Getting to Know the Triune God

by Father Jean-Pierre Ruiz

EARBUG? ACCORDING to www.urbandictionary.com, it’s “a song that’s stuck in your head that you can’t get out for anything.”

I have a recurrent seasonal earbug that’s been stuck in my head since second grade and that comes back on Trinity Sunday each and every year. I can even vividly visualize just how and when I heard it for the first time: The Sister of Charity, who was my wonderful second-grade teacher, pulled the well-worn vinyl record from its equally well-worn album jacket, placed it carefully on the phonograph’s already moving turntable. Then, ever so deftly, she set the tone arm down at the outermost edge of the little black disk that spun at more or less 45 revolutions per minute.

The reedy tenor voice that arose with the scratchy sound quality of the sing-along intoned, “The Father is God and the First Person of the Blessed Trinity! The Son is God and the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity! The Holy Ghost is God and the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity! All are one and the same God, the God whom we love!”

So as not to confuse or frighten us, Sister hastened to explain that the “Holy Ghost” is the same Divine Person we know as the “Holy Spirit.” The change in name had to do with something that she called “Vatican II,” even though none of her young charges had the slightest clue of what or where or when Vatican II might have been. But that bouncy little tune, no musical masterpiece by any reckoning, has taken up permanent residence in my head and comes out to head up the playlist each and every year as my Trinity Sunday earbug.

I’m perfectly content with my Trinity Sunday earbug. It reminds me of a much simpler time when things made much more sense, when even the doctrine of the Holy Trinity seemed utterly and absolutely clear. Right along with our arithmetic, where one plus one plus one always equals three, we were taught the doctrine of the Trinity, where it seemed that One plus One plus One equals One. Not to worry: The Trinity is a mystery! What’s a mystery? For this second grader, that was when our teacher said it, we believed it, and that settled it, no matter what.

Things got much more complicated when we learned later on that a mystery is a truth of our faith that we can’t come to know on our own, no matter how much brain power we put into it. A mystery is a truth of our faith that we can only know through divine revelation, because God takes the initiative in disclosing it to us. Just how does God go about that? The Church teaches us that it’s through Scripture and through the Church’s living tradition that we come to know God.

Important though it may be to know about God, that just isn’t enough. God takes the initiative in revelation, not merely to provide us with information, but even more importantly, to invite us into friendship with the Triune God. This means that the mystery of the Trinity is more than just a brain teaser that challenges us to figure out how One can be three and three can be One. We come to understand the mystery of the Trinity not by acing the final exam but by accepting God’s own invitation to loving communion with Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

In this Sunday’s reading from John’s Gospel, we hear part of Jesus’ farewell discourse to His friends, spoken during their Last Supper together before His Passion. He tells them, “I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now. But when he comes, the Spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth.”

Like every good teacher, Jesus knew when enough was enough and when it was time to stop talking so that things could sink in. What’s more, the deepest truth that God’s indwelling Spirit teaches is not a matter of abstract facts or figures or formulas.

As St. Paul, another master teacher, taught the Christian community in Rome, “the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” This love is the ever-restless wisdom by which God creates and sustains all things, the same love that is made visible in the person of God-with-us who is both Son of God and Son of Mary, and the very same living flame of love that makes a dwelling in the hearts of God’s faithful ones.

When my Trinity Sunday earbug returns (and I’m sure it will) I’ll remember my second-grade teacher with gratitude, and not just because she played that recording for us. It’s because she didn’t just teach us about God (although she did that with an especially keen sense of what our second-grade minds could or couldn’t comprehend).

Even more, whether it was in the classroom, the church or the cafeteria, she taught us by example what it means to be friends with the Triune God and made us want to be friends with God just as she was. That’s a lesson we should all want to keep learning more and more deeply – a lesson worth sharing with those God sends our way all along life’s journey.[hr]

Readings for the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity

Proverbs 8: 22-31

Psalm 8: 4-5, 6-7, 8-9

Romans 5: 1-5

John 16: 12-15[hr]

Father Jean-Pierre Ruiz, a priest of the Diocese of Brooklyn, is a professor of theology at St. John’s University.

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