by Br Julian McDonald cfc

“The Spirit and our spirit bear united witness that we are children of God. And if we are children, we are heirs as well: heirs of God and coheirs with Christ, sharing his sufferings so as to share his glory.” Romans 8: 14-17
“Go, therefore, make disciples of all the nations; baptise them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…” Matthew 28: 16-20

Last Sunday morning when I was tuned into a talk-back radio programme, a listener called in asking for residents living near him to help him find his pet, wall-eyed Samoyed dog which had gone astray. He explained to the radio compere that he would be broken-hearted if he was not reunited with his best friend. That plea reminded me of another story of an elderly man who was out enjoying his customary evening stroll when he heard a quiet voice calling: “Help me! Please, help me!” Looking around him, he saw no one. So, he continued on his walk, only to hear the cry for help repeated. This time, he looked down and discovered a small frog on the path. He bent down and gently picked up the little creature. As he was examining it, the frog spoke up again: “I am really a beautiful princess, and if you kiss me, I will return to being a beautiful princess again, and I will give you a big hug and be forever grateful to you.” The man paused for a moment, gently placed the frog in the top pocket of his shirt and went on with his walk. But the frog peeped out of the pocket and asked: “Why won’t you kiss me?” The man looked down at the frog and said: “To tell you the truth, my friend, at this stage of my life, I’d rather have a talking frog to keep me company!” (from William J. Bausch: Story-Telling the Word, p.253, Twenty-Third Publications, Mystic CT, USA, 1996)
These two stories left me reflecting on the fact that every single one of us has a deep-seated need for relationship, for companionship, for community, even if we find that companionship with a frog, a canary, a cat or a Samoyed. Our need for relationship and community explains why solitary confinement is the harshest, cruellest punishment that we can inflict on another human being. But what connection do these comments and the two stories with which I began have with this coming Sunday’s celebration of God as Trinity? While every Sunday we proclaim publicly our faith in God as Father, Son and Spirit, we will not come close to understanding the dogma of God as Trinity by embarking only on an assiduous study of what very capable, dogmatic theologians have written about the Trinity. I suggest we will do better to ponder what the Scriptures tell us about God and about ourselves. John in his Gospel and in his three New Testament Letters has repeatedly reminded us that “God is love”, and it was God who first took the initiative of loving us endlessly and unconditionally. All the Gospel writers affirm that God’s love was expressed tangibly and most visibly in the person of Jesus, who was born into the world as brother to us all. And it was the Risen Jesus who told us that only by returning to his rightful place with God, his Father would he be able to send us the Holy Spirit to be our guide, our comfort and our goad to prod us to live true to the God in whose image we have been created. Love, of its very nature, is relational. In asserting that God is love, John confirmed that God is relational in essence. The Trinity, God as Father, Son and Spirit is the best that any theologian or author of Scripture has been able to come up with to describe God as a relational community of love. The stories of the elderly men with the Samoyed and the talking frog illustrate that without community, companionship and love, we would all shrivel and die. The scriptures illustrate that the God in whose image we are created is, by nature, relational, communal and loving. Yet, the scriptural language and the language used by theologians to write about God and the Trinity is predominantly masculine, even though there are multiple references in the First and New Testaments to the maternal nature of God. See, for example, Hosea 11: 3-4 and Matthew 23: 37. Loved into life by God, we mirror our origins in our behaviour. The bottom line is that we are most like God when we reach out to others in love, when we give love selflessly and when we receive love.
A first look at the readings for this Sunday might leave us puzzling over just how relevant they are to the Holy Trinity. I suggest that the second reading from Paul’s letter to the Romans has been chosen because it is one of the few places in the New Testament where there is reference to all three persons of the Trinity in the space of just a few verses. Paul declared that it is the Spirit who testified to our being God’s children, free to call God “Abba Father” and, therefore, closely linked to Jesus.In the first reading from Deuteronomy, we hear part of a sermon Moses preached to his people, reminding them of how they had heard the voice of God who had led them all out of slavery in Egypt. Implied in the reminder Moses gave to his people is an invitation to us to stop and reflect on the ways in which God has shown compassion, kindness, care and love to each of us in the course of our lives.
Over the last six or seven weeks, we have heard a succession of stories describing the appearances the Risen Jesus had made to his disciples and the words he spoke to them. Today’s gospel-reading contains a brief summary of the only post-resurrection appearance to the Eleven disciples that Matthew included in the whole of his Gospel. Moreover, it was prefaced by what the angel had told Mary Magdalen at Jesus’ tomb and what the Risen Jesus had said to the faithful women when he confirmed that he was truly risen and went on to give them the message he wanted them to pass on to the Eleven.
Faithful to the message from Jesus, the disciples went to the trouble of travelling about sixty miles from Jerusalem to the mountain in Jerusalem where the Risen Jesus said he would meet them. Matthew, however, had concluded in retrospect that they must have been conflicted, torn between doubt about and belief in the testimony of the women. Matthew asserted that when they did encounter the Risen Jesus “they fell down before him, though some hesitated” (Matthew 28: 17). But we can surely feel for them. In order to undertake the enormous challenge which Jesus put to them: to set about “making disciples of all the nations; baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”, they would have had to believe not only in Jesus and his claim that “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” (Matthew 28: 18), but they would have had to have enough self-belief that, with the help of the Triune God, they would be equal to the task.
This gospel-reading is also a challenge to us for it invites us to stop and ask ourselves if, as modern-day disciples of Jesus, the way we go about following in his footsteps and in those of the first eleven disciples attracts anyone to embrace the message of Jesus and to find a home in the life, love and companionship of God.
Back in 2007, the Bishops’ Conference of Latin America commissioned some of their number to re-imagine the mission of the Church in South America. That group created a document that was accepted by the Conference and published under the title of Disciples and Missionaries, clearly carrying the message that it is impossible to be a disciple without also being a missionary, inspiring others to encounter God who is love unbounded. The leader of the group that authored that document was none other than Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, now known to us all as Pope Francis.