I, as most priests, have had the great privilege of witnessing numerous couples making their marriage vows. The normal course of preparation is that the couple help prepare the liturgy by praying over the various scriptural readings the Church provides as choices for the Mass.
Almost inevitably the second reading chosen is the one from First Corinthians which begins with the well-loved words of St. Paul: “If I speak in human and angelic tongues but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal. And if I have the gift of prophecy and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge; if I have all faith so as to move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away everything I own, and if I hand my body over so that I may boast but do not have love, I gain nothing.”
The words of that reading capture the importance of love in the relationship which is about to be sanctified, made holy, through the commitment of the spouses. It clearly resonates with the couples because it is chosen so often.
Marriage, however, is not the only context for understanding that reading. Many people would include this passage as one of their scriptural favorites or one that has had profound meaning in their lives. The reason probably has something to do with the importance of love in life.
Several weeks ago on the Sundays leading up to Pentecost we heard passages from 1 John and the Gospel According to John. In the Gospel, Jesus speaks of his love for the Father and for his flock. He demonstrates this love in his laying down his life for his friends. He commands us to “love one another as I have loved you.” In the letter John describes God in this short but powerful sentence: “God is love.”
Today we celebrate Trinity Sunday. We celebrate the mystery of who God is — the Holy Trinity. It is one of only two dogmas that actually have a feast day in the liturgical calendar. The term “mystery” is appropriate for the celebration. God is so far above us that we can never fully understand him.
Part of the expression “mystery” involves an encounter. We encounter God and enter into a relationship with him. Through this relationship we come to know him. This knowledge is not exhaustive but engaging. It draws us closer to the One who can never be fully known. It is a relationship of love.
The belief in the Holy Trinity is one that flows from God’s self-revelation to us through Jesus Christ. Jesus’ reveals that the God of creation and covenant is his Father. He often speaks of that relationship in the gospels. The relationship is one of love. The Father loves him and he the Father. Likewise we hear Jesus speak of the Spirit. Last week we celebrated Pentecost. The promised Spirit is God’s abiding presence among us. Through the Spirit, God, who created and redeemed us, dwells within and among us to sanctify our lives in love.
The Gospel passage for Sunday’s liturgy contains the final address of Jesus to his disciples in the Gospel According to Matthew. The words are offered just before Jesus ascends to the Father. When we think of final addresses, or words that are spoken in a formal setting, we normally ascribe to them a great import. Such is the case here with these words. Jesus speaks as the Lord of life. He is risen from the dead and indeed through that victory over sin and death he can claim “all power in heaven and on earth has been given to me.”
Then he proclaims: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” The baptism that takes place is to be in the name of the Holy Trinity. Baptism binds us to Christ and draws us into the divine life of God. In this way God who is love draws us into the eternal life of love.
St. Paul in his Letter to the Romans (second reading) reminds us that it is in our union with Christ (through baptism) that we can confidently and rightly call God “Abba.” The term expresses a child-like love for the Father. It captures the innocence, simplicity, utter trust and reliance that a small child has for their parents. The expression would most likely be translated into common speech as “Daddy.” Paul reminds us that through this union with Christ we are now considered adopted children of God – and his heirs as well, “joint heirs with Christ.” He concludes with these words, “if only we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.”
They might seem strange to us today. We normally associate suffering with something that is to be eliminated not embraced. However, he is speaking here of Jesus’ willingness and indeed actual forgoing of his own interests, desires, even comfort for the sake of another. His self-giving knows no restraints. This is part of love. So when St. Paul associates this with our being children of God and heirs as well, he is reminding us to love.
God loves us so much that he not only created us but makes himself known to us. His revelation as Father, Son and Holy Spirit draws us into this relationship of love. Celebrating the Holy Trinity is a celebration of love. The God who is love shares that love with us and calls us to live that love in our relationships with each other.
I mentioned St. Paul’s First Corinthians passage in the beginning. His conclusion to that passage helps us to embrace this mystery and relationship: “At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face. At present I know partially; then I shall know fully, as I am fully known. So faith, hope, love remain, these three, but the greatest of these is love.”
Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of Our Lady of Grace Parish, Penndel, and a former professor of Sacred Scripture and rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.
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