I’ve lived in Pinellas County for almost seven years, now. I enjoy being here but there are aspects of Pinellas culture that remain foreign to me. One of the most frustrating aspects of living here is my inability to read minds. Evidently, there is something in the water that imparts telepathic abilities to Pinellas County residents. It hasn’t had the intended effect on me yet.
Some time ago, I was asked, “Father, do you want one of the new bishop or one of the old?” As I couldn’t intuit the questioner’s thoughts, I had to guess about the “one” being offered. I guessed, in succession, secret dossiers, bobble head dolls, and autographed portraits. I was wrong on all guesses. More recently, someone said to me, “Father, it’s at 1:30 p.m. but you don’t have to worry because it’s already taken care of.” I still worried. Our diocesan Finance Department requires all parishes to complete an Agreed Upon Procedures audit annually. Last year’s audit focused on three Agreed Upon Procedures: a suggestion in an unapproved draft document of best practices, a practice that is documented nowhere, and a practice that would be illegal for the parish to perform. All Saints failed the audit, but I have no way of knowing whether that’s good or bad.
Most people, long-time Pinellas County residents excepted, face the possibility of error when required to guess about the nature of reality. Our society invented science and libraries to relieve us of the burden of guessing about facts. God, too, has taken measures to prevent us from having to guess about important truths.
Today’s first reading, taken from the book of Exodus, says that God is merciful, gracious, slow to anger, and rich in kindness and fidelity. This description of God’s nature is given within the context of the ratification of the Sinai Covenant. God promised mercy, favor, forgiveness, kindness, and faithfulness in exchange for the People’s promise to reciprocate. In the absence of revealed truth about God’s nature, the People of Israel would have been left in the untenable position of having to guess about God. Human history is littered with examples of failed guesses about God’s nature.
Some people, for example, guess that God is capricious and unpredictable. We’ve heard some of those folks blame the coronavirus pandemic on God’s inscrutability or God’s vengeance.
Other people guess that God is vindictive. Some of those who are reveling in the social unrest since Memorial Day, seem to believe that God exists in order to punish anyone who holds an opinion at variance with that of the revelers. This image of God has nothing to do with God; it is solely a reflection of the personality of those who embrace it.
Still others, guess that God is overly permissive, granting proactive forgiveness for irresponsible actions or anti-social attitudes. Fortunately, God helps us avoid these sorts of misunderstandings by saying plainly that God is merciful, gracious, forgiving, kind, and faithful. This revelation of the Divine nature is intended to provide some necessary information about our own nature, as well.
Today’s feast, the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity, is an invitation to reflect on, and pray about, the Divine nature revealed in the Scriptures. The doctrine of the Trinity says that there is One God who sustains multiple relationships of fidelity, grace, and kindness within the Divine nature. We do not believe in three gods; rather, we believe in One God who is relational.
The relational nature of the Trinity provides instruction about our relational nature. While each of us is unique, all of us are ineluctably social. God says that to be human means to be in merciful, gracious, forgiving, kind, and faithful relationships with the whole of human society.
In the absence of guidance from God about our human nature, we would have to guess about how to live. The common guesses about human existence surround us: violence, vindictiveness, selfishness, licentiousness, and irresponsibility. Mercifully, God’s revelation makes it unnecessary to guess about the requisite preconditions for a happy life and a healthy society. To be a human person is to imitate the Divine Persons who live in gracious harmony and creative love.