You may recall my mention of one of my favorite professors at seminary, Dr. Perry Cahall. And I remember him telling us one day in class, “If, someday when you’re a priest, I hear that you got into the pulpit on Trinity Sunday and tell the people, ‘You know, the Trinity is a mystery, and so there’s really nothing we can know or say about it…’ I will hunt you down like the dogs you are.” This is my first homily on Trinity Sunday, and I’m going to make sure I give Dr. Cahall no reason to come after me.
The Trinity is a mystery, but that doesn’t men we know nothing or can say nothing about this central mystery of our Faith. In Catholic theology, a “mystery” is not something which is unknowable to us, it is just something which our human reason could not have discovered on its own.
Imagine if you came upon a sophisticated and well-written mystery novel. It’s so good that you can’t put it down. But as you get towards the end, you discover that the last couple chapters of the book are missing. You noticed some clues as the story unfolded, but without those last pages you can’t figure out the identity of the one “who did it.” You might try to find the ending in another copy of the book, but what if no other copies existed and no one had ever read the ending before? Your only hope would be to speak with the author. The author could tell you the rest of the story. The author could unveil the mystery for you and reveal the identity of the one “who did it.” Like that in sophisticated mystery novel, our God has placed clues throughout creation and His Old Testament interactions with His People. Yet, it was not until the coming of Jesus that the “who done it” was plainly revealed: God, the Author of the universe, is Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Today I would like to talk about some common questions people have about the Trinity. For instance, how is God both one and three, and then what difference does the Trinity make?
Some people have trouble with the concept of the Trinity because they think it is the claim that “one equals three” in God. However, this is not what we believe about the Trinity. The number one does not equal the number three, not in God or anywhere else, and not even the omnipotent power of God can make a logical contradiction true.
We believe one God, comprised of three divine persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. God is one What, as three Who’s. There is one divine nature, but three divine knowers, three divine willers, and three divine actors. We do not believe in three anonymous forces, but three loving persons. There is no God apart from or beyond these three persons.
Now the Father is not Jesus Christ. Jesus is not the Holy Spirit. And the Spirit is not our Father. They are distinct persons. Yet, at the same time, each possesses the fullness of the divinity: perfect goodness, infinite beauty, perfect knowledge, infinite power, perfect mercy, and infinite love. We do not worship three gods, but three eternal persons who comprise one God.
The belief in the oneness of God was firmly instilled into the Jewish people. This conviction helped to keep Israel from falling into the worship of false gods and experiencing all of the evils that brings. For instance, Israel’s Canaanite neighbors were idolaters, who worshiped mere objects as gods that could make them happy. They practiced child sacrifice, killing their own children in hopes of receiving greater blessings in this life from the gods. And they had temple prostitution, in which promiscuous sexuality was as hailed as sacred.
Notice how our society has become more and more like those pagans as it has drifted from belief in the one true God. Our worship of objects which we think can make us happy is called materialism, or consumerism. Our human sacrifice, done in hopes of greater blessings in this life, is called abortion. And some have raised up sexual promiscuity as the way of greatest freedom and happiness.
The Jews were spared all of these evils so long as they clung to their conviction that “All gods are not the same, and we are to worship only one.” The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Even to this day, observant Jews pray a prayer twice daily called the “Shema Yisrael,” from a passage in Deuteronomy:
“Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one! Therefore, you shall love the LORD, your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength.”
Jews remain Jews today because they do not believe that Jesus is the promised messiah, or the Christ, the one for whom they have been waiting. Sometimes they criticize Christians saying we are not really monotheists, but polytheists, who believe in three gods: “The LORD is our God, the LORD is one!”
Yet, revealingly, the word that God inspired in this Old Testament passage (“The Lord is one”) is not one of the words in Hebrew which always means numerical and solitary oneness (such as “yachid” or “bad”.) Instead, the Holy Spirit selected a word which usually means a unified oneness: “echad.” This word (“echad”) is the same word used in Genesis, where God says of man and woman, “the two shall become one flesh.” In their union, the persons are as one being. And recall, God had said, “Let us make man in our image , after our likeness. …[And] God created man in his image; in the divine image he created him; male and female he created them.” When husband and wife become a unified one, as one couple, in time, they are in the image and likeness of the Father, Son, and Spirit, who have are a unified one, as one God, eternally.
So what difference does the reality of the Trinity make for our lives? The Trinity shows us that God is not a solitary individual, isolated and alone. God is a loving communion of persons. This is the reality we come from, and this is the reality we are called to, in this life and the next.
In our post-modern age, some people talk about “the meaning of life” as if it were some kind of joke, or an unsolvable mystery beyond our capacity to discover or know. But we Christians believe we know the meaning of life, for it has been revealed to us. The meaning of life is the loving communion of persons. The loving communion of persons is what gives our lives meaning and it will be our primary delight forever in Heaven. Love is the reality we come from, and the reality we are called to.
‘Hear, O Church of God! The LORD is our God, the LORD is a unified one! Therefore, you shall love the LORD, your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength.’ Love the Lord your God, who is Father, Son, and Spirit, and become like the God you love.