With the end of the Easter season, the Paschal Candle has been banished to the Baptistery, and the Resurrection icon’s place has been taken by a 15th-century portrayal of the Holy Trinity [photo]. Its theme is the familiar story in Genesis of the patriarch Abraham’s three angelic visitors, a visit subsequently interpreted in Christian tradition as an image of the three persons of the Trinity. In it, the second Person - the Son, the Word, who reveals God to the world - is portrayed prominently in the center, pointing outward into the world. The Father seated to one side, looks lovingly at the Son, who in turn looks lovingly at the Father, while the bright-robed Holy Spirit is seated on the other side. The three Persons gaze at each other in mutual loving communication, into which we in turn are also meant to be drawn by the Son.
Well, you might say, that’s all very nice, but what of it? For so many (maybe most) of us, the Trinity sometimes seems somewhat abstract – a doctrine duly believed in, of course, but not something otherwise given too much thought to.
But this is in spite of the obvious fact that we were all baptized in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. On that occasion, we – or our parents and godparents - all made a profession of faith in the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, one which we repeat regularly when we sing the Creed at Mass. Meanwhile, our sins have been forgiven in the sacrament of Penance, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Those of us who are married have exchanged wedding rings in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. The principal prayers of the Mass are mostly addressed to the Father, through the Son, in the unity of the Holy Spirit. And we have all, over and over again, been blessed in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. In short, our entire religious lives, both individually and collectively as a Church community, have been defined, formed, shaped by this awesome Trinitarian mystery of who God is, that defines God’s ongoing relationship with us and ours with God.
Admittedly, the words we use to talk about the Trinity, words like one “nature” and three “persons,” used not as we use them in ordinary language, but as technical terms of philosophical language, may seem somewhat abstract.
The so-called Athanasian Creed, which used to be recited the Church’s morning prayer today and on many other Sundays as well, uses rather repetitive, dense-sounding, liturgical language to speak of the Trinity, for example:
The Father is made of none; neither created, nor begotten. The Son is of the Father alone; not made, nor created; but begotten. The Holy Spirit is of the Father and of the Son; neither made, nor created, nor begotten; but proceeding. So there is one Father, not three Fathers; one Son, not three Sons; one Holy Spirit, not three Holy Spirits. And in this Trinity none is before, or after another; none is greater, or less than another. But the whole three Persons are coeternal, and coequal.
And that is just one small excerpt! Even so, however abstractly or densely we have learned to talk about the Trinity, the doctrine of the Trinity remains our fundamental – and uniquely Christian – insight into who God is. Created in God’s image and likeness, we all have a built-in, natural, longing for God. But who God is - who God is in himself - is something we could never have come to know on our own. That had to be revealed to us by God himself. And God has done so, revealing who he is in himself – one God in three distinct Persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
We do not worship three gods, but one God – a unity of Persons in one divine nature or substance. Each of the three Persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is truly God, each distinctly God, but existing eternally in relationship to each other: the Father to the Son, the Son to the Father, the Holy Spirit to both.
At the same time, the Trinity also expresses something fundamental about how God acts outside himself, how he acts toward us. Who God is in himself is how God acts; and thus how God acts in human history reveals who God ultimately is. Already in the Old Testament, God was revealing himself – as Moses testified in today’s 1st reading [Deuteronomy 4:32-34, 39-40] as one who repeatedly reveals himself in how he acts toward us.
It is, of course, the Son, consubstantial with the Father, who for our salvation came down from heaven, and who, seated at the right hand of the Father, has sent the Holy Spirit upon his Church, making her the Body of Christ and the Temple of the Holy Spirit. Led by the Holy Spirit – as Saint Paul told the Christians in Rome [Romans 8:14-17] and through them tells us - we have become true sons and daughters of God the Father and joint heirs with Christ.
The Holy Spirit unites us with the Father in the Body of Christ, the Church. Through the sacraments, Christ continues to communicate the Holy Spirit to the members of his Church. Filled with the same Holy Spirit, we who receive Christ’s body and blood are transformed into one body in Christ, participants in the mission of his Church.
That mission is nothing less than to make disciples of all nations - in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit [Matthew 28:16-20].
Homily for Trinity Sunday, Immaculate Conception Church, Knoxville, TN, May 27, 2018.