Reflections for the Trinity Sunday
Homily starter anecdote: The mystery of man created by a Triune God of mystery: How complex and mind-boggling is our physical construction! Chemically, the body is unequalled for complexity. Each one of man’s 30 trillion cells is a mini chemical factory that performs about 10,000 chemical functions. With its 206 bones, 639 muscles, 4 million pain sensors in the skin, 750 million air sacs in the lungs, 16 million nerve cells and 30 trillion cells in total, the human body is remarkably designed for life. And the brain! The human brain with the nervous system is the most complex arrangement of matter anywhere in the universe. One scientist estimated that our brain, on the average, processes over 10,000 thoughts and concepts each day. Three billion DNA pairs in a fertilized egg control all human activities, 30,000 genes making 90,000 proteins in the body. Bill Bryson in his book, A Short History of Nearly Everything, says it is a miracle that we even exist. Trillions of atoms come together for approximately 650,000 hours (when 74 years calculated as the average span of human life), and then begin to silently disassemble and go off to other things. There never was something like us before and there never will be something like us again. But for 650,000 hoursthe miracle or mystery that is uniquely us, exists. One could spend years just dealing with the marvelous intricacies and majesty of God's creation. We are, as the Psalmist states "fearfully and wonderfully made." No wonder we cannot understand the mystery of a Triune God who created each one us as an unfathomable mystery.
Introduction: Today’s feast invites us to live in the awareness of the presence of the Triune God within us: The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. The mystery of the Holy Trinity, a doctrine enunciated by the ecumenical councils of Nicaea and Constantinople, is one of the fundamental doctrines of Christianity and the greatest mystery of our Faith, namely, that there are Three Divine Persons, sharing the same Divine nature in one God. “There is one God, who has three Persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Each Person is God, yet there is still only one God” (CCC #234, #253-256). We have the Father Who is the Creator, the Son Who is the Redeemer and the Holy Spirit Who is the Sanctifier and the Counselor – One God. The doctrine of Three Persons in one God, co-equal and co-eternal in Divinity yet distinct in Person, is not explicitly spelt out in the Bible. Even the very word “Trinity” is not found in the Bible. But the doctrine of the Trinity underlies all major Christian feasts, including Christmas, the Epiphany, Good Friday, Easter, the Ascension and Pentecost. All the official prayers of the Church, including the Holy Mass and the Sacraments, begin with an address to the Holy Trinity: “In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” We are baptized, absolved of our sins and anointed in the name of the Blessed Trinity. Throughout the world, church bells ring three times a day inviting Christians to pray to God the Father (the Provider); God the Son (the Savior); and God the Holy Spirit (the Sanctifier), giving glory to the Triune God for the Incarnation of the Son and our Redemption. We bless ourselves with the Sign of the Cross, invoking the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and we conclude our prayers glorifying the Holy Trinity, saying “Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit.” Today’s readings convey the fundamental mystery that the Triune God reaches out to people with love, seeking the deepest communion with them.
Frank Sheed’s explanation of the Holy Trinity & Karl Rahner’s advice: The great apologist Frank Sheed used to give a very interesting explanation of the Most Holy Trinity. He started by thinking about our own human nature. Each one of us exists, but since we are spiritual, we also have an idea of ourselves. We can think about ourselves, reflecton ourselves, know ourselves. This is why human beings are the only animals on earth who write diaries. That's similar to what happens in the relationship between God the Fatherand God the Son. God the Father is spiritual, able to know Himself. He has an Idea of himself. But, since His knowledge is limitless, unlike ours, that Idea of Himself is perfect andperfectly complete. But to be perfect, the Idea, or the Word, has to share in God's own existence; the Word has to actually be a Divine Person. And so, God the Father, from all eternity, knowing Himself, engenders the Son, the perfect Image of the Father. And then, of course, since both the Father and the Son are Infinitely Good and Beautiful, as soon as They knowEach Other, They also love Each Other. Even we, when we think about ourselves, love ourselves. We want the best for ourselves. We are glad that we exist. But God's Love, like his Knowledge, is unlimited, and so this Love, too, has to be so intense and so full that it shares fully in the Divine existence; this Love is a Divine Person - the Holy Spirit. This is the mystery we profess each week when we affirm our belief in the Son of God, who is "consubstantial [one