Sunday, June 3, 2012

Trinity Sunday

I celebrated Mass this morning at the Newman Center at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.  Here's what I said:

Last year, on this feast of the Most Holy Trinity, Pope Benedict said the following:  "Today we are celebrating the Feast of the Blessed Trinity, the Feast of God, of the center of our faith: God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. When one thinks of the Trinity, one usually thinks of the aspect of the mystery: they are Three and they are One, one God in three Persons. Actually God in his greatness cannot be anything but a mystery for us...."
There is a problem with that word "mystery."  We tend to think of Sherlock Holmes and murder or crime shows with mysteries that can be solved when enough clues are discovered.  The mysteries of our faith, including the great mystery of the Holy Trinity, are not mysteries like these.  They cannot be "solved" nor completely understood.  St. Augustine said that when it comes to God, "si comprehendis, non Deus est."  If you think you can understand the mystery that is God, you're no longer talking about God. 

But, Pope Benedict finished the above sentence with these words: "yet he revealed himself. We can know him in his Son and thus also know the Father and the Holy Spirit."
God is not a mathematical problem to be solved nor do we come to know a person by dissecting him or her.  We come to know a person as that person reveals him or herself to us.  That's what God has done through creation and the history of the Chosen People recorded in the Hebrew Scriptures.  There Israel, and all of us, come to know God in a way that was radically new, in a way that no other religion came to know God.  God revealed himself as a loving Father.  Then the Father sent the Son, as Pope Benedict often says, as "the human face of God."  Jesus is the fullest revelation of God.  Jesus taught his disciples and us to pray as he did, calling God "Abba," Aramaic for Daddy or Pappa."  We are to call God "our Father" when we pray.  Jesus promised at the Last Supper that he and the Father would come to be one with us (see John 14:  9-11, 23).  He also promised to send the Holy Spirit to be with us and in us (see John: 14: 16-17).  This Holy Spirit came at Pentecost, the day we commemorated last Sunday, and at each of our baptisms.  Jesus told the disciples and us in today's Gospel to go and baptize people "in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit." 

Though God has revealed himself to us in Jesus and through the Holy Spirit, the mystery remains.  God is more than we can understand.  Throughout history missionaries and theologians have tried to help people better understand the mystery of the Trinity with images and analogies.  St. Patrick famously used a shamrock to show that God is one and God is three.  But such images limp.  God cannot be divided the way a shamrock can.  Where one Person of the Blessed Trinity is, the three Persons are. 

Practically speaking, what does all this mean for us in our daily lives?  Besides the fact that God has revealed himself as a Trinity, why is this belief important?

Pope Benedict's homily of last year continues: "Instead today’s Liturgy draws our attention not so much to this mystery as to the reality of love that is contained in this first and supreme mystery of our faith. The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are one because God is love and love is an absolute life-giving force; the unity created by love is a unity greater than a purely physical unity. The Father gives everything to the Son; the Son receives everything from the Father with gratitude; and the Holy Spirit is the fruit of this mutual love of the Father and the Son…."

In other words, another way of speaking about the mystery of the Trinity is to say, as St. John did in the First Letter that bears his name, "God is love" (see 1 John 4: 8 and 16).  God is a communion of persons, three yet one.  Now, in whose image have we been made?  We read in the first book of the Bible, Genesis, that humanity was made "in the image and likeness of God."  Each human person is made in the image and likeness of the Most Holy Trinity.  Our deepest identity is love.  We were made by love and for love.  We are not isolated individuals separated from one another.  We are made for communion.  Individualism is a lie that denies our very identity as persons made in the image and likeness of the Communion of Persons that is God.  Thus when Jesus taught us to pray he did not tell us to pray with the words "my Father," but "our Father." 

Both our first reading from Deuteronomy and our Gospel from Matthew tell us that a very practical implication of this is following God's commandments.  Thus we hear Moses say, "You must keep his statutes and commandments that I enjoin on you today," and after telling his disciples to baptize all people Jesus adds, "teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you."  These commandments are not something external to us.  They are not imposed upon us but are part of our very nature.  We're all familiar with the laws of nature.  One is gravity and as material beings we follow it.  We can rebel against it, launching ourselves off a height and trying to fly, but in doing so we end up hurting or killing ourselves.  Similarly, as living creatures we follow certain biological laws that are built right into us.  There are some things that are incompatible with our health and very life.  We call these poison.  We are free to drink it but if we do we suffer certain consequences for our foolish rebellion.  Moreover we are more than physical and biological creatures.  We are also spiritual beings who have certain spiritual laws built right into our nature.  These are the commandments which Jesus summed up in one word--love.  Love God and love your neighbor.  As beings made in the image and likeness of God who is love itself, we are made for love.  To rebel against this law of love, to sin, thinking that we are only hurting ourselves, leads to soul sickness and the possibility of eternal death--separation from God and the communion of saints. 

Celebrating the feast of the Most Holy Trinity reminds us of our own deepest identity--persons called to communion.  As we grow in love and in communion with God and one another, we reveal to the world the true nature of our Trinitarian God--love. 

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