Every sermon ought to answer three questions: “What?”, “So what?”, and “Now what?” There is a danger that on the feast of the Holy Trinity we could seek merely to describe the mystery and then sit down. But if so, there would still remain the question of what this mystery has to do with me (other than that I should think rightly about God). With some effort to apply the mystery to us and the issues of our day, I would like to present a written version of the second half of my sermon from yesterday. It is my hope to answer the questions “So what?” and “Now what?” The recorded version can be heard by clicking the video below.
So you may wonder what all this high doctrine has to do with you and your life. Actually it has a lot to do with us.
I. You and I are said to be made in the image and likeness of God. But if God is not all by himself and exists in a communion of three persons, then we ourselves are also called to live that way, since we are made in the image and likeness of God.
You know, every now and again I hear people speak of the “self-made man.” Please! Where does such arrogance come from? Did you cause yourself to be born? Who changed your diapers? Who fed you when you didn’t even know what food was? Who taught you to read, walk, and talk, and paid your bills for all those years? Who paved the roads you drive on and built the infrastructure you depend on? And yet some folks walk around as if they did all that by themselves. Hmm… There is no such thing as the self-made-man. I need you; you need me. We’re all part of God’s body.
We are individuals. I am not you and you are not I. But I cannot exist or survive without you. I am made to be in communion with you and you with me.
And there is something almost trinitarian about us. I’ll say of myself,
For you, I am your (spiritual) father; with you I am your bother; from you I am your son.
I have been twenty-five years a priest, but almost twenty of those years have been spent right here with you (my congregation of Holy Comforter). I am the man I am today from you. You’ve prayed with me and for me; you’ve given example; you’ve lifted me up, sung to me, and praised God with me; you’ve taught me. I am every bit your son as I strive to be your (spiritual) father. You formed me. God has created me to be the man I am, but He did it through you. This parish is the singular most important influence in my life. Yes, for you I am your spiritual father; with you I am your brother, but from you I am your son!
What I have just said to you about myself … you have those realities in your life too. You have been father or mother to some, brother or sister to others, son or daughter to others. All these things cycle in our lives and make us who we are. We are called to be in the image and likeness of God. And God is not the Father all by Himself. He is a communion of three persons sharing one substance. He is one divinity, one “family.”
So here is the first “so what” of the mystery of the Trinity: that we are made in the image of God. We are individuals, but called to live in communion and relationship with one another. The Father is Father because He has a Son. The Son is Son because He has a Father. Yet each of them in His individuality keeps communion, a communion so deep that it is a person: the Holy Spirit. So too for us, who though individual, are meant to live in communion with God and one other and see our communion bear fruit.
II. There is another “So what?” (or “Now what?”) to consider. We are currently living in a culture in which we have seen our families go into great crisis. And part of the reason for this is that many today talk a lot about individual rights (which do exist). However, the basic unit of society is not the individual. The basic unit of society is the family.
Think of the family like the atom. What happened in the 1940s when we split the atom? Tremendous destructive forces were set loose which, if they were not controlled, would lead to utter devastation for miles around.
And so too for us, who though individuals (the way the protons, neutrons, and electrons are parts of the atom), are in the image of God and are meant to live together in families. And if our families are being split or are not strong, tremendous destructive forces are set loose in our culture. So here today, on the Feast of the Holy Trinity, I want to say that one of the most urgent needs for us is to pray for and to work for unity in our families.
Now what does that mean for you? I don’t know. But maybe it means that there is someone in your family you need to reach out to. Maybe it is a son or daughter who has become distant or alienated. Maybe it means you need to seek marriage counseling or make a Marriage Encounter weekend. Maybe family counseling is needed. Maybe there is someone you need to forgive, or someone in the family you need to ask forgiveness of. Whatever it means for you today to work for your family unity and strength, that is for you to decide. But do it. Don’t delay.
On the Feast of the Holy Trinity, remember that the basic unit of society is not the individual; it is the communion of persons we call the traditional family. And we’ve got to be very serious about working to strengthen our family life.
We’ve been through a long period during which too many walk away from family problems rather then working to resolve them or learning to live with some of them.
I am old enough to remember a time in this country when divorces were rather difficult to get. Before 1969, divorces were quite rare in part because they were difficult to get. It often took several years of legal wrangling to get one. It was so difficult that some even flew off to Mexico and lived there for a few weeks to get them.
Now there was a reason that divorces were difficult to get. It was part of the wisdom of our culture at that time that if you made a commitment you ought to stick by it and be held to it. Believe it or not, people used to think that! And second, there was an understanding that children needed stability and intact, two-parent families. I remember that my parents’ generation had an expression that even if a marriage was unhappy you ought to “stick it out for the sake of the kids.” There was a belief that children needed stable families and could trust their parents to work out their differences and be there for them, that children needed both a father and mother present to be properly formed. And thus there were all kinds of legal barriers to getting divorced easily.
And that’s just the way it was until 1969 when the first “no-fault divorce” laws began to pass and were railroaded through this country (much like the “gay” non-marriage movement of today). After this, divorces could be obtained in a matter of weeks. And so the number of divorces skyrocketed. And, as we all know, it was the children who suffered the most.
Now brethren, I know that life is complicated. I am not here to say that if you’re divorced you’re a bad person. You may have tried to save your marriage but could not do so. I am not here to make individual judgments.
But when we look at the divorce rate and the rate of single motherhood (i.e., absent fatherhood) in our culture, we can see we’re in trouble. When I was born in 1961, 80% of black children grew up in a two-parent home. Today, only 20% do. And other races are “catching up.” This is an American problem.
This isn’t good for us; it isn’t a sign of health. We are made in the image and likeness of God and we are meant to live in communion. And the fundamental communion for us that comes from God Himself is that a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one flesh, and they bear fruit in their children. That is the fundamental unit of society. And without it, we won’t be strong. A study of anthropology will show that civilizations do not survive when their family structure goes into disarray.
So, be serious about it. Pray and work for unity in your family. I know it isn’t easy and that there may be some nuts falling from your family tree. But listen: every marriage and family has some tensions and problems. Working through these, rather than running from them, can bring us strength and wisdom.
I think one of the problems that underlies this is that we have unrealistic expectations. We want and think that everything should be “peachy.” We get all upset when things aren’t comfortable and “nice.” And we live in a consumer society that says, “You deserve to happy about everything!” But, brethren, that is not life; that is not realistic. Life is hard and has struggles. But these struggles help to make us stronger.
So if there is some tension in your family, maybe God is permitting it to help make you stronger, wiser, and more patient and merciful. Yes, there are hardships. But here is the problem: too many people expect marriage and family to be ideal, and if there is any ordeal, they want to look for a new deal. And that is not the way life works. Happiness is ultimately an “inside job.” In this world we are going to have tribulation, but with the Lord we have to learn to be strong and preserve the unity He intends for us. We are made in the image and likeness of God and are meant for the communion of the family.
Talk to your kids about this. Prepare them for faithful and lasting marriage. And don’t get all hang-dog and think you can’t talk to them about it because you yourself didn’t accomplish it perfectly. Just say, “Here’s the way—God’s way—now walk in it. “
III. And the final thing to say, here on Father’s Day, is that critical to this problem of the family is a crisis in fatherhood. Too many children are being raised without their fathers. And that has a lot of effects.
God’s will is that every child should have a father and a mother; not just a mother, or just a father, or two fathers, or two mothers; but a father and a mother. Now this makes sense psychologically. We all have one human nature, but there is a feminine and a masculine genius. My mother taught me about the feminine genius in ways that my father could not have. And my father taught me of the masculine genius in ways my mother could not have. Together they helped form my personality. And when we don’t have that, as is the case in huge numbers in our culture today, things begin to get out of balance. And thus it is critical to get fathers back with their families.
Now I am not here to make any excuses for men, but I will tell you that in our culture today there is a tendency to ridicule men. For example, there are a huge number of what I would call the “men are stupid” commercials. The general scenario of them is some goofy man who is clueless about what to do in some situation or how to use some product. Enter the wise and all-knowing woman who sets him straight. Sometimes the children must also set him straight. But the message is that men are stupid, clueless, foolish, and are buffoons. The sitcoms also perpetuate this representation. On TV, the children are the ones who are all-wise, cool, and clued-in, while the parents are hopelessly out-of-touch and stupid. The woman or mother is often poorly portrayed, but even she looks wise and rational compared to the man, who is made out to be a total buffoon. Thus the culture presents a picture of men and fathers as stupid and clownish. And in other situations men are depicted as often violent and unreasonable—even as sexual predators.
The “men are stupid” commercials and sitcoms are in abundance in our culture and they are affecting the way people view men and fathers. None of this helps children to respect their elders and certainly not their fathers. And this has a grave effect on the family and on our culture. Men are demonized and portrayed as useless, stupid, and foolish. And many young men who see a steady diet of this start to imitate what they see, and in a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy, actually become what they have seen men portrayed to be. So they act badly, play the fool, and behave irresponsibly.
Again, no excuses here, but this is part of the mix in our culture. And too many of us live unreflectively in this climate and think “That’s just how things are.” No that is NOT how things are. Scripture says that the Lord puts a Father in honor over his Children (Sirach 3:2). Now that means that a father ought to live honorably, but it also means that we have no business ridiculing men and making men and fathers out as buffoons. A mother’s authority over her children is also confirmed (Ibid). And a lot of this “youth culture” stuff seeks to undermine the authority and wisdom of parents.
Once again, all of this attacks the family. But too often we just go on living unreflectively and unresponsively to these attacks on the dignity of the family and the honor due to fathers and mothers. At some point we have to rise up and say “NO, I do not accept the ridiculing attitude and will not let it affect my thinking. I cannot let it get into my children’s thinking since it affects the way they view adults, the way they understand themselves, and the way they grow up. Our families are being threatened by this and it all has to go.”
So on this feast of the Holy Trinity I would say to you that the family is under attack. It is being threatened by distorted thinking that is not the mind of God. We need to turn a critical eye to it and expose it for the error it is. It is worth staying in the fight, working for unity in our families, repelling attacks on the dignity of the family, confronting derogation of men and attempts to demonize them, and seeking to foster traditional, biblical marriage. We are made in the image and likeness of God. We are individuals, to be sure, but we are meant to live in communion, the communion we call the family. We will not be happy, nor will we flourish or find fulfillment in any other way.