The Most Holy Trinity

Today's readings

holy trinity-1I don't think it would come as too much of a shock for me to tell you that not one of us here in this place, not one of us here on this earth, will ever come to understand the Holy Trinity in this life. We've all been told that the Trinity is a mystery, and that's not just a church cop-out, it is in fact, truth. What we hear in today's Liturgy of the Word is that all of the truth about the Trinity is there, for the taking, in the person of the Holy Spirit. But we still don't get it, do we? And Jesus said as much: "I have much more to tell you," Jesus says, "but you cannot bear it now." We cannot bear it now because we are earthly creatures, corporeal and temporal – that is, material and bound to this time – and so our minds necessarily do not conform to God who is heavenly, ethereal and eternal. The long and short of it is, we'll never fully understand the nature of the Holy Trinity this side of the Kingdom of God.

St. Augustine found out as much. The story goes that he was walking along the beach, trying to figure out the nature of the Holy Trinity. As he walked along, he came across a little boy who was digging a hole in the sand right next to the shore. With his little hands he was carrying water from the ocean and was dumping it in the little hole. St. Augustine asked, "What are you doing, my child?" The child replied, "I want to put all of the water of the ocean into this hole." Once more St. Augustine asked, "But is it possible for all of the water of this great ocean to be contained in this little hole?" And the child asked him in return, "If the water of the ocean cannot be contained in this little hole, then how can the Infinite Trinitarian God be contained in your mind?" And the child disappeared. No wonder Jesus says to us, "I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now."

But even this is not meant to discourage us from trying to find out more about our God. As St. Augustine says in another place, we are made for God, and "our hearts are restless until they rest in thee." And so it is with hearts and minds filled with expectation that we gather on this Trinity Sunday, yearning to know the One true God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

This is Trinity Sunday and so it is perhaps appropriate to approach things in threes. And so, if you will, a third idea from St. Augustine. If you heard me preach on the feast of Pentecost last Sunday, you know that he said of the Trinity that the Father is the Lover, the Son is the Beloved, and the Holy Spirit is the Love between the Father and the Son. Now, as I also said last week, this is but a tiny scratch in the surface of who God is. With this little caricature, we come to understand a tiny bit about the Trinity, but it is a very important tiny bit, I think. Because from this description of the Trinity we get two very important facts about God. The first is one that we know quite well, that God is love. And the second is one that makes sense if we think about it, and that is that God is a relationship.

This notion of God as a relationship is fundamental to Catholic thinking. It forms the basis for so much of our theology and our experience as a Church. For example, many of our protestant brothers and sisters emphasize a personal relationship with Jesus Christ above all else. While we do not necessarily reject this notion, and while we do think it's important for all people to come to know Christ, we believe that a person comes to know God in community because God is a community. So that's why we think it's important to come to Church for worship and reject the idea that one can worship God best by looking at a tree or focusing on a crystal. God made us to know him and gives us other people in our lives so that we can come to know him better. Indeed we see God's love for us poured out in the way others love and serve us. And so gathering as a community is fundamental to our faith and expresses our true belief in the Triune God.

Today's readings underscore this notion of God as relationship. The mysterious figure of Wisdom in our first reading from Proverbs was with God in the beginning. The relationship between the two of them brought forth the heavens, the earth, the skies, the waters, and everything that is in them. It has been said that Wisdom here is the personification of the Word of God, which we often identify with the Second Person of the Holy Trinity. But whoever it is, it makes clear the fact that the creation of the world took place in the context of relationship. Sure, God could have created everything himself, but that's not who God is. God is relationship, so his creating action is one of relationship as well.

The second reading mentions all three Persons of the Trinity. We have peace with God (the Father) through our Lord Jesus Christ, through the Holy Spirit. Peace, too, can only be experienced in community. Sometimes we think we'd be better off without some of the people around us, but we can never experience the peace of God apart from the community. Peace, true peace, the peace that God gives, is a peace that comes from the love experienced in the Community of the Trinity and bestowed upon all those who believe. We experience peace when we relate to one another as God intended, we have peace when we exercise our vocation and our calling as God intended, we have peace when we love and serve others as God intended. St. Paul is not naïve here, though. He does not claim that knowing the Triune God will give us a life devoid of tribulation. No, we will definitely experience affliction, but instead of being crushed and dejected by our afflictions, we can instead boast about them, because we know that through them we come to know endurance, proven character, and a hope that can never be taken away from us. God is relationship, so he does not leave us alone in our afflictions, lost and broken, but instead, stretches out his arms on the cross and endures them with us, giving us hope and peace.

The idea of God as a relationship is helpful to us, I think, because we know what relationships are. But it's also difficult, in a way, because none of us experiences their relationships perfectly. If God is a relationship and our own relationships are broken and fragile, then our understanding of the Triune God remains at least partially shrouded in mystery. What truly stands in our way on the quest to coming to know God and comprehend the mystery of the Trinity is that we are sinful people, and always will be so this side of the Kingdom. And so it is most likely that it is only on that great day when Christ will have destroyed sin and death itself, when all that is hidden will be revealed, it is only on that day that we will truly understand who God is. Until then, we can at least scratch the surface by experiencing the love of God in relationships, perfecting them as best we can. And on that great day, we believe that we will see our God as he truly is and will cry out with the Psalmist, "O Lord, our God, how wonderful your name in all the earth!"