Immersed in Christ: June 7, 2020
FEAST OF THE MOST HOLY TRINITY (YEAR A)
“To Know the Mystery of Your Life....”
How central to your spirituality is the doctrine of the Most Holy Trinity? How much are your actions and choices influenced by what God actually is: three Persons in one God? How does this trinity of Persons enter into your prayer?
We were baptized — that is, received the gift of Life as Christians — “in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” It is logical to expect we would live in awareness of and interaction with those three Persons from then on.
This awareness is cultivated by the one greatest sustaining force of our Christian life that Jesus established in the Church: the Mass. We should notice how.
We begin the Mass “in the name...” of the Three Persons, making the “Sign of the Cross.”
We end invoking the Three Persons again in the final blessing.
The Greeting quite commonly used is: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”
The Kyrie is not Trinitarian, since “Lord... Christ... Lord have mercy” are all addressed to Jesus. But the Gloria is, acclaiming “God the Father almighty... Lord Jesus Christ, only Son... with the Holy Spirit.” Likewise the Profession of Faith states in turn what we believe about the “one God, the Father,” the “one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son,” and “the Holy Spirit, the Lord....”
The Opening Prayer (Collect) “is usually addressed to God the Father, through Christ, in the Holy Spirit. It concludes with a Trinitarian [the longer ] ending.” That is: “Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit.....” The Prayer over the Gifts and After Communion “end with the shorter conclusion,” usually just “Through Christ our Lord.”
In Eucharistic Prayers II, III and IV the Holy Trinity is mentioned four times, carefully positioned in the same four places in each one: at the beginning, the middle and the end. The two “middle” namings (the first and second Epiclesis) bracket the Consecration (Institution Narrative), around which “the Church has arranged the entire celebration of the Liturgy of the Eucharist.”
Eucharistic Prayer II begins: “Father, it is our duty... through your beloved Son... by the power of the Holy Spirit.” And we name both Father and Son when we “call down” the Spirit: first on the bread and wine, then on the Church:
First Epiclesis: “Lord [Father], you are holy... let your Spirit come upon these gifts... so that they may become for us the body and blood of our Lord Jesus.”
Second Epiclesis “We offer you, Father, this life-giving bread... may all of us who share in the body and blood of Christ be... in unity by the Holy Spirit”
The same pattern appears in Eucharistic Prayers III and IV.
Finally, every Eucharistic Prayer climaxes in the Doxology: “Through him [Jesus], with him, in him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all glory and honor is yours, almighty Father, forever and ever.”
The Rite of Communion begins with the Our Father, then goes on to address the “Lord Jesus Christ,” asking for “peace and unity” which are the work, the sign and the fruit of the Spirit. Although the Spirit is not mentioned by name, the Holy Spirit’s presence pervades the “communion in the Spirit” that characterizes the Rite of Peace and the “wedding banquet of the Lamb.”
Concluding Rites: The Mass which began with the Sign of the Cross “in the name...” of the Three Persons, ends with a cruciform blessing in the name of the same Three in One: “the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.”
Why this insistence on naming the Three Persons? Today’s Opening Prayer tells us: “Father, you sent your Word to bring us truth and your Spirit to make us holy. Through them we come to know the mystery of your Life.”
Knowing God is what our Christian life is all about, because the more we know him, the more we will be like him. To grasp the mystery of the Trinity is to realize that God cannot even be conceived of except as love. And human life cannot be lived authentically except in relationship with others. We will explain this.
“I AM WHO AM LOVE”
In Exodus 34:4-9 Moses had asked God, “Show me your glory.” God did:
The LORD passed before him, and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love....”
“Steadfast love” is perhaps the best translation of the Hebrew hesed and emet — also rendered as “kindness and fidelity” or “grace and truth.” It appears 171 times in Scripture. Scholars call it a “virtual definition of God.”
Earlier, when Moses asked him his “name,” God defined himself as:
“I AM WHO I AM.... Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘I AM has sent me to you’.... This is my name forever, and this my title for all generations.”
It took the revelation of the Trinity — God as Father, Son and Spirit, three Persons in one Nature — to show us how and why these two definitions are one and the same. “I AM WHO AM” is identical with “God is love.”
When God said, I AM WHO AM, he was saying that he is Being Itself. God doesn’t have being, like we creatures do. God is Being.
If I can “see the hand in front of my face,” I know there is nothing in it that says it has to be there. It is pretty obvious my hand doesn’t have within itself the cause of its own existence. It doesn’t have to exist. Neither do I. If I had never begun to exist, the world would make just as much sense as it does now. In fact, there was a time when I did not exist, and there will come a time when I no longer exist on earth as I do now. There is simply nothing in me that says I have to be.
