The doctrine of the Most Holy and Undivided Trinity is a central tenet of the Christian faith; at once a mystery beyond all telling and a reality intrinsically present in the lives of each of us. Blessed John Henry Newman, concluding one of his sermons on the subject, encouraged his congregation to consider this lofty topic only with a certain reverence. He writes: “May we never speak on subjects like this without awe; may we never dispute without charity; may we never inquire without a careful endeavour, with God’s aid, to sanctify our knowledge, and to impress it on our hearts, as well as to store it in our understandings!” So we may well be tempted to handle this profound theological notion with kid gloves; with a kind of holy fear. Yet the ready presence of the Most Holy Trinity, which runs through the veins of each Christian, and which is present in a very real way in the action of the Sacred Liturgy, calls us to set aside such anxiety, if not our just reverence, and to enter into the mystery and life of the Trinity, with awe and respect for sure, but with tenacity and confidence, knowing that the doctrine we revere is not something distant from us, but here and now, in our midst; in our very being, and in the act of divine worship we gather this morning to perform.
It is perhaps one of the greatest countercultural acts of Christianity to proclaim, by words and deeds, the commandment given to us by Christ in today’s Gospel. “Love one another,” the Lord instructs us. “As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples.” This is a countercultural message, because the society in which we live claims on the one hand to care for others, and on the other limits the expression of the dignity of the human person in ways that not only oppose the care of the individual but also, in turn, reduces our the standing of each of us; our own worth in the eyes of our fellow man. In this we might think of some obvious examples: the objectification of the human person, and especially women, in the murky world of pornography and prostitution; the reduction of the human person to a biological entity or an object lacking any “quality of life” in the arena of abortion and euthanasia; the manipulation of the human person in the attempt to eradicate the natural complementarity of man and woman, in the realm of so-called ‘gender theory’ and in the name of sexual equality. Each of these represents a veiled attempt on the part of contemporary society to offer a rebuttal to some perceived injustice whilst failing, fundamentally and absolutely, to recognize the monumental damage that is done by these actions, not simply to the individual objects of the actions themselves, but to the dignity of the human race: the means by which we view ourselves and each other.
This homily was given at Saint Thomas Apostle, Woodley Park, Washington, D.C., on the feast of the Holy Family.
Meeting to prepare a wedding with a young couple, it is rather easy for a priest to get a cheap laugh – at least from the groom – if he simply suggests having today’s reading from the letter of Saint Paul to the Colossians at the wedding. ‘Wives, be subordinate to your husbands, as is proper in the Lord’, says the apostle. What often (and equally swiftly) wipes the smile from the young man’s face – if his bride-to-be hasn’t done so herself – is the next line: ‘Husbands, love your wives, and avoid any bitterness toward them’. The groom has his responsibilities too. He is to be a strong, characterful, moral family leader, and he is to accept the great and serious burden of protecting and caring for his wife, whatever that might bring on him. Just as in the old English wedding vows where the bride promises to love, honour, and obey, her husband, ‘be subordinate to your husbands’ is not a call to a master-servant relationship, but one of mutuality. We might say, in fact, that the bride is permitting herself to be looked after and cared for, above the husband’s own concerns and well-being.