Homily: Faith’s name for reality is God

Delivered on Trinity Sunday, 31 May 2015, at Saint Paul’s, Riverside, Illinois.

This past Thursday was the 8th anniversary of the death of Father John Macquarrie. He was without question a major theologian in the 20th-century Church, and remains known to this day quite literally around the entire world. What’s more, Fr Macquarrie had a special relationship with Saint Paul’s, Riverside. In addition to being the seminary professor who taught dogmatic theology to our rector, the two remaining friends in the decades thereafter, Fr Macquarrie preached four times in this church, from this pulpit.

A number of his books are in our parish library, and they are exemplary works of prayerful Catholic theology within the Anglican tradition. He wrote for all levels of commitment, from the beginner to the proficient to the more perfected. Yet I think of all the tremendous insights he shared, one insight stands above all the rest, at least for me. It is this: Macquarrie wrote, “Faith’s name for reality is God.” Let us spend some time reflecting on what it means to say, “Faith’s name for reality is God.”[1]

In Christianity, God is spoken of in many ways. Two of the more common are as spirit and as love. God is also spoken of as transcendent: quoting Saint Anselm, “That, than which nothing greater can be thought.”[2] God is said to be incarnate: Jesus of Nazareth as our sole mediator and advocate. And God is spoken of as immanent and near: inscribed on our hearts, our very breath of life.

Many ways indeed to speak of God, yet “Faith’s name for reality is God” in fact sums all of that up. When we speak of reality seen with the eyes of faith, we are speaking of what is true, what is authentic, what is genuine, and what actually exists—against the illusions in life which are distortions of reality, truth obscured by falsehood through temptations by the Devil. For the People of God—we who deny ourselves, have picked up our cross and follow Jesus—God is what is true, what is authentic; God is what is genuine, what actually exists; God is love. And we experience reality as love, as unmistakable spirit. We experience reality as transcendent, incarnate and immanent. Our prayer life, as Regula, is oriented toward those three dimensions of reality.

macq_faithsnameHoly Scripture provides countlesd examples that demonstrate the truth of Fr Macquarrie’s insight. I suggest we briefly consider three.

The first example is Moses. In our Old Testament reading, Moses was confronted at the Burning Bush. Called by the Spirit acting through an angel, what he heard he recognized as the truth of his people, suffering yet affirming God and His providence through Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Can we doubt that Moses, in this revelation of God named “I AM,” was filled with the Holy Spirit, and cut to the heart with divine love for God and his people’s vocation to be the means through which God himself is revealed to the cosmos? Can we doubt he experienced transcendent mystery? “God-named reality”, I think, describes precisely what Moses perceived, in this and all of his subsequent ministry.

The second example is Blessed Mary. Our Lady was confronted at the Annunciation. Look at what Mary’s tremendous moment of prayer and perception disclosed! It disclosed the angelic, who spoke of the Holy Spirit, which would come upon her. It disclosed the son she will bear: Jesus, the Son of the Most High, which refers to the Father. This reality—which I have suggested can be called “Marian awe”—indeed was God-named. It was Trinity-named.

The third example is Our Lord, himself, at his Baptism in the River Jordan. Emerging from the water, he heard his Father’s voice: “Thou art my beloved Son; with thee I am well pleased.” And the Spirit descended upon him like a dove. Jesus’s perfect faith saw this reality perfectly, and it was God-named, animated as fully trinitarian reality. In a unique and singular way, Jesus’s Baptism was a confrontation with God-named reality, in which he is the divine mediator. Trinitarian reality was his life! It is only because of Jesus’s own eyes upon reality that we might be able to name reality “God.”

Note also that in each case, the responses of Moses, of Mary, and even of Jesus to the activity of the Holy Spirit can be summarized by words we say ourselves in the Our Father—for in essence, all three respond with “Thy will be done.” For them and for us, the words “Thy will be done” are the beating heart of what it means to respond to God: another reason the Our Father is the model of all prayer, because here it enshrines obedience.

It is an ancient formulation to speak of our obedience as prayer to the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit. Yet I think it is perhaps more revealing to reverse that order—that we pray in the Holy Spirit, through the Son, to the Father Almighty. This order emphasizes, with Saint Paul in the Epistle reading today, that “we are led by the Spirit of God.” We cannot follow Jesus without the Holy Spirit, and so as a matter of course any grasping of the true significance of the word “Father” is impossible without the Holy Spirit.

Hence we can boldly and resolutely affirm that for the Christian faith, if God is love, then true love itself cannot be without the Holy Spirit. That fact was demonstrated way back in the 5th century in the thinking of Saint Augustine, a doctor of the Church and highly influential on Anglican tradition. What Augustine taught was that if God is indeed love, then God must be three. Love, you see, to be Love, requires a Lover, a Beloved, and the Loving between them.[3] The Father so loved that he gave to the cosmos his own Beloved Son. The loving between them is the Holy Spirit, their shared will. Lover, Beloved and Loving being necessary for Love, God therefore is three: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Trinity Sunday, in fact, is a tremendous solemnity of divine love.

When we are born of the Spirit, we become incorporated into the Body of Christ, and hence into the loving relationship between Father and Son: their reality, shared with us. Because the Father loves the Son, and the Son perfectly prays to the Father, their reality gives us order and direction. We are given order because to love the Lord our God with all our heart, and with all our soul, and with all our mind, and with all our strength is the true way of life. We are given direction because, likewise, we are to seek out our neighbor, to love our neighbor as ourselves—seeking and serving Christ in all persons. Reality is the marriage of love and truth. Faith’s name for reality is God.

Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, one God described to us and to the whole Church, all might, majesty, dominion, and power, now and forever. Amen.

Icon by the hand of Monica Thornton.


[1] John Macquarrie, Paths in Spirituality, 2nd ed. (Harrisburg, PA: Morehouse, 1992), 30.
[2] Saint Anselm, Proslogion, Chap. 2.
[3] Saint Augustine, De Trinitate, VIII.5.xiv.