by Msgr. Joseph Calise
I was ordained a deacon 33 years ago by His Eminence Laurence Cardinal Sheehan in the Chapel of the Immaculate Conception at the North American College in Rome. It was coincidentally the Thursday before the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity which meant that the mystery we celebrate today was the topic of the first official homily I was to deliver.
My audience was intimidating. First of all, I was to preach on a ward at Bambino Gesu Hospital, the children’s hospital next door to the college where I visited regularly as an apostolic service. I was to preach for the resident children, the staff of religious Sisters and others from the North American College who also performed apostolic service with the children.
However, there was also another guest – my mother, who brought along assorted family from Rome. Mom had flown in for the ordination and stayed a few extra days. Of course, I was happy she could be there. In fact, her presence became the inspiration for my homily.
After introducing her to the others present, I mentioned how happy I was that she could be there for such an important moment. Although I knew she would be with me in spirit wherever she was, her physical presence – knowing that she cared enough to make that trip – meant a lot to me. I explained to the children that the reason her being there was important is that I was confident she loved me even when she could not be with me. If I did not believe she loved me, I would not have cared whether or not she was there. I also had to acknowledge the fact that I knew she would soon be returning home. I showed the kids a picture of her that I kept in my room at the college and explained that the picture is a reminder of her presence in my life and that every time I looked at it, I would be able to remember how much her time with me meant.
Hoping the children, in particular, would understand the analogy, I compared her presence in my life to the Trinity. I explained how God has loved us from the moment of creation and that, because of that love, He made Himself visible at a specific moment in history when we needed to be aware of His love and presence. The Spirit, as the Gospel tells us, was given so that we would know He is with us always, even till the end of time. The Spirit, just like mom’s picture, reminds us that He is never far away.
I have no doubt that there are theologians who can easily pick out the errors in my homily. Not only does every analogy have flaws but, by definition, a mystery of faith cannot be simply and completely explained without some ascent in faith. St. Patrick used the shamrock to explain the concept of three-in-one but that makes it hard to see the distinctness of each Person. Even the analogy to a triangle (the three sides exist independently but only form a triangle when each is in place) makes some sense but falls far short of being a definitive explanation of the Holy Trinity. No analogy is going to explain a mystery but can give us some insight into not only what we believe but why we believe it.
We believe in One God who, forming a perfect unity in Himself, reveals Himself to us as three distinct Persons: the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The bond of love that is the unity of the Trinity is so perfect a love that it craves to be shared. So, God created man to have someone to love. Yet, man sinned and so proved his inability to love God in return with the same fidelity God had shown him. To call us back to love, He took upon Himself the limitations of our nature and showed us the love of which we are capable – love which conquers sin and transcends death. Finally, to be sure we would be empowered to imitate His love, He formed a Church and endowed us, all and each, with life in the Spirit, God’s enabling presence.
God is with us always because He loves us. A simple yet profound message, no matter how we try to explain it.[hr] Readings for the Feast of the Holy Trinity
Psalm 29 (UMH 761);
John 3:1-17[hr] Msgr. Calise is the pastor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel parish, Williamsburg.