Trinity Sunday: I have much more to tell you

So, how was Heresy Sunday at your parish? Maybe you know it better as “Trinity Sunday,” but, well, you know. One minute, you’re standing there sweating behind the pulpit, trying to give your flock something solid to chew on, and then next minute, you’re a modalist. Or an arian, or a partialist. (If you’ve somehow never watched St. Patrick’s Bad Analogies, take a few minutes! It’s funny and good.)
 
On the other hand, you also have people complaining on Twitter that they’re pretty tired of hearing from their pastors that they’re just too dumb to understand the trinity, so he won’t even try. 
 
On the other hand . . . wait, that’s three hands now, and we’re about to veer into heresy again. What I’m trying to say is that the theology of the Trinity is pretty intense, and I have a lot of sympathy for homilists who are trying to steer a way in between teaching something false, and just performing some vague hand-waving about the mysterious mystery of it all.
 
However, the theology of the trinity is a lot more knowable than I was led to believe as a child. I had the impression that it was simply so far beyond our human experience, it would break my brain if I even tried to figure it out. This is false. If you want to know more about the Trinity — and you should! It’s VERY COOL — I most ardently recommend Frank Sheed’s Theology for Beginners. I intend to read it again this summer with my teenagers. It’s very lucid and exciting, and, surprise surprise, it leads to a better understanding of, well, everything. Because it’s about who and what God is.
 
However however, it would be hard to get into it in a single sermon. Some of the best sermons I’ve heard are less about defining doctrine and more about helping us understand why it’s important, and what it has to do with us. As Chris Damian says in another context
 
We tend to think of arriving at belief as a straightforward process. We think of belief as something that exists on the level of syllogism, where my rational assent is always the result of a clear logic unfolding from the circuitry of my mind. But coming into deep belief does not involve a mere continuation of syllogistic progression. Rather, it involves the mysterious integration of a complex constellation of experience, context, affection, habit, longing, rationale, and choice. Often the assertion of belief is a last step, the articulation of something which already exists within the person but which has taken time to develop into words.
So a few years ago, on Trinity Sunday, we heard a sermon with less doctrine but plenty of the rest of that complex constellation, and I appreciated it. The pastor at this church tended to deliver shaggy dog sermons, and sometimes you never do arrive at the punchline. But when you do, it’s always about the immensity of God’s love, and how personal it all is. Which is why we kept going back to this church, even though it’s forty minutes away! Here’s how I remember it:

He described how his grandmother and grandfather met at a town dance in 1922. They spotted each other across the room, and she thought he looked like a troublemaker and he thought she looked stuck up. But somehow they got together anyway, fell in love, got married, and came to know each other as they learned how to love each other. They had children, and those children had children, including the pastor himself; and by the time they had been married for several decades, they could complete each other’s thoughts. Gradually, over the years, they revealed themselves to each other more and more.
 
We sometimes think God has changed since the Old Testament. It seems like God used to be so harsh and angry, always smiting and getting vengeance; but then Jesus came, and taught us about love, even loving your enemy — and this seemed like something so new and different. But that year, we heard in the first reading how God has always been:
 
from of old I was poured forth,
at the first, before the earth.
When there were no depths I was brought forth,
when there were no fountains or springs of water;
before the mountains were settled into place,
before the hills, I was brought forth. . . 
There are some intimations of the Trinity here, of a God who isn’t lonely and solitary, but is in a fruitful relationship. And it was a relationship not only of love between the persons of the Trinity, but between God and us:
 
then was I beside him as his craftsman,
and I was his delight day by day,
playing before him all the while,
playing on the surface of his earth;
and I found delight in the human race.
 
The pastor reminded us that God was perfectly content in himself, perfectly complete. He didn’t need anything, certainly not human beings. But because of his overflowing love, he did want something . . . and so he made us. The responsorial psalm that year said:
 
What is man that you should be mindful of him,
or the son of man that you should care for him?
R. O Lord, our God, how wonderful your name in all the earth!
 
God made us to love us — and, as you do when you are in love, to reveal himself to us.  That that is what you do when you love someone: You open yourself, you reveal yourself to them, just as the priest’s grandparents did with each other over the course of many, many years of fruitful marriage. And that is what God has done for us (although of course we are the ones, not He, who had to learn and change and grow).  He is fruitful, and he reveals himself because He loves us. 
 
The Gospel reading from John that year was very short, and quite Greek:
Jesus said to his disciples:
“I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now.
But when he comes, the Spirit of truth,
he will guide you to all truth.
He will not speak on his own,
but he will speak what he hears,
and will declare to you the things that are coming.
He will glorify me,
because he will take from what is mine and declare it to you.
Everything that the Father has is mine;
for this reason I told you that he will take from what is mine
and declare it to you.”
 

To me, this speaks of the hope we can have of coming to know God more and more, as we become more and more confident in his love for us. And we can also hear a certain longing and eagerness by Jesus to reveal himself to his beloved, to us.  It’s a real relationship — or at least, he wants it to be. 

Knowing God better is . . . well, it’s not always a delight. Sometimes it’s terrible, for a while, just like marriage can be, as you come to know each other better and better. But unlike in a human marriage, we can know  with complete certainty that there is always delight on the other side, if we keep pushing through. Or at least we can hope, until we know.

So we should not be afraid of trying to understand mysteries. God wants to reveal himself to us. But we have to start by consenting to be in a relationship with him — and sometimes, just as in any relationship, that means taking a leap, and giving the assent of your will to something that you don’t yet fully comprehend. True for the mystery of the Trinity, true for the mystery of love. 
 