in Being] with the Father, God from God, light from light true God from true God" and in the Holy Spirit, who "with the Father and the Son is worshipped and glorified." (E- Priest). The great 20th-century Catholic Theologian Father Karl Rahner, SJ, was supposedly asked once by a priest friend how he should explain the Holy Trinity when preaching. Father Rahner’s reply was simple: “Don’t!” The mystery we celebrate in today’s feast defies not only explanation but also comprehension (OSV) A teacher’s simple explanation: “Our God is far beyond the grasp of our intellect. All we can say is: God, the Father, our Father, is Omnipresent and so I live in Him because the universe exists in Him. The Son, Jesus is Emmanuel – God with us -- and so He is always with me; I live with Him. The Holy Spirit is the One Who inspires us all, from within us and so The Holy Spirit lives in my heart. There is only one God. We live in Him; He lives with us and He lives in us. Yahve - “I am Who am” -- He is all (Joe Vempeny)
Scripture lessons: Today’s first and second readings do not give us a clear and elaborate presentation of the doctrine of the Blessed Trinity. The first reading, however, tells us that God is deeply involved in the world from its beginning, showing Fatherly care for His people and setting an example that summons us to imitation. The Responsorial Psalm (Ps 33) reminds us of our Triune God’s great mercy for us as we sing the Refrain, “Blessed the people the Lord has chosen to be His own,” while the verses show us His trustworthiness, His Omnipotence as Creator, His Omniscience and His attentiveness to us in our need. In the second reading, Paul describes the role of God the Holy Spirit in making us true children of God the Father and brothers and sisters of God the Son, Jesus. Today’s Gospel describes Jesus’ final apparition to his apostles just before his Ascension into Heaven. At that moment, He commissioned them to make disciples of all nations and commanded them to baptize those who came to believe, “in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.“ Here is the Trinitarian apostolic blessing of St. Paul, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all” (2 Corinthians 13:14).
First reading: Deuteronomy 4:32-34, 39-40 explained: Deuteronomy was written down much later than the time of Moses (ca. 1250 BC), during the Babylonian Captivity (587-539 BC). Internal corruption and external pressures had brought the people to the brink of extinction. Kings, priests, prophets, and Temple had all failed to hold them together. Those who produced the written document responded to this crisis by offering amplified explanations of the Mosaic legal traditions, in the hope of setting the Jews on a viable course for their future. Since the audience for the written presentation of Deuteronomy was having a very hard time holding on to its Faith and identity, the book’s reminder, that their ancestors had had to make the same struggle to achieve and maintain their strict belief in the one, true and invisible God, must have been encouraging. In today's reading, Moses gives the people reasons to be proud of how they differ from their pagan neighbors. He asserts, in effect, "We have a better God Who gave us a better law and we're a better people than any of them There's no other god like ours, nor law like ours, and no other people like us, so shape up!"
Second Reading, Romans 8:14-17 explained: As a response to some who insisted that pagan converts to Christ had to practice the Jewish law, Saint Paul tries to get his audience to let themselves be saved by the grace of God, instead of trying to save themselves through their own unaided efforts by obeying the Mosaic laws. He advises them to lead their life “in the Spirit,” that is, to let God take over. This reading addresses some of the relations among Spirit, Father and Son, as we experience our relationship with God.
Exegetical notes 1) The development of the Trinitarian doctrine in the Church. The oldest doctrinal formulation of the Church’s belief in the Trinity is found in the Apostles’ Creed which has served both as the basis for the instruction of catechumens and as the Baptismal confession of Faith since the second century. Later, the Nicene Creed, originating at the Council of Nicaea (AD 325), stated the doctrine more explicitly. This creed was introduced into our Western liturgy by the regional council of Toledo in AD 589. God has revealed to us three separate functions that are carried out by the Three Persons. He has told us that it is proper to attribute to God the Father the work of Creation, to God the Son the work of Redemption and to God the Holy Spirit the work of Sanctification. Our knowledge of God as Trinity is made possible by God, Who has chosen to reveal Himself as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. As Father, God has brought forth the created universe, including our own being. As Son, Jesus has made known a God who hears our cries, who cares, who counts the hairs on our head and who loves us so passionately that He became one of us in order to suffer for our sins, and even to die for us. As Spirit, God remains with us and within us.
