Yesterday, at the beautiful new cathedral in Oakland, the bishop celebrated confirmation for some 50 young people, among them my niece, which is what brought me here all the way from East Tennessee this weekend. The sacrament of Confirmation is a reaffirmation and completion of the gift of the Holy Spirit we first received at our baptism. Just as God the Father gave his gift of the Holy Spirit to the first disciples at Pentecost to empower them to continue the Risen Christ’s life and mission in the world, so too the same Father has given the same Holy Spirit to each one of us to continue his Son’s life and work in our world.
Today, the Church invites us to focus on the fundamental mystery that makes this all possible – who God is in his very self, the inner life of God, who has revealed himself to us as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
For most of us, I suspect, the Trinity is a bit of an abstraction – a doctrine to be believed in, of course, but not something we often give a lot of thought to.
I say this, despite the obvious fact that we were all baptized in the name of the Holy Trinity – the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. On that occasion, we – or our parents and godparents - all made a profession of faith in the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Our sins have been forgiven many times, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Thos who have been married have exchanged rings, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. We have all been blessed – and have blessed ourselves - in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. The principal prayers of the liturgy are all explicitly addressed to the Father, through the Son, in the unity of the Holy Spirit. In short, my entire life – and the lives of all of us, both individually and as a Church community – have been defined, formed, shaped by the awesome mystery of who God is, that defines the Triune God’s relationship with us and ours with God.
On the one hand, the doctrine of the Trinity expresses our uniquely Christian insight into the inner life of God – where the Son is the image of the Father, the Father’s likeness and outward expression, who perfectly reflects his Father, while the Holy Spirit in turn expresses and reveal the mutual love of Father and Son. At the same time, the Trinity also expresses something fundamental about how God acts outside himself. Who God is in himself is how God acts; and so how God acts reveals who God is.
Already in the Old Testament, God was revealing himself – as he did to Moses in today’s 1st reading, as one who reveals himself in how he acts toward us: a merciful and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity. It was to such a God that Moses prayed – as we all pray – do come along in our company … and receive us as your own.
It is, of course, the Son, one in being with the Father, who, as the visible image of the invisible God, came down from heaven, so that the world might be saved through him. Risen from the dead and seated at the right hand of the Father, the Son has sent the Holy Spirit upon his Church, which is the Body of Christ and the Temple of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is inseparable from the Father and the Son, in both the inner life of the Trinity and his gift of love for the world. The Holy Spirit unites us with the Father in the Body of Christ, the Church. Through the sacraments, Christ continues to communicate the Holy Spirit to the members of his Church. Thus, in the Eucharistic Prayer, at the very heart of the Mass, the priest petitions the Father to send the Holy Spirit, so that bread and wine may become the body and blood of Christ and that those who receive Christ’s body and blood may then be transformed into the image of Christ as participants in the mission of the Church.
Hence, the Church faithfully follows St. Paul in praying: The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all!
Homily for Trinity Sunday, St. Anne's Church, Walnut Creek, CA, June 19, 2011