What do you do with the mystery of the Trinity?

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Most Holy Trinity, Year C: May 26, 2013
Prov 8:22-31; Ps 8; Rom 5:1-5; John 16:12-15

Today we celebrate the mystery of the Most Holy Trinity. But what is a mystery? In books of fiction, a mystery is often a puzzle related to a crime that a detective is supposed to solve. But when we speak about the faith, it means something different. From what I have heard, it is something that you say when you want a child to stop asking questions! “No, I don’t know who or why or how! It’s a mystery. Beat it, kid!”

But, of course, that’s not really what a mystery of the faith is. A mystery is something that is initially out of reach of our human reason—that, in spite of all the things that we can discover by reason alone, is beyond our grasp, so that we would never find it out on our own. But it is something that God has then revealed to us: he tells it to us, because it is so important for us to know. And so we do know it then—though not completely, as if we had become master of this truth, perfectly comprehending it—but for this very reason we can come back to a mystery again and again, to be nourished by it, strengthened, and changed, whenever we return to meditate upon it.

The Catechism tells us (234): “The mystery of the Most Holy Trinity is the central mystery of Christian faith and life. It is the mystery of God in himself. It is therefore the source of all the other mysteries of faith, the light that enlightens them.” And it is to this central mystery that we turn at this point in the liturgical year. For, over the past several months, we have celebrated the mission of God the Son, in his incarnation and passion and death and resurrection and ascension; and last week we celebrated the mission of God the Holy Spirit upon the Church on Pentecost. And so this Sunday we turn to consider this “mystery of God in himself” that has thus been revealed to us.

In the doctrine of the Trinity we confess the truth of one God in three persons: the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

  • Now, when we say this, we are not confessing one person who we simply experience in three different ways or who wears three different masks. This early heresy goes by the name of Sabellianism or modalism. The three divine persons are really distinct from each other. (254)
  • Nor are we saying that there are three gods, which would be a form of polytheism. And we are monotheists who believe in one God, one divine nature; and each of the persons is that divine nature. (253)

And when we seek to discover what it is that distinguishes the three divine persons from one another, we are pointed, not to personality traits or skills or desires or goals, but to the relationships which relate them to each other. (255) The Father begets or generates the Son; the Son is begotten by the Father. The Spirit is breathed forth by the Father and the Son.

And the three divine persons relate to each other with perfect, infinite love. Thus the Trinity has at times been compared to a divine family. And meditating upon the Trinity gives us insight into ourselves. For we human beings were created in God’s Image and Likeness; and we can perceive that this Image includes having things like intelligence and free will and creativity and so on. But because of the revelation to us that God is a Trinity of Persons, we more easily perceive that being created in his Image means that we too are persons, created with the capacity to enter into interpersonal relationships—specifically, interpersonal relationships characterized by self-giving love, and the mutual giving and receiving of one person by another.

For this reason, perhaps it is no surprise that some authors (such as Mary Eberstadt) have recently observed that, in human history, faith and religious practice often springs from the family. For it seems that when a man and woman come to experience their married love for each other, and how that married love becomes fruitful in procreating children, and then experience their paternal and maternal love for their children—this new and powerful reality that they experience often points them to the powerful, fruitful love of God, especially the love of the persons of the Trinity. Perhaps this has been your own experience, or the experience of people that you know.

And if that experience of spousal and paternal love impels them to Mass, then they have come to exactly the right place to experience the love of the Trinity.

  • For the Holy Spirit, who dwells within our hearts from the moment of our baptism, draws us here to Mass and moves us forward toward the altar, within our hearts.
  • And the Son will, in a few minutes, be made really present upon the altar, in the fullness of his person, in his divinity and in his humanity.
  • And he will do so in the completion of his sacrificial gift of himself to the Father, in perfect love and obedience, holding nothing back, receiving everything from the Father and giving everything back to him in love.

And so at Mass we enter into the Trinity as observers, standing amidst the persons at its very heart. And not only as observers but as participants, as sharers: for Christ, the Only-Begotten Son, has adopted us into his Sonship; and he beckons us to join him in his sacrifice to the Father, receiving everything from him, giving back everything in love.

This then is the mystery of the Trinity: the central mystery of our faith, which strengthens us, nourishes us, and beckons us to be completely changed. May we enter into it again and again; may we receive what is infinite; and may we give everything. O come, let us adore.

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