With the Feast of Pentecost we have come to the end of the Easter Season but now before we return to Ordinary Time we briefly reflect on the Mystery of God himself in this Feast of the Holy Trinity.
I was reading something recently about the belief of present day Jews. It said that, “Although Jews are able to understand Jesus, the Jew of Nazareth, they have never been able to understand or accept the idea of the Trinity.”
I was immediately struck by the thought that by this statement the author demonstrates that the Jews don’t understand Jesus at all. If Jesus is not the second member of the Trinity he is not the Son of God and therefore unable to bring about our salvation as we Christians believe he has.
Certainly, the Jews understand Jesus of Nazareth; they appreciate quite well the background and customs and mentality of a Jewish man born in that village even though it was two thousand years ago. But that is not only who Jesus was. The author of those remarks understood the humanity of Jesus but fails to comprehend his divinity.
We believe that Jesus was the Messiah as foretold in the Jewish scriptures and the one who brought about our salvation from sin and death and indeed that he is the Son of God. This is one of the most basic tenets of Christianity. However, we must recognise that not all are able to accept these doctrines as formulated and believed by the Church. They are indeed breathtaking in their scope and in their implications for believers and it is not surprising that many, many people find them unintelligible and even impossible to cope with.
For example a few years ago I read in the papers about the then Church of Ireland Dean of Clonmacnoise who was brought to an ecclesiastical court for denying these very things: the divinity of Christ and the existence of the supernatural. He resigned from the ministry just before the hearing was due to take place and so it had to be abandoned. It transpired that he had lost his faith in Jesus Christ as the Son of God over thirty years before.
He did the right thing, even if it took him a long time to do so, since the job of a priest or minister is to confirm the faith of the people and he himself must believe in order to do this effectively or with any kind of integrity. This does not mean to say that none of us clergy have any doubts; of course we do, just like any other Christian. Doubt is one thing, active disbelief is another.
Religious doubt is something most people experience, it can frequently cause great anxiety over many years. Many people worry and feel deeply inadequate because they have doubts about this or that doctrine of the Church or indeed of the very basis of belief in God. And yet doubt is the necessary precondition of faith. One cannot actually believe in God unless one is in some way uncertain about his existence. The act of faith is as much an act of hope and love as anything else.
At the very heart of Christianity there is what you can only call a reverent agnosticism—we are confronted with the very mystery of existence for which we have no definitive explanation. We instinctively feel that there is a power greater than our selves who must be involved in the creation and sustaining of all that is around us and indeed of our own selves. And yet we do not, indeed cannot, know this for certain. We grope towards this greater power and as we go through life we constantly try to pick up clues to this infinite being whom we can only address as God.
The Christian realises that God reveals himself in various ways. He reveals himself in history, which we find recorded in the Old Testament scriptures, and he eventually reveals himself definitively in Jesus Christ his only Son. And he also chooses to reveal himself directly to us; however, this is done in a way that is uniquely sensitive to our own autonomy as creatures. He does not impose himself upon us. He is a God who waits patiently till the right moment, a God who waits for us to turn to him.
God reveals himself through history, in a definite time and place. We all know how he took a particular people, the People of Israel, and made them his own. He gradually led them to a deeper knowledge of his nature. He rescued them from slavery, he brought them to the Promised Land, he occasionally punished them when they went astray, he moved them on to a higher morality by means of his commandments, and he taught them through the prophets. In the pages of the Old Testament we see how he is always slowly unveiling more of himself, moving his chosen people onwards as they are more and more able to comprehend his mysteries.
The text immediately prior to the one chosen for our first reading today records the incident where Moses having come down from the mountain with the Commandments finds that the people are worshiping a gilded calf. In his anger he breaks the tablets of stone. Now in the text we are given we read how he goes back up the mountain to get a second set of commandments and tries to explain the behaviour of the people to God begging him to adopt them as his heritage. God listens and shows them his mercy. This is a good example of what I have been talking about, God being patient with us when we go astray or misunderstand him or his purposes, or when we doubt his very existence.
God understands our doubts and our inability to comprehend him. But he loves us greatly and in a marvellous message of hope as written in today’s Gospel He loves us so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not be lost but have eternal life.
Father Alex McAllister SDS
Parish Priest of
St Thomas à Becket