A friar who was ordained to the priesthood yesterday invited me to be the preacher at his first Mass. Here's the homily I gave.
(Trinity Sunday, A)
When I was a new priest—and had even less good sense and tact than the precious little I have now—I used to say that one of the benefits of becoming a priest was that you didn’t have to listen to any more Trinity Sunday homilies.
You know; they can be brilliant, but sometimes, not so much. It goes something like this: God is three, God is one, it’s a mystery, you can’t really understand it…please stand for the Creed.
And this is unfortunate; this business about ‘you can’t understand’ the mystery of the Blessed Trinity. We cannot have a full comprehension, of course, but this doesn’t mean we can’t have some understanding. In fact, all of us who are Christians can have some understanding of this great mystery, precisely because we have all had an experience of the Blessed Trinity.
To get at what I mean, let’s turn to something we all know well: Christmas. What is Christmas all about? As we read in the gospel of St. Matthew:
Now this is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about. When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found with child through the holy Spirit. (1:18)
Here we see the Blessed Trinity in action. The Holy Spirit extends the love of God the Father forth into the world and conceives the Word—the second person of the Blessed Trinity—as the human life of our Savior Jesus Christ. In this way Christmas reveals the Trinity; the love of the Father for the Son, that is the bond of love we call the Holy Spirit, conceives the divine person of the Son of God as the human life of our Lord Jesus Christ.
(Now before we go on, it might be good to pause for a moment on who is this Word or Son, this second person of the Blessed Trinity. For this we can recall another well-known part of the Bible, the very beginning, the creation of the world. Now we all know that God created the world, right? But sometimes we don’t think about the method or technique God uses to create, and maybe it’s so plain and obvious that we miss it. Let’s go to the very beginning of the Bible:
In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth—and the earth was without form or shape, with darkness over the abyss and a mighty wind sweeping over the waters—God said: Let there be light, and there was light. (Genesis 1:1-3)
God said: let there be light, and there was light. And so the creation goes on from there: God said, and so it happens. God creates with his speech, his Word. This Word of God is divinely and perfectly effective; what it says, happens.
(See this is the difference between God the Father and all of you who are human fathers and mothers. When you say something, maybe it happens and maybe it doesn’t, am I right? But God’s Word is effective; it does what it says. And so when this Word of God, this second person of the Blessed Trinity, becomes flesh with the name ‘Jesus,’ a name that means ‘God saves,’ well, you see that God is making our salvation happen!))
Ok, back to Christmas. By the will or love of God the Father—these are the same thing—the Holy Spirit conceives the Word as Jesus Christ the Son of God.
Now, here’s the most important part for today: In the same way that the birth of Jesus Christ came about as a work and revelation of the Blessed Trinity, so each one of us who is a Christian is born into our Christian life.
When we are baptized, the love of God the Father is expressed by the Holy Spirit conceiving us as a Christ-ian, a member of the Body of Christ; we could even say another Christ. And this isn’t something that only happens when we are baptized; it’s what’s going on at every moment of our Christian life, in our prayer, in our sacrifices, in our love of neighbor, everything. Everything we do as Christians is the Holy Spirit conceiving the love of God the Father in us so that we become members of the Body of Christ.
So our whole Christian life, our whole personal history of salvation, is an experience of the action of the Blessed Trinity. And in this sense, because we are always experiencing its action, we already understand something of the mystery of the Trinity. It might be just that, very mysterious and not very clear, but on the other hand it’s very personal and intensely beautiful. It is God, each day, saving us and sanctifying us by folding us into the dynamic relationship of his own life, a dynamic life of perfect love that we call Trinity.
Ok, hold that thought, and we’ll turn to the other big reason we’re here celebrating today, the first holy Mass of our new priest, Fr. Will.
It seems to me that our joy on this occasion of Fr. Will’s first Mass has a couple of levels. There’s the natural, human level of this moment, which we celebrate like we do any important milestone in the life of someone dear to us. Fr. Will’s ordination and first Mass represent on the one hand, a culmination of much effort in prayer, discernment, and study, and the other hand mark the moment in which the new life-adventure of priesthood begins to open up for him. So we’re here to congratulate him on what has brought him to this moment and to pray for him and wish him well in what is to come. This is all very important.
But there’s another level to our joy today. Recall the process of our becoming Christian and our ongoing Christian life as the work of the Blessed Trinity and as our being drawn in to this great mystery of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Now this Christian life, this salvation that God is working in us, is not an easy thing. It can be very challenging. But as Jesus says before his Ascension, ‘I will not leave you orphans.’ No. In fact, in his tender love God provides us with guides and shepherds to care for us in our living of the Christian life, on our journey of salvation. And these are the priests, who nourish us on the way with the Eucharist, and heal our journeying souls in the sacrament of Reconciliation.
And so as much as we are happy for Fr. Will today in a big moment for him, we also rejoice for ourselves, because in Fr. Will having received the sacrament of Holy Order and becoming a priest, we can look to him and see that he himself has become a sacramental sign of God’s care for us in our Christian life and our own process of salvation.
So we rejoice in God and give thanks to him today for the encouragement of this new sign of his love for us as his people, the Church, this new sign of God’s care for us that is our brother Will who—for us and our salvation—the Holy Spirit has conceived as Father Will.