Monday, June 12, 2017

What We **Should** Do on Trinity Sunday

So this Twitter rant by Ben Myers (@FaithTheology) got me thinking, because it lined up with some of my own frustrations with how preachers tend to preach on Trinity Sunday. So I used the accompanying discussion on Twitter to springboard into what I think our main jobs are on this great feast.

Every year, on the Sunday after Pentecost, we celebrate Trinity Sunday

And by "celebrate", I mean pastors worldwide worry about preaching heresy, and congregations sit there nervously while preachers stumble all over themselves try to not go there

You know: 

"Uhh uhh, God is a shamrock"

"No no, I mean he's like a shamrock."

"But he's not. Uh, shamrocks are like God."

"Except, well, not really" 

"Umm, let's all just stand for the Creed"

Earlier this week there was some great chatter about Trinity Sunday on Twitter. 

A lot preachers talking about angst and making heresy jokes.

I mean, there's #NerdTwitter

And then there's #PreacherNerdTwitter

One of the best rants was from a young man who started off with:

"How to combat trinitarian heresies? Start by abolishing Trinity Sunday, that fateful day on which preachers think they have to explain it."

And he had a great rant after that, and then there was a lots of people telling of analogies they had heard:

God's like water, sometimes ice, liquid, steam

God's like a cherry pie, cut in thirds: see the distinct thirds on outside, but still one underneath. 

Last May, "The Babylon Bee", a satire site (like "The Onion" for evangelicals) had an article: "Local Child A Staunch Modalist After Years Of Parents’ Bad Trinity Analogies"

So you can see after this kind of mocking, why preachers are afraid. 

Tony Bedient (our seminarian for the summer) and I were talking about this as we drove back from a softball game Wednesday—cuz that's what a young priest and seminarian talk about in the car.

Priests usually go in two directions here:

1st: I'm going to try to explain it:

• Use really simple terms so people aren't lost. 

• Use this analogy. It takes some thinking, but it gets closer. 

• Analogies are dangerous. So I'm going to dig deep and use some heavy philosophizing and we'll talk about person and essence and consubstantial and hypostasis 

Variants of "My job is to explain the Trinity", just at lower or higher levels.

2nd: either out of knowing how hard it is to explain, or just wanting to have a quick fix, the preacher says:

"It's a mystery.  Not gonna get to the bottom of it. Greatest minds in the Church didn't. We won't either. Called a mystery for a reason. Just take on faith. It's a divine mystery."

Notice one thing about both those approaches:

Those are both intellect endeavors.

One trying to explain, and failing (at various levels)...

...other is giving up and saying we can't do this intellectual endeavor. 

The question I think we need to consider is: 

"Is the first duty of Trinity Sunday to explain the Trinity?"

or "To explain it better than we'd previously understood"?

Is explaining and understanding the only reason we talk about the Trinity, or even the first reason?

Now this isn't to say that no priest will ever stand at this pulpit and try to shed some light onto our faith that requires us verbally diving into that mystery. 

But at least we shouldn't feel constricted or expected to try to explain. 

Well, what should Catholics do if they're aren't going to try to explain how God is one and how God is three?

3 things to try instead:

Confess the Trinity

Worship the Trinity

Love the Trinity

"Confess" is confusing in English. 

Usually we think of "just confession my sins in the confessional"

Really = "Proclaim openly"

Confess your sins, 
confess you love, especially if previously unknown, 
confess one baptism for forgiveness of sins. (Creed)

We might say "profess"

No matter how much I understand or don't understand, I profess belief. 

On Easter Sunday, we profess belief in Jesus as risen from the dead. 

We don't worry about explaining how his body came to life again. 

Worship the Trinity. 

Main job here. 

Among commenters on Twitter, were some Eastern Christians (Greek, Russian, etc)

And they don't have a separate Sunday named after the Trinity

Two responses: 

1) Pentecost is their Trinity Sunday, since Easter ends with the full revelation of the Trinity by the Father sending the Spirit, through the Son. 

2) other phrasing I heard: We don't have a Trinity Sunday because every Sunday is Trinity Sunday!


Our job every Sunday is to worship and adore the Triune God. 

West believes this too. 

In the old Mass before Vatican II, at almost any Mass that wasn't in a big season, the priest prayed the preface of the Trinity

We'll hear that preface today (it's the prayer right after the "Lift up your hearts/We lift them up to the Lord")

In the old Mass there were only like 15 prefaces for all year, and the default one was the one about the Trinity. 

We have more (like 80?), but even with those we have now, when not in a special season they are all about some aspect of the Trinity or Paschal Mystery. 

Finally, Love the Trinity. 

We can love with all sorts of levels of understanding. 

4 year old loves his parents, but doesn't remotely understand them or their relationship. 

2nd grader might love her teacher, but she honestly doesn't know 95% of her life.

Grow up, fall in love, want to marry someone—still don't really understand that person. Persons are just too complex, too mysterious; still incomprehensible. 

We can love the Trinity and want to be caught up in the love the Three Persons share, without perfect understanding. 

The Church gets it: Look at today's 1st Reading and Gospel.

Nothing in them that remotely indicates a Trinity, and yet reading them draws us into a greater love of the Trinity.

So I don't think there's any need to abolish Trinity Sunday. 

We just need to realize it's not our duty to explain or understand the Trinity perfectly;

Our job is to confess, worship, and love the Trinity at whatever level of understanding we have.