The Family as the Image of the Trinity

Over the past few weeks we have celebrated a lot of important feasts in the Church’s calendar that commemorate some of the most important events in Jesus’s life: His Resurrection at Easter, the Ascension of the Lord into Heaven, and the sending of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. All of these mysteries that we have been celebrating are tied together by the mystery that we celebrate today: the Most Holy Trinity. There are many things that we could say about the Most Holy Trinity. We could analyze how it is that the Holy Spirit proceeds both from the Father and the Son rather than from the Father alone. We could examine the many different heresies that have taught incorrectly about the Trinity, like that God presents Himself as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (that one is called modalism, incidentally). We could see how this mystery of the Triune God is foreshadowed in the Hebrew scriptures and confirmed in the teaching of Jesus. I trust that you have heard homilies that like before on this day and I hope that you will hear such homilies again, because they are important for understanding the content of our faith. But today I want to ask a different question: “Why does it matter?”

What does it matter that God is one and three, that He is a communion of persons? What difference does it make in the way you live your life, that we believe God is not just One but also three – a communion of three persons? You and I are called to be God-like, to be like God. And yet, here, at the very heart of the matter, in who God most fundamentally is – a communion of three equal persons – we are seemingly incapable of being like God. Each of us is one human person, one among billions and billions who have existed over the course of human history. How could I, then, who am only one, be like God, who is one in three?

Because we are only one, we can only imitate God – the One and Triune God who is a communion of three divine persons – in communion with others. The same almighty God who subsists in the divine communion of Trinity, made us to need each other for this fundamental task that is the calling He gave us from the beginning of creation: “Let us make man in our image and likeness.” You and I are made, according to God’s plan from eternity, like Him, and therefore called to be in communion with one another – imitating God in our communion with one another.

This is a fitting theme for us to reflect upon this Sunday as we celebrate the 60th anniversary of our parish. God is not content for us to honor Him merely by devoting some thoughtful moments to Him each Sunday. No. Quite to the contrary, He calls us together, inviting us into His house, the parish church, that is to be our home as well because it is a sacrament in brick, steel, and timber that gives us a glimpse of our true home: Heaven. In the Holy Mass, the veil between Heaven and earth grows thin as Heavenly realities are made present in an earthly way. The way that we worship here in this parish church each Sunday is not for our own deciding. Our use of an ancient ritual, modified over time it is true, places us in communion with the numberless cloud of witnesses who have gone before us, all of whom worshiped Christ made present in the Eucharist. We are an image of the Trinity in our corporate worship.

Another way that we are an image of the Trinity is in the exercise of charity. Now when I say “charity,” most of us probably think of benevolence – sharing our worldly goods and possessions with others. And it is true that this is an exercise of the virtue of charity. But charity is more than that. Charity is the self-sacrificing love with which Christ loved you from the cross. Every time that you sacrifice your own desires, comfort, or satisfaction for the good of another, you are imitating the communion of the Most Holy Trinity.

Nowhere is this more evident than in marriage and in the family. In the Trinity, the love between the Father and the Son is so strong that it has a name: the Holy Spirit, who proceeds from them both as from the same origin. In the sacrament of marriage, likewise, the love between a husband and a wife is so strong that it has a name: their child, who proceeds from them both – each parent being equally necessary for the generation of new life. The only difference is that while the Holy Spirit is an unrepeatable reality, perfectly making present the love of God, no child has ever been so perfect, save the only Son of God, Jesus Christ. I am sure that any parent here could testify to that! Thus, Holy Mother Church has always encouraged spouses to be generous in welcoming new life into the world – not because of the imperfections of their children, but more fully to be a sacrament of God’s love, making present in this world the abundantly generous love of God the Father.

In our own day and age, this image of the human person who is called to a loving communion with others is under attack. Quite simply, we just do not spend as time with other people as we used to. For example, you no longer need to leave the comfort of your own home to watch a movie, because you can watch it on Netflix. You do not need to go to church on Sunday, some people might think, because you can listen to a self-help podcast on the way to work (or belt country music with the windows down, as one recent popular music artist would have – “I guess that’s my church”). Worse yet, we are losing the idea that the generation of new human life has something to do with the total self-gift of the sacrament of matrimony – with a loving communion of persons. If the child is a technical product of human innovation, rather than the fruit of the love of the parents, how can the family be the image of the Trinity?

When one of my friends from college was married eight years ago, I told him and his wife at their wedding reception that what they were doing on that day had the power to save the world. It was corny and sappy – two modes of self-expression I normally avoid – but it was true. Now, we know that the world has only one Savior, Jesus Christ, who came not to condemn the world but that the world might have life through Him and have it to the full. As Catholics, we know that His saving action, His death and Resurrection, is made present to us at this altar, from which the fruits of His sacrifice are shared with us – His most holy Body and Blood. However, what we often do not consider is that that same sacrifice is meant to be present in you. In a world in which the human person is increasingly encouraged to live in isolation rather than in communion, the mission of the family is more important than ever. It is the family that has the power to show to the world the image of the Trinity – to reveal the face of God – in a communion of persons who lay down their lives for the good of the others, whose sacrifice, no matter how difficult, does not end in grief and pain but in the joy of new life. Within the Christian family – lived with true devotion, love, and self-sacrifice – there is the power to cure the isolation of modern society, to show modern man and woman a new way, a different way, a way out of the isolation of our modern malaise and into the light of Christ’s truth. In a world in which so many have rejected God, you – yes, precisely you – have the power to be His face through the loving communion of the family, the image of the Most Holy Trinity.

I chose this theme for my final sermon at St. Charles because it is the rich family life present here in so many families that is my fondest memory of the year I have spent in your company. So many of you have inspired me to be a more generous and loving spiritual father with your own example, and I thank you for that. I hope that in some way I have inspired you too, or at least challenged you, challenged you to love Christ in Holy Communion and to worship Him with reverence, challenged you to love Him as He forgives your sins in Confession, and challenged you to love Him in your generous sacrifices for your families. Please pray for me, that I too might grow in my own love for God and be a generous and self-sacrificing spiritual father as the pastor of St. John the Evangelist Parish.

The Rev. Royce V. Gregerson
Parish Church of St. Charles Borromeo, Fort Wayne
Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity, A.D. MMXVII