Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity
Proverbs 8:22-31; Ps. 8; Rom. 5:1-5; Jn. 16:12-15
16 June 2019
Observing the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity this weekend we commemorate in the Sacred Liturgy the central and fundamental mystery that we receive and accept in faith. The very being of God is the center and foundation of all we believe. The mystery of the Holy Trinity expresses our faith in God Himself, how He exists – not just that He exists – what His inner life is like. This aspect of our faith is something purely of God’s revelation, that is, His showing of Himself to us. In other words, no human mind on its own would come up with the concept of a Trinity, that the one God exists as Three Persons, were it not for God revealing this about Himself. When we profess faith in the Holy Trinity we mean that the being or substance of God is one and that His inner life is a communion of Divine Persons in relationship. Each of the Persons (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) is equally and fully God. In other words, they are completely equal in substance. We do not believe in three divine substances, three gods, joined together. We do not believe that the three Persons are a division of the divine substance, as if each Person is one-third God. Rather, we profess belief that the substance of God is one and undivided and that the inner life of God, as revealed to us, is a perfect communion of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It is God who shows this about Himself and reveals this truth to us. It is what we learn from the Sacred Scriptures. On the authority of God who makes Himself known we accept and profess faith that God is a unity in Trinity and a Trinity in unity.
I suggest that there is something in us that is not at ease with mystery. We want answers to everything and we think we are owed such answers. If this unease with mystery existed before our time, I think it has been exacerbated in our time by the ubiquitous presence of the Internet and smart phones. At our finger tips are the answers to most everything in the world. That availability puffs up our self-centered pride in our expectation that we should have all the answers. And even more problematic is the related attitude that develops in us when something remains mysterious and is not immediately and easily understandable and discernible to us. In the face of mystery not easily understood, that even more serious root problem is the tendency to consider the mystery itself as somehow of less value to me personally because I cannot understand it. In other words, we might tend to view the mystery itself with more suspicion before we would first admit the limitations of our own mind. The mystery is suspect; it can’t be my mind that is suspect. This faulty proposition says answers should come easily and if I can’t understand or grasp something then maybe it’s not true or, perhaps more likely, it is viewed as having less value. This faulty proposition says if I can’t understand something – and grasp it easily – it somehow lessens the value of my experience and isn’t beneficial or “real” to me.
But that is not how the wisdom of ancient thinkers operated. And that ancient wisdom is the very foundation upon which we rest today. In the face of questions about how God revealed Himself and what it means to believe in God, ancient thinkers pondered, and questioned, and had fierce debates, even physical fights, to stretch the limited mind to understand God and the world around them. Their philosophy and theology is a rich deposit given to us and upon which we must rest to remain in the truth. It is also a deposit we are duty bound not to change, but rather only to develop in continuity and to further expose the truth already contained in what we receive. This is why Sacred Tradition in our faith is so vitally important and is not to be rejected except at our own peril. Today’s first reading from the Book of Proverbs offers us a selection of ancient wisdom that impacts our understanding of the mystery of the Holy Trinity. In the early Church and among the Fathers of the Church, it was widely held that Proverbs chapter 8 (our first reading) described in veiled and mysterious language the Second Person of the Trinity, the Son of God before the incarnation. The “wisdom of God” is the subject and the one speaking in today’s first reading. This wisdom of God is described as acting alongside and with the Lord God in actions that sound much like the story of creation in the Book of Genesis. This wisdom of God that, as Proverbs says, is “possessed” or “begotten” or “beheld” existed with the Lord God before all things. As this ancient wisdom was further explored and, later enlightened by the aid of Jesus’ promise of the Holy Spirit of truth, the New Testament in the First Letter to the Corinthians describes the incarnate Son of God in a way that should not surprise us. St. Paul write, “Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Cor. 1:24). No wonder in the Creed our Catholic faith is careful to say both what we do believe and what we do not believe when we say of the Son of God, “begotten, not made, consubstantial (meaning of the same substance) with the Father,” or as we hear in the Latin, “genitum, non factum, consubstantialem Patri.” The same equal divinity of the Holy Spirit is revealed by Jesus in the selection of the Gospel we heard today. Notice, Jesus does not speak of the Holy Spirit merely as a force, but as a Person with personal pronouns: “But when he comes…. he will guide you…. he will speak.”
Is it an authentic value in our faith that we should know and grasp everything immediately, and do so easily? Or is it actually good for us in the face of mystery to remember that we are not the topmost being, nor the topmost intellect in the created world? The mysterious and somewhat cryptic words of Jesus in the Gospel certainly encourage humility and patience as he clearly says that his apostles cannot bear or understand now all that he has to say. Jesus requires of them humility and patience to await the Holy Spirit when he comes. The event of Pentecost and our reception of the Holy Spirit in the sacraments means we have now the benefit of the Holy Spirit to help us receive the truth of God as Trinity and the truth of other mysteries we profess. Yet, there is still mystery and we must become comfortable with it. If we fail to accept mystery and the reality of our own limitations we will actually impede God’s work in us and we will develop the false notion that places ourselves at the center of all things. We are not meant for a one-time interaction with God by which we comprehend everything about Him. We are meant for a lifetime of communion and growing relationship. The Scriptures cannot be fully understood by us, and actually aren’t meant to be, as if we will ever remove all mystery. In fact, the Scriptures are the living Word of God, made for a lifetime of reflection by which we continue to grasp more and more, if we will allow it. It may surprise that even the Sacred Liturgy is not supposed to be immediately and easily understood on all levels. In fact, immediately grasping and understanding everything about our worship is not an authentic Catholic principle of liturgy at all. It is actually good that mystery remains in our worship. Our experience of mystery in no way lessens the value of worship, unless we have made the mistake of thinking the focus of worship is ourselves and our preferences, instead of purely the worship that God is owed. We come here to encounter mystery that transcends us, that is above and beyond us.
The central and fundamental mystery we encounter is the inner life of God, the Blessed Trinity, poured out for our creation and for our salvation. In humility and patience we receive this faith. Though it remains mystery we use our minds aided by the Holy Spirit of truth to seek to understand it more and more. Rather than dismissing the mystery of the Holy Trinity as too complicated, or trivializing it as not relevant to our lives, we recognize this faith in the Holy Trinity is the very foundation of all we are from the simplest Sign of the Cross made with reverence and care, to the divine grace that comes in the Sacraments poured out from the Holy Trinity, to the final unveiling of the mystery of God we await in the Kingdom of Heaven.