Feast of the Most Holy Trinity – 1965 – St. Bartholomew’s
Today we celebrate a feast in honor of the most Blessed Trinity. Other days we honor the Son and his work or the gift of the Spirit, but today’s feast is our thanks and praise for the total work of our salvation, initiated by the Father, carried through by his Son made man, and communicated in their Spirit in our hearts.
We all have, I think, a certain tendency to ignore the Trinity in our everyday Christian experience. Either we pray to God as to a single Person, or pray for the help of all three Persons, but without paying attention to the distinctive work of each. Both attitudes effectively deny the relevance of the Trinity to our lives as Christians.
But, in fact, the Trinity has not been revealed to us as a speculative, abstract truth, one to be affirmed, yes, but without much other interest. That the one God in three Persons was revealed to us in a manner that affects us quite personally, in the saving work accomplished by Jesus Christ. That work cannot be understood without the Trinity, and since we are the creations of that work, neither can our present existence. It might be good, then, to reflect today about the distinctive roles each of the Persons of the Blessed Trinity have played in our salvation and play now in our Christian life.
The Father is the initiator of our salvation. His own will that man share his life was frustrated by sin, but man’s sin did not destroy God’s love. While we were still sinners, he sent his own Son, that we might become his sons. Salvation begins from the unmerited love of a Father who wishes to have more than one Son.
The Son is born of a woman, the man Jesus Christ, and in him is carried through his Father’s plan of salvation. Jesus lived out in flesh and blood his Sonship to the Father; he spent himself as price for our reconciliation; he has been made Lord and giver of the Spirit.
And the Spirit completes the circle. The proof that we are sons is that God has sent into hearts the Spirit of his Son. From the Father, through the Son, and in the Spirit, a single intention of love has been realized; man has become God’s Son.
We are familiar with that. But note that each Person of the Trinity has his own role that is not played by the others. The Father sent his Son, and the Father and Son send their Spirit, but the Father is not sent. Only the Son became man, died and rose again. Only the Spirit is sent into our hearst, as it were the agent of our becoming sons. They are distinct Persons to us. When we address the Father, it is for his love in sending the Son. When we address the Son, it is because of the thousand ways in which he has won our love. When we address the Spirit, it is as the proof of God’s love, as the Person in whom we return to the Father.
There is a perfect circle: from the Father the Son has come into the world to win our salvation, and, risen from the dead, he has sent his Spirit. In the Spirit we are made sons, incorporated into the Son and so return to the Father in Him. From the Father through the Son and in the Spirit has come our salvation. In the Spirit, through the Son, we return to our Father.
That is why there is something basic missing if we are not aware of these things in our prayer and Christian thinking. With minor exceptions, all of the prayers of the Mass are addressed to God the Father; they are made through Jesus Christ, his Son and our Lord, to whom we have been united by his Holy Spirit. The Lord’s Prayer is addressed to the Father alone, not to Jesus and the Spirit. It is the model of all our prayers, for it is said in the conscious awareness that we are really sons of his, and that can only be because he has loved us as he loves his Son, and his love for his Son is the Holy Spirit, and his love has flooded our inmost hearts through the Holy Spirit he has given us.
TRINITY SUNDAY – JUNE 7, 1998 – BLESSED SACRAMENT
More than one theologian has remarked that the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, three persons in the one God, plays very little role in the consciousness, prayer, and lives of Christians. It is there, of course, in the Creed as also in the prayers which end with the trinitarian formula addressed to the Father through Jesus Christ and in the unity of the Holy Spirit. But it often is neglected in the common consciousness of Christians, left to the speculations of theologians.
The doctrine was elaborated as an effort to make sense of two dimensions of Christianity. The first was the conviction neatly stated by St. Paul that “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself.” In encountering Jesus the early disciples were convinced that they were encountering God, that they were being placed before a challenge only God can pose, that they were being offered a grace that only God can give, that they were witnessing an act only God can perform. Even in his lifetime they began to use of Christ terms that belong to God, and after his resurrection these began to be multiplied, and these titles, for all the obvious humanity of the one they encountered on the dusty roads of Palestine, placed him with God. Of one and the same Jesus of Nazareth things had to be said that mean that he was a man and other things that mean that he is God. “The Word became flesh,” John’s Gospel said crisply: the creative wisdom of God himself had entered fully into the concreteness, into the history, of humanity. It was, and remains, an extraordinary claim.
