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Bishop Denis’ Homily on Trinity Sunday 2023

Trinity Sunday – Year A: 04.06.23
10.30am Cathedral of the Assumption, Carlow


“The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,
and the love of God,
and the communion of the Holy Spirit
be with you all” .

… the final words from this morning’s second reading and they are familiar to all of us, as they shape the introductory rite in every celebration of Mass. It is Trinity Sunday. The Ordinary of Church time recommenced last Monday, after Pentecost brought our Easter Season to a conclusion. Trinity Sunday interrupts the early flow of the Ordinary, to remind us of the essentials in the ordinariness of our faith journey.
The ‘Sign of the Cross’ is that first prayer we learned at home, maybe on a parent’s lap before we ever put a foot inside Baby Infants class. The ‘Sign of the Cross’ is the last prayer prayed over us as we are laid to rest.
Like Moses in that Exodus Reading, we stand on holy ground, having just blessed ourselves, we pray in silence in the knowledge that our Lord is “a God of tenderness and compassion, slow to anger, rich in kindness” …

 You were sent to heal the contrite of heart: Lord, have mercy …

 You came to call sinners: Christ, have mercy …

 You are seated at the right hand of the Father to intercede for us: Lord, have mercy …


In the dark of night a cautious diplomat from Jerusalem meets an outspoken prophet from Galilee. Nicodemus has a lot to consider, he is unwilling to be seen with Jesus, it risks his potential career pathway, tainted by association. Jesus understands this caution and addresses it not with more subterfuge but with a powerful affirmation of love. God loves everyone, including Nicodemus and his ilk and Jesus tells him so. The Trinity relationship is rooted in love.

Trinity Sunday invites us into a relationship with God, Father, Son and Spirit. It’s a relationship that allows us, no matter who we are, to meet the Father and His compassion and understanding for us, even when we feel completely beyond such an encounter. He is full of mercy, always awaiting the prodigals return. It’s a relationship that allows us to meet the Son and recognize ourselves in His pain and story of sacrifice. And it’s a relationship that encounters the Spirit, breathing new energy, new life into our tired and very often shattered lives.

The ‘Sign of the Cross’ we make several times everyday reminds us how much God actually loves us! Pope Francis suggests that today’s feast calls us to spread God’s love throughout the world. We are to become intentional missionaries, with a message from this Cathedral, from ever church, chapel or wherever Mass is celebrated this Sunday morning that no matter who you are, you are invited into this relationship.

The “Sign of the Cross” is the prayer I start and end each day. In fact several times I bless myself. I bless myself last thing at night and first thing in the morning. Passing the Cathedral or any church. Standing on the street as a hearse passes. Passing the cemetery. Passing the place where there was a road accident or a spot on the Barrow where someone has just left fresh flowers. The blessing is a prayer in itself, someone remembered, someone missed, someone

I was intrigued to read the recent CSO returns, just published this week. Returns that tell us 69% in the privacy of their homes, filling in the Census in 2022 ticked the Roman Catholic box when asked “what is your religion, if any?” A very different question to the one posed in 2016: “What is your religion?”, when “Roman Catholic” was offered as first choice with “No religion” last. In 2022 “No religion” was the first option. While the numbers suggesting affiliation to the Roman Catholic faith are down from 79% to 69%. That 69% translates as 3,515,861 while the 79% in 2016 equated to 3,696,644, a real drop in fact of just 4.9%, allowing for the more diverse landscape we cohabit now, given the welcome increase in immigration in recent years.

Of course measuring faith is a very different pastime to analysing census data. And I love data, figures and graphs! What does it tell us of faith, nothing except that a huge 3.5M+ associate openly with our Church. We must accept have a huge piece of work to do, to engage with those who come just at Christmas and less so at Easter. But don’t dare suggest for one split second that they are not Catholic. When there is a tragedy, the local parish church is open to all. We saw it in Creeslough, we see it everywhere.

Counting heads, and Caesar Augustus was doing it in the time of Mary and Joseph, so it’s no new phenomenon. Counting heads, ticking boxes has never been a useful way of determining religious faith even one hundred years ago when 95% professed Roman Catholicism. The United States uses a particular matric offered by Pew Research to see exactly what people believe in, get nourishment out of, are consoled by. Perhaps it’s something we might as an Irish church consider doing one day?

The current Pastoral Area Meetings and the one for Carlow was in Askea Parish Centre last Tuesday, are giving me great hope for the future but also a deep awareness of the challenges that lie ahead. Learning to make the Sign of the Cross was probably our first lesson in faith. We have a lot more to do to build on that fundamental lesson. Our schools in general have been superb, but we have absconded responsibility to our schools and failed to develop decent parish / diocesan grounded resources to support the faith life of our families.

On this Trinity Sunday, as we celebrate the God who is love, let us also perhaps remember this morning those who first traced the sign of the Cross on our forehead – our parents, the priest who baptised us, our first teacher in Junior or Baby Infants. Many now in eternity. May they this day enjoy the understanding of the Father, the forgiveness of the Son and the communion of the Spirit. Amen.