The most dangerous day of preaching in the liturgical year is upon us: Trinity Sunday. The perennial danger is, of course, that the homily on this day becomes an occasion for trivializing or else utterly mystifying the faith into which Christians been baptized, the Creed we profess each week, and the Sign of the Cross with which we mark ourselves over and over again. Karl Rahner memorably quipped that if we dropped the doctrine of the Trinity, most Christians would not notice the difference. The typically bizarre to banal nature of preaching on “Trinity Sunday” tends to prove the point: the Trinity is reduced to something that must be mentioned once a year, but as if extraneous rather than absolutely central to the Christian faith.
I teach a course on “The Trinity and Christian Salvation” to graduate students at Notre Dame, including lay ministers, seminarians, deacons, teachers, and inquiring adult and young adult Catholics of all kinds. After we have progressed through our studies a bit, I bring up the issue of preaching on “Trinity Sunday.” They immediately get it––they have all experienced mostly bad homilies on this day above all days. I give them a chance then to come up with a “Naughty List” (things to avoid on Trinity Sunday) and a “Nice List” (what to include or focus on when preaching on Trinity Sunday). Here are the “Thou Shalt Nots.”
The Naughty List
- Thou shall not make the Trinity into an abstract idea or model.
- Thou shall not say the Trinity is not scriptural.
- Thou shall not make the Trinity into an academic puzzle.
- Thou shall not rely on tired and clichéd analogies.
- Thou shall not “break the ice” with statements or bad jokes about how complex the Trinity is.
- Thou shall not separate Trinity Sunday from the rest of the liturgical year.
- THOU SHALL NOT SAY IT IS “JUST A MYSTERY.”
We preach the Resurrection, we preach the Incarnation, we preach the Annunciation, we preach the Assumption. Do we really understand any of these mysteries well enough to claim mastery over them? Of course not. We proclaim them and, for those called upon to preach, there is the duty to speak about what we have received, not what we have mastered. For example, I don’t “understand” my wife in terms of having complete and total knowledge about every facet of her existence, but if you asked me about my wife I would praise her to you.
Tomorrow’s installment of this mini-series will present the “Nice List,” or the “Thou shalts” when it comes to preaching the Holy Trinity.
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Featured image: Icon of the Holy Trinity by Andrei Rublev (d.1430); public domain.