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Sunday 30 May 2021: Trinity Sunday

Trinity – The Heart of St. Paul’s Gospel

Romans 8:14-17

By Ashley Beck

Assistant priest, St. Edmund of Canterbury, Beckenham; Associate Professor at St. Mary’s University, Twickenham; President of The Catholic Theological Association

Context: a suburban parish Sunday sung mass with all-age congregation, including children – still subject to Covid-19 regulations

Aim: to show the significance of the doctrine of the Trinity for our daily lives

Thirteen years ago, the Catholic Church began a special Year of St Paul worldwide, to enable us all to understand more of his teaching, which we hear quite a lot of at Mass on Sundays and weekdays. We often have a reading from St Paul at Sunday Mass and clergy were encouraged at that time to preach on that reading - but I think it’s a good thing to do this again in 2021. So, my reflections for today’s great feast of the Trinity will be drawn from our second reading from Paul’s letter to the Romans.

Last December, John Muddiman, an Anglican priest and New Testament scholar who taught me many years ago died. I still remember his lectures about the Letter to the Romans, which began by stressing how central this letter is to our awareness of Paul. John put it like this: ‘If Paul didn’t write Romans, he didn’t exist.’ And in this part of chapter 8 of Romans which we have heard today, Paul shares with his hearers his experience of the third person of the Holy Trinity, the Holy Spirit, whose coming on the first disciples we celebrated last weekend on the feast of Pentecost.


We see the Holy Spirit as one who binds together God the Father and God the Son in love and perfect balance; he, and the whole Trinity, gives us a new way of living. So here Paul contrasts life in the Holy Spirit, for the Christian, with something else. This is what he calls flesh. Often Christians have thought that really means only one thing: sex! Fleshly desires, the flesh of women or men. But while living in a way which is not what the Spirit of God wants includes disordered or predatory sexual desires, ‘flesh’ here means much more than that.

If we live according to the flesh we’ve sold out to all that’s wrong in the world: the manic quest for physical power over others and domination, love of money, a harking after prestige and privilege, trusting in war and militarism, treating others as objects, fit for exploitation. In the pandemic Pope Francis has repeatedly warned us against these things and urged the world to find a new way of living and a way to use all that’s happened - with immense suffering and death - as a way to build a new and better world.

This is about what St Paul says is ‘being led by the Spirit of God’, enabling us to be truly his children. Through the Spirit, God gives us adoption as his sons and daughters, and heirs too, alongside Our Lord Jesus Christ. Think of what an awesome and daunting claim this is! We are brought into the life of the divine Trinity through the power of the Holy Spirit. This changes us, and it can change the world. But for this to happen we need to be open to God’s grace.


So often in Christian history people have paid lip service to the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, ignoring what it says about equality and balance in the world, what it says about social justice and the love at the heart of God which we’re called to share with others. Father, Son and Holy Spirit are equal, united in a perfect balance, united in self-giving love: because we are made in the image of God, this God of perfect equality, love, and balance, we are to reflect his nature in how we are, how we should live - in our own lives, our personal relationships, and in the life of the world. Life in the Spirit, and belief in the Trinity, is what sets us apart.

This is also about love within our community, the love we’re called to share with each other: and it’s hard now. We can’t shake hands at the sign of peace, let alone give each other a hug; we’re masked, and I am not sure I can recognise many of you looking at me this morning … but we are still called to live by God’s law of love, which reflects the nature of God as Trinity, and which reflects the life of the Spirit. That’s why in our parishes and communities in the last year we have tried to find new ways to care for each other and the most vulnerable - reflecting God’s love, reflecting God’s Spirit.

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