We tend to face the Lord with grim faces and furrowed brows. But is that what He really wants?
On this Trinity Sunday, I’m going to do something a little different. This morning, you won’t be hearing any complex theology, no explanation of the “hypostatic union,” and no stories about St. Patrick and shamrocks.
Instead, I’d like to ask you to think for just a moment about something that makes you sublimely happy. Maybe it was a knock-knock joke told by your grandson. Or maybe it was the way your wife smiled when you came home at the end of the day. Or maybe it was staying awake just to watch your newborn baby sleeping in his crib.
Think about those moments in your life that have given you joy.
Because in those moments, you have touched the Trinity.
One of the great theologians from the 14th century, the Dominican priest Meister Eckhart, defined the Trinity this way:
“When the Father laughs at the Son and the Son laughs back at the Father, that laughter gives pleasure, that pleasure gives joy, that joy gives love, and that love is the Holy Spirit.”
That definition says it all – and it reminds us of something too easily forgotten in our faith.
And that something is: Joy.
In Eckhart’s vision, the element that binds the Trinity together – what sparks its existence, really – is something exuberant. It is love brought about by joy.
The novelist Leon Bloy understood that. “Joy,” he wrote, “is the most infallible sign of the presence of God.”
Where Joy is…there also is God. And where you find God, you can’t help but find the Trinity.
Just listen again to the first reading, quoting the “Wisdom of God.” Some scripture scholars believe “wisdom” is the Old Testament understanding of the Holy Spirit.
And here is what “Wisdom” says: “When the Lord established the heavens, I was there…then was I beside him as his craftsman…and I was his delight day by day…playing before him all the while…playing on the surface of his earth…and I found delight in the human race.”
“Playing on the surface of the earth.” There you have an infallible sign of the presence of God. A playful presence. A delighted presence. A joyful presence.
But for whatever reason, many of us don’t give joy its due. We tend to face the Lord with grim faces and furrowed brows. But is that what He really wants? Scripture reminds us, again and again, how God takes delight in creation. We shouldn’t be afraid to express that, or share in it.
Because to share in that joy is to share in the Trinity – and feel the nearness and excitement of God’s love for us. It is the love of a father for His children…the love of a brother for what he has redeemed…the love of an abiding spirit for what he has sanctified.
Not long ago, the Jesuit author Fr. James Martin gave a talk on some of the more mirthful saints we’ve had over the centuries. There was St. Lawrence – one of the great deacons of the church – who, while being roasted to death on a grill, told his executioners, “Turn me over, I’m done on this side.” There was St. Philip Neri, who hung a sign on his door that said, “The House of Christian Mirth.” And there was Padre Pio — a man, I suspect, that no one thinks of as being a comedian. In the 1960s, when the Red Brigade was sparking violence in Rome, people began carrying a picture of Padre Pio for protection. One day Padre Pio was going into Rome and a friend asked him, “Aren’t you worried about the Red Brigade?” “No,” he replied. “I have a picture of Padre Pio.”
These saints understood the importance of a happy heart. They knew that it is part of what makes us human – but also what connects us to the divine. If joy is at the heart of the Trinity, it’s also at the heart of us, for we are made in the image of God.
So, if you want a better understanding of the Trinity this Trinity Sunday, I think you already have it.
It is in the thousands of joyful miracles God places before us.
I saw it just yesterday, at the wedding of my nephew. Twenty-one years ago, he was a ring bearer in my own wedding. And yesterday I had the privilege of serving as the deacon at his wedding. Joy was there, overflowing. And so was love. And so – inevitably – was God.
The reason that joy and love are so closely entwined is that, when you think about it, it is impossible to love with an attitude of gloom or despair.
“A joyful heart,” said Mother Teresa, “is the result of a heart burning with love.”
She could be describing our feelings for one another. Or even, perhaps, God’s feelings for us.
God the Father, the Son and Holy Spirit burns with love for us.
It is the burning love that settled over the disciples last Sunday, Pentecost.
This Sunday, as we celebrate the Trinity, let us pray that it continues to inflame our hearts with zeal, with hope and – most of all – with joy. To experience that is to experience God in his three-ness. So cherish the joys in your life, wherever you find them, however they come.
Because it may be as close as we get to heaven on earth.