The Most Holy Trinity (A)
(Exodus 34:4-6, 8-9; 2 Corinthians 13:11-13; John 3:16-18)
Catholic doctrine concerning the Most Holy Trinity is, in the strictest sense, a mystery of faith; a mystery known to us only due to the fact that it has been revealed to us by God: by hints and suggestions in the Old Testament Scriptures, and above all, in the New Testament, by the most intimate words of Jesus’ lived relationship of loving obedience before His Father and by His promised sending of the Holy Spirit to be our unfailing Helper, and the fulfiller of all Jesus’ prospects and purposes for us.
Notice that, People of God: the Most Holy Trinity was first, and is best, revealed through Jesus’ own loving relationships with His Father and the Holy Spirit, before ever it came to be -- in theological discussion, and even at times in monastic liturgy -- an almost mathematical conception: ‘One in Three’ and ‘Three in One’, even, most amazingly, ‘una Unitas’ (one unity!). This most holy mystery does indeed necessarily involve our making use of the mathematical concepts of one and three, but, in itself, it always and exclusively concerns PERSONAL relationships of divinely ecstatic love and total commitment, in an absolute oneness of Unique Being.
There is also another thought to be born in mind whereby this ‘mystery’ becomes more easily and lovingly understandable: none of us knows the most intimate depths of the mind and heart of those we love, even perhaps most dearly. In the beginning we have to trust the sincerity of their expressive words and actions; only later on, when we have learnt through experience and thereby come to greater maturity, we trust them themselves. But always, we must trust; because Personality is inviolable, and is indeed that likeness to Himself originally given us by God as His special creation:
Let us make man in Our image, after Our likeness. (Genesis 1:26)
Faith characterises lovers everywhere, and the need for Christian faith is not alien to our nature nor does it make God inaccessibly distant. Faith and trust only -- but indeed supremely -- add in human relationships the aspect of difference we frequently call attractiveness and beauty; so too with God, the awesome transcendence of omniscient wisdom and unfailing goodness.
Jesus makes this known to us in the Gospels where He declares that there is only one true God; that He Himself is the Son of God, truly God, distinct from and sent by His Father, and that the Holy Spirit is God, sent by the Father and the Son to console and enlighten, strengthen and sustain, His Christian people.
Intimately present to One another through absolute knowledge and perfect understanding, bound together in inexpressible unity of love and purpose, the Blessed Trinity is the model for, and can be the goal and fulfilment of, our lives as personal beings. For through the gift of sanctifying grace we are admitted to the fellowship of the three divine Persons: we are, by faith, baptized into Christ, and He, the Word of God, gives us knowledge of and access to the Father; and together, the Father and the Son infuse the Spirit of Love into our souls, and the Holy Spirit comes with all His gifts which, if we respond, will lead us to the perfection of the life of grace.
The Father is the One for Whom we live and to Whom we aspire; the Son the One with Whom we live and through Whom we learn; the Spirit is Him by Whom we live and in Whom we trust.
The Father sends His Son to us and gives Him for us; Jesus is sent by the Father and bestows the Spirit; the Spirit is the Gift of both Father and Son.
The Father calls us; the Jesus accompanies us and guides us; the Spirit inspires and sustains us.
Such individuality, such complementarity, such Unity!
And that is why Christians, being called to share the divine life, have over many centuries aspired to a gradually more perfect society … to build up a culture where each and every one seeks to attain his or her individual maturity as members of a heavenly society on earth, where no one lives for self alone but all for each other and all together for God; where no one uses his neighbour for his own personal advantage; where violence and hatred have neither right nor entrance; and where the satisfaction of personal fulfilment is only full-fulfilment when it is crowned with the much deeper joy of thereby contributing to the fulfilment of the whole community.
When Christian society is, today, apparently breaking down in many parts of the world, due to the sins of Christians, the attacks of secularist and atheistic ideologies, and the mindless arrogance and violence of extremists who at times show themselves to be quite specially gifted in the expression of human hatred, we must ever recall with gratitude and hope that the most beautiful and inspiring doctrine of the Most Holy Trinity is still able to inspire, to work in and transform, all who believe in and commit themselves to Jesus. Such aspirations, both personal and social, are not just beautiful ideals or secret dreams, they are possibilities, realities, which can ultimately be ours; because we are already, by faith and by God’s Gift, partakers in the power and beauty of divine life.
And associated most intimately with this Christian teaching and Catholic doctrine about the Most Holy Trinity is the most intense and beautiful love story that history has to speak of.
At the Last Supper, St. John tells us (30:1ss.):
Jesus knew that His hour had come to pass from this world to the Father, (and loving) His own in the world, He loved them to the end. So, during supper, fully aware that the Father had put everything into His power, and that He had come from God and was returning to God, He rose from supper and took off His outer garments. He took a towel and tied it around His waist. Then He poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet.
He then went on (Luke 22:14ss.) to make not only a rare manifestation of His own intimate Personal emotions and feelings but also a most delicate and self-humbling invitation to His disciples to share them with Him:
I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer;
words which can only be related to those He had earlier used to prepare His disciples for the very event that was now imminent and threatening:
There is a baptism with which I must be baptized and how great is My anguish until it is accomplished! (Luke 12:50)
In such circumstances Jesus entered upon what was to be the culmination of this their special meeting together and the fulfilment of His coming as Son of Man and Saviour of mankind; He instituted His final gift of Self:
This is My Body which will be given for you; do this in memory of Me;
This cup is the new covenant in My Blood which will be shed for you.
The very prospect of the physical and spiritual torments that would actually be involved in that gift of His body and blood were subsequently to cause Him such instinctive horror in the Garden of Gethsemane that (Luke 22:43s.):
To strengthen Him an angel from heaven appeared to Him. He was in such agony and He prayed so fervently that His sweat became like drops of blood falling on the ground.
And yet, He brought that Supper with His disciples, for which He had so ardently longed (‘with desire I desired’ translated literally) to a conclusion with those most sublime words of total love and selfless commitment (John 14:30-15:1):
I will no longer speak much with you, for the ruler of the world is coming. He has no power over Me, but THE WORLD MUST KNOW THAT I LOVE THE FATHER and that I do just as the Father commanded Me. Get up, let us go.
Whereupon, leading His disciples out of that Upper Room, He led them, singing, to the Garden of Gethsemane, where, in the most intimate presence of but three -- the chosen three -- of His disciples, the torments of His Passion began to take hold of Him:
My soul is sorrowful even to death. (Matthew 26:38)
Dear People of God, the Catholic and Christian mystery of the Most Holy Trinity expresses and enshrines such wondrous beauty and sublime truths! Let us thank God today, for this mystery can truly be said to contain, as in a vital kernel, the whole of Jesus’ revelation to us and hopes for us:
All power in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age. (Mt. 28:18–20)