There is a television commercial narrated by a young man who is very proud of a business he established. The business sells men’s sport shirts that are designed to be worn with the shirt tails hanging out. In the commercial the young entrepreneur explains that his inspiration for the business was his inability to find sport shirts that looked good when worn untucked.
Sadly, for the young man, he was born too late in human history to be familiar with a very old-school technology: the tailor. Tailors are artisans who can fit a garment to suit an individual’s style and taste. A tailor’s skills are very, very useful if your shirt is too long or your pants too tight.
The young entrepreneur’s business and untucked shirts are a personal statement, albeit written in SMS txtspk rather than cursive.
Please don’t misunderstand: I have only respect for personal statements. Human beings have been making personal statements since Adam and Eve chose fig leaves over the other available options. I do, however, think it’s worth one’s effort to choose a personal statement wisely.
Today’s first reading contains a personal statement made by God. Appearing to Moses on Mount Sinai, God said, “The Lord, the Lord, a God gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in love and fidelity” (Exodus 34:6)
This personal statement raises several questions. What would motivate God to make such a statement? What can we learn about God’s identity from the statement? In this instance, the latter question can only be answered by the former.
It might sound simplistic to say that God’s statement in the first reading was motivated by the human need for graciousness, mercy, forgiveness, kindness and fidelity. However, acknowledging this human need is far from a simplistic act.
On the obvious level, all people at all times are in need of kindness and fidelity. This observation doesn’t do justice either to the Divine nature or human nature, however. It’s not merely the case that we feel a personal need for kindness and fidelity. Rather, our felt need for graciousness, mercy, forgiveness, kindness and fidelity provides insight into the very nature of what it means to be human.
God’s statement about God’s personality isn’t an ad hoc response to a human request; it is, instead, an expression of the Divine will for our lives. The defining characteristic of our human nature is that we seek and imitate the Divine virtues of graciousness, mercy, forgiveness, kindness and fidelity. When we seek and imitate God we become who we are intended to be.
A human being is a person who encounters God, and imitates God’s graciousness, mercy, forgiveness, kindness and fidelity.
Unfortunately, knowing this doesn’t address some of the other deep questions that life poses to us. Knowledge of our nature and God’s identity doesn’t really explain why we suffer, why there is injustice in the world, why the universe is imperfect or what awaits us beyond death.
While knowledge of self doesn’t answer all our questions, it does give us a direction in which to steer our lives. Knowledge of God doesn’t solve all our problems, but it does provide us with on-going guidance for an existence that is essentially unfinished.
Perhaps this is how God allows us to formulate our personal statement: by offering reliable guidance, but letting us make our own way through life. This Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity is a reminder that God is both as close to us as our own breath and entirely above the created world. It is only in this way that God can be gracious, merciful, forgiving, loving and faithful and, at the same time, be sovereign and allow us our personal freedom.
The Blessed Trinity is God’s personal statement about God’s love for creation. A lifelong encounter with the Trinity is the only effective means for us to make a personal statement about ourselves, namely, that we have become the people God intends us to be: imitators of God’s graciousness, mercy, forgiveness, kindness and fidelity.