Most Holy Trinity (B)
“Baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”
Entrance Antiphon: “Blest be God the Father, and the Only Begotten Son of God, and also the Holy Spirit, for He has shown us His merciful love.”
First Reading: Ex 4:32-34, 39-40 — “The Lord is God in the heavens above and on earth below and there is no other.”
Responsorial Psalm: Ps 33:4-5, 6, 9, 18-19, 20, 22 — “Blessed the people the Lord has chosen to be His own”
Second Reading: Rom 8:14-17 — “You received a Spirit of adoption through whom we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’”
Alleluia: Rev 1:8 — “Alleluia, alleluia. Glory to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit; to God who is, who was, and who is to come. Alleluia, alleluia.”
Gospel: Mt 28:16-20 — “Baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”
Communion Antiphon: Gal 4:6 — “Since you are children of God, God has sent into your hearts the Spirit of His Son, the Spirit who cries out: Abba, Father.”
I may have shared this story with you, and if I have I apologize. Please be patient while I tell it yet again. While studying for the Priesthood, as you can probably imagine, we have to take many different courses in Moral Theology, Scripture, Pastoral Theology, and Systematic Theology. In the fall of my final year in the seminary, we had a course on the “Trinity.” Not once during the semester was the Father, the Son, or the Holy Spirit mentioned … for that matter, neither was the word or the concept of “Trinity.” The lectures were so esoteric and mind-numbing that I really had no idea what the professor was getting at 85 percent of the time. As a result of the course, if I didn’t know any better, I would have thought that there was no such thing as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and no such thing as Trinity. Then in the spring, prior to Ordination, all individuals preparing for Diaconate and also just before Priesthood, have to take what is known as a Canonical Retreat. During my retreat, I decided to bring along with me a book written by William Paul Young, entitled The Shack. I had heard a lot about it but had no real idea what it was about. Let me tell you, I learned more about the Trinity during those five days and in those 248 pages, than I had during the entire fall semester in the seminary. Either that or all of that mind-numbing stuff of the first semester suddenly made sense in light of the book. I’m still not sure which is the case. In any event, I highly recommend The Shack. Shortly thereafter, I also had the opportunity watch a marvelous short film entitled, Jesus B.C. I particularly remember one scene from the film when God the Son, played by Tim Matheson, accepts God the Father’s request to redeem the human race by becoming one of them ... by becoming one of us. As I remember, God the Father was played by William Windom. “Dad, My mission is to do Your will ... what else can I say but ‘Yes?’” The Father puts His arm around the Son and says, “Good Boy!” Then the Holy Spirit, played by Paula Kelley remarks, “I love to see the two of you like this.” To which God the Father says, “Without you, Grace, we wouldn’t be like this.”
Neither the book The Shack, nor the film it eventually became, nor the short film, “Jesus, BC” are meticulously phrased Trinitarian theology such as you would find in a scholarly treatise, but I think they both do a terrific job of illustrating both the interior life of the three Divine Persons and their relationship with each one of us.
It has also been said that more heresy is preached during the weekend we celebrate the Most Holy Trinity than in any other homily preached during the year. That may or may not be true, but it does highlight the confusion generated by the concept of three persons in one God. Talking about the Trinity only gets us so far. The fullest affirmation of God is not about mysterious and complex theological language. The fullest affirmation of God is simply that God is love. Love, relationship, and community are at the root of the mystery of the Trinity.
So, time for a bit of Trinity 101. Here are our basic beliefs: #1 ... The Trinity is one God ... #2 ... The Father, Son and Holy Spirit are distinct Persons ... #3 ... The Second Person of the Trinity, God the Son, took on a human nature, without relinquishing or compromising His divine nature. As a true man, He was Jesus of Nazareth.
So how on earth do we know this? And “On earth,” implies just us ... it implies that we figured it all out by ourselves ... but guess what? ... by ourselves, on earth, we could never know anything about the Trinity. The most brilliant theological mind could never think ... never ponder ... never contemplate ... never study ... and finally never conclude, “Well, here’s the way it is: God is one ... however, within the one God are three distinct, divine Persons.” We know about the Trinity the only way we could know: God has revealed it to us.
Scriptural references to the Trinity abound in the New Testament. For example, in Saint Matthew’s Gospel, we hear the command of Jesus, [And if you look up Matthew 28:19, notice that “name” is singular] “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”.
So, in the seminary we talked about a couple of different models for explaining the Trinity mystery. And let me say that I’ve encountered some people who object to beliefs being called mysteries: “That’s just one of religion’s cop-outs.” But there are many realities, even on a natural level, that resist explanation. Ask any astronomer or quantum physicist. Accepting something as real even though it doesn’t fit into our minds is not unreasonable.
So, one idea for explaining this mystery is the “Whirling Trinity” model. Picture three people standing close together with their arms around each other’s waists. Now picture them whirling around in a circle so fast that they become one indistinguishable whirl. Yet, inside that one whirl, how many distinct persons are there? Three. The three persons in our example would be united into one blurred whirl. Now I’m not saying that God is dizzy ... The three Persons of the Trinity are one not because they whirl at umpteen trillion revolutions per second. They are one by the intensity of their love for one another.
We also talked about “the Intensely Loving Two Equals Three model.” Imagine the following being said about two people: “Their love for each other was so strong, so fervent, so intense that it was like a third living presence.” Within the Trinity, however, the love is not “like” a third living presence, it IS a third living presence: the Holy Spirit. Hence the author of the First Letter of Saint John can say, “God IS love” (1 Jn 4:8).
How often do I conclude a prayer by invoking the Trinity during Mass? Liturgical prayer often addresses the Father through the Son and in communion with the Holy Spirit. We are baptized into the death and resurrection of Jesus the Son and anointed with oil signifying the gift of the Holy Spirit. From there we return to the Father, through the Son, and in the Holy Spirit.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit ... The Sign of the Cross is more than bookends for other prayers, such as grace before a meal or for the Mass. Making the Sign of the Cross can also stand alone as a prayer in itself. It can serve as a short version of a “morning offering” at the start of the day. It can be prayed at the beginning of a particular task or during a part of the day as a way of dedicating our efforts to God, who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. As my Dad used to tell us kids when we wanted to leave Church early because of something we had to do or because Mass ran into a bit of overtime ... “Just remember, if you aren’t there for the first one when Mass starts, or you aren’t there for the last one ... the final blessing ... when Mass is over... and he was referring to blessing ourselves ... you didn’t really go.”