June 16, 2019
(Romans 5:1-5; John 16:12-15)
How would you like to have yourself explained/ A panel of experts consisting of a physiologist, a psychologist and a spiritual master could be convened to determine once and for all who you are. At the end of a three year study the panel could issue an exhaustive report with bar graphs and pie charts and statistics, detailing everything down to your biochemical make-up. A news conference would be called and a panel of distinguished experts would announce with absolute certainty: this is john (or Jane); nothing more can be known about him (or her).
The very idea of being able to explain fully an individual human being is, of course, ridiculous. Having a complete list of facts about someone - even if it is possible to compile - does not lead to a complete understanding of the person at his or her depths. At best, such a list pervades a snapshot of the person at a certain moment in time. Interesting facts? Yes. A full revelation of the human person? No.
No matter how one puts it, the Christian belief in the Holy Trinity is a difficult teaching to get one’s mind around. The Athanasian Creed, written around the fifth century, puts it this way: “We worship one God in Trinity and Trinity in Unity, neither confounding the persons nor dividing the substance.”
Well, that just clears everything up, doesn’t it??!! We now have a full understanding of the Trinity. Our lives are now complete.
One of the paradoxes of our Catholic faith is that its foundational element, belief in the Trinity, the flour to the bread of Catholicism, cannot be understood through human reason. The mysteriousness of the Trinity, however, hasn’t stopped the church from spending centuries examining and clarifying its doctrine. The core elements of the Trinity are described in no uncertain terms: God is only one, but exists in three distinct persons. The divine persons do not share one divinity but are each wholly and entirely God, existing in relationship with one another.
We almost exclusively refer to these three persons of the Trinity as “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,” but we also know that God is without gender. One might ask, is it possible to think of the three persons in any other way?
Since it can’t be deduced through logic, the nature of the Trinity is only known through revelation by God, mainly through the life and words of Jesus. Jesus refers to God as Father, telling his followers that “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30). At the Last Supper, Jesus tells the Apostles that though he is leaving them his Father will send the Holy Spirit to teach and guide them. It is largely through Jesus, therefore, that we have come to know the three persons of the Trinity as the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Using these names to name the ineffable has both benefits and disadvantages. The merit of naming the persons of the Trinity is the merit of naming anything: A name encapsulates meaning. Father connotes a creator and transcendent authority with the loving and tender care of a parent. Son implies “begotten,” or coming forth from, and Spirit suggests pervasiveness, something that has an origin but is uncontainable. Each of these names tells us something about the nature of each person of the Trinity while highlighting their intimate relationships.
The disadvantage of naming the persons of the Trinity is that names can limit our understanding of God. God, who transcends the human distinction between the sexes, is no more a Father than a Mother. Jesus is the Son of God, but the point of the incarnation is less about God becoming a man, and more about God loving us so much that God decided to walk among us as a human. Given the sociopolitical culture of the time, maybe it was pragmatic of God to come as a man, but the message of the incarnation would remain the same if God’s daughter had been born in Bethlehem.
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; Mother, Child, and Breath of God; Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier; no matter the particular names you choose, the core message of the Trinity remains unchanging. God is God, relational in nature, manifested in three distinct ways, and an example of perfect communion.
That said, there are two exaggerations typically made by preachers on Trinity Sunday.
The first mistake overemphasizes the mysterious nature of the Trinity as incomprehensible to human understanding. How can we make sense of three persons in one God? We can’t, so it’s a mystery. Three doesn’t normally equal one. But we’re talking about God, so don’t worry about it.
The second mistake is that of the ethical rationalist who bypasses the doctrine of the Trinity to obtain a truth accessible to reason. The Trinitarian profession shows us that God is an eternal communion of love. The Trinity is a symbol of the communion that each of us is called to. Why worry about an underlying reality or substance, as opposed to attributes or to that which lacks substance?
Yes, it’s impossible for us to fully comprehend God. Yes, we’re called to a radical love revealed by the Trinitarian communion. But both these approaches to the doctrine of Trinity bypass divine revelation. It is only within the very proclamation of the Gospels, the proclamation of Jesus Christ as Son of the Father, that we can answer the question, “Why the Trinity?”
