Comedians use the “rule of three.”
They do it in ordinary jokes but most especially in the jokes that go
-have you heard the one about
the Irishman, the Scotsman and Englishman?
We know well by the way it is told that the first two are a set up
to make fun of the Englishman?
That is the way it works.
Have you heard the one about the
Diocesan priest, the Franciscan and the Jesuit?
Again, we know that the Jesuit will be the surprise.
It is called the “rule of three.”
It is a literary device or mnemonic device.
We create a three-ness to help us remember things.
It is called a rule of three and it is the easiest way to remember.
Think of it as setting up the two guard rails in the communication.
One sets up point one and point two to guide the listeners.
Then point three is where the surprise happens.
It is a fairly common literary device.
The third one is always the surprise.
Today we celebrate the Trinity.
It is not a joke. Or a literary device but there is a rule of three.
There is the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
We know the Father and we know the Son
but the Holy Spirit is the surprise.
As Catholics, we are deeply uncomfortable with the Holy Spirit.
I do not know quite why.
We go to other churches.
The Pentecostals and Evangelicals and they love the Holy Spirit.
They live in the Holy Spirit.
The Catholics, ahh,can we do without that one?
Just the duo God will be fine.
Not the triune God.
I just returned from a conference in Vancouver on stewardship.
One of the presentations was about life in the Spirit
and healing through Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
It was fascinating.
One of the questions was:
“I get the Father, Son stuff
but can we just drop the Holy Spirit?”
No, you cannot.
That is part of the Trinity.
The triune God.
We have to learn to deal with the reality.
There has been volumes written on explaining
the doctrinal elements of the Trinity.
That is not what today’s celebration is about.
Today is not a celebration of explaining
the doctrinal components of the Most Holy Trinity.
That is not what it is about.
Today, we celebrate entering into the Holy Spirit
and living the Holy Spirit through the Trinity;
to realize there is a “rule of three” in God.
There is a rule of three in all of life.
Since ancient civilizations, they have recognized the rule of three.
My own home country is one of them.
The Celtics have these three symbols.
There are three intertwining circles that have no beginning, no end
and they predate the Egyptian pyramids.
That is how old these carvings are on stones in Ireland.
In a way, the rule of three is considered to be divine.
It has always been associated with something
that we just cannot get our head around.
The method of communication is clear.
There are two rails and the surprise is the last one
and that is the Holy Spirit.
God is a God of love and a God of security
but also a God of surprise!
We want to have the God of security and the God of love
and we want to stay in that little narrow guiderail.
And we want to stay there because it is comfortable.
But then along comes the Holy Spirit.
We get to do something different, we are supercharged.
We get on fire about doing something.
We go off rail because the Spirit tells us to do so.
That is the nature of God.
That is not an aberration of God.
It is in the very nature of God to be the God of security, the God of love
and the God of surprise.
The God that opens up new possibilities for us always.
And we need to be open to that God of surprise.
This surprise can come in the most difficult packages.
For example, we might have an illness or we might lose a job;
or we have a transition in a job,
or we just simply have a transition.
Like moving from one school to the next; or one job to the next.
There can be an overwhelming sort of ill-ease.
This unease about what is going to happen.
That is right where the Holy Spirit enters in
and we have to allow the Holy Spirit then to operate God’s other hand,
the steady hand of love and comfort, now the God of surprise.
And when we open ourselves to it and allow it to happen,
it is magnificent because we become different.
We change. We grow.
Things that we would never have done if we had stayed on the rails.
And that is what we celebrate today.
Today we celebrate that God is always there for us for everything!
God the Father and the Son love us profoundly
but there is another element.
The element of the Holy Spirit that God comes with surprises.
And that is where the zest of life comes in.
The rule of three is a triune God:
Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
The God of surprise.
“On the evening of the first day of the week
when the doors were locked…”
The feast of Pentecost is a feast
about locked doors being blown open.
It is about the doors of our heart being blown open.
