Three in One – Arnel Aquino, SJ

Matthew 28:16-20, Trinity Sunday

When I came back from graduate studies in 2011, I begged my dean to give me any subject at Loyola School of Theology…just not Trinity. Trinity is as tough to teach as it is to learn. It is a very “heady” subject, abstruse, highly speculative, and hair-splitting. When I was a scholastic, we ended up just memorizing the doctrines and their explanations. For instance, we memorized this line: “In the Trinity, it is the Father who generates, the Son who is begotten, and the Holy Spirit who proceeds from the Father and the Son; three circum-incessing hypostases, but one substance.” We had to unpack every term during the oral exam, taking care to disambiguate each from the other if we didn’t relish being screamed at by Fr. Roche! All that time, I was saying to myself, “Tsk, unlike the Europeans, we Asians don’t feel compelled to analyze God this way.” We’re much more experiential, much more “heart” than “head”. So, this evening, I’ll try my best to focus on just one of the many aspects of the Trinity, one of the few concepts that I do understand. So let me tell you about my dad.

Before I left for studies in 2007, I visited my family in Davao. And there, my dad taught me how to cook adobo and caldereta—because I’d had to take my turn at cooking in Boston. So, we spent an afternoon doing that. And what a wonderful teacher he was, anticipating all my questions—how to slice the meat, how low the fire should go, how much vinegar for the adobo, how long the caldereta should stew in the pressure cooker. It was wonderful.

Now, that same afternoon, while we waited for the caldereta to cook, dad and I sat down at table, and for the first time in many years, he spoke his heart. He broached his problem about my younger brother, jobless as always, with his family still dependent on him and mom. He was also afraid for my Kuya’s kids. They were turning out to be angry children, much like Kuya. He worried about my mom’s loss of memory. In other words, the teacher I had back in the kitchen was now, in the dining room, a good friend opening his heart, exposing his fears, airing his frustrations, his helplessness; this from a man who took charge in the kitchen, and of our lives while we were growing—a vulnerable man.

A few days later, while he drove me to the airport, my dad said: “Anak, if you don’t like it in Boston, you can always come back, okay? And keep healthy. Tumataba ka na. Mag-exercise ka doon. At ingat sa pagtawid-tawid sa kalye.” So the teacher I had in the kitchen, the friend I had in the dining room, was back as my father in the car. He was back to being tatay, ingat pa raw sa pagtawid-tawid sa kalye. He had always said that when I was in grade school and high school, every time I got out of the house. But this was 2007, when I was already 41! Ingat daw sa pagtawid. (Which is ironic—because three weeks ago, he got hit by a car!)

My father is many persons to me. He is gentle teacher, vulnerable friend, loving father—and each of the three persons has particular aspects that are unique, sometimes even contradictory. But dad is one person. He is many more, by the way—he’s doting grandfather, funny father-in-law, he is Judge Aquino to his colleagues at the RTC, he is quiet brother to siblings, worried husband to mom. Dad is many persons with different relations—but he is one Oscar Aquino, with the same love and patience and tenderness that he carries around in his 78-year-old body and soul. In other words, my dad is many persons to me, and he relates to me in different and wondrous ways. But there is only one Oscar Aquino, one essence. And most importantly, this Oscar Aquino’s one and only reason for existence is to love. Many different relations, one essential Oscar, one reason for living: love.

We have one God, and this God is above us, and is with us, and is within us. God above is Creator, almighty and ever-living Father, heavenly Shepherd to us. But God is also with us. He is Jesus, the faithful Son, our friend and confidante, our gentle teacher and risen savior, Emmanuel. At the same time, God is within us. For God is indwelling Spirit, inner light, peace, our strength and healing, our unity as a community. In other words, God has many relations with us. God is more than one “person” to us, each person having a unique action and effect on us. But there is essentially only one God who is power as Father, who is salvation as Son, and who is indwelling as Spirit. But most importantly, what is the deepest essence of this God? Love. Divine love is the very reason for the Trinity. Just as love unites the Three Divine Persons, so Father, Son, and Spirit unite us to themselves with a love that binds us, a love that will never let us go.

On this Trinity Sunday, therefore, sisters and brothers, listen to God saying, “Anak, do you not realize that I love you so much that I am willing to be for you whoever you need me to be? That’s the power you have over me.” So much does God love us that God freely allows Godself to be just the person we need. “Are you afraid? I am Father, for there is nothing that I do not know that’s happening, and I will never abandon my child. Do you feel vulnerable? I am friend. Tell me what troubles you and be assured that I will never judge you. Are you staggering in the dark? I am your light. I am the answer that dwells within your heart. Don’t look outside of yourself. Look within, for I am there.”

Come to think of it, if you love someone who means your life to you, it comes very naturally that you become different “persons” to your beloved, according to how your beloved needs you at particular moments. Now this is what God as Triune has taught me: that a powerful God loves so powerfully, that this God allows Oneself to be just that person whom I desperately need. And why is that? Because of nothing else but love; three Divine Persons—Father, Son, Holy Spirit—one powerful God, with one powerful, self-surrendering love.

Ad majorem + Dei gloriam!

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