TRINITY SUNDAY 2013C
“May the grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”
You may recognize these words. Because, of course, they are the very ones that greet each member of the church community at the beginning of every eucharistic celebration. You were all addressed with these words just a few minutes ago.
The doctrine of the Trinity with all of its present language grew upon the church gradually. In the future there may be expressions that are not yet dreamed or dared?
That is as it should be. Saint Augustine expressed his own take on the Trinity. “Love”, he said, “requires a lover, a beloved, and the action of love. Because love has these three parts, and God is the greatest love, then God must have three parts.” Yet he said, “If you have understood, then what you have understood is not God.”
Saint Thomas Aquinas agreed that while we can know that God is, we cannot know what God is.Trinity-talk is a way of talking about the divine mystery. It shouldn’t make us smug but quite humble, taking off our shoes in the presence of the Presence; the HOLY!
The old testament prohibited creating images of God.The reason for stopping people from depicting Yahweh is simple: Our sacred authors constantly refer to Yahweh as “holy.” The Hebrew word for holy, kadosh, means “other.” Something or someone kadosh is unlike anything or anyone else. To be holy is to be in a category by itself. We might employ metaphors or symbols, but we can never perfectly depict a person or thing that is completely holy.
In 2000, the National Catholic Reporter conducted a contest inviting people to submit an up-to-date picture of Jesus. The winning artist, Janet McKenzie, gave us a portrait in which no one could be certain of Jesus’ gender, race or nationality. Quite an accomplishment — but also quite biblical.
If today’s feast teaches us anything, it’s that we must be very careful about the images of God we create and employ. Some people today, based on the biblical prohibition about creating divine images, have difficulty using only male pronouns and male nouns when speaking of God. They reason that verbal images are just as limiting as material images. From a biblical perspective, our God is just as much she as he, as much mother as father.
That’s why the bishops at the council of Nicea in 325 were faced with an impossible task. Yes, the Council of Nicea and later that of Constantinople, defined the Trinity in 4th century as three persons in one God, but this isn’t spelled out as such in scripture. It’s somewhat challenging to give a biblical homily on this day. Trinity-talk began not as a dogma but as a liturgical formula: Saint Paul greeted fellow Christians this way in his letters, and baptisms were conferred by means of a Trinitarian phrase.
Early teachers imagined Word and Spirit as aspects of God’s self-expression, but not distinct persons, again according to a human category of person. The trouble began when a priest named Arius (c. 256-336) maintained that Jesus was not God’s equal.
The Council of Nicaea (325) determined that Jesus Christ is one in being with his Father. Along with Basil the Great, Athanasius argued for the full divinity of the Spirit as well. By the First Council of Constantinople (381), Christian belief in a Triune God was established.
The whole of Christian worship is grounded in Trinity. Augustine spoke of lover, beloved, love itself; memory, understanding, will; creator, redeemer, sanctifier—of relationships rather than personalities.
What makes our faith so exceptional, so unique is the belief that our God is relationships, a family! Our God is a community of persons, a fellowship of Love that has burst forth in ecstasy to the point that St. Paulcan say in the reading we heard today: “The love of God has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit which has been given to us” .
Jesus reveals the true nature of God as a communion of love. Everything the Father has he gives to the Son. Everything the Son has he gives to the Spirit. Everything the Spirit receives he gives to us. Thus the supreme mystery of the gospel: we human beings are offered the gift of living in the communion of eternal truth and love with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Our God, then, is a model for how we are to be in relationship with one another. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says: “ ‘God is one but not solitary’” (254).
A story has it that the fifth century Augustine of Hippo was taking his summer holiday along the North African seashore.
Walking along the water's edge on a delightful day, he was pondering the mystery of the Trinity. All this genius was getting for his efforts was a severe headache. Suddenly at his feet was a boy of five. The bishop asked him what he was doing. The youngster replied, "I am pouring the whole ocean into this small hole." Augustine said, "That's nonsense. No one can do that." Unintimidated by the dominant figure above him, the child replied, "Well, neither can you, Bishop Augustine, unravel the mystery of the Trinity." Then he disappeared.
I suspect this account is apocryphal, but I think we all get the point. The Trinity will remain a mystery forever and then some.
G. K. Chesterton once said that one of the reasons he believed in Christianity was because of its belief in the trinity. If Christianity had been made up by human person, it would not have at its very center a concept that is impossible to grasp or explain: the idea that God exists as one but within three persons.
God is calling us as a church community, a family of faith, to be like him — to be like the Family that is the Trinity. Even though we realize that God is way beyond anything that our imaginings can cope with, we realize that God brought us into being and loves us deeply and calls us to love in return.
That’s why we begin every Mass with the words that we do. And that’s why we begin all prayer with: “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”