Friday, June 16, 2017

Assassins of God

Seeing the traces of the Trinity throughout creation
2 Corinthians 13:11-13 
Brothers and sisters, rejoice. Mend your ways, encourage one another, agree with one another, live in peace, and the God of love and peace will be with you. Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the holy ones greet you. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.

          Have you ever noticed how many things come in “three’s”? Here are just a few examples. There’s the “triple crown” of horse racing: the Belmont Stakes, the Preakness Stakes and the Kentucky Derby. The three-point shot in basketball has revolutionized the game, sometimes called a “trifecta” (a derivation of “perfecta”). Who can forget the great threesome of comedy, Larry, Moe and Curly, better known as “The Three Stooges”? Some of you look old enough to remember the famous “Rat Pack” of super actors, who were headed by the threesome of Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis, Jr.  Even Sunday sermons should have three distinct parts: a beginning, a middle and an end. The actor-comedian, George Burns, once quipped: “The secret to a good sermon is that it should have a good beginning, a good ending, and they should be as close together as possible.”
But the highest threesome in nature is a human family. You have to have a father, a mother, and at least one child to constitute a family, and I say that with all due respect to those who cannot have children. Scott Hahn, the Presbyterian preacher-turned-Catholic theologian, says that in marriage a husband and wife become one flesh when they consummate their marriage, and that “one” is so real that nine months later you have to give it a name. In other words, not only is a child born, but a family is born when there are three persons.

         Why am I mentioning all these triples and threesomes? Well, I believe they are all “vestigia Dei” or in English, “traces of God” in the world. They are signs of God’s presence – that God is three in one (a Trinity) – all around us, if we only looked at the world with the eyes of faith. This is precisely what St. Patrick did in 5th century Ireland. He plucked a three-leaf clover and explained to the Irish people that just as you have three petals but only one clover, so, too, God is three Persons but only one God. That little three leaf clover was a “vestigia Dei,” almost like an ancient Triple Crown or the Rat Pack.

          Today’s Scripture readings provide more explicit testimony to the Holy Trinity. In St. Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, he writes: “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.” You may have noticed that’s how the priest sometimes greets people at the beginning of Mass – that’s my favorite greeting. But there are other subtle signs of the Holy Trinity in the sacraments, more of these “vestigia Dei.” There are three readings of Scripture in the Mass: the Old Testament, the New Testament and the Gospel (when we stand). When you came into church, you dipped your fingers in holy water and made the Sign of the Cross, “In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” When a bishop blesses people at the end of Mass, he makes three crosses, not one like a poor priest does (if I did that, I would be firing blanks). These too are “vestigia Dei,” and it takes the eyes of faith to see them; otherwise, these Catholic gestures simply seem like superstitions or sorcery.  Do these signs in the sacraments make you think of God, or make you think Catholics are goofy?

           Let me give you two reasons why you should look hard for these vestigia Dei, especially for traces of the Trinity. First, because our search for God is more like a romantic adventure than a rational search, more like falling in love than writing a doctoral dissertation. All lovers first leave traces of their affection, instead of coming right out and sharing their heart. For example, they give a second glance in a crowded room; back in the old days a girl would “inadvertently drop” her handkerchief (today she would drop her cell phone); the boy would stutteringly state his over-rehearsed pick up line; the girl would feign no interest and play hard to get. In other words, the whole alluring and agonizing process of human courtship is scattered with “vestigia” of love, like bread crumbs leading one heart to another. Seek God, therefore, as a lover, not as a logician, and you’ll see the “vestigia amoris” (the traces of love) he has deliberately left for you: traces of the Trinity scattered throughout the world.
          Secondly, the last three centuries have seen a concentrated effort to erase and eradicate these “vestigia Dei” from human experience. I’ve recently been reading a book called The Drama of Atheistic Humanism by Henri de Lubac, where he says atheism is ironically the modern religion and wants to replace all other religions. He writes: “The phenomenon that has dominated the history of the mind during the last few centuries seems both more profound and more arbitrary…Man is getting rid of God in order to regain possession of the human greatness that, it seems to him, is being unwarrantably withheld by another. In God he is overthrowing an obstacle in order to gain his freedom” (The Drama, 24-25). In other words, philosophers like Fruerbach, Marx, Nietzsche and Comte want to convince us that these “vestigia Dei” are only our imagination, our minds playing tricks on us, and we’ll be happier and rise to the heights of greatness, only if we ignore them. Indeed, they want to go so far as to make us believe that God is not our best-Friend but rather our arch-Enemy. Therefore God should be killed. And that’s why Nietzsche brags, “We are the assassins of God” (The Drama, 50). And what is the assassin’s creed, how do they plan to kill God? They attempted to erase the “vestigia Dei” out of the world, so we would never find God.

         But there is one place God has left his trace that the atheists have overlooked, namely, in the human soul. St. Augustine taught that the Trinity is hidden in the three chief powers of the soul: the memory, the intellect and the will, and these too are “vestigia Dei.” The Doctor of Grace wrote: “But in these three, when the mind knows itself and loves itself, a trinity remains: the mind, love and knowledge” (On the Trinity, Bk. 8, Ch. 7).  You see, Fruerbach and Marx, Nietzsche and Comte tried to declare “God is dead,” but they did not count on the vestigia Dei God had left for them in their own hearts, and to kill God there they would have to kill themselves. Maybe that’s why in 1889, at the age of 44, Nietzsche suffered a mental breakdown from which he would never recover. Jesus will say to them as he said to the Sadducees: “God is a God of the living, not of the dead. You are greatly mistaken” (Mark 12:27).

Praised be Jesus Christ!

No comments:

Post a Comment