The Feast of the Most Holy Trinity ~ Sunday June 7th, 2020
We Catholics (and most Episcopalians) recite these words Sunday after Sunday. (And some Lutheran congregations as well.) But I have a question for you: Do you ever think about what you are saying or reciting? Will you allow me to help us look at them together and plumb their meaning a bit?
I believe in one God,
the Father almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all things visible and invisible.
I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ,
the only Begotten Son of God.
Now right there, some of us might not understand what “only Begotten” means,
but I suppose the next line explains it:
Born of the Father before all ages,
God from, God, Light from Light,
True God from True God,
Begotten not made, consubstantial with the Father.
Before this last change in the Mass, we said “one in being with the Father,” which is a bit easier to understand.
So, I’d like go back to one of the early Church Fathers and to St. Paul, and a little of my own experience to see if we can understand this important mystery of the Holy Trinity a little better.
The word consubstantial means “being of the same substance.” Yeah, I know, that doesn’t help a lot.
Well, here’s a letter written by St. Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria, Egypt to Serapion in the early 4th Century. He is best known for his tirelessness defense of the full divinity of Jesus Christ ~ God the Son’s equality with God the Father during the troubled period of the Arian heresy that taught that Jesus was only a man. It was through this saint’s efforts that the nature of Jesus Christ, both fully man and fully God was clearly articulated in the Nicene Creed. Here’s what he has to say . . . .
“It will not be out of place to consider the ancient tradition, teaching and faith of the Catholic Church, which was revealed by the Lord, proclaimed by the apostles and guarded by the fathers. For upon this faith the Church is built, and if anyone were to lapse from it, he would no longer be a Christian either in fact or in name.
“We acknowledge the Trinity, holy and perfect, to consist of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. In this Trinity there is no intrusion of any alien element or of anything from outside, nor is the Trinity a blend of creative and created being. It is a wholly creative and energizing reality, self-consistent and undivided in its active power, for the Father makes all things through the Word (Jesus) and in the Holy Spirit, and in this way the unity of the holy Trinity is preserved.
“Accordingly, in the Church, one God is preached, one God who is above all things and through all things and in all things. God is above all things as Father, for he is principle and source; he is through all things through the Word; and he is in all things in the Holy Spirit.
I would like you to note what might seem “Pantheistic” here. God is “through” all things. The implication here is that God can be worshipped in all things! Think about that! That’s true! The worship of God didn’t start with the Hebrews or Catholics. It began eons ago!
Earlier, writing to the Corinthians, St. Paul traces all reality back to one God, the Father, saying:
Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of service but the same Lord; and there are varieties of working, but it is the same God who inspires them all in everyone.
This is also Paul’s teaching in his second letter to the Corinthians (2:13): The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”
“For grace and the gift of the Trinity are given by the Father through the Son in the Holy Spirit. Just as grace is given from the Father through the Son, so there could be no communication of the gift to us except in the Holy Spirit. But when we share in the Spirit, we possess the love of the Father, the grace of the Son and the fellowship of the Spirit himself.” Saint Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria.
Now. isn’t that amazingly clear?
And notice that he ends with the phrase that the priest often uses to greet the people at Mass, “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit … be with you all.”
And when the priest ends his prayers at Mass and sometimes we do too with: Through our Lord jesus Christ, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.
And yet this is all a secret, a mystery that God invites us to share in by entering into the silence of our hearts. We call this contemplation ~ or some would say “Centering Prayerl
Now here’s a story often told about St. Augustine, surely a legend. . . .
St. Augustine spent thirty years trying to write his definitive work De Trinitate. (About the Holy Trinity) But one day . . . .
He was walking by the seashore one day contemplating and trying to understand the mystery of the Holy Trinity when he saw a small boy running back and forth from the water to a spot on the seashore. The boy was using a sea shell to carry the water from the ocean and place it into a small hole in the sand.
The Bishop of Hippo approached him and asked, “My boy, what are doing?”
