Holy Trinity Sunday 2011
In the story of salvation we usually attribute creation to the Father, redemption to the Son and sanctification to the Holy Spirit. Nevertheless, though they are distinct as persons, neither the Father nor the Son nor the Holy Spirit ever exists in separation or acts in isolation from the other two persons of the Godhead. The inner relationship of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in such a way that each of them is fully and equally God, yet there are not three Gods but one is incomprehensible to the human mind. It is a mystery.
At Confirmation, the archbishop asked the children for a definition of the Holy Trinity. A girl answered very softly, "The Holy Trinity is three Persons in one God." The archbishop, who was almost deaf, replied, "I didn't understand what you said." And the young theologian before him replied, "You are not supposed to. The Trinity is a mystery."
The word "Trinity," what does it mean? Does it mean that God is a mystery? No! Is the Blessed Trinity another Person of God? No! Then, what is it? The root of the word "Trinity" originates from the Latin word "trini" which means "three each," or "threefold." "The term has been used as early as the days of Tertullian (200 A.D.) to denote the central doctrine of the Christian religion. God, who is one and unique in His infinite substance or nature, or Godhead, is three really distinct Persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Each of these Persons is truly the same God, and has all His infinite perfections, yet He is really distinct from each of the other Persons. The one and only God is the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit; yet God the Father is not God the Son, but begets the Son eternally, as the Son is eternally begotten. The Holy Spirit is neither the Father nor the Son, but a distinct Person having His Divine nature from the Father and the Son by eternal procession." (The New Catholic Dictionary, Van Rees Press, NY, Copyright 1929)
In other words, in Jesus dwells the Father and the Holy Spirit. And the same can be said about the Father and the Holy Spirit. In each one dwells the other two Persons of God. This truth is supported by a verse in The Letter of Paul to the Colossians. "In Him (Jesus) all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell bodily." [Col. 1:19; 2:9] "All the fullness of God means the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
Already this short presentation of the catholic dogmatic teaching about the Holy Trinity shows us how incompetent, inept and even useless or hopeless is our human language. But try please to define or to describe only the human reality of love, the mother’s love of the child, the husband’s love of his spouse, the love between bride and bridegroom. And you will find the same difficulties and problems to express in our human language the reality which is however purely human. So what about the reality of God? Is our human reason and language competent in trying to describe the uncreated reality of GOD?
The story is told of St Augustine of Hippo, who wanted so much to understand the doctrine of the Trinity and to be able to explain it logically. One day as he was walking along the sea shore and reflecting on this, he suddenly saw a little child all alone on the shore. The child made a whole in the sand, ran to the sea with a little shell, filled his shell, came and poured it into the hole he had made in the sand. Back and forth he went to the sea, filled his shell and came and poured it into the hole. Augustine went up to child and said, "Little child, what are doing?" and the child replied, "I am trying to empty the sea into this hole." "How do you think," Augustine asked her, "that you can empty this immense sea into this tiny hole and with this tiny shell?" To which the child replied, " And you, how do you suppose that with this your small head you can comprehend the immensity of God?" With that the child disappeared.
Like Augustine we may not be able to understand the how of the Trinity but I think it is very important to understand the why. Why did God reveal to us this mystery regarding the very nature of the Supreme Being? The importance of this doctrine lies in this: we are made in the image of God, therefore, the more we understand God the more we can understand ourselves. Experts in religion tell us that people always try to be like the God they worship. People who worship a warrior God tend to be warriors, people who worship a God of pleasure tend to be pleasure-seeking, people who worship a God of wrath tend to be angry people, etc. Like a God, like the worshipers. So the more important question for us to ask today is: What does the doctrine of the Blessed Trinity tell us about the God and what does this say about the kind of people we should be? And here I have tree points to share with you.
1. God does not exist in isolated individualism but in a community of relationships. In other words, God is not a loner or a recluse. This means that a Christian in search of Godliness (Matthew 5:48) must shun every tendency to isolationism and individualism. The ideal Christian spirituality is not that of flight from the world like that of certain Buddhist monastic traditions where the quest for holiness means withdrawal to the Himalayas away from contact with other people and society.
