TRINITY SUNDAY (2020)
Exodus 34:4-6, 8-9
2 Corinthians 13:11-13
Today’s liturgy should come with a disclaimer that might say: “Today we are going to celebrate the Trinity who is at the very center of our faith. Please know that by the end of the liturgy there is no guarantee that you will understand the Trinity any better than you do at this moment!”
It’s not that we haven’t tried to understand this mystery of our faith; but if we fully understood it, it would stop being a mystery, and that would not necessarily be an advantage. The mystery of the Trinity only began to be revealed to us with the birth of Jesus in a stable at Bethlehem. The Hebrew Scriptures are filed with glimpses of that same Trinity, but they are never quite able to get to that moment when the one “merciful and gracious God,” who Moses invited to “come along [with us] in our company,” is viewed as One God, who manifests that divine presence in three separate persons, the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Since Jesus’ birth and the birth of the Church on Pentecost, many have tried to unravel the mystery. Tertullion, one of the earliest prolific Christian authors of the new Church, is thought to be the first theologian to mention the word ‘Trinity’ in Latin. Tertullion imagined the Trinity as a plant, with the Father as the root, the Son as the shoot breaking forth into the world, and the Spirit as that which fills the earth with flower and fruit. For those of us of a certain age, Tertullion’s view is not very far from the Shamrock imagery of St. Patrick, taught to us by nuns who hoped that that imagery would help – and it did. Mystics looked on the Trinity in a variety of ways, and Hildegard of Bingen saw it as the “flame of a fire [that] has three qualities.” A flame made up of “brilliant light and red powder and fiery heat.” Modern physicists might view the Trinity as a subatomic particle called a “quark,” for it exists in threes. There is no such thing as one quark, but only three interdependent beings acting together. With the twins my mother bore during her pregnancy she might also have been a good example of three interdependent beings acting together, and thus an example of the Trinity. Whatever crutch brings us closer to a better understanding of the Trinity, is more than acceptable, as long as we realize we will never understand the Trinity completely.
Christians believe that God has revealed himself to us as a Trinity of persons. Three persons who are who they are because of how they love one another, and whom we know because it is in God’s very nature to reach out. In many ways, this was indicated at the start of our liturgy with the words of the Collect: “God our Father, who by sending into the world the Word of truth and the Spirit of sanctification made known to the human race your wondrous mystery, grant us, we pray, that in professing the true faith, we may acknowledge the Trinity of eternal glory and adore your Unity, powerful in majesty.” That sentiment is echoed in John’s (3:16) famous statement that “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.” That sending of His Son into our world is to be seen in conjunction with what we celebrated a week ago, for the gift of the Holy Spirit was planned from before time. The God we worship is a God who desired to share Himself fully, revealed in a Son who shares their Spirit with us. It is often said that the love God has for His Son is so great that it emanates into a distinct other person, the Spirit. God is meant to be seen, not so much as a prime mover, but as the first and supreme lover.
We encounter God in the Scriptures, and the Scriptures demonstate that the superlative quality of the God revealed to us in Scripture is love. Indeed, as Mary McGlone, SJ, says: “theology and the whole history of salvation are simply the story of God’s love: Jesus, the Word incarnate, draws us into his relationship with God as Father and shares the divine Spirit who dwells in us.” It is the second person of the blessed Trinity who taught us that “God is love.” In His words and in His actions Jesus showed us how to live in communion with one another, how to love as He loved, how to love as He is loved by the Father and the Spirit. It is in love that we draw close to understanding the mystery of the Trinity; it is only by loving that we are able to make this central tenet of the Christian faith, the Trinity, manifest to all those we come in contact with.
In the final words of our second reading, words that are so often used as the greeting at the beginning of Mass, I pray that “the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God the Father and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.” Amen.