Sunday, May 26, 2024

The Embrace

Solemnity of The Most Holy Trinity

(Caritas Social Mission Conference)

Readings: Deuteronomy 4: 32-34, 39-40; Psalm 32 (33): 4-6, 9, 18-20, 22; Romans 8: 14-17; Matthew 28: 16-20

Picture: By Jordan Whitt on Unsplash

My dear friends, this may sound like a strange question to ask, but how does a child come to know its parent has two arms? I’m not sure, but I wonder if it involves a process like this… Imagine a little toddler, crying. We’re not sure why. Perhaps it’s hungry or lonely, lost or afraid… Very quickly, its parent rushes over, gathers the child into the parent’s arms, and comforts it. Gradually, the wailing subsides into sniffles, which turn into smiles, and even escalate into giggles. Soon the child feels secure enough to ask to be let down, so that it can explore the world. Except that it’s not just the world the child is exploring, but also the true extent and endurance of its parent’s embrace. The child is discovering how far it can go, while still feeling the warmth of its parent’s arms around its body. And, provided it continues to sense this loving presence and unconditional acceptance, the child might feel secure enough to share, in its own way, something of that warmth with others. Bringing them amusement and joy. Becoming an extension of its parent’s embrace… Could it be that it is by repeatedly undergoing such a process, of entering, exploring and extending an embrace, that a child comes to know its parent has two arms?

Which brings us to a question this feast invites us to ponder today. How do we come to know that the God we worship is both one and three? A Trinity of Father, Son, and Spirit? In the opening prayer we offered just now, we were reminded that it is by sending into the world the Word of truth and the Spirit of Sanctification that God the Father made known to the human race God’s wondrous mystery. Like a parent using both arms to gather a troubled child into a loving embrace, so too does the Father gather us to God’s self, through the Word, and in the Spirit. Isn’t this also what we find in the scriptures?

In the first reading, Moses reminds the people of Israel that, when they were helpless and in distress, it was God who gathered them, with mighty hand and outstretched arm, into the safety of God’s own embrace. Addressing them with God’s majestic word. Speaking to them in God’s powerful voice. Bringing them out of Egypt, through the wilderness, and now to the doorstep of the Promised Land. So powerful is this experience of being embraced by God that, many generations later, the psalmist is moved to sing of how, not just Israel, but the whole of creation itself is embraced by God: The Lord loves justice and right and fills the earth with his love. By his word the heavens were made, by the breath of his mouth all the stars By a comforting word, and with a caressing breath God continually embraces creation into existence.

And yet, down through the ages, God’s people repeatedly fails to remain in God’s embrace. They keep straying. Causing, and suffering, great distress as a result. So God does something most remarkable. In the power of the Spirit, God’s Word becomes flesh. And by the Word’s Living, Dying, and Rising, the Father draws all of creation even more tightly into God’s embrace. Giving all those who submit to the embrace, the power to call God by the intimate name, Abba!, Daddy! Making them – making us – adopted children of God, and heirs to God’s glory. People who are able, not just to enter the safety of God’s embrace, but also to keep exploring the richness of its blessings, and to extend this same embrace to others. Particularly those most vulnerable, those in greater distress, including the whole of creation itself.

Isn’t this the deeper significance of the evangelising mission entrusted by the Crucified and Risen Jesus to the Eleven in the gospel? Isn’t this what it means to baptise and to teach all the nations? Beyond just performing a religious ritual, important as that may be, it is to usher others ever more securely into the safety of God’s embrace. Helping everyone, even creation itself, to know that our God is a loving Father, who has two arms. By which he keeps gathering everyone to God’s self. Through the Son. And in the Spirit.

And isn’t this also why we are gathered here at this conference? Not just because we are interested in a so-called social mission. As though it were possible to divide God’s embrace into two, one spiritual and another social. Rather, isn’t it more accurate to say, as Pope Francis takes care to point out, in The Joy of the Gospel, that ours is a single evangelising mission, which has an indispensable social dimension (EG, Ch 4)? So that, even if we may decide, for convenience, to set up different organisations. Making some responsible for the spiritual, and others for the social. It’s important that we heed Pope Francis’ warning, and avoid the constant risk of distorting the authentic and integral meaning of the mission of evangelisation (EG, 139). For if evangelisation has an indispensable social dimension, then we cannot truly bear witness to Christ without also paying attention and responding to prevailing social realities and needs.

Conversely, our efforts at addressing social needs will be truly Christian, only to the extent that they are somehow motivated and informed by the values and processes of the gospel. Only to the extent that we and those we assist are somehow helped to enter, explore and extend the embrace of God. Otherwise, our organisations will be no different from NGOs. Which is not to say that we must always speak explicitly about Christ. It’s not always opportune, or even appropriate, to do so. Nor is it the case that everyone must first have entered God’s embrace, before they can engage in Christian social action. For isn’t it true that, when we reach out to those in need, even when we ourselves may be feeling lost, that very encounter can become a privileged occasion for us to be gathered again, even more closely, into God’s embrace?

And yet, it remains important for us to intentionally cultivate organisational cultures and processes that facilitate evangelisation. Ways of proceeding that help us and others experience God’s embrace. Developing our own capacity to discern together the promptings of the Spirit. Allowing us to grow into an ever more synodal church.

Sisters and brothers, even now, through the Son, and in the Spirit, God our loving Father is gathering creation to God’s very self. What can we do, in the days ahead, to keep entering, exploring and extending this tender embrace?

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