2. True love requires three persons. You remember the old saying "Two is company, three is a crowd." The Trinity shows us that three is community, three is love at its best; three is not a crowd. Taking an example from the human condition we see that when a man is in love he looks for a woman so that together they can create a child, the third person. Father, mother and child — love when it becomes complete becomes a trinity. In this context we can ask: “the abortion, the killing of an unborn child, the third person of the conjugal trinity … is it not an offense to God?”
Over and above that, each one of us becomes fully human only when we are in relationship with God and in relationship with others. In that way our life becomes Trinitarian like that of God. Then we discover that the I-and-I principle preached by Bob Marley and practiced by the society at large leaves much to be desired. The doctrine of the Blessed Trinity challenges us to adopt rather an I-and-God-and-neighbor principle. I am a Christian insofar as I live in a relationship of love with God and other people. May the grace of the Holy Trinity help us to banish all traces of selfishness in our lives and to live in love of God and of neighbor.
3. The Eucharist: During the institution of the Lord's Supper, Jesus "took a loaf of bread, and gave it to His disciples, saying, 'This is My Body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of Me.'" [Lk. 22:19] In the mystery of the Consecration of the Bread and Wine, they become the physical Body and Blood of Christ who remains with us today. As Jesus said when departing from this world, "And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age." [Mt. 28:20b] In the Holy Eucharist is manifested the fullness of the Blessed Trinity. As the Father and the Holy Spirit dwelled in Jesus while He walked the earth, the Father and the Holy Spirit dwell in Jesus in the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, the fullness of the Blessed Trinity being manifested bodily.
The teaching about the Trinity is one of the most fundamental in our Christian faith. We often refer to it as a 'mystery' and therefore something which can be affirmed but cannot be fully understood, still less fully explained. In the Christian Testament, the word 'mystery' primarily refers not to something which is obscure and difficult to understand but, on the contrary, to something, formerly hidden, which is now being made known to those on the "inside", something which we otherwise would not know.
The Trinity, namely, that God is triune, one in three Persons, is really a mystery in this sense. We could not know about it, if we had not been told. Of course, it is also difficult for us to see how one being can be three persons just as it is difficult for us to understand how Jesus can be both God and a human person (the 'mystery' of the Incarnation).
But we have to ask us some more fundamental questions: Does it really “mystery” contradict or challenge the human reason? Is it not rather our style of life -full of moral contradictions- which truly challenge our reason? The mystery of faith doesn’t contest our human reason. Is it not rather our human cruelty and egoistic style of life which contradict our human reason?
The mystery of faith is not contradicting, offending or opposing our rational faculty but it is rather showing that we have the truly infinite perspectives if only we don’t contradict God’s commandments and God’s love. Human reason is contradicted rather by sin, immorality and pride than by the mystery of faith.
The Age of Information has provided us with whatever facts we need at our finger tips, but it has also assaulted the very concept of faith. Because explanations can be found for most of the questions we may have, we feel cheated when we come upon unanswerable questions, questions like: "Why do good people die? What happens after death? Does God exist? What is God like? Who, really, is Jesus Christ? How has the past become the present and the future? How is it that the Christ can be with the Father yet still with us?"
People of faith realize that mystery can be found throughout life. Instead of questioning the unknowable, people of faith see in the very presence of mystery the presence of God, the Holy One. Holy, by the way means completely separate from the material world. Sadly, many people refuse to recognize the existence of Mystery. Their lives revolve around the here and now, the physical. They have led our society into mayhem. "If it feels good do it," is the modern expression of ancient Hedonism. It has resulted in a total lack of responsibility for actions, a total rejection of the greater good of society, a total assault against the concept that we are accountable to God for our lives. It has produced the insanity that really reached a new lows in the arguments supporting partial birth abortion that refuse to consider the possibility that the child feels pain and suffers. The rejection of the spiritual, the rejection of Mystery, has led to chaos in our society.
And most probably this is why so many of our contemporary people abandon their faith, because they cannot deal with a mystery. Mystery is for many of us an unsupportable challenge and offence to their reason. And yet God does not exist in isolated individualism but in a community of relationships. In other words, God is not a loner or a recluse. Ultimately we humans are the revelation of the mystery of the internal life of God, because "God created man in his image; in the divine image he created him; male and female he created them." Genesis 1:27
In the middle of this, we come to Church this week and are confronted with the Doctrine of the Trinity.