May 25, 2013

Sunday: A Trinity of Persons - to hold the hand of God

"O Lord our God, how wonderful your name in all the earth!" (Psalm 8)
Proverbs 8: 22 - 31
Rm 5: 1-5
Jn 16: 12 - 15
+ In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen +” So speaks nearly every Catholic as we enter into prayer.  This “crossing yourself” gesture as we sometimes here it described is as ancient as Christianity.  The earliest Christians were well aware of their identity in doing so and knew the meaning of faith they proclaimed in making that familiar gesture.  I like to imagine that many of them, as they faced their moment of martyrdom, made that sign of the cross visibly in one last act of conviction before their death. I don’t think it’s just Hollywood theatrics to picture such a thing.

This invocation of the Trinitarian God is spoken at each Mass as we begin and is the gesture of being sent back out to the world as the Mass ends – we are gathered and then sent forth in the name of the + Father, Son, and Holy Spirit +.  Every prayer during our Eucharist celebrations invokes this mysterious yet intimate God who desires that we be united as he is united. We are also invited to come to him and learn. The seventeenth chapter of the Gospel of John is rich with this truth as Jesus prays for his disciples and through them for the Church: “. . . so that they may be one just as we are one.” (Jn 17: 11).

This Sunday’s beautiful Feast of the Holy Trinity is both a challenge and a gift.  But, it seems more theology than practical living. “Well, that’s an interesting theological explanation on the person and nature of God but how do I translate that to my daily life?” Still, it may hold more than we think.

Our faith teaches us about the very nature of God – three in one; three “persons,” one God. Such a somewhat strange belief has been revealed to us by Jesus himself.  And he is the incarnation of that God who out of divine love took on our fallen human nature yet remained fully God. Yet, we scratch our heads to come up with an understandable example.  In the end, no matter how much we try, God is always greater than our sense of goodness or love for example. But, one thing is clear about this distant yet intimate God – that he desires a personal relationship with us which is motivated by love. Still, how can I develop a personal relationship with a theological doctrine?

St. Thomas Aquinas, the great thirteenth century theologian/philosopher of the Church, had much to say about God. In short he stated that we can know what something is by what they do; by the way they act: “Behavior is determined by the nature of things.” We see that principle in human behavior.  We say someone is kind or charitable because they do consistent acts of charity. “She is a kind woman.”

On the other hand, we may say that someone is selfish or cruel because they behave in that manner frequently.  “Stay away from him, you can’t trust him,” we may hear.  Yet, a married couple of many years may feel they know their spouse very well and still that spouse may say or do something that surprises them.  “He/she isn’t like that!” We are sometimes a mystery to one another. So is God.

But in the end we behave as human beings because that is what God has created us to be.  Human beings are capable of far more than an animal because that is our nature and an animal has a higher capability than a flower, etc.  But, it is in our behavior that we come to know our character and we can certainly develop a relationship as a response to someone who reaches out to us, could we not?

So, it is the same with God, yet even more.  God is mysterious in the sense of being far beyond our understanding but in Jesus, he came down to us and took on our very human nature.  In doing so, he became the Word or voice of God and revealed to us something of what God is like: a trinity of persons, yet one and undivided. To see God who operates in three ways is something like seeing a spouse or friend or human beings in general when we behave in more than one way.

The Gospel for this Sunday from John 16: 12-15 relates Jesus speaking about the intimate connection he has developed with his Apostles: “I have much more to tell you . . . the Spirit of truth will guide you to all truth . . . he will speak what he hears . . . everything that the Father has is mine; for this reason I told you that he will take from what is mine and declare it to you.”

Jesus does not act alone, nor does the “Spirit of truth,” nor does the Father who hands on to his Son that word of truth: One God operating in a united bond of love for all creation and in particular on behalf of humanity. It is a uniquely Christian perception of what God is like. That is a “wow” factor to say the least.

St. John later says, “God is love” (1 Jn 4:8). We make judgments and form opinions of others based often on behavior and the same with God – all that he does is done out of love and that love forms a bond of communion. Like what a marriage should be, a family, a parish, our friendships and our bond with all others – a community of love based upon acceptance, selfless giving, awareness of the common good, and compassion for others. As Christians, the Holy Spirit empowers us to see this community of love as an image of the Trinity that we establish wherever we find ourselves.

In this way, though we will never know God completely this side of the heavenly beatific vision of the Almighty, we know enough to make a significant impact on how we must live. Jesus may have left this earth but he remains among us more fully in his Spirit which continues the mission for which the Father sent him in our midst. We are that pilgrim people or People of God, the Church, who in a sense hold God’s hand as we walk through this life.

As we celebrate Eucharist this weekend, we should remember that we are called to grow into the image of our God; to imitate his behavior and build that community of the faithful among us. This Sunday, as we recite the Creed during Mass, let’s take some time to do so with grateful hearts feeling that we hold God’s hand as we do so.
God our Father, who by sending into the world
the Word of truth and the Spirit of sanctification
made known to the human race your wondrous mystery
grant us, we pray, that in professing the true faith,
we may acknowledge the Trinity of eternal glory
and adore your Unity, powerful in majesty + + +

(Collect of Mass)