13 Jun Holy Trinity
June 11, 2017
Deacon Blaine Barclay
“The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you’’.
So familiar is this Trinitarian blessing, that I half expected you to respond with, ’’And with your Spirit’’. At the beginning of every mass, after the sign of the cross, the priest greets us with this same blessing. This is the concluding verse of Saint Paul’s second letter to the church in Corinth. Perhaps it was a prayer of greeting already used in the liturgy of the early Church, and this is why St. Paul uses this Trinitarian profession of faith to conclude his appeal to the Corinthians. Perhaps it became part of the liturgy of the early church because this Trinitarian blessing captures so well the core of the faith of the Church. Whatever way we answer this chicken or egg question, it is the earliest clear testimony of belief in the Trinity found in the New Testament. It is Saint Paul’s final appeal for Unity in Diversity in the very divided Church of Corinth.
By way of background, let me summarize the situation of the Christian community in the city of Corinth at the time. St. Paul was the Apostle who first evangelized, the founder of the first House Churches in Corinth. He had spent some time there forming them in the basics of the Christian faith, preaching, teaching, giving reasons for the hope that is in us. The Corinthian Christians were well known for their enthusiasm for the faith, for their exercise of a wide variety of the gifts or charisms of the Holy Spirit, including the gifts of prophecy and speaking in tongues. As a missionary evangelist Paul had moved on to other cities to found and form other Churches. He wrote this second letter to the Corinthian Church while living in Ephesus.
Paul had passed on the charism and office of leadership in Corinth to such coworkers as Titus and Timothy. Over time however, there arose a tension, a power struggle even, between the more charismatic, prophet leaders in the community, and those who exercise legitimate apostolic authority through the laying on of hands, the charism of orders. Some of the more spontaneous, grassroots, leadership, had even gone so far as to question the legitimacy of Saint Paul’s right to be called an Apostle. In short, the church of Corinth was a house divided, suffering the malaise of internal schism. St. Paul had even recently revisited Corinth in order to try to settle these matters, but it had only made things worse; he had also written, a now lost, ‘letter of tears’ to this divided Christian community in order to try to heal its internal wounds. Throughout both first and second Corinthians there is, on the one hand, a lot of affirmation of the diversity of charisms or gifts given to the different members of the Body of Christ; on the other hand, there is also a strong affirmation of the charism or gift of leadership, a defense of legitimate Apostolic authority, always grounded in the greatest gift of all, self donating love.
The difficulties faced by the first generation of Christians in Corinth and in the Church today are not so different. There are many lessons for us in Paul’s letters to this early Christian community threatened by internal schism. These lessons are summarized in the Trinitarian blessing which is our focus text for today. This benediction is not just a conclusion to Paul’s medicinal letter to a hurting Church. The doctrine of the Trinity points us toward the only healing for a fragmented Church, then or now. The doctrine of the Trinity, the belief that there is One God ‘subsisting in’ Three Persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, is a healing medicine for us. There is a tension in this doctrine, a fruitful paradox, which asks us to affirm, at the same time, both the good of Unity and the good of Diversity. If God is at the same time both One and Three, the Same and the Other, United and Diverse; how much more should we struggle to hold together these two goods. One in the faith, holding fast to the truth has been entrusted to us under the banner of scripture and tradition, united by our common profession of faith, and our communion with Francis our Pope, and Brendan our Bishop. And yet a Church of such rich diversity; made up of people of every tongue, and nation; welcoming the stranger, the other; reaching out and serving those at the margins; affirming the legitimacy of difference; from differing private revelations and devotions, which don’t have to be everyone’s cup of tea; to contending theological camps, each defending their own turf; each affirming the good of Unity in Diversity. Such is our God, and as the embodied image of God in the world, such is the Church of God.