by Dan Loch
Sunday is the Feast of the Most Holy Trinity. The long Lent-Easter-Pentecost liturgical season closes with a feast that invites us to reflect on the very nature of God. As a young boy, I had the Trin- ity figured out: Three Persons in One God . . . It was like a three-leaf clover. Got it! Then I heard how learned St. Augustine, as the story goes, was walking at the seashore and pondering the Trinity, when he encountered a little boy. Running back-and-forth with a small pail, the boy explained he was trying to empty the ocean into a small hole he had dug in the sand. Augustine tells him he’ll never do it. The boy answers that he’ll succeed sooner than Augustine will understand the Trinity.
Too often the language of “trinity” begins to sound mathematical: three in one, one in three. “Trinity” is a way of trying to use words to describe the mystery of the inner life of God. So how do we enter into the mystery of the Trinity, and into mystery itself, through Sunday’s extraordinary readings? After all, we express belief in the Trinity with each “Glory Be to the Father” we say and each Sign of the Cross we make. The REACH teacher asked, “What do you think of when you make the Sign of the Cross?” There was silence and then a boy exultantly said, “The old man, the young fella, and the bird!”
We need to get rid of our deep-seated images from Renaissance paintings of the old man with a beard or the little white dove. But maybe I do form some mental picture, something having to do with light. In E=mc the “c” is a constant, which is light! What is constant with God is love. And love is always relational.
The First Reading from Exodus relates how Moses deals with God following Israel’s worship- ing of the Golden Calf. Moses begs God, Who is “slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity” to “receive/adopt us as your own.” If you want a living example of the Trinity, look at a family where chil- dren belong to, live in, and share in the love of their parents. Love is always relational.
In the Second Reading, Paul’s powerful blessing from the Triune God – the love of God the Father, the grace of His Son Jesus Christ, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit – is to all whom God sent His only Son. Paul calls us, who are created in the image and the likeness of God, to unity among ourselves. I am made to live in relationship—not in isolation. When I thought that the best thing for me was to be self-sufficient, that led to a miserable existence. When I live with as much self- giving as I can manage, I am on the way. Love is always relational.
The term “Trinity” is not used in the New Testament. That understanding of the nature of God came much later. John’s Gospel was written around 90 AD, some 60 years after Jesus. Just as John’s four chapters-long discourse at the Last Supper, which we have been hearing the Sundays after Easter, collects the understanding of the early Church about Jesus, the Church needed a new word: “Tri-Unity” or “Trinity” to describe a relationship so close and so intimate, the dynamism of love.
A number of Gospel references led to this theological understanding: the Annunciation; the baptism of Jesus; the sending of the disciples to baptize in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; “The Father and I are one” (John 10:30); “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. I am in the Father and the Father is in me.” (John 14:9,10); and after the Resurrection, Jesus breathed on his disciples, saying “Receive the Holy Spirit.” (John 20:22).
In this Sunday’s Gospel we go back to John’s Chapter 3, when Jesus instructs Nicodemus about the Father’s love. You’ve seen it at ball games where an intrusive fellow holds up a placard with “John 3:16” on it. “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who be- lieves in him might not perish but might have eternal life.” I now say that sentence as a prayer. John’s Gospel is the Gospel of Love.
Rather than trying, like Augustine, to understand the mystery of the Trinity, today is my chance to be thankful for God Who is “slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity” and so determined to reveal the length and breadth and height and depth of God’s love to us. That revelation has been made evident in different ways throughout time, but remains constant. Love is always relational.