Feast of the Most Holy Trinity
Psalm 8:4-5, 6-7, 8-9 (2a)
The temptation for theologians on the Feast of the Most Holy Trinity is to try to use the occasion to “explain” this great mystery. I am going to resist that temptation – mostly because I do not feel at all up to the task of providing an adequate “explanation”! Instead, I will focus primarily on Paul’s Letter to the Romans and what it has to say about our relationship with God, the moral life, and hope.
In his book, Moral Wisdom, Fr. James Keenan, SJ, writes of how there has been a tremendous shift in the conventional wisdom among Christians regarding sin and salvation. Whereas for many centuries it was assumed that most people are damned to hell (massa damnata) today many of us assume the opposite: no one is damned. That shift toward an assumption of universal innocence has been significant in terms of how we perceive our place before God.
In St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans, there isn’t an assumption of universal innocence. On the contrary, it is assumed that our starting point is distance or alienation from God. We are not only sinners but in a state of sin; our relationship with God is broken and needs to be restored. For St. Paul, the fact that our relationship with God can be restored through our faith in Jesus Christ is at the heart of the Gospel message. He writes, “since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith to this grace in which we stand.” For Paul, something that would be humanly impossible (restoring our relationship with God) has been accomplished by God in Christ.
We might ask ourselves whether we have an appreciation of the depth of our own need for God’s grace. Have we tamed sin to the point that we do not recognize our own need for conversion and our need to be healed by God’s gracious love? We don’t want to fall into the trap of self-loathing or an exaggerated notion of our shortcomings, but in some ways we cannot fully appreciate the depth of God’s love for us unless we recognize our deep sinfulness. If we trick ourselves into thinking we are entirely good or if we make ourselves blind to those aspects of ourselves that are vicious (as in oriented toward vice rather than virtue) we can come to the erroneous conclusion that God loves us because we are good. We can forget that God loves us and acts to draw us ever nearer to Godself graciously and freely.
This brings us to hope. On the one hand, this Sunday’s epistle suggests that hope is a quality of character. We face struggles in life and we learn to endure them. We learn to understand that adversity is temporary and we can get through it. On the other hand, St. Paul reminds us that our hope ultimately is grounded in the fact that “the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” Our hope – as with all things, including life itself – comes to us as gift and as grace. We seek to know God better and to live as we should not to earn God’s love, but in response to it.