Many people in our neighborhood suffer from social isolation. For many people suffering mental illness, loneliness distorts their reality even more than disease. For some people loneliness even kills. People living in the bug-infested single-room occupancy hotels often die alone. Prostitutes roam our urban corner looking for people who cannot live another night with their loneliness. Drug dealers are always nearby to numb the pain of our neighbors or to satisfy lonely youth attending a blaring concert in the nightclub across the street.
Our staff struggles to create community from such loneliness beginning with the liturgy itself. I pray this opening prayer on the Solemnity of the Trinity aware that most people do not feel welcomed into the relationship of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The iconic relationship of our God does not easily model how many people in severe poverty are to live. This takes time and relationships are fragile. Welcoming people into communion, into unity, is so counter to what most people experience on the streets. On the violent streets life is all about self-protection, not giving oneself over to another person or institution, or even to God.
Loneliness is often translated into reluctance to believe in God. I witness this reluctance in the sanctuary and the confessional. I pray with people’s reluctance in my alone time and in moments of prayer with groups of people. This reluctance comes to the surface because people do not feel worthy of God. Many people hold their reluctance as adults because God was forced on them as children or because they were shamed into going to church.
This collect outlines the reason for our gathering at the Eucharist. God has made known to the human race the truth and love of Jesus the Christ and the grace of the Holy Spirit. In our baptism we acknowledge the true faith of the Paschal Mystery. We are invited into that sharing of life prompted by God who continues to create within us love, mercy and kindness. This collect is an invitation to begin Eucharist breaking through the loneliness so many people face. These words of prayer must somehow crack through the shame so many people in the pews face about being in relationship with God.
The collect of the Mass is a prism is which we bring people into viewing the nature of God in the continuing celebration of the Eucharist. The prayer also invites people into the covenant relationship with God that is made known among us in our various parishes, our neighborhoods and our world. The Trinity invites people to rest in the loving relationship of God, not because the relationship and God are perfect but because God is still here for the weary, the lonely and the shamed.
I pray the collect on the Fourteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time reminded of the continuing mission of Christ. Jesus was born into a world in need. He gave up his heavenly presence with a new humility on earth. This action of Christ is not over. Christ did not only abase himself for a fallen world of the past, but Christ is still reaching down to bring life and love to us in every day and age. This is genuine joy for all people in all ages, the presence that somehow we need to translate into the depths of people’s lives. This is the Church of mercy and not judgment, of love and not condemnation, of hope and not loneliness.
These collects come to life in every parish when we reach out first of all to people who live in isolation and fear. This takes real courage. This outreach to people well beyond the sanctuary steps takes genuine faith modeled on Christ who humbled himself in the first place. We must reach out to the concrete sidewalks of the city and concrete floors of jails and prisons. We must be willing to abandon our complacency for the rich reward of being in relationship with people who cannot live with their loneliness another day. Every parish community must be willing to abandon their judgment of people and accept people into the pews who are different and who are hurting. This is the perfect model of Trinity life.
The translation of these collects in the new Roman Missal does not stop in our new books or familiar pews. The translation of the Trinity continues in our neighborhoods among people who feel they cannot survive their lives. People who have been shunned by our communities become the place where these ancient Latin texts meet the streets. The translation of these collects into genuine community is a reflection of our God made flesh, so we may live in eternal gladness.