This first Sunday in June is usually celebrated in the liturgical calendar as the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity. I would often groan when this particular Sunday rolled around because I knew it meant listening to yet another well-meaning homilist fumble through trying to explain a concept that defies rational thinking. How is that the one God we believe in can be divided into three separate entities?
I remember sitting through an excruciatingly dull homily one Trinity Sunday in Dublin as a young priest keeping repeating “three persons, one God, three persons, one God,” as if repetition would solve the mystery of it all.
It can be difficult to wrap one’s mind around the concept of a trifurcated God. Still, one reason I welcome this vision of God is because it reminds us of our universal call to community.
All of life, even in its most fundamental state, is relational. Think of the protons and neutrons you learned about in grade school that are the building blocks of all matter. These subatomic particles are composed of even tinier parts called quarks. Quarks, in turn, are themselves comprised of not one lonely particle or even a duo of particles. They are composed of three parts. A trinity. A community.
This communal relationship extends into nature. Botanists now know, for example, that trees are connected through a series of thin root and fungal networks known as mycorrhizae. Trees can communicate with each other over these networks so that a Douglas fir, for instance, can tell a nearby birch tree that it needs additional carbon and the birch tree will send that carbon through its root system.
Even trees exist as social entities.
Is it such a stretch then to think that the God described in this Sunday’s reading from Exodus as “merciful and gracious … slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity” would be any less community-oriented?
Despite our American passion for self-sufficiency, we cannot survive without community. Just think of how many pairs of hands it took for a single strawberry to get to your breakfast table this morning, or how many it took to build the computer or cell phone on which you might be reading these words.
Community is the beating heart of our existence.
For the past two months, I’ve been living in a small town in south-central Italy called Guardiagrele. It’s a place where the townspeople come out to cheer the couples marrying in the main church even when they don’t personally know the bride or groom or their families. It’s is a place where it’s not unusual to be invited on the spur of the moment for coffee in someone’s home because you are a visitor to the town.
When the weather turned unusually chilly this May during a retreat I led here for a group of Americans, members of our group didn’t have to bear up under the cold. People from the town lent us their spare coats.
All this to say there is no need to delve into complicated theological concepts or even futile explanations to understand the meaning of the Holy Trinity. We need only contemplate the nature of community. We need only to emulate the God of mercy, kindness and grace who is slow to anger and rich in fidelity — attributes that are the calling cards as well for community.
And yes, we need to be like the good and decent folks of small town Guardiagrele, who will give you their coats when you’re cold.