The Most Holy Trinity (Year A)

Commentary on Exodus 34:4-6, 8-9; 2 Corinthians 13:11-13; John 3:16-18

We have now come to the end of the many weeks which were taken up with the celebration of and reflection on the ‘Paschal Mystery’. It began with Ash Wednesday, went through Lent, the celebration of Holy Week and Easter, the weeks following Easter and culminating in Pentecost and the handing on of Jesus’ mission to his Church.

We return now for the rest of the liturgical year – the ‘Ordinary’ Sundays of the Year – and they will bring us right up to Advent and the beginning of another liturgical cycle. But, traditionally this transition is commemorated each year by our celebration of the Feast of the Holy Trinity.

The doctrine of the Trinity is one of the most fundamental in our Christian faith, but it is also a doctrine which many of us have difficulty coming to terms with. We often refer to it as a ‘mystery’ and therefore something which can be affirmed, but is not to be understood and need not be explained. “Just believe it,” is something people may be told.

In the New Testament, the word ‘mystery’ (Greek, mysterion) refers primarily to some truth which God has made known to us and which we otherwise would not have discovered. The Trinity, that in God there are three Persons, really is a mystery in this sense. It is also, of course, difficult for us to understand how one being can be three persons just as it is difficult for us to understand how Jesus can be both God and human (the mystery of the Incarnation).

Three possible reactions
We can react to this situation in three ways:

  1. by saying it is all rubbish anyway;
  2. by not thinking about these things at all;
  3. by trying to reduce them to categories which are within our human comprehension.

None of these approaches is very helpful. Rather, we should try to understand as much as we can, and say as much as we can while acknowledging that we can only go a certain distance. However, We can go far enough to satisfy our hunger for truth and to have some understanding of our God. One thing we can say right at the beginning. We are not dealing with outright contradictions or trying to believe the impossible. We are not being asked to believe that 3=1.

We are asked to believe that in the one being we call God, there are three Persons, who are, in the words of today’s Preface to the Eucharistic Prayer,

…three Persons equal in majesty, undivided in splendour, yet one Lord, one God, ever to be adored.

Rather than getting ourselves tied up in theological knots, we would do far better by reading prayerfully over the beautiful Scripture readings of today’s Mass. Here there are no abstruse theological explanations or speculations. Rather the emphasis is not on what, or how, or why, but in very practical language, on the tangible way the Persons in the Trinity relate to us.

A God who is very close
The message coming loud and clear through these readings is that our God is not far away, that he is not “up there somewhere”, a kind of scary, long-bearded policeman in the sky. The message coming through is that our God is close by and he cares. In the First Reading (from Exodus) Moses is told that God is the:

Lord, a God of tenderness and compassion, slow to anger, rich in kindness and faithfulness

Oh, we really need to hear that and to become utterly convinced of it, especially when we find times rough and painful.

In Greek drama of classical times, one could recognise the character being played by the mask that he/she wore. As well, in Chinese opera, there is something similar where the faces of the players are elaborately painted so that one can know which role is being played – a king, a general, a concubine, a soldier, etc. The mask was called a prosopon. In Latin this word was translated as persona.

Even today in programmes of plays we may still see the actors listed under the heading Dramatis Personae, the characters or the roles in the drama. So, in a certain sense, there are three personae or roles in our one God. With the difference that in a play, the role is assumed for the duration of the drama, while in God, the roles are permanently identified with God himself.

It might be helpful to us to look at these three roles of God as they are presented to us in Scripture.

God the Father*
While traditionally Scripture speaks of God as Father, we know that in God there can be no gender differences. We call God Father in the sense of the Parent who gives life and nurture. God as Father is the originator, the source, the conserver of all life, of all that exists. In the Acts it says:

In him, we live and move and have our being.

God as Father is no puppet operator in the clouds, but an indwelling Lord. God is IN all his creation but is not identified with it. The Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins said that “the world is charged with the grandeur of God”. Through the Father, our God is to be sought and found in all things, which he has created and keeps in being. From the simplest minerals which are alive with atomic energy, to the most gifted and creative human being, to the outermost galaxy. And so we have the lovely prayer of Moses in today’s First Reading,

Let my Lord come with us.

God the Son*
If we can speak of God as Father/Mother, then the “only begotten” must equally be spoken of as Son/Daughter. The Only Begotten as such, can be neither male nor female even though incarnation de facto took place in a male. However, the Creed which we will soon recite says of the Son/Daughter that homo factus est, which should literally be translated “was made human” or “became human”. The word homo- in Latin, like anthropus in Greek, does not specify gender; both men and women are homo.

We know the Son, of course, best through Jesus, born of Mary in Bethlehem. In him, there was the mysterious combination of the divine and the human in one Person. Jesus was totally God and totally human – not half and half. This is a truth as far beyond our comprehension as the Trinity itself.

Jesus is the revelation, the unveiling in human form of our God. The message of this revelation is purely and simply to let us know that God, that the Father, loves us with an overwhelming love. John tells us in today’s Gospel passage:

God [Father] loves the world so much that he gave his only Son so that everyone who believes in him may not be lost but may have eternal life. For God [Father] sent his Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but so that through him the world might be saved.

God is not concealed behind the humanity of Jesus, but is seen precisely in that humanity. When is Jesus most clearly revealing of the Father? In his miracles? Certainly, but surely Jesus is most clearly revealing the heart of the Father when he is at his most human. We see the Father God most clearly in Jesus in his compassion for the weak, the needy, the sinner; in forgiving the sinner and his enemies; in healing the physically and mentally sick; in integrating the social outcast back into the community; in his unconditional acceptance of all irrespective of class, religion, or gender. Yes, our Father God really loves the world and that has been shown to us by the Only Begotten in Jesus.

God the Spirit
Finally, we see God as indwelling Spirit. The Spirit is described first as the subsisting Love that is generated between the Father and the Son. Again, of course, we cannot speak of either ‘he’ or ‘she’, still less of this Love as ‘it’.

The meaning of the Spirit in practice means that God is indwelling in all creation and revealing himself through it. Wherever there is Truth or Love or Beauty, there is God. Every act of truth and integrity, every act of love and compassion, every act of human empathy, every act of solidarity, forgiveness, acceptance, justice in people is the Spirit of God working in and through us.

When such actions appear in us, they are a sign that we are open to the Spirit and that he is working in us and through us. Let us pray today with Paul in the Second Reading:

Try to grow perfect; help one another. Be united; live in peace, and the God of love and peace will be with you…

And Paul concludes with the lovely greeting we often use at the beginning of the Eucharist:

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ,
the love of God
and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

And finally
One last afterword. The two great mysteries of our faith are the Trinity and the Incarnation. They are combined in a marvellous simplicity in the Sign of the Cross with its accompanying words. Let us try to say this simple prayer with ever greater meaning and awareness and form the cross on our bodies with care and dignity.

St Ignatius of Loyola had such a love of the Trinity (as the result of some mystical experiences) that every time he began celebrating the Eucharist with the Sign of the Cross he broke down in tears and could hardly go on. Let us, too, rediscover the Sign of the Cross as a means of getting in touch with the God who loves us so much that he sent his Son and fills us with his Spirit.

*There is no sexual differentiation in God, so we can speak with equal validity of the First Person as Father/Mother and of the Second as Son/Daughter. The Spirit, too, is both male and female. This is the language of the Scripture texts reflecting the times in which they were written. It is not the words that are important, but their meaning.

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