Fr. Bill Carroll – Trinity Sunday, May 30, 2021
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Dear Mr. Vernon,
We accept the fact that we had to sacrifice a whole Saturday in detention for whatever it was we did wrong. But, we think you’re crazy to make us write an essay telling you who we think we are. You see us as you want to see us: in the simplest terms, in the most convenient definitions.
But, what we found out is that each one of us is: a brain…and an athlete… And a basket case…A princess…And a criminal.
Does that answer your question?
The Breakfast Club.
In the final scene of John Hughes’ 1985 film, The Breakfast Club, this note is read out loud by the five main characters. The note, which is far more profound than the essay they were supposed to write, sums up their experience of Saturday detention at a suburban high school. On one level, it’s a funny story about high school and the different people we meet there. But the film’s real point is about building bridges and learning to live in community.
True, the students are united by a common adversary and a shared ordeal. But, in the end, the film shows us that these five kids have more in common than meets the eye. They begin as stereotypes (as a brain, an athlete, a basket case, a princess, and a criminal). But, just like the other people we live with and struggle with, they become more human when we really get to know them.
In some ways, the film is dated, but it is a timeless portrayal of adolescent self-discovery. Our teenage years often serve as a time to try on various identities—sometimes the ones supplied or imposed by our peers. In many ways, we do this to distinguish ourselves from our families of origin. That’s a task that takes a while in our culture. Well beyond our teenage years, many of us are still figuring out who we are.
This week, I found myself thinking about The Breakfast Club, as I was reading a short chapter from Mark McIntosh’s book, Mysteries of Faith. It’s the chapter that deals with the Trinity. In that chapter, McIntosh asks us, “Do you ever have those moments when you sense that you are not really ‘being yourself’?” Many of us go through prolonged periods where we are caught up in an identity that doesn’t fit us. According to McIntosh, we are tempted to become what he calls “chameleon souls forever trying to blend into the prevailing muzak.”
For McIntosh, the Trinity—far from being an abstract doctrine, or some very bad math—is a practical teaching about divine and human relationships—relationships in which we find ourselves entangled. Indeed, as Rowan Williams once said, belonging to the Church (or even being human) involves us in “solidarities not of our choosing.”
For McIntosh, the gift of the Holy Spirit is a liberating event that sets us free from fake identities imposed by others, as well as the lies we tell about ourselves. In the Spirit, we are brought into the Body of Christ and introduced into new ways of living that come from and lead us back to God. In the Spirit of love, we begin to follow Jesus—and to love other people like he did. We begin, McIntosh says, to make a “journey from baptism into our new identity toward a deeper relationship with God and one another, celebrated in the Eucharist.” In Christ, our relationships with each other become “the means by which God” invites us “into divine relationship.” And so, as a result, “This willingness to be created as one’s true self by being for the other becomes the deep law of the Christian communal life, investing even a cup of cold water to one in need with the vast significance of sacrificial love.”
And so, even when the other people around us see us as some “convenient definition”—some stereotype that they’ve used to sum us up put us in our place—we find our true identities in Christ—as beloved children of God. We become brothers and sisters. We feed the hungry neighbors around us and give them something to drink. We house homeless people, welcome strangers, and put clothes on the back of those who are suffering from the cold. We get to know other people and their unique stories. We learn how they are suffering like we are. And we strive to create real relationships with the neighbors God gives us to love.
In and through Jesus, we receive God’s gift of amazing love for all of us. Gift-giving is at the very heart of God. What the Trinity is about, it’s about God the Father holding nothing back, always giving himself away completely to his one and only Son. And then, the two of them together, breathing out the Spirit of love—their one and co-eternal Spirit that binds the whole Trinity in one in a bond of love and peace. God is always this community of persons. And God’s love returns full circle, as Jesus offers himself up to the Father for us sinners, binding us in one, and filling our hearts with his Spirit of love.
By our baptism into Jesus, we’ve been caught up in the generous life of a gift-giving God. By the Spirit he gives us, we share in Jesus’s own unity with the Father. He also makes us one with each other. We live as brothers and sisters. And so, as Paul once said, “there is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female; but we are all one in Christ Jesus.”
God is always calling us to transcend the ties of flesh and blood—to become who we really are in Jesus: unique persons with our own unique stories—stories of grace and redemption, stories about vocation and mission and freedom in the Holy Spirit.
Recently, at the baccalaureate service for the Trinity School of Texas, I spoke to our seniors about finding life’s real meaning and purpose. There should be at least one thing (I said) that we love completely—something we would gladly give our lives for. Doesn’t have to be our day job (I told them). It could be something you do for your family. Or maybe your church, or maybe this town. It could even be some service you give to our country. It doesn’t have to be just one thing but there should be at least one thing that you would give your life for.
On this Memorial Day weekend, we remember those who gave their lives for our country. We remember the sacrifice of those who gave what Abraham Lincoln once called the “last full measure of devotion.” Today, we honor these men and women, and we ask God how we might make a gift of that one precious life that we have been given.
There are many, many ways we might lay down our lives for other people, and there are many ways to promote the highest ideals of righteousness and freedom. By the grace of the Holy Spirit, each and every follower of Jesus is called to follow him in the way of sacrificial love.
Fr. Bernard Lonergan, a Canadian Jesuit priest, once spoke of faith as the state of “being in love in a final and unrestricted way.” What we love defines us. We are called to love God and other people. Paul Tillich, a Protestant Christian from Germany who fled the Nazi regime, spoke of faith as the state of being “ultimately concerned.”
Their point was basically the same. In the end, God alone is worthy of our worship and adoration. And he tells us to love our neighbor as ourselves. In Jesus Christ, we learn what it means to belong to God. Body and soul, in life and in death, we belong to God. And we are called to lay down our lives for other people.
For we did not receive “a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but a spirit of adoption,” Paul writes. And so, when we cry out, “Abba! Father!” the Spirit is testifying that we belong to God.
God calls us to love him with our whole heart and mind and strength. God calls us to love him above all things. And he calls us to love our neighbors as our very selves. With all we have and all we are, in every time and place, God is calling us to the holy work of love.
That’s how the world will know that we are Christians. And it is how we share, through Jesus and the Holy Spirit, in the life and mission of the blessed Trinity.