The Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity – June 18/19 2011
For the communities of Dignity/NoVA at Emmanuel Church-on-the-Hill in Arlington, VA and Dignity/Washington at St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church, Washington, DC.
This is probably one of the least “theological” homilies I’ve ever given. The homily, after all, is supposed to “break open the Word of Scripture,” it’s supposed to be the time when we explore the meaning of what we’ve just listened to, when we take time to reflect on God’s Word and try to come to deeper understanding of the stories of our ancestors in Faith, seeking to see the Hand of God at work in our lives today, just as they saw the Hand of God at work actively in their lives so many centuries ago. The homily is an exercise in what might be called “theological reflection,” a time to reflect on and offer a lot of words about “The Word.” And yet, today we celebrate what is formally called the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity, this Sunday after the Feast of Pentecost that draws our attention to one of the most basic elements of our Christian faith, our belief that we express physically every time we sign ourselves with the Sign of the Cross and remind ourselves that the God in Whom we express faith is not just One, but rather Three in One. Whether we speak of Father, Son and Holy Ghost or Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifying Spirit …. Christians believe that God is fundamentally Mystery, Three in One in way that we can’t fully understand and surely can’t adequately express in words.
In fact, there’s a story about St. Augustine, the great theologian, who was walking along the shore of the ocean, pondering the Mystery of the Trinity, trying to understand the Trinity in new and different ways. He came across a child who had dug a hole in the sand and was busy pouring bucket after bucket of water from the ocean into the sandy hole. Augustine asked what he was doing, the boy replied: “I’m going to pour all the water of the sea into this hole.” Augustine told him, “That’s impossible. The whole ocean will never fit into that small hole you’ve dug.” The boy looked at him and said, “In the same way, you can never fit the Trinity into the smallness of your human mind.” And with that … the boy disappeared.
And so, because at the end of the day there’s very little that can be said about the Trinity Who is Mystery, I’m not even going to try. Instead, I’m going to tell you what happened to me last weekend! The Trinity may be about “Three Divine Persons in One God,” but my story is about “three priests in one weekend.” And no, that’s not the beginning of a bad joke with an even worse punch line, but it sums up what I experienced a little bit last weekend as I headed home to Massachusetts for my nephew’s high school graduation. It’s the story of three encounters with three very different priests. Each of these gives a little insight into the different ways in which “the Church” interacts with the community of which we are a part, God’s gay and lesbian children.
As I was waiting last Thursday to catch a flight to Boston, I had the thought that I would probably see a priest on my flight – Boston being such a Catholic city. And, sure enough, I did run into a priest whom I actually knew, a man who had been a seminary professor of mine years ago. And although we never discussed these matters at length, the only time the subject of homosexuality ever came up, even in a roundabout way, leads me to believe that he would probably be supportive of the Church’s official positions against things like same-sex marriage or a more progressive view of human sexuality. Priest Number 1.
After I landed and picked up my rental car, I began the 90 minute drive from Boston down to Cape Cod where my sister lives. I hadn’t had any lunch, so I stopped south of Boston to get a bite to eat. And as I paid for the burrito I had ordered at a Chipotle restaurant, I turned and saw Priest # 2 – a guy I had been in the seminary with me, ordained a few years after me. Dan – not his real name – left active ministry more than a decade ago in part because he found he could no longer minister in a Church that denied the full humanity of LGBT people. In fact, the Church’s position on this left him so angered and hurt, it virtually caused him to turn away from faith almost entirely. To this day, faith and religion practically have no place whatsoever in the life that he shares lovingly and openly with his partner of six years.
And so now we come to priest # 3. He’s the only one whose real name I’m going to tell. He’s also a friend of mine, a guy who was ordained four years after me, and is now the pastor of a vibrant, inner city parish in Boston. Some of you, I know, saw the newspaper stories about what happened at St. Cecilia’s parish last weekend, and what the pastor, my friend Fr. John Unni did in response. As part of its Rainbow Ministry to the gay and lesbian community, St. Cecilia’s had scheduled a special liturgy for this weekend with the particular theme, “All Are Welcome.” Well, because this Liturgy coincided with the Gay Pride events celebrated during this month of June, some anonymous people thought this was just unacceptable, and their complaints apparently caused the archdiocese of Boston to intervene and force the cancellation of that Liturgy. And, although that is indeed what happened, John still had the courage to stand up at Masses last week and preach the Gospel message that … at least in St. Cecilia’s Parish … ALL means ALL, and all indeed are welcome not as the Church or anyone else says they should be, but all are welcomed “AS THEY ARE.” Essentially John was preaching the message that – just as the Trinity is a community of Persons most notably characterized by love – so too is the Church of Jesus called to be a community of persons brought together in love, brought together as we are, as God made us – young, old, male, female, black, white, gay, straight, rich, poor, immigrant, native-born – each and everyone of us is – or, better yet, should be – welcomed in the family of God.
During this past week, I’ve read any number of commentaries and blogs about what happened at St. Cecilia’s and its pastor. The conservatives condemn the parish and pastor for doing anything to welcome gay people; while the writers on the left condemn the pastor for not acting more boldly, for not defying the Archdiocese and going forward with the cancelled liturgy anyway. I don’t envy my friend John, or the place he now finds himself in. However, as another John, John the Evangelist tells us so powerfully in today’s Gospel reading, God did not send Jesus into the world to condemn the world. Rather, Jesus came in the world as the very embodiment of unconditional divine love.
If Jesus came not to condemn, but rather to welcome, to accept, and to love – how can the Church of Jesus do anything less?