2) The Triune God as seen in the Old Testament: Since Yahweh, the God of Israel, was careful to protect His Chosen People from the pagan practice of worshipping several gods, the Old Testament books give only indirect and passing references to the Trinity, and the rabbis never understood them as references to the Holy Trinity. Genesis 1:26 presents God speaking to Himself: "Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness." Genesis 18:2 describes Yahweh visiting Abraham under the appearance of three men, an event that the Russian Orthodox Church celebrates as the “Trinitarian Experience of Abraham.” In Genesis 11:7, before punishing the proud builders of the Tower of Babel, God says, “Come, let Us go down among them and confuse their language. “These passages imply, rather than state, the doctrine of the Trinity.
3) Clear doctrine of the Trinity in the New Testament.
a) The Annunciation (Luke 1: 26-38), describes how God the Father sent the angel Gabriel to Mary to announce to her that God the Holy Spirit, would "come upon” her, that “the power the Most High will overshadow” her, that the Son would be made flesh in her womb: “Therefore, the Child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.”
b) During the baptism of Jesus (Matthew 3: 16-17), the Holy Spirit was shown descending on Jesus in the form of a Dove, while the Voice of God the Father was heard from the clouds, saying, “You are My Beloved Son in Whom I am well pleased” (Luke 4:22).
c) John (Chapters 15 through 18), presents the detailed teaching of Jesus on the Persons of the Holy Trinity.
d) In the preaching mission given by the risen Lord to the disciples, Jesus commanded them to baptize people “in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” (Confer also Matthew 28:19; John 10:30).
Life messages: 1) We need to respect ourselves and respect others. Our conviction that the Triune God is present within us always should help us to esteem ourselves as God’s holy dwelling place, to behave well in His holy presence, and to lead purer and holier lives, practicing acts of justice and charity. This Triune Presence should also encourage us to respect and honor others as "Temples of the Holy Spirit."
2) We need to be aware of God as the Source of our strength and courage. The awareness and conviction of the presence of God within us gives us the strength to face the manifold problems of life with Christian courage. It was such a conviction that prompted the early Christian martyrs being taken to their execution to shout the heroic prayer of Faith from the Psalms: "The Lord of might is with us, our God is within us, and the God of Jacob is our helper" (Psalm 46).
3) We need to see the Trinity as the model for our Christian families: We are created in love to be a community of loving persons, just as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are united in Love. From the day of our Baptism, we have belonged to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. How privileged we are to grow up in such a beautiful Family! Hence, let us turn to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in prayer every day. We belong to the Family of the Triune God. The love, unity and joy in the relationship among the Father, Son and Holy Spirit should be the supreme model of our relationships within our Christian families. Our families become truly Christian when we live in a relationship of love with God and with others.
4) We are called to become more like the Triune God through all our relationships. We are made in God’s image and likeness. Just as God is God only in a Trinitarian relationship, so we can be fully human only as one member of a relationship of three partners. The self needs to be in a horizontal relationship with all other people and in a vertical relationship with God. In that way our life becomes Trinitarian like that of God. Modern society follows the so-called “I-and-I” principle of unbridled individualism and the resulting consumerism. But the doctrine of the Blessed Trinity challenges us to adopt an "I-and-God-and-neighbor" principle: “I am a Christian insofar as I live in a relationship of love with God and with other people.” Like God the Father, we are called upon to be productive and creative persons by contributing to the building up of the fabric of life and love in our family, our Church, our community and our nation. Like God the Son, we are called upon to reconcile, to be peacemakers, to put back together that which has been broken, to restore what has been shattered. Like God the Holy Spirit, it is our task to uncover and teach truth and to dispel ignorance. (Trinitarian spirituality: “The doctrine of the Trinity affirms that it belongs to God’s very Nature to be committed to humanity and its history, that God’s Covenant with us is irrevocable, that God’s Face is immutably turned toward us in love, that God’s Presence to us is utterly reliable and constant.... Trinitarian spirituality is one of solidarity between and among persons. It is a way of living the Gospel attentive to the requirements of justice, understood as rightly ordered relationships between and among persons.” Dictionary of Spirituality)
St. Francis Xavier’s favorite prayer was: “Most Holy Trinity, who live in me, I praise You, I worship You, I adore You and I love You.” Let the Son lead us to the Father through the Spirit, to live with the Triune God forever and ever. Amen.” (Fr. Antony Kadavil).