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Homily – Most Holy Trinity A

Ex 34:4b-6, 8-9
Canticle: Dan 3:52-56     R/. Glory and praise for ever!
2 Cor 13:11-13
Jn 3:16-18 

Icon of the Holy Trinity at Vatopedion Monastery, Mount Athos, Greece.

Icon of the Holy Trinity at Vatopedion Monastery, Mount Athos, Greece.

The great St. Augustine spent more than 30 years writing his book De Trinitate [On the Trinity], trying to find a clear way to explain the mystery of the Trinity. The story goes that, one day, while walking by the sea, pondering the mystery of the Trinity, he saw a young boy running back and forth from the water to the shore. The boy was using a seashell to carry water from the ocean to a small hole in the sand.

The Bishop approached him and asked, “My boy, what are doing?” “I am trying to bring the whole sea into this hole,” the boy replied with a sweet smile.

“But that is impossible, my dear child,” said Augustine. The boy stopped, and looked up at Augustine, saying, “It’s no more impossible than trying to understand the mystery of the Trinity.” Then he vanished.

*          *          *

If Augustine, one of the greatest theologians in the history of the Church, had a hard time understanding the Trinity and putting it into words, then it’s no surprise that we do too, and that’s okay! That’s why today, as we celebrate this great mystery, we marvel at God’s greatness. And we rejoice, too, because in His great love for us, God allows us to participate in His life, in His very Being, in the Trinity!

You see, we began Lent by hearing the voice of God calling us out into the desert. Then we followed Jesus through His Passion, Death, Resurrection and Ascension. Then last week we closed Easter by rejoicing in the gift of the Holy Spirit. Today, we reflect on that time by rejoicing in God, who’s revealed Himself to us as Father, Son and Spirit.

But we rejoice today, not merely in knowledge, but in the experience God. Because God has revealed Himself to us, so that we might be able to participate in His divine life!

The Trinity can be explained briefly in this way: God the Father is, by His very essence, love, and allowing His love to flow from Himself, He begets the Son, who receives this love. But because the Son is also God and shares in the same nature as the Father, He, in turn, overflows with love to the Father, returning love for love. And it’s in this dynamic of mutual love that the Spirit proceeds from them both.

But the really cool part about all of this, is that, through the Incarnation — by joining our human nature to His divine nature — Jesus has brought us into this dynamic communion of love! In Baptism we were united to God — Father, Son and Spirit —, and received a share in His divine life. And that’s what it means to be saved: to have God’s very life within us! That’s why we belong to Him, why He is our God and we, His people. Through Baptism, we enter into the Trinity. And this is God’s desire for everyone; God wants everyone to be saved!

But as we say during the Rite of Baptism, this divine life needs to be “kept safe from the poison of sin, to grow always stronger in [our] heart” (no. 177). Just because we’ve been Baptised, it doesn’t mean that we’ve got a free ticket to Heaven. If we don’t live, here and now, according to this gift we’ve received, then we will lose it; the divine life within us can be killed.

That’s why Jesus gave us the Sacraments: in particular, Confession to heal and forgive us, and the Eucharist to make us stronger. And every time we receive any of the Sacraments — but especially Confession and the Eucharist —, we’re sanctified and increasingly conformed to Christ, and enter more deeply into the life and mystery of the Most Holy Trinity. This — and only this! — is salvation.

This is the mystery we celebrate today, indeed that we celebrate at every Mass, as we marvel at the mystery of the one God in three Persons who shares His love and His life with us. By opening our hearts to the Spirit, and living more and more according to the law of Christ, may we come to share fully in the Father’s life. Amen.

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Holy Trinity 101

On the Sunday after Pentecost we celebrate the most profound mystery of our Faith: the Holy Trinity. Now by ‘mystery’, I don’t mean some sort of puzzle or thing to be solved. ‘Mystery’ in terms of the Faith refers to a belief based on Divine Revelation, especially one that’s beyond our full human understanding. So to say the Trinity is the most profound mystery, is to say it’s the most central aspect our faith as Christians: it’s “the mystery of God in himself. …the source of all the other mysteries of faith” (Catechism, no. 234). It’s also the most complicated mystery of our Faith, one that we cannot know by reason alone.

We know about the Holy Trinity – Father, Son and Spirit – only because Jesus Himself told us about it. He spoke frequently of His Father, and later of the Spirit of truth who would come to teach us (Jn 14:16-17; 16:13). Then there’s the great Commission: Baptise in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (Mt 28:19). We find in these, and many other passages, the three Persons of the Trinity: Jesus the Son, the Father and the Holy Spirit.

Icon of the Holy Trinity, by Andrei Rublev, 15th century.

Icon of the Holy Trinity, by Andrei Rublev, 15th century.

But these three Persons are not three separate gods; they’re one God. And they’re not three ‘faces’ or ‘roles’ of the one God, as if God took on different forms to do different jobs. The Trinity is one God because the three ‘Persons’ have the same ‘nature’; they’re consubstantial, as we say in the Nicene Creed. That’s why we call it the Trinity, the ‘tri-unity’, the ‘three-in-one’.

This Tri-Personal Unity can be better understood by looking at how they relate one to another. The Father and the Son and the Spirit all have the same Divine Nature; therefore they are one God. But they differ from each other according to how they relate:

The Father is the source and origin of all things. We call Him ‘Father’ not because He is male, but because everything finds its beginning in Him, and because He is loving to all His children (Catechism, no. 239). As St. John says, God is love (1 Jn 4:8), and love necessarily seeks to flow out of itself toward the object of affection.

The Son is the first object of affection: He is the beloved who is begotten by the Father’s love. It’s this begetting that makes the Father ‘Father’, and the Son ‘Son’. And since God is love in His very nature, the Father has always flowed out to the Son, and the Son has always existed with the Father as the receiver of this love. It’s for this reason that St. John writes: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God (Jn 1:1). They are distinct Persons because they relate to one another as Father and Son, as the One who loves and the One who is loved and who loves in return.

The Spirit, in this analogy, is the Love who binds them; the Love which flows from Father to Son, and from Son to Father. And since this exchange of love between the Father and the Son has existed from eternity, so also has the Holy Spirit. While knowledge of the three Divine Persons was revealed to us over time, their existence is from eternity. As the early Church Fathers would say: There was no time when the Father was without the Son or the Spirit. Now you begin to see why it’s the most complicated mystery of our faith.

As we rejoice in this great mystery of God’s divine love, may we contemplate it so as to grow in our love for the Father, Son and Spirit. For more reading, see Catechism, nos. 232-248.

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