Sometimes we are locked in patterns of the past and
we are locked behind closed doors of fear or pain.
This is very well illustrated by Fr. William Bausch in his book
“When I was Naked You Clothed Me.”
In it he gives the illustration of a 41-year-old man, Tom,
who is dying from AIDS.
He says Tom’s parents were so ashamed of their son and the disease
that they literally locked him in his bedroom upstairs
as they cared for him in the last months of his life.
They completely restricted all access to him.
Eventually, in his dying days, Tom pleaded to see the priest.
Eventually, they acquiesced and the priest came into visit him in the room.
The priest was shocked by the emaciated young man.
He had known him for many years.
After anointing him, he kissed him on the forehead
and held his hand and talked to him.
Tom, in a weak voice, whispered into the priests’ ears,
with tears streaming down his face,
“You’re the first person to touch me in months.
Nobody ever touches me anymore.”
With his father sitting in the corner of the room,
refusing to give in until after Tom died.
In fact at the wake of his son,
after realizing what he had done,
the locked door of his heart was blown open
and he was ashamed of his own abandonment of his son.
He became frustrated with his own, narrow idea in his own heart
and he wailed at his son’s funeral.
Locked doors. Blown open.
AIDS was a complex disease in those early days
and a lot of people did not know what to do or how to do it.
We all make mistakes.
We all do things that are wrong.
And sometimes we are very aware of that
and sometimes we are acutely aware of that.
At other times, we are not aware of it at all.
We remain locked in our own ignorance
of what it is we are called to change in our life.
In today’s gospel, we are called to understand
how powerful this moment is when
the Holy Spirit comes from Jesus as a gift.
Remember, it is from John’s gospel and
all of the disciples who are now assembled together
to receive this gift of the Holy Spirit,
had in fact abandoned Jesus earlier.
Among them was Peter.
They had completely abandoned Jesus.
Here his closest friends who had completely denied him:
“I don’t know him!
I don’t know him!
I do not know him!” said Peter.
Now Jesus stands in their midst and
the first gift he gives to them is Peace.
He offers them Peace and gives it to them with his loving forgiveness.
Fundamentally, the feast of Pentecost is about
God’s gift of the Holy Spirit and it is a feast of love.
A love that breaks open our locked hearts.
And how that breaks open through the love, mercy and forgiveness.
Jesus shows us the way.
He literally forgives his disciples
and then tells them to go do what I have done for you to others.
Forgive as I have forgiven.
And then he reminds them if you retain, they are retained.
A reminder that works for all of us.
For years I have counseled this parish on how important it is to forgive.
I have put on sessions during Lent
and then repeated them in case somebody missed them.
Yet, I still have many of you come to me refusing to forgive.
Like holding on this anger and unforgiveness
as if it were a treasure;
sometimes a 20-year-old treasure!
Some of you say,
“I just can’t, not him! Not her! Not for that!”
I remind you and I say
“But you are holding onto a poison.
A poison that is actually eating away inside your own heart.
And it continues to rot our own hearts.”
The very gift of the Holy Spirit is that he wants to blow open your heart.
Unlock that door of unforgiveness and set your heart free.
First, what we have to do is to accept the gift for ourselves.
We cannot give what we do not have.
So, we must accept the gift of forgiveness from God
for the times that we have made mistakes,
for the times that we have said the wrong thing;
for the times that we have done the wrong thing
or failed to do the right thing.
Once we accept genuinely in our hearts,
we can feel the power of that Holy Spirit;
the feeling and power of God’s love within us,
then we can pass it on.
That is what we are called to do.
Today as we celebrate the beginning of our Church in this Pentecost
and indeed the beginning of our parish,
as our feast day Pentecost,
we are called to first receive the gift of God’s love
and God’s forgiveness.
Then we must remember how important it is
to take the next step of passing that forgiveness onto others.
That is the feast of Pentecost,
who sins you forgive they are forgiven them;
whose sins you retain they are retained.