Sunday, June 7, 2009
Last week was the feast of Pentecost, the birth of the Church. This week, we celebrate the feast of the Holy Trinity. The week after that will be Corpus Christi, the most holy Body and Blood of Christ. In putting these feasts one right after the other, the Church is pointing to the heart of Christian Truth: the Spirit, the Father and the Son: the Trinity.
The Trinity is the key doctrine of our faith. Our God is one God. We share that with Judaism and Islam. Our God is three persons in that one God. Judaism and Islam would both deny that. Why is the Trinity so important?
First, it is taught in Scripture. You won’t find the word Trinity, but the teaching of it can be found throughout the Bible. We started the Mass by quoting 2 Corinthians 13:13 “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” In 1 Peter 1:2 Peter tells his readers that they have been chosen “in the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification by the Spirit for obedience and sprinkling with the blood of Jesus Christ…” Second it is taught by the Church Fathers such as Clement, Justin Martyr and Athanasius. Third, it is taught by the Church in its creeds, councils and liturgy.
Today’s gospel from St. Matthew contains a very early baptismal formula. Jesus tells the disciples to make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. The Trinity is at the heart of the worldwide mission of the Church.
How can we understand the Trinity? Can we understand the Trinity? The Church spent several centuries defining the Trinity. In this process, they came to use many terms borrowed from philosophy and even the theatre! The basic definition is that the Trinity is one God in three Persons. It is not three Gods. It is not one God in three forms or modes of being. That is, God is not at one time Father, one Son and one Holy Spirit.
God has one divine nature in three persons. Each person of the Trinity has the same essence: they are eternal, they are equal. They have the same attributes; holiness, justice, mercy, power. One Person does not have a quality that another does not have. And each has those attributes in their fullness. Although one God, each has difference in how they relate to one another. One way to look at it is that the Father gives all he is to the Son; the Son gives everything he is back to the Father; the Holy Spirit is Love between the Father and the Son.
God is a family. Calling God “Father” is not an analogy. God is literally a father as he fathers the Son. The Son is actually a son, receiving his nature from the Father. The Holy Spirit is the unity of love in the family of God. Our families are imitations of the divine family of the Trinity. St. Paul tells us in Ephesians 3:14-15 that “I kneel before the Father, from whom every family on earth is named.”
God has called us to unity with him. In Heaven we will see God as he is, we will behold him Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We will live in the family of the Trinity. But even now, God shares his life with us through the Body of Christ, the Church, through the presence of the Holy Spirit, through the Scriptures and the Sacraments. At each Mass we receive the body, blood, soul and divinity of the risen Christ by the power of the Spirit. In all the sacraments God shares his life with us by grace. They are not things the Church invented to earn our salvation. Rather, they are part of what Peter calls God’s great and precious promises to us. The promise is that we will be like him. The sacraments are God’s gifts of sanctifying grace to us through which we become partakers of his divine nature. Let us worship the Most Blessed Trinity who comes to us in this Mass. By God’s grace let us become more like Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit.