The Mysteries of the Trinity

The following is Deacon Dan’s homily for Trinity Sunday, June 19, 2011.

Today is the Feast day of the Most Holy Trinity. If you came to this Mass hoping to finally learn all of the mysteries of the Holy Trinity, this lowly deacon is sorry to disappoint. The Trinity is indeed a mystery which far greater men than I have tried to comprehend.

St. Patrick had some luck using a shamrock to explain how three persons (three leaves on one stem in this case) could be one being. That was enough to help win over some Irish pagans to the faith. St. Augustine wasn’t as successful. And there’s an old story that describes his failed attempt to understand the Trinity. It goes something like this:

One day, St. Augustine was taking a walk along the seashore, mulling over the Trinity in his head, trying to understand the complexities of it. While walking he saw a little child playing by the sea. The Child had made a hole in the sand and was walking back and forth between the sand and the sea, carrying a little seashell. As St. Augustine watched, he watched the child take the seashell, scoop up some water from the sea, carefully walk back to the hole he had dug and pour the water into the hole. The child would do this repeatedly.

St. Augustine asked the child what he was doing. The child replied, “I am going to empty the sea into that hole, which I have dug in the sand.” St. Augustine laughed out loud and said “Child, that is quite impossible. Look how big the ocean is, and how small that hole is!” The child looked at him and answered, “And yet, it would be easier for me to do this than for you to understand the mystery of the Holy Trinity.” With that, the child left.

It is difficult for us to grasp the idea of the Holy Trinity – three divine persons – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – but one divine nature

An interesting bit of trivia: Pope Benedict has a shell on his coat of arms. It reminds him (and the whole church) that God is infinitely wonderful, beyond our human comprehension. No mere human mind can comprehend the Trinity. As we hear the prophet, Isaiah say:

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD.  As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my ways above your ways and my thoughts above your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9)

Yet, God provides us with glimpses into the mystery in our readings today.

We, as humans, tend to focus on the “who.” Who is God? Who is Jesus? Who is the Holy Spirit? We want to know who is in charge? Who out ranks the other? In our minds we think: If the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit went out to dinner, who would pick up the check?

We also focus on the “how” How does the Holy Trinity work with us? How do we know which one to call on when we need help?

I think we need to focus more on the “what” part of the equation. What are the characteristics of the Holy Trinity? What can we learn from those characteristics to live a more holy life?

Then we can begin to know God in a different way – from the inside out.

My goal for today is to help us understand how the “what” of the Holy Trinity is woven into the fabric of our spiritual lives – especially as we celebrate the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

Love, Grace and Fellowship

Our Second Reading ends with a familiar benediction:

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

St. Paul gives us three characteristics of the Trinity to ponder:

  1. God is love – the author of love
  2. God is grace – through Jesus, his Son
  3. God is fellowship – through the Holy Spirit

The Father is Love

Today, we hear about God’s love in the First Reading. It might help to get a little background information about the meaning of the “two stone tablets.” You see, God had already given Moses the Ten Commandments. But Moses, in anger when he found his people worshipping a golden calf, destroyed the original set of stone tablets. In the section just before today’s reading, God instructed Moses to bring two more tablets to the mountain so He could re-write the commandments for him. God was (literally) giving Moses and his chosen people a clean slate to work from. In golf parlance, God was giving Moses a mulligan!

Our First Reading goes on with God describing what He is – love. God uses two words to describe himself:

  1. Merciful – showing mercy to his people
  2. Gracious – exercising divine grace; a giver of gifts

In the Gospel reading, we hear God’s love and mercy described in this manner:

“God so loved the world that he gave his only Son so that everyone who believes in him might not perish, but might have eternal life.”

That is a great testament of the love of God. As a father (and grandfather) on Father’s Day, I couldn’t imagine sacrificing my child the way God so willing chose to do. (Sure, there were a few times during my children’s teenage years that I would have at least entertained the idea, but would never be so bold as to offer my child in sacrifice). But God did – for us, and our sins!

Jesus is Grace

We witness Jesus’ grace in the Gospel as well. Grace is defined as “a supernatural gift from God”, which is what Jesus is. We hear this gift from God each week in the Penitential Rite:

  • He was sent to heal the contrite (those expressing remorse)
  • He came to call sinners
  • He pleads for us at the right hand of the Father

(Note that all three contain words of action: sending, calling, pleading)

And we hear in today’s Gospel:

“God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him”

Again, we hear of God’s love – this time through the willing grace of His Son. All Jesus asks of us is to believe in him – and we will be saved.

We, as Catholics, know that it takes more than words to demonstrate that we believe in Jesus. Yes, we proclaim our faith, but are also called to live our faith.

We proclaim our belief when we profess the Creed each week, and I invite you to listen carefully this week as we proclaim these words:

  • We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty
  • We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God
  • We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son. With the Father and the Son, He is worshiped and glorified

But, more important than words are actions (a lived faith). To demonstrate that belief, we have to live in communion with God:

  • In fellowship with Him
  • To do as he has done
  • To live the model of faith, hope and love that He lived on earth

The Holy Spirit is Fellowship

Jesus told his disciples that he would not abandon them, would not leave them orphan. He promised his Father would send an advocate to dwell among them, to guide them on their journey. He promised the Holy Spirit, who we honored last week at Pentecost.

If we want to grow in relationship with the Holy Trinity – from the inside out – we need to focus on these 3 Things:

  1. We need to open our hearts to the mystery of the Holy Trinity
  2. We need to share our secret thoughts, affections and desires
  3. We need to be open to accepting the innermost thoughts and identity that the Holy Trinity longs to share with us

We need to pray, to reflect, to listen – with our whole being. Prayer cannot be one sided; our prayer must be a dialogue (speaking AND listening.)

We also need to be patient, remembering that spiritual growth is a process

The Ordo for today’s Mass summarizes all of these thoughts this way:

God sent his Son to save us and to forgive us, making us His adopted children. Like the Trinity of persons, may we be united in peace and love through the Spirit, through whom we offer God praise and glory. (Amen.)

Copyright © Daniel R. Donnelly. All Rights Reserved.

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