“The Trinity with Christ Crucified”, unknown Austrian painter, c.1425; Nat Gallery, London
Fr Neil’s homily at Mass on Trinity Sunday (7 June)
The Lord passed before him, and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in mercy and faithfulness.” And Moses made haste to bow his head toward the earth, and worshipped. (Ex 34:8)
Today we celebrate the greatest mystery of the Christian faith. God has revealed himself as the Holy Trinity — One God in the three Persons of Father, Son and the Holy Spirit. This complex mystery of God shapes the Church’s character, identity and liturgical life.
We are baptised at the beginning of our faith journey, not in our own name but in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Every time we enter a church and use holy water we cross ourselves, marking the manner of our redemption, while saying “In the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit,” in recognition of the work of the Trinity in the means of our salvation.
Pretty well every liturgy begins with invoking the three-fold name, and every true blessing we receive also proclaims the Trinity. This mystery is so important to our faith that the Catechism teaches
The Mystery of the Holy Trinity is the central mystery of Christian faith and life. It is the mystery of God 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 a from sin’. (Catechism of the Catholic Church §234)
Of course we recognise that this mystery of God is beyond the capacity of finite human minds to fully comprehend, and any attempt to explain and illustrate this mystery runs the danger of inadvertent heresy. What we can say is that God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are consubstantial or of one substance. St Paul puts this well when in Colossians 1:19 he says about Christ, ‘For in him the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.’ That which makes God God is present in the Son and thus the Holy Spirit in its fullness.
Therefore there is only one God in his substance or being. To try and illustrate this I run the risk of error but without intention. I am a human being in substance of species, with flesh and bone and can thus be identified as such. However, this doesn’t reveal a great deal about me as a person. Who I am in substance and who I am in person address different questions. I am one in substance and one in person. God had revealed himself to be one in Substance and three in Persons.
This ‘three Persons but one Substance’ enables us to see that it is God who created and sustains the whole of creation; it is God who has breathed the breath of life into all living things by the Spirit; it is God who after the Fall sought us out and called us to himself; it is God who has revealed himself in the Son, redeemed us and opened the way of salvation; it is through the Christ the Son that the Father-heart of God is revealed; it is God who through the the Holy Spirit regenerates us in baptism, and makes present Christ — body, soul and divinity — in the Eucharistic celebration; it is God who through confession effects forgiveness as the priest announces absolution.
Our knowing about God though is different from knowing God in relational terms. The whole story of God is one of unfolding revelation. Acknowledging the wonder of God’s majesty and abounding glory is vitally important, a sort of first move. Without this we will not understand the greatness of his love in his desire for us also to know him in relational intimacy. The three Persons of Father, Son and Holy Spirit reveal an intimacy and communion at the heart of the Godhead. This is again pointed to at the conclusion of Paul’s epistle today: ‘The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.’ (2 Corinthians 13:14) We have fellowship or communion because we share something in common. It pre-supposes a relationship for those who are in fellowship or communion with one another.
The process of reflecting and entering into the mystery of the Trinity is far from idle speculation on matters beyond ourselves, reserved only for the specialist theologian. It speaks to who we are, what we are called to do and what we will be. This reflective engagement upon the three Persons of the one God allows us to realise that we are not made to be alone but in relationship to another. It is in relationships that we become more complete and self-aware of who we really are.
The revelation of the Trinity is a revelation of God’s singular desire for humanity to once again reconcile and restore the greatest of all relationships, that between creature and Creator. For us to function in our “horizontal” relationships with each other in a manner that is healthy and life giving, we have to first restore the “vertical” relationship with God. This requires repentance, a turning away from sin and turning towards God. Without this relationship with God, or if we have a distorted image of Godhead, we will be unable to function in the manner of our true nature given us by God. To be fully human is to be in relationship with God in whose image we are created. It is truly our heart’s desire, whether we realise it or not, to enter into the gift of the life of the Trinity and its self-giving love one to another. To give ourselves in love and to be embraced in love is the same longing in all human hearts. The revealing of the one God in three Persons, the Holy Trinity, is a revelation of the heart of God, for lost humanity to know His divine embrace.
‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.’ (John 3:16–17)
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