***
 
Image: Creation of Man, by Ceschiatti, 1945; photo by Dennis Jarvis via Flickr (Creative Commons)

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5 thoughts on “Trinity Sunday: I have much more to tell you”

  1. I read Frank Sheed’s book on your recommendation and it’s one of the best I’ve ever read. Thank you.

  2. Simcha, this was a beautiful post, among your very best, I think. I liked everything about it. One of the things I especially liked was that you said, “God made us to love us.” He didn’t need us, but his love is so overflowing, he made us to love.” And that would be each of us – he made you because he wanted to love you, and me, because he wanted to love me. Every one of us. We were made for him to love, for him to have the enjoyment of a relationship with us. For him to be able to give to us, to give himself to us. And a little thought I had as I was thinking about this, is that there are people in the world who are inconvenient to others for one reason or another – too old, too sick, too disabled, too young, too needy, not wanted – and yet, he made them also – he made them so that he could love them. Though
    we all know the teachings of the Church on the “life issues” or at least all of the major ones – and yet within the church it is sometimes seen that there are those who are viewed as pro-life in the sense of “oh, you pro-lifers…” and then others who are not, and I am not going to put a label on these others, but they are the others who are not part of the “oh, you pro-lifers.” The church divides along lines we find in the culture around us. But – the truth for all of us is very simply that God made us when he didn’t need us at all, but he was so full of overflowing love, that he made us in order to have someone to give that love to. And he made every single one of us for that very reason. And he actually made each of us in his own image and likeness – he made us like himself. So we are wired with something in us, that was made to give love to others in that generous out-flowing way. So, he made me in his image, he made you in his image, and an inconvenient elderly aunt or neighbor (who might need someone’s time to care for their needs) was created in his image for him to love, and even for him to love through us? We all have that same value as being made by God out of his great desire to love us. And that is the crux of the reason that Church holds to its teachings on the sanctity of life – the same themes are seen again and again in Scripture and in Evangelium Vitae – each person created in God’s image and of great value to him. So when we get to that us vs. them thing when it comes to “life issues” – it seems to me that somehow we might hope to all find ourselves on the same page with this because it is true, that God me, you, and the very young and very old and some very inconvenient people – all of us, he didn’t need, but he made us all to love us. And he made us like himself that we can love these others with him, through him… And I was going to say, having wandered into this life issues tangent, okay, I know this started with the Trinity and I got off onto this tangent that is not that – and now I’m thinking, wait a sec, it is – the 3 persons in the Trinity are so pouring out love from one to another, they are totally bonded in that love from all eternity, that maybe it is in that love that is the “Trinity” uniting the three persons, holding them together – some writers have said the Holy Trinity is the first family or model for the family because of being three persons in one. But – that love just cycling between them – when we each love each other, when we love the ones we love, and we also love the ones who temporarily seem inconvenient we are entering into that Trinity of overflowing-ness of love. So loving each and every individual who God created is being like God in whose image we were made and being in relationship with the Trinity…?

  3. I have to say that I have spent my entire life trying to visualise the trinity, in the same way I see the father and son. I just don’t have the picture in my mind for it.
    I pray regularly for that picture but it hasn’t happened yet.

    If anyone can help?

    1. Mark b, I don’t know if my ideas will help or not because I do not have an actual “picture.” But you can see the father and son, and the third person would be the Holy Spirit who can seem quite nebulous. A woman named Catherine Marshall (now deceased) wrote a book called The Helper which is, if I am remembering correctly, 40 days of readings about the Holy Spirit. She thought at the time that the Holy Spirit was pretty nebulous, so she sat down with her Bible and looked up every verse she could find about the Holy Spirit, reflected on it all, and wrote it up. Catherine had actually been the wife of Rev. Peter Marshall, who was once chaplain to the US Senate, decades ago, and then after his death became, in her day, a well known Christian author. But – she found for herself a much clearer picture of who the Holy Spirit was, and it was helpful to me at the time, and in fact I think I read the book twice, though not recently. It seems to me that if you had a clearer picture of the Holy Spirit, you could then put him together with the other two, and maybe you would be able to have a better picture of the Trinity. The other thing that makes sense to me, although it’s by no means perfect, but it does make sense to me is to think about the three states of matter -for example, water being a liquid, but also being a solid (ice) and steam. You can think of all the things that steam can do – power a steam engine on the early trains or in other things that use steam – which I think sometimes can be analagous to the Holy Spirit who moves and gets things done, pours out gifts that we can use, gave the gifts that propelled the disciples who were praying in the upper room, out to people to preach and convert. Steam and water are both inanimate, not persons, and of course the Trinity is “three persons in one God,” and personal persons, relatable to us – so my idea falls short, and it’s not truly my own though I use it. I don’t know if this came from Catherine Marshall, or someone else, but it is one of the ways I think about the Holy Spirit. He’s a person, but there is that sense of movement and power and energy about him. And in a way, water is not far off from Jesus who promised us living water – though of course we know him as a man. But, The Helper may give you more to think about that may lead you to something that works for you, I hope. I’m afraid I’ll get this wrong, so I won’t say exactly, but I remember Fr. Robert Faricy once said something about either the Holy Spirit or the Trinity being in that relationship between Father and Son. Fr. Faricy has a number of you tube videos, so it would be a lot to listen to, but this was some years ago at a conference, and if you wanted to look, I’m sure you would find out though you might have to listen a dozen videos to do so. Fr. Faricy taught at a college or seminary in Rome for many years, but is now very elderly and last I knew was in a nursing home, so no longer speaking or teaching but a wise priest.

  4. Yes, it is all about the love for that is who God is – LOVE! It is always refreshing to hear a homily that gets to the root of the matter in language with which we can relate. I love the icon of the Trinity by Rublev. Thanks for this post!

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