I don’t see many movies, but one that I saw recently and liked very much was “The Avengers.” One of my favorite theological moments in this film is when the Black Widow character is describing Thor and his dark-side brother Loki to Captain America and she says, “They’re like gods.” Captain America won’t have any of that and says, “There’s only one God, ma’am, and I’m pretty sure he doesn’t dress like that!” Indeed, God doesn’t dress like Thor or Loki or any superhero, because of course, he dwarfs all of them. But we disciples do know that God what God looks like because we have been privileged to see him time and time again. I’ll come back to that in a minute.
First, I want to stress that I don’t think any of us is going to leave this holy place understanding the Trinity in all God’s divine completeness today. Or if we do, it’s certainly not going to be because of my inadequate words, but rather the doing of the Holy Spirit who is the One who helps us to enter into the mystery of God. A story about Saint Augustine illustrates the mystery: The story goes that Saint Augustine 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 had dug 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.” So St. Augustine asked him, “But is it possible for all of the water of this great ocean to be contained in that little hole you’re digging ?” 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?” With that the child disappeared.
Now, having said that, I do still think we can know something about God. Indeed coming to know God and to appreciate the mystery that is God is one of the great projects of our lives. So many of the Saints have pondered the meaning of the Most Holy Trinity. Saint Patrick attempted to describe the Trinity by using the shamrock as an icon. The three leaves represented the three Divine Persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, each separate and distinct, but each part of each other on the same shamrock.
Saint Augustine gets another mention today in his description of the Holy Trinity. He speaks of the Father as the lover and the Son as the beloved and the love between them – a love so complete, so perfect that it can only be embodied in a Divine Person – as the Holy Spirit. And this, I think, is where we get an icon of the Blessed Trinity. We know very well this union of love when we look around at the relationships that we have that work.
Strong families of a mother, a father and children mirror God’s love in their love and nurturing of one another. A parish can be an icon of God’s love when we come together and reach out to others, healing the broken, feeding the hungry and proclaiming the Word. Even a business can be an icon of this love when it treats its employees with respect and dignity, fosters family life, is socially responsible, and conducts its affairs with honesty and integrity. When we look around and see real love in action, we get to have a little glimpse of God, I think.
Some days God will look like the Father: a loving parent who corrects our faults, nurtures our growth, and tends to our woundedness. Some days God will look like the Son: a brother who walks with us and is the path to our salvation. Some days God will look like the Holy Spirit: reminding us that this body of ours is not as good as it gets, helping us to long for spiritual perfection, leading us to repentance and to seek reconciliation with God and others, and inspiring us to do the really good things that we’re not capable of all on our own.
I think God comes to us as Trinity because one face of God is not sufficient to be God for us creatures who are constantly changing, and constantly struggling. One day we need the Father, tomorrow we may need the Son and down the road the Holy Spirit. The point is that we know what God looks like and whatever we need, God is there. Always was, always will be. That’s the real joy of this mystery of the Most Holy Trinity.
Because we have seen God, or as Captain America would say, we know how he dresses, we also know that the goal of all our lives is to return to him one day. God created us for heaven, God accomplished our redemption to make it possible for us to go there, and God continually inspires us so that every day we would yearn for our heavenly inheritance more and more. God gives us our families, our communities, and our parish because God himself is, in a way, a community. And that being the case, God can only be truly experienced when we enter into community. And so as Saint Benedict once wrote, may God bring us all together to life everlasting!