June 17, 2019
Yesterday was the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity. The following is the homily I delivered on this same Solemnity last year:
A priest was presenting to a group of second graders preparing to receive their First Holy Communion. He shared the Church’s teaching on the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. He was, of course, bombarded with questions: “Is it like magic? How does Jesus fit in the host? How is Jesus in all of the hosts at the same time?”
Finally, the priest said, “It is one of the mysteries of the Church.” He should have stopped there, but he made the mistake of adding, “Just like the Trinity is a mystery.”
This, of course, led to “What’s the Trinity?” The priest did his best to simplify the concept of the Trinity for the 8-year-olds. Hands shot up into the air: “So is that like magic? Who’s in charge when all three of them are together? How can the Father be the Son? My grandma says, ‘Holy Ghost’ – is the Holy Ghost God too?”
Exasperated, the priest did his best to return to his “mystery” response. He told them, “These are all good questions. That’s why we refer to these things as mysteries. A mystery of the Church is unable to be understood by the human mind.”
This answer seemed to impress the kids, as well as quiet them.
The priest took advantage of the quiet and attempted to end his presentation. “Are there any other questions?” he asked cautiously.
One hand went up and a boy asked, “Last week you said that Jesus was God and human, right?
The priest smiled, delighted that someone had remembered one thing he had taught them. “Yes, that’s right,” he answered. “Human – like us in all things but sin.”
The little boy asked, “So does Jesus understand the Trinity?”
I remember the course we took on the Trinity during the third year of my deacon formation. At the end of the final session, the sixteen of us were dazed and confused, even disoriented. The Trinity is a mind-blowing theological concept. We had difficulty wrapping our minds around all we had read and heard. The thought that parishioners might come to us to help them understand the Trinity left us unsettled. At the conclusion of the course it remained a mystery.
There are three nuggets I’ve heard over the years that have helped me to experience the Trinity – not understand, but experience.
First, since I gave Fr. Jim a hard time a few weeks ago, I will give him credit where credit is due. And now is a great time to do that because he’s out of town and it won’t go to his head.
This came from Fr. Jim in a past homily: “The Trinity is a mystery to behold, not to be solved.”
I get a sense of relief from those words. It is like being told by a math teacher that is not important to solve the equation, the real knowledge comes from working on it.
In past homilies, I have stated that not understanding certain aspects of our faith, or even doubting or questioning them, is acceptable. I think that sentiment bears repeating.
Doubt is OK. It is a very human response. The key is in how we address our doubt. The easy path is to simply reject what we don’t understand. That is the path chosen by so many who have left the Church.
We should not stop seeking to understand, but it should not consume us. It is always worthwhile to spend time studying, digging into, and asking questions about our God and our faith. Such efforts keep us engaged and active; but we should be careful. We should not get so caught up in trying to understand the Trinity, that we do not appreciate the Trinity.
In today’s gospel, the risen Christ appeared to the eleven apostles in Galilee. The Gospel read: “When the disciples saw him, they worshipped, but they doubted.” The men chosen by Jesus to build the Church doubted. However, it is important to note that while experiencing doubt, they continued to worship.
Permission to doubt has been granted to us. However, the call to worship remains. We worship not in spite of our doubt, but in harmony with it. In doing so, we embrace the mystery.
The second Trinity nugget actually comes from the glossary of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. It reads:
The Trinity is the mystery of three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The mystery of the Trinity is inaccessible to the human mind. The revealed truth of the Holy Trinity is at the very root of the Church’s living faith as expressed in the Creed.
The Creed, our profession of faith that we’ll pray together in a few minutes, states very clearly what we believe as a Church. Don’t mechanically mouth the words to this prayer – focus on what it is saying we believe. Pray the words. Profess the words.
Simply put, according to the Creed, we have two beliefs. We believe in the Trinity and we believe in the Church.
The Trinity: I believe in one God – the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth…Jesus Christ, the Only Begotten Son of God…the Holy Spirit, who proceeds from the Father and the Son.
And the Church: I believe in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.
We profess to believe in the Trinity and in the Church.
Finally, and I don’t remember the source of this third nugget, I offer this image of Trinity: The Trinity is our creator (God the Father), our human example (Jesus Christ), and our voice (the Holy Spirit) – one God, three gifts. I think that is a beautiful expression of Trinity. It allows me to embrace the mystery.
The Trinity is the revealed truth of our faith. Mystery is the essence of our faith. After all, isn’t faith a belief in something we cannot fully understand? Something we cannot explain or prove?
When we make the Sign of the Cross, we say, “In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit…” Notice we use the singular form, “name,” rather than the plural, “names.” One God, three persons.
Each time we make the Sign of the Cross, we allow the love of the Trinity to dwell in our hearts. We heard in our first reading from Deuteronomy: “…fix in your heart, that the Lord is God…and that there is no other.”
Fix the truth and love of the Trinity in your heart. Embrace the mystery.