(P.S. Doug and Jenny... I hope you don't mind me using you as an example!)
Homily: Trinity Sunday – Cycle C
As human persons, we all know love in some way, and we know that love always involves at least two things: someone who loves and an object being loved. Further, I would guess that most of us can tell the difference between the superficial love we have of things, such as coffee, chocolate, or a delicious steak, and the love that we have for other people. I would even venture to say that those of us self-styled as “pet lovers” would still be able to distinguish between the love we have for Snoopy, Rufus, Fluffy, and Mr. Pickles and the love we have for our wives, our husbands, our children, and our close friends. We recognize that the deepest, most authentic love is something that is shared equally, and that even the most loyal dog or loving cat, or even the most decadent slice of Ghirardelli chocolate cheesecake, cannot return our love to us as equally as we can give it. Thus, for us to say that “God is Love” should strike a chord in us.
Throughout the centuries, many theologians (most notably Saint Augustine) have come to the realization that for God to be perfect, he must be love, because there is nothing more perfect than love. And that for God to be love, fully and completely within himself, there must be a plurality of persons within the one, singular Godhead. If there wasn’t, God would have to go outside of himself in order to love, which would mean that at best he would be someone who loves, but that he couldn’t be love itself. But God is love in himself, as Saint John reveals to us. What this means then is that God somehow—mysteriously—must be more than one person, otherwise he couldn’t be love—fully and completely—in himself. Still further, for love to be perfect it must be shared between persons who are equal to each other. Since God is perfect, the persons who are somehow mysteriously within the Godhead must both be perfect, otherwise the love that is God would be incomplete, which is impossible, because he is perfect. Confused yet? So am I. Let’s see if we can bring this closer to home.
When Jenny loves her husband Doug, she does so “perfectly” (inasmuch as she can, since none of us can really do anything perfectly, per se). This is because the love between two people who are married is a love between equals, a man and a woman, a husband and a wife; that is, two people. Because Doug and Jenny are equal, Doug can receive the perfect love that Jenny gives completely and he can return his own perfect love to Jenny, which she can receive completely. Now when Doug loves his cat Smokey, he does so “imperfectly” (though I’m not sure Doug would agree with me on this one). This is because love, in order to be perfect, must be shared by equals. Obviously Doug and Smokey are not equals; Doug is a human being created in the image of God and Smokey is a cat, created to be at the service of man (if you don’t like that, don’t get mad at me… take it up with God). This doesn’t make Doug’s love for Smokey any less real, but it does make his love less than perfect, because Smokey cannot fully receive Doug’s love—that is, he can’t know it for what it is—and he certainly cannot return to Doug his own love, at least not in the way that we understand love. I would venture to say that all of us understand this: that love, in its most deep and authentic form is the love between persons, between equals. Yet, there is still something even more wonderful here. In the human world, perfect love is always between two persons who are different beings. In God, amazingly, awesomely, mysteriously, perfect love is between persons within himself.
While this image of the “perfect” love between husband and wife does a lot of work towards making the Trinity comprehensible for us, there is still something missing. Let’s continue by stating something that we might think is pretty obvious: that if God is perfect love within himself, he must be supremely happy. Just as Doug and Jenny know that with their perfect married love, they need nothing else in this world to be happy (besides God, of course), so God, because he is perfect love within himself, needs nothing else to be happy. Did you hear that? God needs nothing else to be happy, not even us. Even if God hadn’t created anything, he would still be perfectly happy in the perfect love that he is in himself. Sounds kind of selfish, doesn’t it? Well, rest assured, it is. Love between two people that is closed off from being shared with others is self-serving; in a sense, the couple is “hoarding” the delight of their love all for themselves. For love to be perfect, and if it is to be the highest level of happiness that one can experience, there must be a “going out to another,” that is, an openness to being shared. In other words, the perfect delight that results from perfect love would not be possible if a) the two were not open to sharing that delight with a third and b) if there wasn’t a third person to share it with. This sharing is what certain theologians have called, “fellowship.” And just as the two who love must be equal in order for love to be perfect, the third, in order to fully share in the delight, that is, the fellowship, of the two, must also be equal to them.
Doug and Jenny were having difficulty conceiving a child. This was a great burden for them because their married love literally ached for there to be a third person, equal to them, who could fully participate in the delight of their love. After a while, they decided to get a puppy, Daisy. They knew that Daisy could never participate fully in their delight, but their desire that there be fellowship in their family was so great that they were willing to compromise with an incomplete fellowship until God’s will granted them the grace of a more perfect fellowship in having a child (which he did, by the way, giving them a baby boy, George, last year). For God, however, this isn’t a problem. We know that he is perfect love. And so we know that he is a plurality of equal persons in himself. And, thanks to the work of various theologians, we know that this plurality of persons must be three: the One who loves, the One who is loved, and the Fellowship of their love; that is, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
I know that this has been a lot to take, but there is one last thing that needs to be said. There is good reason why the example of Doug and Jenny works here, because the very nature of a family, formed by the marriage of a man and a woman, is itself an image of the Trinity. And it is in the differences, differences which are complementary, between a man and a woman that makes this image possible. Just as the differences between the Father and the Son complement each other and make possible the outpouring of love that literally begets the Holy Spirit (a begetting that would not be possible if it were “the Father and the Father” or “the Son and the Son”), so to the differences between men and women complement each other to make possible the outpouring of love that begets, that is, co-creates with God, a child, a person equal in dignity that delights in the fellowship of love with his or her mother and father. Anything else, quite frankly, is a knock-off: it’s artificially creating something God never intended. Can co-equal love exist outside marriage? Sure. But it cannot be marriage, and therefore an image of the Trinity, if the possibility of total self-giving, to the point of the natural creation of another, does not exist. To think otherwise is to fall victim to original sin: believing that we can have it our way, instead of adhering to the wisdom with which God created the world (the Wisdom that spoke to us in our first reading today).
My brothers and sisters, marriage truly is “Unique for a Reason”: because when we truly live it out according to God’s plan it draws us into a mysterious participation in the life of the Trinity and it also witnesses the mystery of that life to the world, which is of great value. Objectively, that is, scientifically speaking, marriage (as God has defined it) is good for us, for our children, and for our society and therefore ought to be defended from any attempts to alter its nature, attempts that are occurring right now in our country. Let us, then, courageously come to its defense: for in doing so we will not only be defending the good for ourselves, but we will also be giving glory to God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, who was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.
Given at All Saints Parish: Logansport, IN – May 26th, 2013
The Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity