John 3:16-18, Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity
A Grade II boy surprised his parish priest with this soul-searching question, “Father, how much do you know about God?” That question should probably be asked not only to the parish priest, but to every one of us who are baptized,
“How much do we know about God?”
A high school religion teacher was talking to her students about the Holy Trinity. After her presentation, she gave her class a written assignment on the question: “Which person on the Holy Trinity do you relate to best at this time of your life?”
Here are some of the answers.
- One boy wrote: “My father and I have a zero relationship. I need a father right now, and since I can’t turn to my own dad, I turn to my Father in heaven. I sometimes talk to him about my problems, the way I would like to talk to my dad about them.”
- A girl wrote: “My brother lives with my father, and I live with my mother. Ever since my parents’ divorce two years ago. We hardly ever see each other anymore. I never thought I’d miss my brother, but I do. So, now I’ve kind of adopted Jesus as a brother.”
- Finally, another wrote: “Just recently I began praying to the Holy Spirit. I’m going to college in a year, and I have no idea what I want to take up. I hope the Holy Spirit will enlighten me. Anyway, I’m praying to him for guidance.”
Perhaps these honest comments of the children will invite us to ask ourselves: “Which person of the Trinity do I relate to best?”
On this Feast of the Holy Trinity then, it might be good for us to reflect on the mystery and the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. Contrary to what many people think – that the mystery of the Holy Trinity is just a doctrine and has little to do with our daily living – the Trinity is highly important for our day-to-day living. Perhaps we can reflect on this with the Church, the Bible as starting points.
FIRST, THE VIEW FROM THE CHURCH.
The Church’s teaching of the Trinity states simply and profoundly that in the oneness of God there are three distinct persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God. Yet there are not three Gods, but only one God. A mystery indeed.
We could never have suspected that God is One and Three if God had not told us,and even after He has told us, we cannot explain how this can be. A number of theologians have tried to describe it. St. Ignatius uses the example of three musical chords producing one sound. Some modern theologians compare the Trinity to three states of water: steam, liquid, and ice.
The one I like best is from Fr. Ben Nebres, my mathematician classmate. Once an atheist confronted him,
“You Catholics are ridiculous. How can you you believe in three persons in one God, with each person being God. Simple arithmetic will tell you that 1+1+1 = 3” Fr. Nebres answered, “Ah, but you are forgetting that 1x1x1 = 1.”
But it is not light for the mind that we seek, it is food for our soul. And one way of finding meaning to the mystery is to focus on St. John’s definition of God: “God is Love.”
In the Trinity we find the perfect realization of perfect love. In God’s secret life we glimpse the model-without-beginning for every love that has ever begun. For love between persons makes a two-fold demand. Lover and beloved must remain two, yet the two must somehow be one. Love demands distinct persons. Love is we: you and I. Whether I love God or another human being, I never stop being myself.
Romeo loving Juliet did not become Juliet. Love demands “I” and “You.” But the two, remaining two, must somehow be one. We have long since learned the bitter lesson: Oneness with someone we love can be achieved only in terms of self-giving. To love is to give – to give of oneself. To love perfectly is to give till there is nothing left to give. Only then do the two, remaining two, become perfectly one.
The marvelous truth about the Trinity is that it is the total realization of perfect love. That is why the Trinity is the model-without-beginning for every love that has ever begun. It is the model for our return of love to God. Like the divine Persons, each of whom remains fully Himself, without the Father becoming the Son or the Son becoming the Father, so we too have to be utterly and splendidly ourselves, develop ourselves with all the wealth God has given us. It is the only way we have of being useful to others, by bringing to them, in a gift of ourselves, what we alone can give them.
SECOND, THE VIEW FROM THE BIBLE.
Scripture has an advantage over dogma: It tells a story. And the story Scripture tells is not God’s secret life, but God as He breaks into our history, links His life with ours. It tells of a God who created His children from the dust of the earth, created them in His own image and likeness. A Father who never abandoned His children through all their infidelities, who assured them when they felt forsaken and forgotten:
“Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion for the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you.” A Father who “so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” What Scripture tells us, in story form, is that the mystery of the Trinity is our own history: We exist because we are loved – loved by the Father through the Son and the Spirit. To grasp that, you only need open yourself in faith to God’s word.
The late Anthony de Mello, S.J. tells the story of a bishop whose ship stopped at a remote island for a day. The bishop was determined to use the time as profitably as possible. He strolled along the seashore and came across three fishermen attending to their nets. In pidgin English, they announced to him that centuries before they had been Christianized by missionaries.
“We, Christians!” they said, proudly pointing to one another. The bishop was impressed. Did they know the “Our Father?” They had never heard of it. The bishop was shocked. “What do you say when you pray?” They said, “We lift eyes in heaven.’ We pray, ‘We are three You are three, have mercy on us.”
The bishop was appalled at the primitive, downright heretical nature of the prayer. So he spent the whole day teaching them the Lord’s Prayer. The fishermen were slow learners, but they gave it all they had, and before the bishop sailed away next day, he had the satisfaction of hearing them go through the formula without any mistakes.
Months later his ship happened to pass by those islands again and the bishop, as he paced the deck reciting his evening prayer, recalled with pleasure the three men on that distant island who were now able to pray, thanks to his patient efforts.
Suddenly he saw a spot of light in the east that kept approaching the ship and, as he gazed in wonder, he saw three figures walking on the water. They were the bishop’s fishermen.
“Bishop,” they exclaimed, “We hear your boat go past and come hurry hurry meet you.” “What is it you want?” asked the bishop. “Bishop,” they said, “We so sorry. We forgot lovely prayer. We say: “Our Father in heaven, holy be your name, your kingdom come… then we forget. Tell us prayer again.”
It was a humbled bishop who replied, “Go back to your home, my friends, and each time you pray, say, ‘We are three, you are three, have mercy on us!”
Let us conclude together with the Trinitarian prayer and action that has become the trademark of our faith, and the sign of our salvation:
“Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be world without end”. Amen.