Trinity Sunday – Deacon Scott Maentz
June 16, 2019 – 8:30 Mass
Today is Trinity Sunday when the Church asks us to reflect on the nature of God and what this means for us as Christians. The hallmark of our Christian faith is that there is One God in Three Persons, the Most Holy Trinity. This is the central mystery of our faith, and therefore the most fundamental.
The Catechism summarizes the Trinity in this way. “We do not confess three Gods but one God in three persons, the “consubstantial Trinity.” The divine persons do not share the one divinity among themselves but each of them is God whole and entire. Each of the persons is that supreme reality, viz., the divine substance, essence or nature” (CCC 253).
While this description is succinct and precise, it can be overwhelming for those of us who are not used to technical terms such as consubstantial or essence. Our temptation might be to resort to “dumbing-down” the mystery of the Trinity when we attempt to comprehend and explain it to others. We should avoid these simplistic explanations, most of which have been determined to be heresy by the Church.
When pressed with tough questions about how God can be three persons or how each member of the Trinity can fully be God, some of us may resort to an unfortunate tactic. We may throw up our hands and say, “It’s a mystery!” We may think that trying to know about the nature of the infinite and unique Trinitarian God is an impossible task.
Yes, it’s true that the Trinity IS a mystery. But a mystery is not something that is unknowable; it is something that is incomprehensible. Let me say this again… a mystery is not something that is unknowable; it is something that is incomprehensible.
For example, every middle and high school math student knows that pi is the ratio of a circle’s diameter to its circumference, but we can never comprehend the full value of pi, since it possesses an infinite amount of numbers after its decimal point. Likewise, we can know God is infinite and all-knowing, but we can’t fully comprehend what it’s like to be all-knowing.
The Church teaches that the mysteries of our faith are those things human beings cannot come to know through reason alone (CCC 237). They are revealed to us so we can come to know them. We can only come to know these mysteries, the Trinity, or the real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, through the gift of faith that today’s second reading speaks of. This knowledge that comes through faith is gift we receive from God.
This gift of faith is received as a function of an entire form of life, a lifestyle involving prayer, self-denial, the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, and the forgiveness of one’s enemies. What this means is that we don’t think our way to an understanding of God so much as we live our way to it.
Since according to the Catechism the Trinity is the most fundamental and essential teaching in the “hierarchy of the truths of faith” (CCC 90), we must not dumb-down our understanding of the Trinity when we explain it to others, resulting in heresy, or false teaching. When Catholics with good intentions try to create analogies to explain the Trinity, the result is typically heresy. Like explaining the Trinity as being like a shamrock, which, while attributed to St. Patrick there is no reason to believe he ever used this incorrect analogy. Simply stated, we don’t do anyone any favors by dumbing down the teaching of the faith.
The problem with using analogies to explain the Trinity is that nature of God is so different from anything we might think of to describe him. He is so far beyond our ability to understand him that we can never do him justice when we compare him to those things we are familiar with. Because God’s essence is so far beyond our personal experience, any analogy we use will inevitably fall short.
Perhaps you’ve heard various explanations, or analogies, of the Trinity before? Most are simply not accurate. Most are heresies. Here’s a common explanation:
THE TRINITY IS LIKE WATER; IT CAN TAKE THE FORM OF ICE, LIQUID, AND STEAM.
This explanation commits the heresy of modalism, the idea that God exists in three different states, or modes, rather than as three persons. The three Persons of the Holy Trinity coexist; the different forms water do not. Water cannot be ice, liquid, and steam at the same time.
The main problem with the heresy of modalism is that it denies that God is three distinct persons. The Catechism states, “’Father,’ ‘Son,’ ‘Holy Spirit’ are not simply names designating modalities of the divine being, for they are really distinct from one another” (CCC 254).
Though it can be tempting to use an analogy to help our children understand who God is, in my experience with young people, analogies almost always muddy the waters. Since I believe it’s better that our children not fully understand who God is than to have a false understanding of him, I stay away from them.
So if analogies don’t work, just how might we explain the Trinity to someone who had never considered the concept? Here’s what I believe to be a faithful explanation: Ready? Give me your full attention now…
The Most Holy Trinity is the most profound and fullest expression of love…it is love itself. Each divine person of the Trinity is fully God, yet each is a separate person. One God, three persons. The Father is the creator, the Son is the redeemer, and the Holy Spirit is the sanctifier.
We rightly profess that the Son was eternally begotten by the Father and has been with the Father from all eternity. Our first reading today testifies to this.
The Father has always been the Father and the Son has always been the Son. The entire universe was created through the Son and for the Son. The Holy Spirit proceeds from both the Father and the Son and was also eternally present from before the beginning of time.
Though they have different roles, it does not follow that the members of the Trinity differ in what they are. When we ask what the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are, the answer is always the same. The Father is God. The Son is God. The Holy Spirit is God. Not a god. Each IS God.
And what is God? God is love, nothing but love. To love requires a beloved and involves fully giving oneself to one’s beloved. If God the Father exists as love for all eternity, then there must be someone to receive his love, even before he created the universe. Without a beloved, God’s love would be imperfect, because it would not be willing the good of another person, which is the definition of love. God the Father’s beloved is God the Son.
Just as the love of a husband and wife creates a new person, this eternal love shared between the Father and the Son is itself an eternal person, God the Holy Spirit. This Spirit, this love between the lover and the beloved, between the Father and the Son, enlivens the hearts of the faithful to understand the mystery of God’s love and to share it with others. Jesus promises in today’s gospel that the Spirit of God’s love will come to us through faith and he will guide us into all truth.
To begin to understand the Most Holy Trinity, we must first and foremost understand that God is love itself. The Trinity is the most perfect expression of love that we will ever know. The perfect love of the Father for the Son, the perfect love of the Son for the Father, and the perfect expression of this love between the Father and the Son, the Holy Spirit.
The Trinity always has been, always is, and always will be, united as the source of our very existence. Before time began, the Trinity was, and each of us was already loved by God in his omnipresent mind. Through the love of the three persons of the Trinity we are brought into existence, we are saved from our sins, and we are given the grace we need to grow in faith, hope and love as members of Christ’s very own body, the Church.
While it’s not a simplistic, I believe this explanation is a clear way to teach others about the Trinity. Rather than using a dumbed-down and heretical analogy, it provides the basis for a lifetime of reflection on this central mystery of our faith. It does not lead us astray, as using the analogy of a shamrock or water does.
Let us today prayerfully reflect on the infinite depth of God’s love for each of us. Let us meditate on the truth that we were actually created by him who is love itself and ask for the grace to be able to love others as he loves us. Let us give thanks to the Father for loving us into being, and to the Son for saving us from our sinfulness, opening for us the gates of heaven. And let us thank the Holy Spirit, the eternal and boundless love between the Father and the Son, for his grace and his gifts that allow us to participate in the divine love of the Holy Trinity.
Through prayer and living a lifestyle of love, we will come to better understand the truth of the nature of our Trinitarian God, as our faith will increase so we can truly come to know this incomprehensible mystery of God as being three divine persons who are each the one true God.