“I am trying to bring all the sea into this hole,” the boy replied with a sweet smile.
“But that is impossible, my dear child, the hole cannot contain all that water” said Augustine.
The boy paused in his work, stood up, looked into the eyes of the Saint, and replied, “It is no more impossible than what you are trying to do – comprehend the immensity of the mystery of the Holy Trinity with your small intelligence.”
The Saint was absorbed by such a keen response from that child, and turned his eyes from him for a short while. When he glanced down to ask him something else, the boy had vanished.
Some say that it was an Angel sent by God to teach Augustine a lesson on pride in learning. Others affirm it was the Christ Child Himself who appeared to the Saint to remind him of the limits of human understanding before the great mysteries of our Faith.
Through this story, the sea shell has become a symbol of St. Augustine and the study of theology.
And now, let’s turn to St. Paul and to passage I’ve always loved . . .
“What eye has not seen, and ear has not heard,
and what has not entered the human heart and what God has prepared for those who love him,”
but what God has revealed to us through the Spirit.
For the Spirit scrutinizes everything, even the depths of God. [. . . .] And we speak about them not with words taught by human wisdom, but with words taught by the Spirit, describing spiritual realities in spiritual terms. [. . . . ]
For “who has known the mind of the Lord, so as to counsel him?” But we have the mind of Christ. (Corinthians 2: 9-16)
And finally, what do we take from this? What does the Holy Trinity mean for our lives today?
The Holy Trinity is that dynamic energy that sustains the universe. Theirs is a circle of love that encircles everything that exists. And that includes you and me too! They’re a dynamic threesome. They’re dynamite! They’re love itself! The new Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that “by sending his only Son and Spirit of Love in the fullness of time, God revealed his innermost secret: God himself is an eternal exchange of love, Father, Son and Holy Spirit and he has destined us to share in that exchange. (CCC No.221.)
And so, we are invited to share in, to be caught up in that eternal exchange of love, that dynamic energy, that eternal communion.
And then, we’re to share that loving, dynamic energy with one another.
I found this insight in my seminary’s latest alumni news talking about “connecting” . . . . The writer Brene Brown says “connecting” is the energy that exists between people when they realize that they are seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they can derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.
This challenge is especially significant given the times in which we live, times that are afflicted by patterns of polarization and the demonization of those with whom we disagree; times that seem to grapple with the consequences of social media sites that remain unaccountable even as they seek to divide rather than to unite especially with the challenges and burdens that all of us complicated our lives with the two major crises our Nation is facing right now. The first being the coronavirus epidemic and how our states should or should not open up and how each of us should come out of quarantine. And on top of that, how each of us is responding to the the fact that the three recent killings of Black folk have brought to the surface that our Nation has a great deal of work to do to solve the racial crisis that has been brewing beneath the surface since the Watts riots of 1968.
I urge you to take care of yourself! Find caring people you can talk with by phone or by email or in person (6 ft please ~ as we still have to observe. There’s a lot of pressure on all of us. But this Feast is a feast of joy and hope so take it in.
Does this make the Holy Trinity seem a little more vital to you? The Holy Trinity keep it all going! They’re a circle of love! And they want YOU in it!!! Yes You and me too! And then they want you to tell the world about how it all really works. that: That they have a Father who loves them, a Brother Jesus who redeemed them. And the Spirit they sent to shake things up and get you and me a-movin! Brothers and Sisters we have work to do!
And so may we pray . . .
All holy, undivided Trinity, Creator and Ruler of all that exists,
may all praise be yours now and forever,
and for ages unending, Alleluia, alleluia!
And now before you go, here’s the Hymn “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty Click here
And here are today’s Mass readings, if you’d like to reflect on them. Click here.
“I give you a new commandment—Love one another as I have loved you.”
The scene is the Last Supper . . . .
When Judas had left them, Jesus said,
“Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him.
If God is glorified in him . . . .
