Homily for the Solemnity of The Most Holy Trinity
Readings: Deuteronomy 4:32-34,39-40; Psalm 32(33):4-6, 9, 18-20, 22; Romans 8:14-17; Matthew 28:16-20
30 May 2021
Today we celebrate Trinity Sunday. It is also National Reconciliation Week with the theme: “More than a word. Reconciliation takes action”.
In his encyclical Laudato Si’: On Care for our Common Home, Pope Francis has a section entitled “The Trinity and the Relationship between creatures” in which he states:
“The Father is the ultimate source of everything, the loving and self-communicating foundation of all that exists. The Son, his reflection, through whom all things were created, united himself to this earth when he was formed in the womb of Mary. The Spirit, infinite bond of love, is intimately present at the very heart of the universe, inspiring and bringing new pathways.”
We affirm the Father as our foundation, Jesus as the one united with us and the land, and the Spirit inspiring us to find new pathways to reconciliation.
Francis goes on to say:
“The human person grows more, matures more and is sanctified more to the extent that he or she enters into relationships, going out from themselves to live in communion with God, with others and with all creatures. In this way, they make their own that trinitarian dynamism which God imprinted in them when they were created. Everything is interconnected, and this invites us to develop a spirituality of that global solidarity which flows from the mystery of the Trinity.”
Commissioned to make disciples of all nations and consoled that the Spirit bears witness that we are all children of God, we see the Trinity as an inspiration and a model for right relationships with each other, with the whole of creation, and with our God. When the going seems tough, we take heart that “One Person of the Trinity entered into the created cosmos, throwing in his lot with it, even to the cross.”
Does the joy, energy, delight and mystery of our contemplation of the Trinity provide us with any inspiration for National Reconciliation Week when we are reminded that reconciliation is a call to action? During the week, the Aboriginal performer Mitch Tambo, quoting the all too familiar and shocking statistics on domestic violence and out of home care, reminded us: “We want to be free. We want to be trauma-free.” The federal MP Ed Husic, whose electorate has the largest urban Aboriginal population of any electorate in the country, told us the best starting point: “They want us to do what we would do if something had happened to us that fundamentally, which is just appreciate what I went through and then we can talk.”
It’s not as if we are starting from scratch in our quest for national reconciliation, listening, appreciating, and committing ourselves to a trauma-free future. You could be forgiven for thinking this was not so, given the ongoing stand-off between government and Indigenous leaders over the issue of constitutional recognition. It sometimes seems that we are starting from scratch. Let’s take heart that the 10-year existence of the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation chaired by Patrick Dodson and the following 20-year existence of Reconciliation Australia have borne fruit, abundant fruit, allowing more and more Australians proudly to lay claim to their Indigenous heritage, allowing more Australians to welcome and affirm this cultural renaissance and self-awakening, and providing the public space for the shared acknowledgment of Indigenous heritage and culture. This is long, slow work, but it is a national achievement which, despite setbacks, is on a trajectory headed in the right direction.
We still have a long way to go in finding common ground for constitutional recognition. As that journey continues, we must continue our commitment to those First Nations organisations which are the privileged places for Indigenous Australians to obtain employment, as well as opportunities for leadership while delivering self-determining services to their own mob. These are the places where they can enact and embody their unceded sovereignty.
As a nation, we still need to do more in putting right the wrongs of the past to provide opportunities for education and training – the opportunities for choosing a way of life for those living in two worlds, those worlds described by the great anthropologist WEH Stanner as the Dreaming and the Market. I dedicated my last book on Aboriginal rights to a young Aboriginal man who took his own life at 23 years and to “others like him caught between the Dreaming and the Market”.
As a nation, we need to concede that our constitutional arrangements are still inadequate given the failure of the Constitution even to mention Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders and their history in this land, and the confusion of the key provision of the Constitution empowering the Commonwealth Parliament to make special laws affecting Indigenous Australians. That key provision was originally formulated at the 19th Century Constitutional Conventions to allow the Commonwealth Parliament to make laws with respect to “the affairs of people of any race with respect to whom it is deemed necessary to make special laws not applicable to the general community; but so that this power shall not extend to authorise legislation with respect to the aboriginal native race in Australia”. It was envisaged that such laws would restrict unwelcome migrants like the Afghans and the Chinese. Australia’s first prime minister Edmund Barton told the 1898 Constitutional Convention here in Melbourne: “I entertain a strong opinion that the moment the Commonwealth obtains any legislative power at all it should have the power to regulate the affairs of the people of coloured or inferior races who are in the Commonwealth.”
In 1967, we voted overwhelmingly to extend the operation of this racist provision to include the possibility that the Commonwealth Parliament could legislate with respect to the First Australians. As judges of the High Court have said, the amended provision was “an affirmation of the will of the Australian people that the odious policies of oppression and neglect of Aboriginal citizens were to be at an end” and “to mitigate the effects of past barbarism”. The primary object of the power as amended to include Aborigines was beneficial, removing the fetter upon the legislative competence of the Commonwealth Parliament to pass necessary laws for the benefit of Aborigines.
Surely such special laws should be passed by our Parliament only if those citizens covered by those laws seek them or agree to them. How is that to be done? To answer that question and to place the answer in the Constitution, we need to work for agreement between the major political parties and with Indigenous leaders. Until such agreement is reached, we will not get to the first step amending our Constitution. Let’s remember that no one under 75 years of age voted in the 1967 referendum. No one under 62 years of age has ever voted in a successful referendum. We’ve only ever had eight successful referenda in 120 years.
In his most recent encyclical, Fratelli Tutti, Pope Francis concludes with a prayer to God, Trinity of Love:
O God, Trinity of love,
from the profound communion of your divine life,
pour out upon us a torrent of fraternal love.
Grant us the love reflected in the actions of Jesus,
in his family of Nazareth,
and in the early Christian community.
Grant that we Christians may live the Gospel,
discovering Christ in each human being,
recognising him crucified
in the sufferings of the abandoned
and forgotten of our world,
and risen in each brother or sister
who makes a new start.
Come, Holy Spirit, show us your beauty,
reflected in all the peoples of the earth,
so that we may discover anew
that all are important and all are necessary,
different faces of the one humanity
that God so loves. Amen.
This Trinity Sunday, we recognise Jesus crucified in those who are not yet trauma-free. We recognise the risen Jesus in those who make a new start. We hope and pray that we can be reconciled seeing the Spirit reflected in all the peoples who constitute contemporary Australia, discovering anew that the First Australians are important and necessary constituents of the nation, being different faces of the one humanity that God has loved in this land for 60,000 years or more. May the torrent of fraternal love create the space for constitutional reconciliation of our nation.
Fr Frank Brennan SJ is the Rector of Newman College, Melbourne, the Distinguished Fellow of the P M Glynn Institute, Australian Catholic University, and the former CEO of Catholic Social Services Australia (CSSA).
 Pope Francis, Laudato Si’, #238
 Ibid, #240
 Ibid, #100
 Edmund Barton, Official Report of the National Australasian Convention Debates (Third Session): Melbourne 1898, pp. 228-9
 Justice Brennan in The Commonwealth v Tasmania (The Tasmanian Dam Case) (1983) 158 CLR 1 at 242
 Justice Deane in The Commonwealth v Tasmania (The Tasmanian Dam Case) (1983) 158 CLR 1 at 273
 Pope Francis, Fratelli Tutti, #287