The second dimension the doctrine of the Trinity explicates is that of Christian religious experience. We hear of it in today’s Epistle where Paul says that “the love of God has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” There is an ambiguity in that term “love of God.” Does it refer to God’s love for us or to our love for God? To both, the answer would surely be. What was occurring in Christ was an outpouring of God’s love, but what it was creating in those who responded to his call to conversion was a transformation of themselves that found them loving as they had not loved before, loving what they had not loved before, and the experience was like that of a flood on which they were carried, carried willingly, but with a force and impetus they did not originate and could not control. And to explain this deep dimension they spoke of a Holy Spirit, Lord and giver of life.
Two dimensions, then, one objective, one subjective–two dimensions that remain. To be a Christian is to confront the hard historical event of Jesus of Nazareth, to hear what he said, to observe what he did, to recognize that in what he said and did are at stake all one’s notions of who God is, what the world is, who I am and can become, that the claims and the demands he makes are total ones, and to arrive at the judgment that God was in him, that it was God’s word that he was speaking and that he was, that in his deeds God was at work. To be a Christian is to give a precise answer to what was going on in the person and life of Jesus of Nazareth.
And that answer, as it is a reply to a total demand, requires a total response. When one talks about God one is talking about the whole, the totality, of things: the beginning and end, the height and depth, the length and breadth of things. And to talk about the whole of things involves the whole of oneself, the deepest depth of oneself, the originating and orienting center of oneself, something prior even to one’s conscious choices, one’s most primal, basic love, what St. Augustine called a love that is more inward than one’s most inward self. “No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except in the Holy Spirit,” St. Paul said. And this is why the first language of religious experience is in the passive voice: “I once was lost but now am found,” says the hymn. It is not so much that I find God, said Pascal, but that God finds me. We would not seek God if God had not already sought and found us. As only God can make total claims only God can enable a total response. The claim we face embodied in Jesus of Nazareth is the claim of God. The response we find ourselves giving in faith and love is the work of God.
The doctrine of the Trinity, then, is not some mathematical puzzle conceived by theologians with too much time on their hands, nor is it a set of abstruse metaphysical statements. It derives from and centers upon an effort to make sense of central dimensions of mystery as encountered in Jesus Christ: the mystery of God, the mystery of Christ, the mystery of our own selves. The first place to go in order to understand the Trinity is not to the big theological works of the past and present, illuminating as they may be. The first place to go is to the Scriptures which speak of what was happening in Jesus Christ and to one’s own heart where what was happening in him happens again, as the love of God which is in Christ Jesus creates in us the love of God which is in the Holy Spirit.
Trinity Sunday – June 6, 2004 – Blessed Sacrament
With today’s feast of the Most Holy Trinity, we celebrate the transformation in the notion of God effected by Christianity. When the phenomenon of Christianity first appeared in the social and cultural milieu of the ancient Roman Empire, and people tried to locate them on a cultural or religious map, they discovered that they didn’t seem to fit. On the one hand, they were not polytheists, like the majority of the citizens of the Empire. They said that their God was one God: “I believe in one God, the Father Almighty” their creed began, and in this respect they seemed similar to Jews famous for their strict monotheism. But on the other hand, they differed from Jews in that they also spoke of another, whom they called with a divine name, “Lord,” and to whom they ascribed characteristics and attributed actions that belong only to God, such as a part in creation and in the reconciliation of all things; and there was yet a third one whom they named, the Spirit, and whom they also put with God on the other side of the abyss between creature and Creator. This new group, these Christians, when they spoke even of the one God, spoke of this God in terms of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. No one had ever spoken in this way of God before.
An awful lot of ink, and even blood, was spilt in the early centuries of Christianity in trying to understand this mystery in God, and even in trying to come up with a common language with which to speak of it. Language from the Greek cultural tradition was eventually invoked, and they began to speak of three “persons” in one “nature.” But this was just for terminological clarity: to say this of God was not to understand God but to have words for saying what it was that they worshipped and what it was that they and all generations after them have struggled to understand. When St. Augustine wrote his great work on the Trinity and he came to the word “person,” he asked himself what a person is. He replied: person is what there are three of in God. That wasn’t a clever dodge away from a difficult question. “Person” was originally simply the term Christians used to speak of what there is that is threefold in God.
