystery, however, does not mean utter unknowability. Mystery does not make of the Trinity something to shove under the rug, as it were, for it to be relegated to the deeper recesses of our mind, kept in a special compartment where all things unexplainable, all things abstruse, all things that defy explanation, find convenient storage.

Some time in my theological formation, we were told that there are basically two approaches by which we can speak of God. (Yes, there is a whole lot we can know about God. For there is a whole lot He revealed about Himself. And therefore there is much we can say about Him.) The first method starts from above, so to say. All talk about God starts from His nature. We start with the kind of discourse that begins with who He is, what God is like, etc. This type of discourse capitalizes a lot on what the human mind can say about what He is not. Thus, we can speak a lot about His so-called Divine attributes.

But there is a second approach that begins from where we are… our human experience, our own human historical trajectory. It makes much of our human condition. It starts from who we are, our earthiness, our embodiedness, our finiteness - if you will - but also our experience of longing for something beyond us, something that transcends our daily life, something that goes beyond mere existing in a world so limited, so taken up by physical, moral, and psychological constraints.

Let us start with one such human experience. Let us take the case of something that all three readings speak so glowingly about: human warmth! Warmth refers to closeness. We also call this intimacy. Intimacy is all about the wish to get closer, and closer. It is about drawing nearer. People who love strive to get closer to the one they love. And that closeness engenders warmth. For a non-Biblical scholar that I am, I certainly see something significant in the fact that the Lord revealed Himself to Moses as a burning bush. Fire. Warmth. How else does one interpret that passionate description that God gave Himself? “The Lord, the Lord, a merciful and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity.” From the utterance of God, we get to know who He is, a God of love, of mercy, and of graciousness.

And what do we make of Paul who, having basked in the warmth of this same love writes with so much solicitude to his very own spiritual daughters and sons from Corinth, to whom he dedicated two lengthy letters? In a mixture of fraternal warning, an expression of a wish, and of hope that ends with a blessing, Paul extends to his beloved Corinthians that same warmth that can only come from one so blessed, so exposed, and so appreciative of what he himself has learned at the feet of the Lord. He thus could speak of harmony, peace, grace, love and fellowship, from God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

The short Gospel passage today is the real clincher. To Nicodemus, who came to Jesus by night, possibly someone who nurtured a secret wish to be his disciple, the Lord explained in no uncertain terms the nature of God as love. “Yes, God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him may not die but may have eternal life.” How can anyone of us not have any experience in our lives that does not resonate with this expression of divine solicitude? How can we remain unmoved by the knowledge that God has not only drawn near to us, but has given us all, including his only Son?

There is much here that we could dwell on for our enrichment. There is much in this powerful self-revelation of God that we need to re-appropriate given the fact that we were baptized in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. We started out our Christian lives with the mark of the Trinity. We were enrolled in this loving relationship when the love of God took possession of our hearts and souls on the day of our baptism. Theologians call this the Trinitarian dimension of our Christian faith. Simply put, we belong to this inner circle of divine love. We, too, like the Corinthians, like Paul himself, are continually basking in the warmth of God’s love.

What then do we make of all this at a time when intimacy and interpersonal warmth seem to be sidetracked? Look at what we have now? We have plenty of gadgets that are supposed to foster communication but there seems to be little communication between and among people, including family members. Just about the only thing that puts people together now is the daily soap opera episode on TV. Haven’t you noticed that even the Sunday Mass has ceased becoming a family activity, and that each one goes at a time and place convenient to him or her? One goes at his/her own convenience. Even family meals are becoming a rare occasion. In the daily mad rush to beat the traffic, the first casualty is family togetherness. The two recent surveys of youth in the Philippines refer to the fact that the peer group, gang, or barkada rather than the family exercises more influence on the young. Given the high and still growing percentage of single parent households in the Philippines due to out-migration, there is indeed a whole lot about family intimacy that we all ought to re-appropriate.

Just how do we do this? Allow me to go back to today’s readings for clues as to concrete courses of action we can take. First of all, let us not be distracted by the what of today’s solemnity. God is not about quantity. Let us not get lost in the content of the mystery, the what of it all. Let us focus on the why of it. God is all about quality! It is about the depth, width and breadth of His love for the world, for each of us. Let us then go qualitative! Let us imitate Him for what He is to others, to us above all. The first reading would have us see God as gracious, merciful, slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity. What about us? How have we been faithful to our friends and loved ones? Have we been talking behind their backs? Have we been stabbing them in the back? Just how do mercy and compassion characterize our daily lives? How forgiving have we been?

The second reading adds two more traits of God for good measure: He is a God of love and peace. One wonders just how loving and peaceful we now could be given the daily dose of vengefulness and violence in all the TV shows we watch! Just how hard are we trying to make of our homes a haven of love and peace? Remember? The family is an image of the Trinity! The family must reflect the Trinitarian spirit of communion and love. Big words you say? I can name so many families right here, right now who, despite so many odds are trying their best to live that Trinitarian character in their lives!

The Gospel adds that final, essential note about what God’s love is like. Again, there is no quantity involved here. It’s all about quality. That love, the Gospel says, is not a self-centered type of love that remains only within the Trinitarian communion. It is not love that exists only between Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It is all that… and a whole lot more! It is not primarily turned inward, but outward. To us, to the whole world. Yes, God so loved the world that He sent his only begotten Son!

And then you say, there is little warmth and caring in the world! There is so much selfishness and greed in the world, you say? Why, there is so much of their opposites! There is so much love in the world. There is so much graciousness, mercy, kindness, and fidelity. For those who bask and live in the glow of God’s love; for those who try their best to see through things and events and allow God the space and the freedom to work through them and in them, there is so much love, so much warmth, so much gladness. And it is bound only to increase and grow, the closer you get to the source of it all, God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen!

Revised May 7, 2008
Hayward, CA 94547

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