The Symphony of the Earthly Trinity


Bartolomé Esteban Murillo | The Heavenly and Earthly Trinities, 1675 - 1682

God the Father, who made the heaven and the earth, in His infinite wisdom, when he determined to send His only begotten Son into this world to save us from our sins, he willed that His Son should not be an orphan but be born into a human family. He entrusted His only Begotten Son to human parents, Mary, His Mother, and Joseph, His Foster Father. Heaven is brought to earth. 

The Holy Family became the perfect image of the Heavenly Trinity here on earth. It is a communion of persons, an exchange of love, a sign and image of the communion of the Father and the Son in the Holy Spirit. And for this reason, the Holy Family is traditionally called the Terrestrial Trinity.

I invite you to imagine: What must it be like for Jesus to live with Mary and Joseph, the two greatest saints in human history? And what must it be like for Mary and Joseph to live with Christ, the Son of God? This is beyond our imagination. But I invite you to ponder.

St. JHN has a beautiful image: It was like three instruments absolutely in tune which all vibrate when one vibrates, and vibrate either one and the same note, or in perfect harmony.

In other words, it is a perfect symphony played for the glory of God. Each individual plays its part gracefully and beautifully; at the same time, each instrument is perfectly attuned to each other. The Holy Family is a perfect Trio. 

Now every human family participates in this mystery. It is an image of the Heavenly Trinity and a shadow of the earthly one. It is a communion of persons, an exchange of love, an image of the communion of the Father and the Son in the Holy Spirit. This image is so sublime that our Enemy seeks to destroy it. How does he destroy it? He breaks the bond, so there is no more unity in the Trinity. 

He had done so since the beginning. In the first human family, he took God out of the picture. He is the principle of unity. Then he took out the children, who are also principles of unity for the parents. The ancient Israelites sacrificed their children to idols on pagan altars out of fear. Today, we do the same, we sacrifice our children for our careers, power, and autonomy. Without the principle of unity, the love between each person, and the couples naturally break apart. The image is shattered. 

How shall we reclaim this unity? How can we conquer the enemy? And what are the secrets of the Holy Family that makes their bond unshakable? 

Let us return to the image that Newman gave us. The Holy Family was like three instruments absolutely in tune which all vibrate when one vibrates, and vibrate either one and the same note, or in perfect harmony. 

There are two lessons we can draw from this imagery. And from these two lessons, I have two invitations for you this Lent. 

The First Lesson. For the instruments to harmonize, they must play the same piece of music, however different their notes may be. There must be a principle of unity that transcends the individuals in the trio. In a family, that principle of unity is God.

Just this past winter, I spent a week with a Catholic family. The two parents have six children ranging from ages 2 to 13. In terms of wealth, they possess very little. Their clothes are largely hand-me-downs. They have no fancy toys. Yet they were some of the happiest children I have ever met. They never ran out of funny things to show me, and they were never short of laughter. The mom and dad barely have any time to eat or sleep. They sleep for about four hours a night. You might be tempted to say: Well, that sounds like a nightmare. Yet, the mother said that she would miss all of these one day. There was a spark of joy in her eyes as she said it. 

What is their secret? God is the secret. He is enshrined in their hearts. Every night, the family will gather together in front of their family altar and pray before they kiss each other good night. And nothing in the world can invade this sacred time. 

So, here is my first invitation to you: besides coming to Mass together as a family, would you set apart a sacred time every day and a sacred place for God and your family to pray together? Would you let God enter every part of your family life, not just on Sundays, but every moment and every second? 

The Second Lesson. For the instruments to harmonize, they must be attuned to each other. Each player hears the notes of the other instruments and knows by heart their rhymes and rhythms. They do so by playing with each other. So it is that in order for every person in a family lives in harmony, they must be attuned to each other’s voice. They do so by conversing and playing with each other, listening to each other, and hearing their struggles, passions, and aspirations. 

When I was 14, my father did something beautiful for me. He left his job and spent half a year accompanying me and teaching me how to be a man. For the first time in my life, I felt close to him. That saved me. I would not be here had he not made that sacrifice. I still look to that time as some of the happiest times of my life.

Without that intentional time together, how can we listen? We no longer know the other person, and the music they play would be too foreign for them to follow. Our love grows cold for want of conversation. 

So, here is my second invitation to you: would you do something beautiful for your family, for your loved ones this Lent? It does not have to be big, but be sure to pour your whole heart into it and let them know how much you love and care for them. 

These are the secrets of the Holy Family. To pray and play together. To be with God and each other. This is how we shall reclaim the unity of the trinity and restore the image of the heavenly Trinity. It is simple, though difficult to follow: to pray and to play together. To be with God and be with each other. 

Brothers and sisters, the note we play today will echo in heaven. And it is only a prelude. The crescendo has yet to come.

Here I invite you to imagine again: what must it be like now for Jesus, Mary, and Joseph in heaven, rejoicing in the beatific vision of the Heavenly Trinity of which theirs was a shadow? How would they recount those years when they were in Bethlehem, the day when Jesus was born, or the dark night when they escaped to Egypt or those years in Nazareth when Joseph taught Jesus how to make a table and how to build a house? Would they complain about how little money they have? 

What shall Joseph say to his Son as he looked upon his wounds, once broken and now glorified? How will He look upon the Son, whom he loved with His whole heart…How proud he must be! What shall he say to Him? Would he not be like every good father who would say to his son: my son, I am proud of you.

Brothers and sisters, what shall YOU say to YOUR parents, YOUR spouse, YOUR siblings, to YOUR children on that day when you behold their faces? How will YOU look at the years gone by? And how will YOUR symphony resound in heaven for the praise and glory of God?  

This reflection is a combination of two sermons given at St. Dominic's in February, the month dedicated to the Holy Family.


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