The early Christians moved to this confession of faith out of the exigencies of their Christian existence. The unity of God was simply a non-debatable element of their Jewish religious heritage. But what this same God had done in Jesus of Nazareth; what Jesus of Nazareth had himself done; what had been shown to be true of Jesus of Nazareth by his resurrection from the dead–all this led, in remarkably short time, to the use of divine titles for him, including the name that is above all other names, the name “Lord,” God’s name in the Hebrew Scriptures. Similarly, their experience of their participation in the divine life was in virtue of a Spirit whose life-giving power led them to understand the Spirit also as divine. And this trinity of names, Father, Son and Spirit, is already present in the very first Christian writing we possess, Paul’s First Epistle to the Thessalonians, written only about twenty years after the death and resurrection of Christ. That is how quickly the movement began that was to result in the full-blown Christian doctrine of the Holy Trinity, the doctrine we not only profess in the Creed each Sunday but which we take for granted in the ending of all our prayers–“through Christ your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, Father, in the unity of the Holy Spirit”–and when we sign ourselves in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
It is the Christian experience of what God did and was doing in Christ that led to the doctrine. Many large and subtle tomes have been written about the Trinity, trying to elaborate metaphors or analogies in order to help comprehension of it, or at least to show that it is not a contradiction in terms to say that God is both one and three. None of them is adequate; none of them could possibly be adequate. It is practically a definition of God that he is beyond comprehension. St. Thomas Aquinas said that we cannot know what God is but only what God is not. Paul Tillich said something similar when he spoke of the “God beyond God,” that is, the God who is always beyond what we think God is.
In celebrating this feast, then, we are invited to focus once again upon what is central and most distinctive of our Christian being: what we believe God was doing in Christ, and what what God did in Christ reveals about the God who did it. This is the great work of reconciling the human race with God, the recovery of the communion for which God had created us, a communion that is one of God’s knowledge and love of us provoking and enabling our knowledge and love of God, an intimacy and communion of life, that shades off into mystery. Here below we can only enter that mystery through our life of faith in Christ, in the love the Spirit pours into our hearts. We live rather than understand the mystery of the Trinity.
Feast of the Holy Trinity – June 3, 2007 – Blessed Sacrament
Our readings today give illustrations of how Christians came to an awareness of the doctrine we celebrate in this solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity. That doctrine emerged, not as a dogma dropped down from heaven, but as an effort to understand fundamental elements in Christian experience.
St. Paul’s letters contain short formulas that sound like primitive creeds.“Jesus is Lord” is one of them. In it, the name “Lord”, which was used in the Old Testament to avoid using the too-sacred name “Yahweh,” is given to Jesus of Nazareth. In another, “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself,” the basic experience of forgiveness is attributed to God’s presence and power in Christ. In these and in other brief statements, there began the process by which the Jewish notion of one God was being stretched until it made room for Christ. This is a process that was already well on its way within two decades of the death and resurrection of Christ as we know from the hymn to the pre-existent Christ which St. Paul cites in the second chapter of his Epistle to the Philippians. Gradually, a unique status as “Son of God” is acknowledged in Christ, who, as we will shortly say in our Creed, is “God from God, light from light, true God from true God, begotten, not made.”
The reconciliation with God that Christ achieved for us was an experience of new life. It was very early understood to be a share in the life of the risen Lord Jesus Christ. It enabled Christians to pray to their God as Jesus himself had prayed and as he had taught his disciples to pray: by calling God “Abba, Father.” St. Paul called that a proof that we ourselves have been made God’s sons and daughters. And he traced that ability to the presence within us of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, as in the words of today[‘s reading: “the love of God has been poured forth into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” The love of God spoken of here can have two meanings: it can mean God’s love for us, and it can mean our love for God. But surely we do not have to choose between these two meanings. Our ability to love God is the fruit of God’s love for us: we can love because we have been loved; in fact we have been loved so that we may love God in return. And this is the great work of the Holy Spirit, who is himself the love between Father and Son in the eternal life of God.
The late Dominican theologian, Herbert McCabe, gave a short description of how the Church eventually was able to understand the God who had revealed himself in Christ and in the Holy Spirit:
In understanding his [own] divine life the Father has unfathomable joy and delight, and this divine delight and joy is the Holy Spirit that is poured out upon us when the Word or Son of God is made flesh and dwells amongst us.
Christians saw the concrete historical life of Christ as bringing us into the Love which we worship. To be filled with the Spirit that comes to us from the Father through the Son is to be taken up to share in the eternal exchange of love we call the Trinity.