In the Gospel of John, Jesus speaks to his disciples about a truth that they are unable to bear at the time. It is a truth that they cannot yet understand. Jesus promises that the Spirit will come. It is the Spirit that will initiate the disciples into the fullness of this truth. He does not speak as an autonomous agent. The Spirit speaks only of what the Spirit has heard.
Where has the Spirit heard these things? From the Son, for the Spirit is a gift of the Son. The Spirit also has heard these things from the Father, for the Father and the Son possess all things in common.
Jesus’ words are puzzling. Maybe, it’s the doctrine of the Trinity — the very word that the disciples could not hear at the time — that can make sense of Jesus’ words.
The Father and the Son are not two gods. The Son is not the quasi-god in relationship to the Father. All that the Son has and is has been received from the Father. He is “God from God, light from light, true God from true God,” as we recite in the Nicene Creed.
In this eternal difference, there is the presence of a gift. The Father has given all to the Son outside of time. The Son has given all to the Father outside of time. In Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh, we encounter this eternal love of the Father and the Son.
But what does an eternal gift of love look like in God? Such love is eternally fruitful and creative. It is the love of the Spirit, a love that is the eternal fruit of the self-giving love of the Father and the Son.
The doctrine of the Trinity, therefore, is the promise that women and men are initiated through the Spirit into a love that is not self-created. It is begotten: a love from the Father and the Son. It is the radical claim that God is love, a love that created, redeemed and now sanctifies the entire created order.
The fullness of the Trinity is revealed on the cross. There, we see the Son who has fulfilled his mission of love to the Father, who loved humanity to send the Son. There, we see the Son breathe the Spirit to renew creation.
In teaching his disciples about the Holy Spirit, Jesus did not use technical theological language, but rather stories and parables that expressed the truth in a more immediate way. When he spoke about the Father and Spirit, he always used relational terms that underscored the essential Trinitarian truth: God is love. The essential meaning of the Trinity is an outpouring of love that gives birth to creation and that extends the offer of eternal life to all mankind.
The best way for anyone to come to knowledge of the reality of the Holy Trinity is to act upon the words and deeds of Christ: “Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him. … The Advocate, the Holy Spirit that the Father will send in my name - he will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you.” (John 14:23, 26)
Let us pray.
On this Holy Trinity Sunday, we reflect on the mystery of God — the Father who creates, the Son who redeems and the Holy Spirit who sanctifies. We pray for the grace to appreciate the gifts of the Trinity: three persons, one God, without end. We pray to the Lord.
Jesus tells us that he has much to share with us and that this will be revealed to us through the Holy Spirit. We pray that in our lives, in our thoughts, in everything we do, we open our hearts and our minds to the Spirit so that the message of Christ be the light that guides us in our every action. We pray to the Lord.
We pray for those who have difficulty in accepting the invitation of Jesus to be open to the Spirit and to live by his message. We pray that the Lord look kindly on them and, through his Holy Spirit, bestow on them the great gift of faith. We pray to the Lord.
That the love which is the Trinity may strengthen and renew each of us and deepen our love for one another. We pray to the Lord.
For all fathers and stepfathers; grandfathers and godfathers; for all men who serve and nurture young people; for their strength and tenderness, courage and wisdom, generosity and faithfulness. We pray to the Lord.
For unity with God in each of our hearts: for openness to God’s love; that we may allow God to bring us into the life of the Trinity and to deepen a relationship with us. We pray to the Lord.
For those who are ill and have asked for our prayers. May they find comfort in the healing touch of God and by the loving care of family and friends. We pray to the Lord.
And for all who seek comfort, that they may find it in God’s healing word; and that God may hear the intentions found in our parish prayer list. We pray to the Lord.
We bow our heads and remember in silence our own personal intentions and the intentions of those who have asked for our prayers (pause). We pray to the Lord.
Father, you sent your Word to bring us truth and your Spirit to make us holy. Through them we come to know the mystery of your life. Help us to worship you, one God in three persons, by proclaiming and living our faith in you. Gracious God, pour the Spirit of love into our hearts that we may be united to Christ and to each other in the bond of peace. Triune God, you revealed yourself to your people through your wisdom, truth, and love. You have taken delight in the human race and poured out your love into our hearts. Hear the prayers of those you love and grant them in your holy name, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
God Love You +++
++ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor - St. Francis Chapel
San Diego, CA