I Believe in One God...
Homily for June 11, 2017 The Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity - A
by Dcn. Bob Bonomi
Every religion has difficult theological concepts associated with them, and that can be especially true for us Catholics. At least we usually identify them with often large and cryptic words – like “consubstantial” and “trans-substantiation”, – to show that we know that they are hard to understand. But we also use simple words sometimes to describe difficult or complex concepts. Take the word: TRINITY.
Trinity seems like a simple word – by definition it’s a group of three closely-related things. And yet, when we use it in reference to God, it becomes – mysterious. We use the word TRINITY to show that we believe in a Triune God – One God, Three Persons. Most non-Christian religions say that we are either poly-theistic – we believe in multiple gods – or that we’re a bit schizophrenic and out of touch with reality. It can be a hard concept to fully grasp.
So let’s see how many of you remember your Baltimore Catechism?
Q: What do you mean by the Blessed Trinity?
A: By the Blessed Trinity we mean One (1) God in Three (3) Divine Persons.
Q: Are the Three Divine Persons equal in all things?
A: The Three (3) Divine Persons are equal in all things.
Q: Can we fully understand how the Three Divine Persons are One and the Same God?
A: We CANNOT fully understand how the Three Divine Persons are One and the Same God, because this is a Mystery.
It reminds me of the story of the Bishop who was questioning a bunch of kids for confirmation. He kept asking the class, “What is the Trinity? Does anyone here know what the Trinity is?” Finally, a little girl went over to him and whispered in his ear, “It’s OK, Bishop, if you don’t know. It’s supposed to be a mystery.”
So, let’s see how others have tried to explain this “mystery”.
Let’s start with Athanasius of Alexandria in the 4th century. He said, “And the catholic faith is this: That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; Neither confounding the Persons; nor dividing the Essence. For there is one Person of the Father; another of the Son; and another of the Holy Ghost. But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, is all one; the Glory equal, the Majesty coeternal. … And yet they are not three eternals; but one eternal. As also there are not three uncreated; nor three infinites, but one uncreated; and one infinite.” This was part of his “Creed”, which was later used to fight the 6th century heresy of Arianism. Clear? No?
Then how about St. Augustine? He spent over 30 years around the beginning of the 5th century working his treatise, De Trinitate, about the Holy Trinity. (I’m afraid I don’t have that much time today.) There’s a story told about his encounter with boy on a beach: He was walking by the seashore one day contemplating and trying to understand the mystery of the Holy Trinity when he saw a small boy running back and forth from the water to a spot on the seashore. The boy was using a sea shell to carry the water from the ocean and place it into a small hole in the sand. Augustine approached him and asked, “My boy, what are doing?” “I am trying to bring all the sea into this hole,” the boy replied with a sweet smile. “But that is impossible, my dear child, the hole cannot contain all that water,” said Augustine. The boy paused in his work, stood up, looked into the eyes of the Saint, and replied, “It is no more impossible than what you are trying to do – comprehend the immensity of the mystery of the Holy Trinity with your small intelligence.”
Then there’s St. Thomas Aquinas, one of the greatest theologians of all time. He wrote the “Summa Theologica”, better known as simply, “The Summa”, which is still one of the most important theological texts in use today. He held that the truths of the Trinity cannot be demonstrated by any means in metaphysics as they are purely truth of God’s revelations. It is said that just before the end of his life, while he was celebrating Mass, he received a revelation from God that caused him to quit working on the Summa. When asked why, he simply stated that, what he had seen in the revelation made his “writings like so much straw.”
I understand his feelings. Reading his stuff makes my head hurt, too.
But just as Jesus used parables to explain difficult ideas, I like to use analogies.
In his book “Mere Christianity”, C.S. Lewis devotes a complete section to the Trinity. In it he uses geometry as a model for understanding, comparing how a three-dimensional object, with sides that are distinct from each other, are still one object.
St. John Maria Vianney used to explain Holy Trinity using lighted candles and roses on the altar and water in the cruets. “The flame has color, warmth and shape. But these are expressions of one flame. Similarly, the rose has color, fragrance and shape. But these are expressions of one reality, namely, rose. Water, steam and ice are three distinct expressions of one reality. In the same way one God revealed Himself to us as Father, Son and the Holy Spirit.”
I personally like the analogy of the water, ice and steam – even if some apologists on Catholic Radio tend to look upon it with disdain.
And there is always St. Patrick and the legends of his use of the Shamrock to explain the Trinity to pagan warlords of Ireland.
The Trinity IS a mystery. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says, “The mystery of the Most Holy Trinity is the central mystery of Christian faith and life. It is the mystery of God in 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".
I think that the doctrine of the Trinity can be summed up in Matthew 28:19, where Jesus instructs the apostles to: "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit." Not in the name of the Father and in the name of the Son and the name of the Holy Spirit. Not three gods. One God, Three Persons.
And this was so important to the Early Church that it was the core of the Sacrament of Baptism as described in the Didache, one of the earliest known liturgical documents, written some 30 years after the Resurrection: "After the foregoing instructions, baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, in living [running] water. . . . If you have neither, pour water three times on the head, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit."
The mystery of the Trinity is the mystery of Community, as we heard Father David tell us last week. “Then God said: Let us make Man in our image, after our likeness.”
C.S. Lewis, in “Mere Christianity”, states: “All sorts of people are fond of repeating the Christian statement that "God is love," But they seem not to notice that the words "God is love" have no real meaning unless God contains at least two Persons. Love is something that one person has for another person. If God was a single person, then before the world was made, He was not love. Of course, what these people mean when they say that God is love is often something quite different: they really mean "Love is God."
Today’s Gospel begins with what may be the most-quoted verse from the Bible – John 3:16: “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.” God gave Himself to us as the Son, and continues to give us Himself as the Holy Spirit.
I will end with this final quote of C.S. Lewis: “If you think of the Father as something "out there," in front of you, and of the Son as someone standing at your side, helping you to pray, trying to turn you into another son, then you have to think of the third Person as something inside you, or behind you.”
The Trinity IS a mystery. But it is also a REALITY. Don’t hurt your head trying to fully understand it – have faith. Last week, we celebrated Pentecost, the coming of the Holy Spirit into us. God is present to us today – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Come, let us adore HIM.