My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,
This Sunday, we celebrate the Feast of the Most Blessed Trinity, one of the central mysteries of our Christian faith. The Trinity is a doctrine that is revealed to us by Jesus Himself, as He speaks to us in the New Testament. Jesus tells us that He and the Father are one, and that when He would leave this world that He would send the Paraclete, the Holy Spirit, to be with us for all eternity. Although Jesus never mentions the word Trinity, the Church has applied that word to the union of Father, Son and Holy Spirit; one God in three persons. Since this is a deep mystery, all human explanations fall short. As humans, however, we must try to understand who God is for us; this is the work of theology. Sometimes theologians can fail as they try to understand the mystery of God in human terms. The Trinity has been understood by the Church from its very beginning.
The first two councils of the Church – the Council of Nicaea, AD 325, and the Council of Constantinople, AD 318 – give us the formulations that we recite in the Creed each Sunday. Perhaps we never avert to what we really say. Finally, in 1438 the Latin tradition of the Creed taught that the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son, which was a difficulty since the Eastern Church understood this in a different way. The mystery of the Trinity in human reasoning has helped us to understand the God we worship as three persons in one God.
Most importantly, we understand that truly God is a relationship. God wants to have a relationship with man. Consequently, our relationships in this world are important because in effect all of our relationships mirror in some way the relationship in the Godhead itself.
There are many ways in which the Trinity has been explained. In a certain sense, we can look at the Trinity as a family. There is a father and a son, and consequently there must, be in human terms, a mother: the Holy Spirit.
I would like to tell you about a little girl’s understanding of the Trinity, which impressed me greatly. She was getting ready for First Communion and the priest came in to ask questions to the First Communicants. He said, “Who knows how to make the sign of the cross?” This little girl in the front row is raising her hand crazily, so he asks her to make the sign of the cross. She began, “In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Mother.” This little girl had a true theological insight and her logic was good because the Holy Spirit, indeed, is the symbolic love of God that united the Father and the Son. This is the feminine quality of a God that is beyond human reason and understanding.
God the Father has been named by Jesus, Himself, as the Creator, as the one who brought the world into being. It is Jesus who comes to the world to redeem us; redeem us from the sin that broke the original relationship between God and man. It is the Holy Spirit who continues to sanctify us as He is God’s presence in the world today. As you can see, we keep using pronouns that denote male and female. We cannot do otherwise as humans recognizing that our limited categories can never completely understand this deep mystery.
One of the words to describe the relationship between the Father and the Son is that they are consubstantial. The word is attributed to Greek philosophy. It was the Greek philosophers who understood reality in terms of substance and accidents. When the present text of the Mass was changed several years ago, there was a discussion about inserting the word consubstantial, with its great historical significance, and eliminating the words “one in being.” The theologians among the bishops won out on this word. Consubstantial would be the word we use. It adds to the mysterious nature of the Trinity itself.
St. Augustine, one of the greatest minds of the Church, was walking along the seashore and came upon a little boy who had dug a hole in the sand. The boy had a pail and was running back and forth to the water to fill the pail and drop the water in the hole. St. Augustine questioned the boy and asked him what he was trying to do. The boy responded that he was filling the hole with the ocean. When Augustine reprimanded the boy and told him that it was impossible to do, the little boy, who was really an angel, responded to him by saying that it was also impossible that Augustine could ever comprehend the mystery of the Church.
St. Augustine leaves us with an insight that is important when he says, “The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father as the first principle and, by the eternal gift of this to the Son, from the communion of both the Father and the Son.” (St. Augustine, DeTrin 15, 26, 47: PL 45, 1095)
This is perhaps not so easy to understand. We are reminded, however, that the Spirit truly is the gift of God to us. It is the binding force of communion between Father and Son, and it is God’s presence in the world today that allows us to touch Divinity in our humanity.
Perhaps for this Trinity Sunday, we can better understand our own human relationships in our families by trying to emulate the Trinity with a deep bond between the persons who are God for us. Love in the Trinity forms the bond beyond our understanding. So it can be for ourselves, that as we give to and learn from the other persons in our lives, we can be better reflections of the Trinity in our daily life.
The understanding of every mystery is an exercise of putting out into the deep. We try to understand better our relationship to God and to one another. And try we must. Nor can we become discouraged because our efforts themselves are their own reward. This Sunday, as we pray the words of the Creed, perhaps we can meditate on the mystery of the formulation in the Church of the words that we use to praise our God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.