My friend kept complaining about her brother who according to her does not believe in God. There was hardly anytime we spoke that she would not bring up the issue of her brother and how worried she was about his lack of faith in God. It got to a point I told her I would like to meet her brother in person. She was expecting me to go and tell him about God, to tell him about the need to start coming to church, to be baptized, to believe in God, to read the Bible, and to say his prayers. However, to her disappointment, there was none of such from me. I just wanted to know her brother as a human being, and I wanted to have him as a friend. After a while of talking with him and watching him relate with other people, I said to his sister, “You reported your brother to me as one who does not believe in God, however, I discovered it is not that he does not believe in God, it is rather that he does not believe in the image of God that has been pushed down his throat.”

Further, I continued to explain to my friend that I have come to realize that there are so many people who may not go to church, who may not read the Bible, who may not say their prayers, but when you see the way they treat other human beings, you realize it is totally in line with the teachings of the gospel. On the other hand, there are people who go to church every day, they read the Bible every day, they say their prayers every day, but when you see the way they treat fellow human beings, you wonder what version of the Bible they read. The Second Vatican Council teaches that salvation is possible people, “who, through no fault of their own, do not know the gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience (Dogmatic Constitution of the Church, no. 16). My friend eventually found peace in relating with her brother while we keep watching what God holds in place for them.

Yes, the image of God we have and portray to the world is very important. I work as a hospital chaplain and I’m also a Navy Chaplain. My ministry outside the church premises gives me the privilege to see the church through the eyes of people outside the church, to understand what people think about the church outside the church. In the hospital, for example, sometimes I walk around, I see some staff members having a nice time. As soon as I show up, they roll their eyes and say to each other, “Behave, Father is here!” Other times, I am in the breakroom, some nurses are in another part of the breakroom, and they are not aware that I am there. They make some jokes, then someone immediately tells them, “Don’t say that, Father is here.” Jokingly, I occasionally say, “Yes, that is part of my job description: I am paid to walk around the hospital to make you feel guilty.” In the Navy, I go around in my uniform, and then someone sees the cross right above my rank and then tells the others, “Watch your language, Chaps is here!” Many times, I wonder what image of religion, and what image of God we portray to the world. Why is it that when people see me as a priest outside, they think I am a police officer, who has come to give them tickets. In Jesus’ missionary mandate to his followers, he charged them to preach the good news. Why is it that when people see us as Christians, rather than think of us as bearers of good news, they see us as people who have come to judge them?

Today we celebrate the Solemnity of The Most Blessed Trinity, Three Persons in One God: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. This solemnity gives us the opportunity, as Christians, to reflect on the image of God that we have and the image of God that we show to the world. Our celebration of the Blessed Trinity reminds us that the God we serve, the God we worship is a family, the family of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. When you think of your family, what is the first thing that comes to your mind? If the family is truly what the family should be, judgment, criticisms, and condemnation should not be the first thing that comes to your mind. Instead, in the family, you think of love, security, care, a safe place where you can be yourself and know that even if you do something wrong, you’ll be put right in a very loving way.

So the God we serve is a family. As Christians, when people encounter us, they should encounter their family and not police officers who have come to arrest them; not people who have come to judge them. In today’s first reading, God introduces himself to Moses as “a merciful and gracious God.” In the gospel passage, Jesus explains to Nicodemus how much God loves the world to the extent of giving his only begotten Son to die for the world. In the second reading, Saint Paul blesses his audience in the name of the Trinity. He did not pass judgment on them, rather he blessed them with the grace of Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit. This message is not that everything goes, it is not in any way saying that God encourages us to be at our worst, the message here is the God we serve is the God of love that conquers evil. It is our responsibility as Christians then to dig into that love of God, to be bearers of this love of God, to be bearers of this good news, and when we show this love to the world, it will suffocate the evil in the world and make it easier for many more to come and enjoy the love of God in religion. My dearly beloved in Christ, I conclude this message by praying that the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.

Rev. Fr. Emmanuel Ochigbo

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