Thirty-second in a series of reflections on Mass readings during the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy
Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity (Trinity Sunday)
Readings: Proverbs 8:22-31; Romans 5:1-5; John 16:12-15
The Internet is a very self-interested place. Well, just about any medium is, whether social or not. We tend to be very protective and possessive of our words, whether expressing a carefully researched and documented thesis or spouting our opinion on the latest bit of news. I think it’s reasonable to say that a strong bond exists between the words someone speaks and the speaker of those words. Those words are part of us, and they are bound to us insofar as they express us. Now think about this, if you will.
Before the beginning, all creation existed in the mind of almighty God. Then He spoke, and it became actualized – that is, it became able to perceive itself as real. This Word that God spoke, which came from the depths of His very Being to express what was in His infinite mind, was so strong and so powerful that this Word itself has a character, a face, a personality (Greek prosopon, Latin persona) all Its own, distinct from the One Who spoke It but expressing the fullness of the Speaker. In other words, both the Speaker and the Word, while distinct from each other, are fully and completely and essentially the same by nature. So these two faces, these two persons – Speaker and Word – are intimately bound, One being a full expression of the Other. But even the Bond is so strong and so powerful that the Bond Itself has a character, a face, a personality of Its very own, but One that again expresses the same fullness of essence as both the Speaker and the Word and keeping them in union with each other.
Hopefully, I just gave you some idea of what we mean when we refer to God as the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit: one in Trinity, three in Unity, the Source of all existence existing as three distinct persons in one eternal unity of substance.
Today’s First Reading, which is taken from the Book of Proverbs, shows us how the understanding of this relationship that is God’s self-existence developed. Core among the tenets of the Jewish faith (and ours) is the concept that God is one and only one: “YHWH our God is God alone!” But this passage, from the last and latest part of the book to be composed, shows us the existence of a primeval Wisdom co-existing with God, participating with God in the creation of the cosmos. This Wisdom, personified as a woman, is described as “playing on the surface of his earth” and “delight[ing] in the human race.” We can leave the religious ramifications of this idea for another time; for now, it is enough to recognize that this lady Wisdom is the “craftsman” who constructs the universe according to God’s grand design. She alone knows the mind of God. This idea developed up to and into the time of Christ and the early Church as more or less synonymous with the Greek idea of the Logos, the rational principle of order that undergirds the cosmos.
Saint John the Evangelist would apply that term Logos to Jesus Christ Himself in his Gospel, and Saint Jerome would later translate into Latin as Verbum (Word). All things were made through this Logos, Who is with God and co-equal with God. And this Logos is incarnate in the person of Jesus, knowing God’s ways as a Son knows His Father’s ways, and making God’s ways known to Man as Man. Wisdom becomes a man, and His new creation – the Church – becomes a woman. Now, in today’s Gospel reading, Jesus continues this work of revelation by explaining to His friends an added component of this creative mystery: He does not work alone! “The Spirit of truth,” He tells them, “…will not speak on his own, but will speak what he hears” – in the same way Jesus always maintained that His words were not His own but the Father’s. “He will take from what is mine” – that is, the Father’s through the Son – “and declare it to you,” but where Jesus did this exteriorly and physically, the Spirit will continue this process interiorly and psychologically.
What are we to make of this? What was the early Church to make of this? The writings of the most prominent Church Fathers and the proceedings of the first ecumenical Councils of the Church were devoted to understanding the revelations of Scripture (including both readings above!) and the Tradition of the Apostles in accord with the one and indivisible natural existence of God. How can Jesus be God, yet God be one? And what is the nature of the Holy Spirit, exactly, being sent by God through Jesus? The answer to these questions was the concept of the Trinity: God is three in character, yet one in essence. Christianity has spent 1800 years trying to come to terms with this mystery, to understand it if not fully then in a way that helps us appreciate the truth about God that it tries to convey. And I think, especially in this Year of Mercy, we can do that if we ground our understanding in a similarly complex, confounding and ultimately defining force in creation – Love.
Saint Paul expresses that idea many times in his writings, including in today’s Second Reading where he tells the Romans that “the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” The same love that allows Man to draw always closer in relationship with God reveals God’s very existence to be the primal example of that relationship, the very pattern of Love itself. The love of God spurred Him to actualize all creation. The love of God made the Incarnation possible and the Redemption effective. The love of God allowed the Incarnation to continue through the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist. And the love of God allowed the Holy Spirit to permeate the innermost parts of us all in order to remind us of the divine Presence Whose dwelling is with the human race. That impartial, reconciling compassion that draws all men and women to Himself is not just His timeless gift brought to us in time; it is the gift of His very Self the truest way possible, by the Spirit through the Son from the Father.
Without Trinity, God would simply be a Lover. But God is Love – so much so that He even exists essentially in loving relationship with Himself. That is why the Son is consubstantial with the Father, even though possessing a fully human nature: the Word is born completely of the Speaker, and the Speaker loves the Word He has spoken in the same way that a father loves his firstborn and only-begotten son. That is why the Holy Spirit is generated by the Father and yet proceeds from both the Father and the Son: the Bond unites both the Word and the Speaker, but the Word – and therefore, the Bond – is not actualized without the Speaker speaking. And this is why Saint Paul can say “hope does not disappoint;” even the weakest parts of us were spoken by God, and are caught up in this great relationship through our participation in the mystical Body. “[W]e have gained access by faith to this grace in which we stand.”
So on this Trinity Sunday, let’s remember that the Essence of existence is Love – and that even the smallest words we speak should reflect that same relationship.