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Breath of the Spirit Reflection: Practicing Trinitarian Welcoming

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May 30th, 2021: The Solemnity of the Blessed Trinity

Deuteronomy 4:32-34, 39-40
Psalm 33:4-5, 6, 9, 18-19, 20, 22
Romans 8: 14-17
Matthew 28:16-20

Reflection by Ann Marie Szpakowska

In the Name of God. In the Name of Jesus,
In the Name of God. In the Name of the Spirit.
The Perfect Three. The perfect in Power. In the Name of God.
The little drop of God.
The little drop of Jesus.
The little drop of the Spirit.
On Thy little forehead. In the Name of God.
To aid thee and to guard Thee.
To shield thee and to surround thee.
To keep thee from the Fays.
To shield thee from the Host.
To deliver thee from the Specter. In the Name of God.
The little drop of the Three.
To shield thee from all sorrow.
The little drop of the Three.
To fill thee with their good and pleasantness.
The little drop of the Three.
To fill thee with their virtues. In the Name of God.

As I began this reflection, I wanted to share the words of an ancient Celtic prayer collected by Alexander Carmichael and put to music by John Michael Talbot. (Listen to the recording here). As background to the prayer, we are told that “when a child comes into the world, the knee-woman [midwife] puts three drops of water on the forehead of the poor little infant, who has come home to us from the bosom of the everlasting God....in reverence of the kind and powerful Trinity.” Our tendency with the Trinity is to get technical and doctrinal. But really, this feast is about entering into relationship with a community of love – the community of love that is God, and a human community that reflects such divine love. If we are not careful, the Trinity can be about trying to understand lots of theological terms, but really it is about inviting people into a sustaining community of caring. 

This Celtic prayer illustrates just that point. It doesn’t spend a moment on the technicalities of the Trinity, but instead welcomes a newborn infant into a caring community of support. Reflecting on the high infant and mother mortality rate at the time this prayer was written, I wonder at the number of infants for whom this was their only baptism.  Would the Catholic Church recognize it as valid? Does that even matter?  We are always so tempted to reduce the mystery of love to the certainty of law. We are tempted to value doctrinal purity over authentic community. Note the consternation several months ago over the priest who was baptized with the words “We baptize you …” instead of, “I baptize you … ”. All the sacraments he received and all sacraments he administered were called into question. (Read the full story here.) But also recall that any Catholic can baptize in cases of extreme need, and the Church no longer re-baptizes converts who were previously baptized in other Christian denominations. More evidence of the tension between what we believe and how we behave.

We see this tension in the readings of Trinity Sunday. Matthew 28:19 offers us the “Great Commission” in which we are encouraged to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them” in the Trinitarian formula. This commission led to great missionary zeal which Sr. Carol J. Dempsey noted was “an exercise of proselyting, robbing non-Christian peoples of their own authentic encounters with the divine.” We have wanted to share our own understanding and experience of God’s love so much that, at times, we denied people their own. 

If we want to plumb the mystery of Triune God, we must be prepared for in depth theological treatises dating back to the Early Church.  Pelagius (350-425), a contemporary and antagonist of St Augustine of Hippo, wrote “You will realize that doctrines are inventions of the human mind, as it tried to penetrate the mystery of God.  You will realize that Scripture itself is the work of human minds, recording the example and teaching of Jesus. Thus, it is how you respond with your heart and actions.  It is not believing in Christ that matters; it is becoming like [Christ].”  Unable to hold Diversity in Unity, the Roman Catholic Church condemned Pelagius’ teachings as heretical, elevated Augustine to sainthood, and made him a Doctor of the Church, thus influencing centuries of theological studies, dogmas, and doctrines including sexuality and marriage.

Father Richard Rohr has written a contemporary exploration of the Trinity using the classic Icon by Russian painter Andrei Rublev as his inspiration and guide.  Fr. Rohr writes, “In the mystery of the Trinity is the template of all reality, what we have in the Trinitarian God is the perfect balance between union and differentiation, autonomy and mutuality, identity and community.”  He reminds us that Rublev’s icon not only has three angelic figures around a table with a blessing cup but at the base is a mirror which brings the viewer into the icon. As with Fr. Rohr, for Catherine LaCugna the doctrine of the Trinity is not so much about theorization as participation. Its practical implication demands “living God’s life with one another.  This means mirroring the mutuality, the all-embracing personhood, the eternal respect, the divine care for every child of God that is the very definition of this three-in-one holiness.” Further, as Diana Butler Bass notes, “Christianity.... began with an invitation into friendship, into creating a new community, into forming relationship based on love and service.”  That is Good News, is it not?

Trinity as invitation to, and example of, self-sharing and self-giving love. Now the challenge for us as LGBTQ+ Catholics is not so much to defend that teaching or even explain it, but rather to live in a way that attracts others to this essentially communitarian life. 

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Ann Marie Szpakowska has been active and in leadership of Dignity/Buffalo for nearly 40 years. She also participates in the Women's Caucus and has been an active contributor to Liturgical planning for Dignity's Conventions, Conferences and on Feminist Liturgy Committees over many years. She has presented workshops both locally and at Dignity Conventions.

She has also been a member of St. Martin de Porres parish since 4 inner city churches merged and built a new sanctuary in 1993. St. Martin de Porres is a predominantly African American community in Buffalo, New York.

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