Sunday, June 16, 2019

Our Call as Catholic Christians: To Reveal the Blessed Trinity to the World

(Trinity Sunday 2019: This homily was given on June 16, 2019 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Proverbs 8:22-31; Psalm 8; Romans 5:1-5; John 16:12-15.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Trinity Sunday 2019]

On Good Friday, 1989, Cardinal Timothy Dolan (who, at the time, was Father Dolan) celebrated the Liturgy of the Lord’s Passion at the Gift of Peace House, which is a hospice for dying AIDS patients in Washington, D.C., run by Mother Teresa’s order, the Missionaries of Charity. 

After those in attendance had venerated the Lord’s cross, two of the sisters led Father Dolan out of the chapel and up the stairs, to the area where the patients were, so that they too could kiss the feet of Jesus on the cross.

As Father Dolan went from bed to bed, he couldn’t help but notice one particular man off in the corner.  The man appeared agitated, and kept beckoning the priest to come to him.

At that point, one of the sisters intervened.  She warned the priest that this man was unusually violent, hateful to everyone, and had actually attempted to bite some of the sisters as they tried to care for him.

Dolan was understandably nervous (as we all know, it’s not advisable to be bitten by an AIDS patient!), but he felt he couldn’t refuse the man’s request.  So he went over to his bed and extended to him the crucifix.  The man took hold of it and kissed—not the feet—but the face of Christ crucified.  Then he collapsed back onto his bed.

The very next day, Holy Saturday, the sisters called for Father Dolan at his residence.  They told him that this man had asked to speak with him.

When he entered the hospice and approached the man’s bed, the dying patient said, “I want to be baptized!”

The priest was obviously thrilled by the request.  He then asked the man the logical question: “Why do you want to be baptized into the Catholic faith?”

The man answered with these words: “I know nothing about Christianity or the Catholic Church.  In fact, I have hated religion all my life.  All I do know is that for three months I have been here dying.  These sisters are always happy!  When I curse them, they look at me with compassion in their eyes.  Even when they clean up my vomit, bathe my sores, and change my diapers, they are smiling; when they spoon-feed me, there is a radiance in their eyes.  All I know is that they have joy and I don’t.  When I ask them in desperation why they are so happy, all they answer is ‘Jesus.’  I want this Jesus.  Baptize me and give me this Jesus!  Give me joy!”

And that’s precisely what Father Dolan did.  The man died the next day—on Easter Sunday morning, 1989; although for him Easter had been experienced several hours earlier, on Holy Saturday.

I tell this story on Trinity Sunday for a reason, a reason which will hopefully become clear in a few moments.  But first let me make this observation: At the present time, much of the world does not believe in the Blessed Trinity:  Muslims don’t; Jews don’t; Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t; Mormons don’t; Buddhists don’t; atheist and agnostics definitely don’t!  Before he contracted AIDS, this man did not believe.

And yet we Catholics and other mainline Christians know it by faith to be true.  We know that there is only one God and he exists in 3 persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  “Each . . . is God whole and entire” (as the Catechism teaches); and yet the Father is not the Son, the Son is not the Holy Spirit, and the Father is not the Holy Spirit.  “The Trinity is One . . . [but] the divine persons are really distinct from one another” (to quote the Catechism once again).

Hard to understand—and just as hard to believe if you’ve grown up as a Muslim, or a Jew or as a member of one of those other groups I mentioned a few moments ago.  A cousin of mine married a Jewish man in the early 1980s.  I distinctly remember having a discussion with him back then about the Blessed Trinity.  He could not grasp the notion that God could be three and one at the same time.

Now we may be tempted to say, “Well, what difference does it make, Fr. Ray?  As long as people believe in God, that’s sufficient.”  Here we need to go back to the Catechism.  There it says in paragraph 234, “The mystery of the Most Holy Trinity is the central mystery of Christian faith and life.  It is the mystery of God in himself.  It is therefore the source of all the other mysteries of faith, the light that enlightens them.  It is the most fundamental and essential teaching in the ‘hierarchy of the truths of faith.’”

This means there are practical consequences to not believing in the Trinity.  If I don’t believe in the Trinity, for example, then I will look upon the words of Jesus as the words of an ordinary man.  But his words were not the words of an ordinary man, they were the words of God himself!  If I don’t believe in the Trinity, then I certainly won’t believe that God the Holy Spirit descended on the apostles at Pentecost, nor will I believe that God the Holy Spirit has guided the Catholic Church for 2,000 years.  For me, the Church will be nothing more than a human institution, whose teachings I can completely ignore if I want to. 

So you see, there’s a lot at stake here!  Believing or not believing in the Trinity does make a difference—a very big difference! 

So what about Jews and Muslims and others who don’t believe?  How will they ever come to accept this truth?

Obviously it will only happen by the grace of God.  But let’s remember that God very often uses instruments to bring his saving grace into people’s lives!

And I submit to you that we are the instruments God wants to use to open the hearts of others to faith in the Blessed Trinity in the year 2019.

In the plan of the Almighty, this, I would say, is how it all fits together:

First Jesus revealed the Father.  When Philip asked to see the Father, how did Jesus respond?  He said, “He who has seen me has seen the Father!”  (John 14: 9)

Secondly, the Holy Spirit revealed the Son.  As Jesus said to his apostles, “When the Advocate [the Holy Spirit] comes . . . he will testify to me.” (John 15: 26)

And how do we know the Holy Spirit?  We know him through the Body of Christ, the Church.  The Church, in a certain sense, “reveals” the Spirit, because it’s in the Church that we find the Holy Spirit’s works and fruits.

But WE are the Church, are we not?!

That’s why I said that we are the instruments God wants to use to reveal his Trinitarian life to the world in the year 2019. 

By their love, joy, patience, kindness, gentleness and self-control (which are all fruits of the Holy Spirit mentioned by St. Paul in his Letter to the Galatians), the Missionaries of Charity in a certain sense “revealed” the Trinity to that dying AIDS patient.  By their attitude and actions they showed him that the Blessed Trinity is real, and not just a clever theological dogma.  The man didn’t fully understand it, but he understood enough to know that he wanted what the sisters had: Jesus and joy.  He wanted their God to be his God.  So he was baptized in the name of their God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

The Lord is asking us—the Lord is counting on us—to reveal him to others in the very same way. 

May no one of us disappoint him.