The Most Holy Trinity (B); May 27, 2018
Dt 4:32-34 Ps 33 Rom 8:14-17 Mt 28:16-20
Deacon Jim McFadden
It’s difficult enough to believe in a single God, but have you ever tried to explain the Trinity to a non-believer? It’s not easy. Believing in three persons who is one God is quite a leap!
There’s a charming story of St. Augustine trying to make sense of the Trinity. One day, worn out from his long study of the mystery, he decides to take a walk on the beach to clear his mind. Along the way, Augustine comes across a little boy patiently pouring water into a hole in the sand. He cups seawater in his hands and empties it into the hole. Augustine watches him do this, run back to the shoreline, and repeat the process over and over again. After a while, Augustine asks the boy what he’s doing. “I’m trying to fill this hole with the ocean,” the little boy said.
“But, that’s impossible,” says Augustine. “You will never fit the ocean in that little hole!”
“Nor will you be able to fit the mystery of the Trinity in your mind,” replies the boy, and Augustine realizes he is speaking with an angel (cf. James Martin, My Life with the Saints, pp. 356-357).
Nonetheless, we keep trying. St. Patrick’s three-leaf clover is a clever image, but still far from adequate. From the earliest centuries of Christianity, theologians have painstakingly struggled to find the words to explain the relationship of three persons sharing this divine mystery. The councils of Nicaea, Constantinople, and Chalcedon may have succeeded in giving us precise definitions, but these statements have not really clarified the mystery of the triune God.
My belief in the Trinity is a totally personal response: My response to the Most Holy Trinity does not occur at the top three inches of my body, but it occurs within my heart. I believe that God is three-in-one because I experience the Risen Christ sacramentally, especially in the Eucharist, and ecclesially within the Church community. Because Jesus was raised from the dead, we believe that he is divine; that belief enters us into a shared life with the Risen Christ. To believe in Jesus is to share what Jesus is sharing in, which is a communal life of giving and receiving with his Father and Holy Spirit. So I could never explain the Trinity to a nonbeliever; I can only share what is in my heart.
Neither do the readings from today offer a philosophical explanation of the nature of God; rather, they point to how God is at work within our lives. It’s the activity of God that reveals Who God is.
In the passage from Deuteronomy, God reveals the divine name, LORD
(YAHWEH) to Moses. God is the great I AM. God is not a particular being, like we are, but God is the fullness of being. And, what is God’s being? According to John the Evangelist, GOD IS LOVE (1 Jn 4:8)! That is not an attribute of God, but it is God’s very nature: Love is Who God is. Love involves the giving and receiving of life. God the Father, who is Lover, sent Jesus, the Beloved Son, into the world for our salvation. And, when Jesus returned to his Father at the Ascension, he gave us the gift of the Holy Spirit, which is the shared loving energy between the Father and the Son. It is within that communal relationship that the divine revelation resonates.
God is “a merciful and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity” (Ex 34:6). Though not a definition, this might well be the best description of God to be found in our entire religious tradition. God is a loving Being.
When we say that we believe in God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit we are proclaiming belief in a community of Persons who surrounds us, embraces us everywhere, and loves us unconditionally exactly the way they love themselves. The Son, Who is the perfect Thought (Logos) and image of the Father, knows us better than we know ourselves. Because there is no limit to the mystery of His being, he can go deep down into our heart and find a home there. God is someone who knows the secret of all mysteries and where all roads lead because His Son is the Way.
Believing in the Trinity means that truth is on the side of communion rather than exclusion—everyone is invited to share in Trinitarian life, which is realized in and through the Church. A shared life means that consensus, collaboration, and the sensum fidei (sense of the faithful) works hand-in-glove with the hierarchical governance of the Church. Believing in the Trinity means accepting that everything is related to everything and so makes up one great whole, and that unity comes from a thousand convergences that come together in Christ : “…in him all things hold together” (Col 2:17).
Church, we never simply live, we always live together as we participate in Trinitarian life. Whatever favors a shared life is good and worthwhile. Hence we live in this community style of living of God’s existence by being especially attentive to the most vulnerable. Jesus reveals to us in Matthew 25 that whatever we do to the least of his brethren we do to him. Therefore as we proclaim our belief in the triune God, we take the side of the poor, who are a constant reminder that there should not be oppressors and oppressed. They are true bearers of hope, because they live on the hope that life is really a shared life of giving and receiving. They challenge us to live that Trinitarian truth.
Believing in the triune God means that there exists an ultimate tenderness, an ultimate bosom, and infinite womb, in which we can take refuge, move and have our being. Brothers and sisters, we are not alone in this universe with all our questions which no one offers satisfactory answers except Jesus because He is the Truth. We can finally have peace in the serenity of love that is shared between the Three Persons of the Most Holy Trinity.