The Holy Trinity, a fresco created by Luca Rossetti da Orta, 1738-39 Public domain

God's word on Sunday: History lesson reveals presence of God

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  • May 26, 2018

Trinity Sunday, May 27 (Year B) Deuteronomy 4:32-34, 39-40; Psalm 33; Romans 8:14-17; Matthew 28:16-20


How can we ever be sure about God? This is a perennial question that has always unsettled people, even those who consider themselves believers. 

The Israelites sometimes asked that question and answered it negatively. Usually infidelity in the form of corruption, injustice and idolatry followed, along with eventual disaster. 

The book of Deuteronomy was written long after Moses’ day — probably in the seventh century BC during the reign of King Josiah — and it was meant to be a refresher course in living the covenant. In an extended imaginative address, Moses instructed the Israelites before their entry into the Promised Land on how they were to live their covenant with God. Before getting into the details of covenantal life, Moses asked them to focus on who God was for them. 

They were challenged to look beyond themselves and to gaze over the whole course of human history. The God of Israel always worked in and through history, manifesting power in concrete historical events and people. 

Moses ticked off all the great deeds of God: creation, choosing and guiding the people of Israel, and finally, redeeming Israel from slavery with mighty signs and wonders. This was not the God of the philosophers, but the God of history and human life, concerned with human flourishing, justice and liberation.

In his opening address of the Second Vatican Council in 1962, Pope John XXIII declared that “history is the teacher of life.” By a careful and reflective study of history, we see the presence of God in creation and in the drama of human struggle and suffering. 

God’s presence in human history is not that of a chess player moving pieces across the board, but as a master teacher and guide. 

As we struggle to learn the lessons of love, generosity, justice and compassion, we make many mistakes. Hopefully, we learn from them, both as individuals and as a people. God grants us the necessary formative experiences as well as the courage and grace to face the challenges that life will bring. 

Despite the mess the world seems to be in, we have come a long way and eventually we will rediscover the path God has illuminated for us. Each one of us, if we look back over the history of our own life, will be able to see the presence of God, even when we thought we were alone, lost and abandoned. The Israelites needed a refresher course and so do we, so that we can cling faithfully to the God who has never and will never let us down.

One of the hallmarks of God’s redemption is the granting of the Spirit to all those who ask with sincerity and an open heart. God continually calls humans not only forward, but upward. The Spirit transforms us in a second birth — we are reborn in God and will recognize God both as our origin and our destiny. 

This should dispel the paralyzing fear that so many people carry, for after that recognition of God how could we ever be afraid? If those claiming the name of Christ had one gift and witness to give the world, there could be no better choice than a fearless and joyful heart.

Before His return to the Father, Jesus charged His followers to share His teachings with the entire world. This was God’s way of leaving us a road map for the journey and a set of spiritual tools for transforming ourselves and the world. 

Jesus said to make disciples of all nations. Unfortunately, as we cast a backward glance through history, we see that many who took up this mission were not themselves good disciples. Often those whom they sought to evangelize were hurt and damaged by ignorance and selfish human motives cloaked in religion. 

Our own hearts and intentions must be reasonably pure and humble before we dare to try to convert others. The departure of Jesus from this world was really a non-departure. He promised that He will be with us to the end of the ages, and the signs and wonders will continue. 

God will be present in human history in a different way — in the person of His Son Jesus, and in humanity itself. 

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