As one man put it: "When it comes to writing a reflection on the Holy Trinity, I struggle." (Julian McDonald) Today we celebrate a feast to honour God as we Christians know him … or her — for as St Paul puts it, 'There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus,' and, together with the other theistic religions of Judaism and Islam, we do honour God as One: in God there is no otherness, only unity. We are made 'in the image of God' (Genesis 1:26-27); we are called to transcend all that divides us; we are called to an integrity that can image God. As Jesus put it: "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." (Matthew 20:25-28) Among us there is to be no small and great, only a unity that transcends lesser and greater. How we might do this Jesus demonstrated at his Last Supper, when he 'rose from table, laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist, and then poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples' feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him.' (John 13:4-5) Then he said to them, "Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.” (John 13:12-15) "Do you understand?" Like his disciples before us, we, too, are slow to understand. For within the Christian Church there is much division, which expresses itself in diverse forms: Roman and Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant, and many others. We have each gone our separate ways. This is not the oneness we are called to: we are called to a unity that respects diversity, a unity that reflects the Oneness of our God; we need to find our way to a unity in pluralism that allows us to gather as one.
Even within our Catholic Church, too, there is division. There is conservative against liberal, with each side threatening to succumb to the temptation to walk away into schism. This is not the way. For, as Jesus put it, "Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them." (Matthew 18:20) If we cannot gather, then our God, Emmanuel (Matthew 1:23), will become the God-who-is-not-with-us! Then again, there is the yawning gulf (c.f.: Luke 16:26) between male and female opening up in our midst. It will do us no good for those in the ascendancy to insist on the status quo, with the rest chafing under the cost-burden of the privilege they enjoy. In the Book of Job we are presented with an image of God as a whirlwind. (Job 38:1) Whirlwinds are places of chaos, with everything raging all around. To sit in/before the whirlwind, as Job did, can be a terrifying place, for it promises only destruction to all in its path. Yet, as God put it to Moses hard pressed by the Egyptians at the Red Sea (seas in the Scriptures are also places of chaos): "Why do you cry to me? Tell the people of Israel to go forward. Lift up your staff, and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it, that the people of Israel may go through the sea on dry ground. (Exodus 14:15-16) Ours is a call to have a go, to prayerfully plunge on into the chaos, trusting that our God will open a way before us through the chaos … with the waters of chaos 'piled up like a wall to our right and to our left.' (Exodus 14:22) We need to have a go, instead of just sitting there on the edge of chaos fretting helplessly over the destruction that threatens; if we sit there doing nothing, chaotic bickering and infighting will break upon us, and it is this that may very well destroy us. We need to go on in, face it, so as to find that place where life is possible, find that place where the tension can resolve, find God in the whirlwind … that he may 'bring us all together to everlasting life,’ as Benedict puts it (Rule of St Benedict 72:12), bring us to that place of peace where life together is possible — all of us, together: male and female, clerical and lay, conservative and liberal, rich and poor, young and old, …whatever. This is the challenge of today's feast: how to hold together the Three-in-One and the One-in-Three … without letting go of either the One or the Three. Or, to put it in terms of a Genesis paradigm, 'So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them' (Genesis 1:27): each is an adequate image of God and so worthy of awe-filled respect, yet the better image comes in the tension of somehow holding the two together without losing the particularity of either.
Finding this new place where life together can go on can only be done through prayer. Let me finish with a quote from Pope Francis on prayer, which sheds some light on what I have in mind here: 'First and foremost, [prayer] possesses primacy: it is the first desire of the day, something that is practised at dawn, before the world awakens. It restores a soul to what otherwise would be without breath. A day lived without prayer risks being transformed into a bothersome or tedious experience: everything that happens to us could turn into a badly endured and blind fate for us. Jesus instead teaches an obedience to reality and, therefore, to listening. Prayer is primarily listening and encountering God. The problems of everyday life, then, do not become obstacles, but appeals from God himself to listen to and encounter those who are in front of us. The trials of life thus change into opportunities to grow in faith and charity. The daily journey, including hardships, acquires the perspective of a "vocation." Prayer has the power to transform into good what in life would otherwise be a sentence; prayer has the power to open the mind to a great horizon and to broaden the heart.' (Pope Francis, Catechesis on Prayer -13: Jesus, Teacher of Prayer. General Audience, 4/11/2020)
The divisions that plague our Church are bothersome and tedious, and they may turn out badly, if we let them become obstacles to our gathering where God might be encountered. But if we prayerfully listen to one another, listen to the God who is with us there in the gathering, our hearts may broaden into an embrace of one another, with all our differences, as our minds expand to take in a new and wider horizon that can somehow manage to straddle both ends of what is now only a spectrum, instead of that which polarisingly separates us. Here in our Australian Church we will have an opportunity to do just this as we gather in Plenary Council this October; we all do need to prayerfully support this gathering, we all do need to embrace our vocation to pray over all the hardships of being together that chafe us.