After the celebration of the Solemn Feast of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit descends upon the Blessed Mother and the Apostles in the dramatic form of wind and fire, we now celebrate the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity. After we see Jesus ascending to His throne in glory, seated a the right hand of the Father, He sends the Holy Spirit upon the Church to continue the saving work of which John speaks in today’s reading of the Gospel.
The doctrine of the Most Holy Trinity is one of the most fundamental and basic teachings of the Christian faith. Number 234 of the CCC states: 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. It is the most fundamental and essential teaching in the "hierarchy of the truths of faith". The whole history of salvation is identical with the history of the way and the means by which the one true God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, reveals himself to men "and reconciles and unites with himself those who turn away from sin".
The concept of the triune God was worked out over several centuries because it took that long to develop the very precise language needed to teach the truth in a manner consistent with the teaching in the Scriptures and Tradition as they were handed down from the Apostles. The apostles, early fathers and doctors of the Church, inspired by the Spirit Himself, grasped the concept in varying ways, but human thought and language had to develop in order to be able to avoid contradictions of the Truth itself. ALL OF THIS HAPPENED ABOUT 1500 YEARS AGO, though the teaching continued to be restated as various errors were proposed. Even today, people come up with new ideas, they think, and end up going back to some ancient heresies.
Here is the doctrine as it was put forth at the Council of Florence in 1442: The Father is entirely in the Son and entirely in the Holy Spirit; the Son is entirely in the Holy Spirit: the Holy Spirit is entirely in the Son. None of the persons precedes any of the others in eternity, nor does any have greater immensity or greater power. From eternity, without beginning, the Son is from the Father; and from eternity and without beginning the Holy Spirit is from the Father and the Son.
It is important for us to recognize that this doctrine is central to our faith and our way of living. I know that that idea that the doctrine of the Trinity is important for Christian living might not square with the usual way of thinking, but the truth of the matter is, if we get this wrong, everything else will turn out wrong, as well. You can’t get truth about Jesus, incarnate Son of God and Man, if you don’t get the doctrine of the Trinity. Oh, look, if you love the Lord and call him Lord, he is going to lead you, alright. But he would want you to come to the knowledge and truth he has revealed in the Church.
Today, I want to talk about just a couple of reasons why I would like to ask you to study about the Blessed Trinity. Take out the Bible and take that catechism off the shelf and think about it.
Now, you are probably going to be a little skeptical about the first reason I am proposing, but here goes. Knowledge about the doctrine of the Trinity is impressive, interesting and it is exciting to think about and discuss. That’s right, you can impress your friends with your knowledge of the faith if you know just a few things about the Blessed Trinity.
The second reason I want to give you for studying the doctrine of the Trinity is this, by knowing the Blessed Trinity, we can be happier and live better. Now who doesn’t want that! I guarantee you that this is true.
OK. So let’s talk about the first one. You know how when someone knows a lot about a subject, people think that person is really smart. This could be one of those cases for you. Most people do not know how to talk about the Trinity. You might not get that but let me tell you, if you know how to talk about God being one God, yet three persons, you have pretty much gone to the pinnacle of wisdom. Now look, St. Augustine warned us that unless we try to understand the Most Holy Trinity we will fall into heresy. On the other hand, he said trying to understand it would drive us to lunacy.
What do you need to know about the MHT to impress your friends and influence enemies? I am going to tell you a little secret, a product of my reflection over the years teaching in the seminary, that will help you explain this and keep it straight in your mind. Here’s the problem: When we try to understand things about God, we tend to think of God in our terms. We tend to want to describe God like we would describe ourselves. It helps sometimes, but it won’t work here. What we have to do is think of ourselves in God’s terms.
Here’s an example. Today is father’s day. We honor our earthly fathers. Fathers have particular responsibilities toward their family. We think we know what fatherhood is because of the human fathers that we know. But the reason that we have an idea of fatherhood is actually because of God, who is the father of all things. He is the one from whom every family on earth takes its name as St. Paul says.
So it is with the idea of personhood. We know we are persons right? And we know that we are in relation to other persons like us. And it confuses us to think about God as One God in Three Divine Persons, because if I look at the persons next to me in the pews, I don’t see how we can be one. We can be close, but can we be one? What we must do is understand that the true meaning of being a person and the true meaning of relationship are found first in God, not in us. So, God is one in 3 persons in the fullest meaning of person. A person exists in a community or in a relationship. The relationship between the three Divine Persons is the fullest possible to the extent that from and for all eternity, the three persons are blissfully ONE and only One God.
See how easy that is. If you start with the idea that the human person is the model for understanding this doctrine, you will fall into a into thinking that God being one God means that the three persons are just different ways that God acts or shows himself. Or you might make God three distinct beings or divide Him into three parts. But you know now, that we just have to remember that God is perfect in three Persons and the relationship between the three Divine Persons is perfect because they are One, just as Jesus says of Himself and the Father.
Now the second point follows from this. This tells us about how we as persons should follow God in our lives and live accordingly. God is the fullness of personhood and teaches us how to be a person.
In the book of Genesis, when God creates man, he says, “Let us make man in our own image.” As John Paul II suggested in his writings, this is a preliminary glimpse of the inner life of God, of the communion of persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, that we know at the Most Holy Trinity. So, God, who is the example of what it means to be a person, is the origin of the very concept of the human being as a person. The incarnate Son of God, Jesus, shows us the way to the Father.
Jesus fully reveals man to himself. He shows us what it means to be a person. He shows us how to live in light of who we are, being made in the image of God. Jesus, in his Resurrection and Ascension has taken our humanity up into the communion of the Most Holy Trinity. He gives us the grace, through the seven-fold gift of the Holy Spirit to live the Resurrected life now.
The truth about the human person is that God has made us to be in a relationship. The most basic is the one between husband and wife. But there are all sorts of social structures and communities in our lives. All of these will be ultimately brought to their completion is Christ Jesus when he brings us home and presents us to the Father. There we will be in the full communion of the Blessed Trinity with all the other saints.