The French Catholic theologian, Blaise Pascal, once remarked that “man’s greatness lies in his power of thought.” During this global pandemic, it is true that we’ve been required to think on our feet and respond to the present. But also, given its drawn-out nature, each of us has been provided with time to think about our past and future.
In recent weeks, I have been drawn to a time 13-years ago. It was a busy year. My seminary studies and supervised ministry were ending and I was preparing for ordination. In the summer of 2008, the only thing that separated me from ordination was a final scrutiny with the auxiliary bishop, a meeting where he would render a definitive thumbs up-or-down to the archbishop on whether I should be ordained.
Given that my ordination class numbered twelve, we drew lots regarding our meeting dates and times. Quickly, I discovered that one of my close friends had drawn a date one night before mine, so I asked him: “After your meeting with the bishop, can you call me so that I might know what topics to brush up on.”
After his meeting, I received “the call.” In a solemn tone, my friend informed me that the bishop had grilled him with questions regarding every Trinitarian controversy throughout the first thousand years of Church history. At that moment, my heart sank and I thought: “While I’ve studied those, there is no way I can remember them all, even if I spent the entire evening and hours before my meeting the next day—studying.” In short, I was in trouble!
The next evening, while driving to the bishop’s residence with a proverbial pit in my stomach, I felt a participant in a doomsday scenario. Upon my arrival, however, the first thing out of the bishop’s mouth was: “Kurt, how’s your family?” And during our time together, our entire conversation never veered from the topic of family: his, mine, and the family of God that I would serve.
In the end, isn’t family the most important thing? At the conclusion of Matthew’s Gospel (28:16-20) and prior to his Ascension, Jesus instructed his disciples to “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” In reality, Jesus told his disciples to baptize them into the Family (a.k.a. The Most Holy Trinity).
Regarding the Trinity, volumes and volumes have been written over the centuries by our greatest saints and theologians. In the end, while many (including St. Augustine) have published marvelous works on the Trinity, each of their observations seem to beget others.
On a recent Friday afternoon, I voiced a broad question to my spiritual director. I told him that even after reading many of the works on the Trinity, I really didn’t feel that I understood it. Without flinching, he remarked: “So, what you are saying is that you would like to place God in a box, open it, and analyze Him? If this were possible, then God would not be God.” As such, after all has been said and written, the Trinity remains a mystery because the Trinity is God himself. As the Psalmist (46:10) has written: “Be still and know that I am God.”
To illustrate the Trinity, many catechists have attempted to describe this mystery by use of a triangle. By their illustration, they correctly show the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as different persons, but one God. And given the reality of a triangle, each angle is attached to the other. Now if this triangle were constructed of copper and electricity were introduced into it, the energy would flow throughout. Given this way of thinking about the Trinity, it follows that whether we pray to the Father, Son, or Holy Spirit; as members of the family, the others are aware. For as one God, the three persons cannot be separated.
Regarding the three persons of God, many of us have had unique experiences of each.
Regarding the Father, how many of us have stood near a mountain or ocean and been in awe? How many of us have wondered just how did this come about? Or, how many of us have walked into an ancient cathedral and felt just where did the inspiration and skills come from to build something so magnificent? Or better yet, how many of us, after holding a newborn baby in our arms, haven’t felt that we’ve just received a gift from God? We have!
Regarding Jesus. the Son of God, how many of us know John 3:16 by heart: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” At Mass, in the Holy Eucharist, this same Jesus feeds us with his very body and blood. This is mind blowing, don’t you think?
Regarding the Holy Spirit, I remember a time when I was struggling in my life when one day, while driving, with great suddenness, a warmth surrounded me. It was though I was wrapped in a cocoon. After that experience, which in retrospect, I wish could have lasted forever, I felt a peace with not only that issue, but with all the issues I would face over my lifetime. Over the years, in recounting this experience with spiritual directors, each has believed that this was a powerful experience of the Holy Spirit.
Each Trinity Sunday, the Church invites us, in a special way, to ponder the Godhead—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In doing so, we are reminded to stand back and adore Him and this mystery. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus willed that each of us be baptized into the mystery of the Holy Trinity—-into the family of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In our families, may we come to experience the mystery of this love through the love we share with one another.