Matthew 28:16-20, Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity
Did you read about Pope Francis and Juan Carlos Cruz? Juan is from Chile, a victim of priestly sexual abuse. He’s also gay. For this reason, Cardinal Javier Erraruiz, a papal adviser, said that Juan was not really a victim of sexual abuse because, being gay, Juan might have actually “liked it.” Can you imagine? But Juan was forthright about himself with Pope Francis. Francis finally told him: “Juan Carlos, I don’t care about you being gay. God made you that way and loves you as you are, and I don’t mind. The pope loves you as you are. You have to be happy with who you are.” I wonder if this is making many clergymen and Catholics red in the face these days. Which reminds me of what a good friend told me recently. She said her lesbian friend, a very devout Catholic, went to Sunday mass recently. And in the homily, the priest kept saying: “Homosexuality is a mortal sin. Gays and lesbians will go to hell;” over and over.
If you haven’t noticed it already, Francis regards homosexuals differently from how most clergymen regard them. It really all comes down to “image of God.” Whether religious or lay, many Catholics brand our very own brothers and sisters as sinners, immoral, beyond the pale, depraved. And we throw them all in one basket. What we’ve seen Francis do, however, is take each person with both hands out of the basket, sees the person as never beyond God’s saving love—and throws the basket away. It all comes down to image of God. The way Francis sees and knows God seems quite different from how several Catholics see God, and know God, and, in the case of the priest who just condemned gays and lesbians to hell—even make the final decision for God!
If our religious history went on a different trajectory, we might be making the sign of the cross this way: “In the name of the King, and of the Prince, and of Holy Commander.” Or, “In the name of Divine Law, ans of the Word of the Law, and of the Spirit of the Law.” Or, “In the name of the Eternal Bishop, and of the Divine Priest, and of Holy Purity.” Or, “In the name of the Supreme Leader, and of the Vicar, and of Holy Submission.” Can you imagine? And yet, even if we don’t call the Persons of the Trinity that way, why is it that the image of God many of us still hold is not very different from those impersonal titles, titles of rank, of hierarchy, of pecking order? That image of God dictates how we classify people as saints and sinners, pure and impure, headed for heaven and destined for hell, us and them. The image is not a Trinitarian God, but a pyramidal God, a flow-of-command God, an impersonal God who ranks us, ans appropriates us accordingly into the vertical ans horizontal stratifications of his pyramid. The closer to God at the apex, the fewer there are of us.
But we make the sign of the cross and we describe that God is father, son, and Holy Spirit. The words, “father” and “son” do not point out that God is male. God does not have gender. God is Spirit. “But, Fr. Arnel, Jesus was the son of God, so he is male, isn’t he?” Yes, but “son” is more than just a gender-reference. Father” and “son” are not a gender thing. And you know, sisters and brothers, we really ought to stop loading God and Jesus into our guns & shoot bullets in the air to let women know that males are boss. “Father” and “son” are not a gender assignment of God to himself. Rather, they are relational terms. They signify relationality. The person of God immediately implies relationship—as father, as son, as Spirit. It is mind-boggling if you think about it: at the very level of God’s “Being,” i.e., in God’s deepest essence and existence as God, God is relational. “Holy Spirit” is also relational. We refer to the Holy Spirit as the Love, capital-L, the Love that reigns in the three Persons of the Trinity. So, relationality is God’s very Self. Relationality lies at his very Being. That’s why we say God is Love. We must not be able to think of God without thinking of him as immediately loving. And who is the object of that loving? Certainly not Himself. God is not narcissistic. No; we are God’s immediate receivers of loving—whoever we are, whatever we are. Nobody lies outside God’s relationality. God as Trinity is not an exclusive, closed-in, members-only love-fest among three persons. God as Trinity is God as relational. We figure significantly in that relationality of God.
This is the image of God that Pope Francis takes very, very seriously. When our image of God is relational, as a magulang na hindi natitiis ang kanyang mga anak, as anak na lubos na nangangailangan ng magulang, as espiritu or diwa ng pagmamahalan—then we regard God with more positive sentiment; our understanding of God wider, broader, and deeper. At no point does God become unrelated to us, in the same way as we can never deny parenthood of a child who is truly ours; in the same way that we can never deny being the child of our parents, even if we disengage from them. We Catholics should really watch ourselves when we start branding homosexuals, separated couples, born-again Christians, non-Christians as sinners, or destined to hell, as sick and depraved. There’s someone else posing behind all of that who is impersonal, judgmental, punishing, categorizing, segregating, & profiling. These are not activities of a God who is relational. And it’s not faith that drives them, but sexism, chauvinism, fundamentalism, and bigotry.
My prayer for all of us today, the feast of the Triune God, is that we Catholics truly image our God in his innermost God-ness: as relational. We have a beautiful word for this in Tagalog: kapwa. God is kapwa; from the ka-puwang. For there is in God and in us, that special place that only the other could fill. Ka–puwang. God and we share the same space; together, we fill and fulfill the blank.