Our Scripture scholar-friend William Barclay will unpack these rather mystifying words of Jesus for us.
The glory of God has come and that glory is the Cross. The tension has gone out of the room because Judas has left; any doubts that remained have finally been removed. Judas has gone out and the Cross is now a certainty. The greatest glory in life is the glory that comes from sacrifice.
In Jesus, God has been glorified. It was the obedience of Jesus that brought glory to God. And God will glorify Jesus. The Cross was the glory of Jesus; but there was more to follow—the Resurrection, the Ascension and the full triumph of Christ in his Second Coming. The vindication of Christ must follow his crucifixion; the crown of thorns must change into the crown of glory.
But here begins Jesus’ Farewell Discourse to his disciples as recorded in the gospel of John . . . .
My children, I will be with you only a little while longer.
I give you a new commandment: love one another.
As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.
This is how all will know that you are my disciples,
if you have love for one another.”
It is not an insult to be called my children by the Lord Jesus, but a privilege (1 Jn. 3:1) Jesus is a father to us because receiving everything from the Father (Jn 16:15) he generates within us the new life of grace. We delight in being called children, freed from the burden of having to be independent or self-sufficient. In Matthew 18:1-5, Jesus teaches his disciples that becoming the true way to greatness is through spiritual childhood, of being shamelessly dependent on him. (Magnificat ~ Lectio Divina on today’s Gospel.
Jesus was laying out his farewell commandment to his disciples. The time was short; if they were to hear his voice they must hear it now, Barclay dramatizes. He was going on a journey on which they could not accompany him; he was taking a road that he had to walk alone. He gave them the commandment that they must love one another as he loved them.
What does that mean for us, and for our relationships with others? How did Jesus love his disciples?
Barclay says he loved them selflessly. Even in the noblest human love there remains some element of self. We think of the happiness we will receive, along with what we give. But Jesus never thought of himself. His only thought was to give himself and all he had for those he loved.
Jesus loved his disciples sacrificially. There was no limit to what his love would give or to where it would go. If loved meant the Cross, Jesus was prepared to go there . . . .
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)
Jesus loved his disciples understandingly. He knew his disciples intimately. We never know people until we have lived with them. Sometimes we say that love is blind. Real love is open-eyed. It loves, not what it imagines a person to be, but what that person really is. Jesus’ heart is big enough to love us as we are.
Jesus loved his disciples forgivingly. Their leader was to deny him. They were all to forsake him in his hour of need. They never, in his days in the flesh understood him. They were blind and insensitive, slow to learn and lacking in understanding. In the end, they were cowards. But Jesus held nothing against them; there was no failure that he could not forgive.
The love that has not learned to forgive cannot do anything else but shrivel and die. Barclay concludes by suggesting that we are poor creatures and there is a kind fate in things that makes us hurt those who love us best. For that very reason all enduring love is built on forgiveness, for without forgiveness, love is bound to die.
I had written seven letters to friends asking for reconciliation and forgiveness. Two were returned for insufficient address; the others did not responded; yet I continue to pray for them and hold out hope for reconciliation and if not, that they have accepted my best wishes.
Jesus, You have given us a New Commandment,
To Love one another as You have loved us.
That’s a tall order.
And I know I fall short all the time.
I have hurt people and have tried to make amends to some.
If we would just rely on your strength and grace, Jesus,
we would do better in our loving.
For they say—
They will know we are Christians by our love.
They did in the early Church.
Allow us—allow me—the grace to do so in the Church
and in our world today.
To You, Jesus, be all Glory and Honor and Praise
And now, before you go, here’s one of the first “guitar Mass” songs from the Sixties! “They will know we are Christians by our love.” Click here.
And here are today’s Mass readings. Click here.
Acknowledgments: The Image: Salvador Dali’s The Sacrament of the Last Supper
William Barclay / The Daily Study Bible Series / the Gospel of John – Volume 2 – Revised Edition / The Westminster Press: Philadelphia 1975 (pp. 147-9)