Updated: Nov 6, 2021
Sunday readings can be found: [HERE]
I recently came across an old clip on YouTube, which I had seen before, but had resurfaced in my list of suggested videos. It was a performance by Luciano Pavarotti's of, Nessun Dorma, an aria from Giacomo Puccini’s opera, Turandot.
Although the words are in Italian, Pavarotti’s performance conveys a passion that needs no translation. But when one does know the words, and is familiar with the story, the piece is truly captivating.
The story involves the title princess, Turandot, who vowed to marry the man who could answer three riddles correctly. But any suitor who failed to answer correctly would be beheaded at the next rising moon. Along comes a visitor to the kingdom, who catches a glimpse of Turandot and falls in love with her immediately. Despite the many who try to dissuade him from doing so, he quickly steps forward to accept the challenge of the three riddles.
To the delight of the emperor, this mysterious youth answers the riddles correctly, thus earning for himself the right to marry the princess, and bring an end to the her bloody obsession. But the princess is anguished, because she had sworn to never let any man wed her; the riddles were mere pretense to kill any potential suitors.
So the mysterious youth proposes a riddle of his own to Turandot: “You do not know my name. Tell me my name before the sunrise, and at dawn, I will die;” to which the princess agrees. But she then declares that no one in the kingdom shall sleep that night until the youth’s name is discovered. And if his name is not discovered, everyone in the kingdom will die.
That’s the context for Nessun Dorma. And the words:
None shall sleep,
None shall sleep!
Even you, oh Princess,
In your cold room.
Watch the stars,
That tremble with love
And with hope.
But my secret is hidden within me,
My name no one shall know,
On your mouth, I will tell it,
When the light shines.
And my kiss will dissolve the silence that makes you mine!
Vanish, O Night!
At dawn, I will win!
I will win!
I will win!
There's quite the contrast between the agony that grips the kingdom and sense of triumph that increases in the young man. The opera continues, until daybreak is near at hand. Victory is certain for the mysterious youth.
But as the night had passed, anxiety within the princess increased, as well as other more complicated feelings. Throughout the night, certain events prompted the princess to look upon the young suitor differently. Nevertheless, the unease of marrying a stranger greatly anguished Turandot.
Not wishing to force himself on the princess, the mysterious youth reveals his name to her. In actuality, he’s a prince, the son of a defeated king. He tells her: “My name is Caláf, Son of Timur, the King of Tartary.” Caláf understands the danger of his action. By revealing his name to Turandot, he makes himself vulnerable to her. He places his life in her hands; she now has power over him. Turandot can now kill him as she did the others.
And so, at the end of the third act, Princess Turandot goes before the emperor and the court assembly at dawn, and declares that she knows the young man’s name. At the finale, in front of everyone, she triumphantly cries out: “I have discovered the stranger’s name: his name is… Love!”
As it turns out, Turandot had come to love Caláf.
The story of Turandot has resonated with many audiences, I feel, because the drama at the heart of the opera characterizes the drama that fills human history. The anguish of the princess and the kingdom during the night, to discover the stranger’s name; though it pales in comparison, can call to mind mankind’s preoccupation with discovering God’s name; or his essence, or identity.
The dark night of ignorance within the opera can mirror the long night of man’s estrangement from God, experienced by many civilizations throughout human history. The riddle of the stranger’s name can be an allegory to the musings of many philosophers, who tried to reason their way to knowledge of God.
But God’s Name cannot be deduced as a matter of reason, nor discovered by any search, any more than Caláf’s name could be discovered. The mystery of God’s Name can only be revealed. No one can force its discovery.
Age after age, man’s grasping at God has been met with futility. But in the fullness of time, at the dawn of the new creation, God did reveal his Name. And like the mysterious stranger, he made himself vulnerable in doing so.
I’m firmly convinced that all theology is summarized in this image [gesture to the crucifix]. Anything anyone can or needs to know about God is summarized here. This is where God reveals his Name in perfect vulnerability.
Today, we celebrate the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity. We celebrate the mystery at the heart of our Faith. We rejoice at the Name of God. As an aside, notice how we say, "in the Name of the Father..." not "in the Names of the Father..." We don't speak in the plural. There is only One God with One Name.
And we invoke this Name every time we sign ourselves with this symbol: In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. The Father is God; the Son is God; the Holy Spirit is God. He is One God, one Lord: not in the unity of a single person, but in a Trinity of one substance. I know that can be confusing, but even the world’s greatest philosophers could never philosophize their way to discover this truth. This truth cannot be “figured out” by anyone. The Lord is always beyond our capacity to fully fathom.
But what is beyond our intellect is not beyond our belief. A husband need not fully comprehend the full depths of his bride in order to love her. A woman does not need to be a mind-reader to love her husband. Likewise with God. Through the supernatural gift of faith, we are able to believe in our God and experience him.
And we do experience our God whenever we love. We experience God as Love. Like the prince in Turandot, the Name of our God is synonymous with love, as we’re reminded by Saint John the Apostle:
“For love is of God,” he writes, “and he who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God; for God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love; not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the expiation for our sins…"
This is where love begins [gesture to the Crucifix]. This is where our night of ignorance ends. This is where the dawn of our understanding begins. This is where we are given the Name of God: the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. May God bless you.