This is true of everything we see. But if so, then we know already that for what exists to make sense, there must be somewhere Something or Someone whose existence is self-explanatory. Something that has within itself the cause of its own being — whose Being differs from ours in this, that, if we could see it as it is, we couldn’t even ask, “Where did this come from?” It would be something whose existence would be so obviously self-explanatory we would just say, “Of course!”
In other words, someone who, if asked, “What, who are you?” could answer, “I AM WHO SIMPLY AM.”
We cannot imagine such a Being, but we know there is one. Otherwise there is no explanation for anything else that exists, and we can give up thinking right now. Or confine our thinking to figuring out how things “work” without trying to understand what things “are.” This is to focus on “physics” and ignore “metaphysics,” (what is “beyond physics”). And, in fact, that is the prevailing option in our culture. We settle for technology, the science of how things work, and just don’t think about philosophy, (“love of wisdom”) which is the science of what things are. The truth is, our discoveries in technology are so fantastic, and add so much to our lives here and now, that we may not even notice a need to ask the ultimate “why.”
Not, at least, until the inevitability of death makes us wonder about what life really is in the first place! That leads us to think deeply about being. And that leads inevitably to God.
Starting with the fact that in God, what he is and that he is are one and the same — his “essence” explains his “existence,” because it is simply his nature to be — we can reason to all sorts of other necessary conclusions about God which would constitute a course in metaphysics. It is enough to just state one: if God is Being Itself, God must be One in himself without any differentiation that comes from the addition of parts — because there is nothing outside of Being Itself but non-being, and adding what is nothing cannot make any difference!
So how is it possible to have three Persons in one God if none can have anything, any quality or power, another doesn’t? How does that make sense?
The answer is that what makes the Persons different is not that one has something the other does not, but that they differ in their relationship to one another. Skipping what could involve hundreds of pages and hours of reflection, let us just say that the reality of any relationship consists in interaction. (My relationship with anyone is as deep, inclusive, etc. as my interaction with that person and defined by it). So Father, Son and Spirit are defined by the way they interact with each other. This interaction is what makes them what they are as distinct Persons. It is of the very nature of God to be three Persons interacting with each other.
This means that when God said “I AM WHO AM,” he was saying, although we did not know it yet, “I am the One whose very Being consists in an interaction between different Persons.” To “see God” is to see three Persons in an ongoing interaction with one another that defines them as Father, Son and Spirit. And what is that interaction? In a single word, it is Love.
The Father sees his own Goodness and Being and utters what he sees in a “word” of knowledge. From all eternity, the Father has been saying, “God!” That Word, the Truth of the Father, is the Second Person of the Trinity, the Son.
The Goodness of God perceived and expressed as Truth inevitably involves Love. The Spirit of Love “proceeds from the Father and the Son,” who would be unthinkable without the Spirit. The Spirit would be impossible without them. Love depends on, implies, goodness recognized as truth. The Being of God is three Persons interacting with each other in mutually recognized Goodness, Truth and Love. Shorthand: “God is love.”
Conclusion: that Being who has to be, who has within Itself the cause, the source, the inevitability of its own existence, is a Being whose reality involves relationship. What does this tell us about human beings created “in the image of God”? Does “being human” require “being in relationship”?
God sent his Son
We can speculate all we want about life and being — and grow in wisdom through it — but God has simplified things. John 3:16-18 tells us: “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” To believe and accept Baptism is to give up whatever our contingent, temporary life holds for us in order to let Jesus Christ live with us, in us and through us as his risen body on earth. This makes us sharers in his divine, eternal life, and in the relationship he has with the Father and Spirit. And calls us to have the same relationship with other people that Jesus chooses to have. To be fully human is simple: it is to “become Christ.”
Live by the Spirit
2Corinthians 13:11-13 makes things practical: “Live in harmony and peace, and the God of love and peace will be with you.” The Father, Son and Spirit’s relationship with each other is harmony and peace. So union with God and seeking union with each other are required for authentic human life.
Do you need deep philosophy to accept that God is love? Does knowing that help?
Initiative: Look for Goodness, Truth and Love in all your experiences.
2Corinthians 13:13. In the Mass, the French, German and Spanish change it to “the love of God the Father.”
U. S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, General Instruction of the Roman Missal, 2003, nos. 54, 72, 77, 89.
John 17:3: “And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” 1John 3:2: “Beloved, we are God’s children now... when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.” 1John 4:8, 16: “Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.... God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.”
Exodus 3:14-15; 34:6. See the Jerome Biblical Commentary on John 1:14.
John 13:34, 15:12, 17:11-23. Catechism of the Catholic Church 792-798. View Today's Readings Here