Ampleforth Abbey

13 December 2017

Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity, 2013

The Holy Trinity: Rublev

Homily preached by Abbot Cuthbert Madden OSB on the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity (26th May 2013) at the Conventual Mass in the Abbey Church.

Dear Brothers and Sisters, the feast of the Most Holy Trinity which we celebrate today often seems to us to be an incomprehensible feast.  We tend to think of it in terms of number games.  We remember the image of St Patrick and his shamrock and we puzzle over how three persons can be one God.  For as long as we focus on the Trinity as some kind of number game to be solved, this feast is doomed to be incomprehensible and irrelevant.  Yet it is clear that the Church does not think that the Trinity is irrelevant, so let us approach the mystery of the Triune God from another perspective.

If we look back to the last century we see a century marked by war.  The scale of the killing in the twentieth century beggars belief.  Yet, in many respects this was the century in which men and women should have been at their happiest.  For very many people in the world industrialisation, advances in agriculture, and advances in medicine had brought the prospect of a degree of personal security and personal freedom almost unparalleled in world history.  Why did everything go so spectacularly wrong?

There are, no doubt, many reasons which could be advanced for the cataclysm which affected the last century, a cataclysm which threatens to envelope the present century as well.  There are those who will point to the rise of madmen as dictators.  It is perfectly true that Hitler and Stalin, Mao Tse Tung and Pol Pot and others like them unleashed war and terror on innocent people, but the terror of eugenic sterilisation, abortion, and euthanasia was also unleashed in the so called free democracies and these scourges continue in our world, in our country, today.  There is a deeper malaise affecting our world and we cannot blame that malaise on a few isolated, exceptionally bad, men.

Satre said, ‘Hell is other people’, and he, and others like him, have argued quite cogently that human beings, all human beings, are presently engaged in a quest to be God.  In Being and Nothingness he writes, ‘The essential nature of human beings is none other than the yearning to be God.  So their essential nature becomes inessential to them.’  When we yearn to be a particular kind of god, a god who is able to indulge his every whim in his pursuit of sublime pleasure, we are apt to see other people as obstacles to our achievement of this communion.  If our vision is of a god who is domineering, who lords it over creation, who is monarch and controller of all he surveys; then other people remind us that we are not yet in control, not yet monarch, not yet god – and in countless, thoughtless, ways we cash out the frustration of our desire in our day to day lives.  The more influence we command, the more damaging the effect of our delusion: for it is a delusion – God, the Christian God, omnipotent and omniscient, is not monos, alone; He is Triune. 

The Christian God: Father who is Creator; Word who is Son; and Holy Spirit who is the sanctifier; is a God who is perfect love.  That perfect love voluntarily binds the power of God in order that mankind may have true freedom, the freedom which permits man either to embrace true love or to embrace hatred.

When God created man and gave him free will he ran the terrible risk that man would take his freedom and misuse it.  That, as we are all aware, is what man chose to do.  And yet God continued to love his creation; to the extent that He sent His Word, his Wisdom, described for us this morning in our reading from the book of Proverbs, into the world.  The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.  Jesus Christ, the Son of God, became man to show us what the love that is God looks like in practice, in daily life.  His love was a love which showed concern and care for his fellow human beings.  His love was a love which sacrificed self-interest in favour of those who stood in need.  His love was a love which led to the death of the Son of God on the cross; a death which set his love free and spilt it over the entire earth.  And that love continues to work in his creation for the Lord Jesus had promised his disciples that after his resurrection He would send the Holy Spirit to continue his work of redemption and reconciliation.

You and I profess to be Catholic Christians.  As Catholic Christians we are invited to become one with the Triune God.  When we walk in the footsteps of Christ, when we allow the Father to direct our actions, then the Holy Spirit overshadows us as He overshadowed Mary at the annunciation and the Triune God becomes flesh in us.  This work of deification is never complete in our lifetime but when we share in the self-sacrificial love which characterises the Triune God we may be sure that God the Holy Trinity is at work within us transforming us.  The Triune God gives us a love for our fellow human beings.  Other people, instead of being Hell, make heaven a reality for us.  When we open ourselves to the action of God we become blessed, and blessed people are happy people.

The nature of our God, then, matters.  The God of the Gospel, the God of the Catholic Church, indeed of mainstream Christianity, neither avenges, nor terrorises, nor castrates.  At the heart of the Gospel message we find nothing but Love, which is infinite, self-sacrificial and life-giving, which respects our freedom ‘to death, even death on the cross’ (Philippians 2.8).  As the great Orthodox theologian Olivier Clément points out, when mankind embraces a false God the result is a distortion of our understanding of man which leads to an unhappiness which exceeds our worst fears.  The converse also holds true: when mankind embraces the true God, the Triune God, the God who is infinite Love, the result is an understanding of man and his place in the cosmos which exceeds our wildest dreams and which leads to beatitude, to true holiness, true wholeness, to true happiness.