Having come to the end of our Easter celebrations we are now invited by the Church to reflect on the mystery of God himself as we celebrate today the feast we know as Trinity Sunday.
It is good for us to reflect on the mystery of the Godhead from time to time. According to me it is actually vital for us Christians to come to a clear understanding of what God is in himself because our doctrine of the Holy Trinity is generally not well understood.
In fact, members of many other religions find our particular set of beliefs about the nature of God quite incomprehensible. Indeed, we might add that even some Catholics are not fully conversant with the faith of the Church when it comes to this point.
We must start by saying that Christianity is essentially a monotheistic religion. This means that, in common with Jews and Moslems, we believe in only one God. However, our faith takes us one step further than this and states that this one God is made up of three distinct persons.
While there is no definitive statement about the make-up of the Trinity to be found in the pages of the New Testament, it is absolutely littered with references referring to both the Father and to the Spirit and on many occasions Jesus himself makes it very clear that he is completely one with the Father.
From the very earliest times in the Church it has been understood that while there is only one indivisible God, he is actually made up of a Trinity of persons. While the three persons of the Trinity are distinct they share one substance or, as it is also called, one nature. So, although the New Testament doesn’t give us a precise definition of the doctrine of the Trinity it does contain all that we need to know to come to a clear understanding of the nature of God.
The most important thing that the persons of the Trinity share is love and it is this overwhelming love they have for each other that overflows and brings about the creation of the universe and all that it contains. We could therefore say that the act of creation and, in particular, the creation of mankind is an act of love.
This is important because it provides us with the vital clue we need to understand ourselves. We need to know that we were created in love and to come to the fulness of love is our true destiny.
Of course, our inclination to sin means that we constantly drift away from loving God but the corollary to this is that when we actually do choose to love God we must be doing so as the result of a direct act of our will and not out of any compulsion whatsoever. Therefore, when we express our love for God it can only be a completely genuine and totally free act, even if we frequently lapse from it.
This is one of the beautiful mysteries that lies at the heart of creation. God gives us our free will so that we might love him as the result of our own free choice and therefore completely in accord with the true nature of love.
The key to the Trinity is to understand that the three persons who make it up totally love each other and are completely involved in each other’s actions. While we principally see the Father as creator, both the Son and the Spirit are involved in creation. While the Son is our redeemer, both the Father and the Spirit are intimately involved with the work of our salvation. So, although each of the persons is completely unique they are each deeply involved in what the others are doing.
This provides us with a pattern to follow. We too, like them, need to be deeply involved in what those whom we love are doing. We too need to be supporting each other and assisting our loved ones in all that they do. We too need to accompany each other in all our actions at the deepest possible level of intimacy.
The other thing we need to learn from the Trinity is that it is not a closed circle. Their love for each other is not an end in itself, it flows out from them into the creation of the universe. It should be the same with us. The fact that a husband and wife love each other deeply finds its true expression in the bringing to birth of children. But their love for each other leads to more than just the creation of a family it results in the creation of a wider circle of friends and brings into being a whole community of love.
I recently saw a programme on TV about astronomy and watching it helped me to come to a greater appreciation of the extraordinary vastness of the universe. I began to realise that the galaxies are in fact without number and that the universe seems to extend infinitely, certainly far further than it is possible for mankind ever to be able to detect.
Realising that the universe is so huge ought to help us to come to an appreciation of the vastness of the love generated within the Trinity.
We are largely locked within the boundaries of our own world and our own perceptions. We tend to simply see and appreciate only that which is around us. Even as human beings we do not find it easy to comprehend the nature of our own being. We find it hard to come to terms with the meaning of death and we often fail to understand the true purpose of much of what we do.
Because of these reasons it is extremely difficult for us to appreciate the nature of God. When we think about God we mostly find that our experience seems to be formed of his absence. We cannot touch him and we don’t feel we are able to know him in any meaningful way. God often feels distant and uninvolved in our lives.
And yet we Christians believe in his presence. We talk to him every single day. We know that he is near to us. We realise that he is closer to us than we even are to ourselves.
I once read some words of Cardinal Hume, although I can’t recall exactly where I found them; they were something along the lines that there is a reverent agnosticism at the heart of true belief in God. What I think Cardinal Hume meant was that we cannot ever truly know God. There always has to be something that is not fully understood or completely known about God. Because we are not divine ourselves we cannot in this world ever come to an adequate understanding or true appreciation of God.
And while this is surely true we should not end up feeling that this leaves us lacking something essential. Taking into account this unknowing, what I believe we are left with is what can only be termed wonder. One definition of wonder that I looked up stated that it was ‘a feeling of amazement and admiration, caused by something beautiful, remarkable, or unfamiliar.’
We may never be able to understand God but we certainly can be amazed by him, we can admire his works and without a doubt we can come to the realisation that he is undoubtedly beautiful, remarkable and unfamiliar.
This to me is the true starting point of all real prayer and contemplation.
Father Alex McAllister SDS
Parish Priest of
St Thomas à Becket