“Unfathomable joy and delight”; “divine delight and joy”; an “eternal exchange of love” – three phrases to describe the Holy Trinity. We do not celebrate a dogma today, but a life; or rather if we celebrate what has been articulated as a dogma, that dogma is a feeble attempt to express what is infinite joy and delight, unlimited understanding and depth of wisdom, ecstatic love, life beyond all our concepts and imaginations. And, the wonder that we celebrate today is that God created us in order to have someone with whom to share this ecstatic delight and joy. May God grant that we may experience ever more consciously and enter ever more fully into this wonderful exchange of love that is the very life of God.
Trinity Sunday – May 30, 2010 – Washingtonville
With last Sunday’s celebration of the feast of Pentecost, we brought to an end our celebration of the fifty days of the Easter Season. We spent the Sundays of that season, which, unfortunately, is less well known to many Catholics than the forty days of Lent, reflecting on the blessings that God has given to us through Jesus Christ and in his holy Spirit. Today’s feast of the Holy Trinity is a concentrated celebration of what we celebrated during that season, indeed of what we celebrate every Sunday of the year.
The notion of God that we tend to take for granted in fact is the creation of the Christian faith: of a God who is creator and sustainer of all that exists, of a God who has a providential care for all that he has made, of a God who so loved the world as to send his own Son, not to condemn us but to save us, of a God who has given us even now and here on earth a share in his own divine life, of a God who promises that death will not be the last word pronounced over us, of a God, that is, whose love is stronger, more certain, even than death. This the God whose inner life as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, revealed to us in the story of our salvation, we venerate as the holy Trinity: one God in three Persons, as the ancient formula has it.
Our Scripture readings speak of this threefold divine life. The first reading, from the Book of Proverbs, that is, from a pre-Christian book, from the Old Testament, describes the Wisdom of God almost in terms of a distinct entity from God. It is the Wisdom which was with God from before creation, the Wisdom in terms of which God framed the whole of creation. The Church has always seen in this Wisdom a figure of what St. John’s Gospel presents as God’s Word that was with him in the beginning, through whom God made all that is, the Word that became flesh in Jesus Christ. In Christ we learn the full meaning of the last words of the first reading: “I found delight in the children of men.” God found delight in us human beings–what a wonderful thought: that we are not only something valuable in God’s eyes, but something that he delights in, that he loves us.
And the depth of his love God revealed, first of all, in the work of his own Son, through whom, St. Paul tells us in the second reading, “we have gained access by faith to this grace in which we stand, and we boast in hope of the glory of God.” It there was alienation from God, it was not on God’s part but on ours, when we departed from his friendship and did not delight in a God who delights in us. The proof of God’s love, the Apostle says a few verses after our reading, is that while we were still sinners, Chris died for us. But in our reading today we hear the second proof of God’s love: “because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” What does “love of God” mean here? God’s love for us poured into our hearts? Or our love for God flooding our hearts? Surely we don’t have to choose: God’s love for us evokes, creates, our love for him. His delight in us finds an echo in our delight in him.
And in our Gospel reading, finally, we learn that the Spirit of love is also a Spirit of truth, who, when he comes, will guide us to all truth. There are truths, there are depths to the mystery of God and to the mystery of us human beings, that only love will be able to discern. Do we not find this true in other areas? That we have to have a basic sympathy with what we observe in order really to know it? That love gives us different eyes with which to look at the universe? That love discovers loveliness in things and persons that those who do not love will never perceive? Think of a parent’s love and how it notices things about her or his child that others don’t sense, that recognizes things that need to be done that others don’t, that eagerly undertakes them, not out of cold duty, but out of the spontaneous warmth of love. If there is something of this sort in our relationship with God, then we know from experience what St. Paul was talking about when he spoke of the love of God being poured out into our hearts.
This is the exuberant life of the God whom we Christians reverence, adore, and love. We cannot conceive and we cannot even imagine what the inner life of God must be like if its expression out into our world through Jesus Christ and his holy Spirit has produced such wonderful results. Today’s readings are ones we might keep near to us any time we are tempted to think of God in any other terms. Our God is the God who delights in his human creation. Our God is the God who so shared our life that he shared our death so that we could share his life. Our God is the God whose love for us creates our love for him. Thanks be to God for giving us the knowledge of so great a mystery.