I once heard a story about a young Dublin lad with a lisp. While making his Confirmation the poor lad got the dreaded nod to come forth to answer a question from no lesser a character than the formidable Archbishop of Dublin, John Charles McQuaid. Archbishop McQuaid asked the boy to explain what is meant by the Holy Trinity. The boy had learned verbatim what was in the Catechism and repeated it by rote:
“By the Holy Trinity is meant that in God there are three Divine persons.”
However, the boy’s lisp made it difficult for the Archbishop to understand, so he asked the boy to repeat it. Indeed, he asked him to repeat it a third time, with the same incomprehension. The Archbishop looked at the boy who was, by now, becoming ever more frustrated and embarrassed and said, “I’m sorry, but I don’t understand.”
“You’re not supposed to understand,” the boy blurted out. “It’s a mystery!”
Whether or not the story is true, the mystery of the Holy Trinity is certainly the compelling element of our faith, for it is about us trying to understand the very nature of God.
Legend has it that while trying to explain the mystery of the Holy Trinity to the Irish, St. Patrick plucked a shamrock and demonstrated that its three-lobed leaves emanated from one stem.
Albert Einstein once said: “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” He also said: “Any fool can make things more complex. It takes a touch of genius to move in the opposite direction.”
We certainly can recognize the kind of genius Einstein talks about in the use of the shamrock as a metaphor for the Holy Trinity. I’m not so sure, however, about those who decided to change the wording of the Creed from “one in being with the Father” to “consubstantial with the Father”.
In my seminary days, I certainly came across tomes about God and the Holy Trinity that filled my mind, not with enlightenment, but with a fog of confusion and made me feel stupid.
The readings for Trinity Sunday 2017 are quite revealing in helping us to grasp the nature of our Trinitarian God: Father, Son and their Love for one another that is the Holy Spirit.
In the first reading (Exodus 34:4-6,8-9), God is revealed to Moses as a God of compassion, slow to anger, patient, merciful and true.
In his letter to the Corinthians (2 Cor 13:11-13), St. Paul encourages the brothers and sisters to rejoice – to strive for perfection, to be of one mind, to encourage one another and to live in peace. The reward, he promises: “the God of love and peace” will be with us.
And, again, in John’s Gospel (Jn 3:16-18), we are presented with a God of such tender love and compassion who, in wishing to help us understand His/Her love of humanity, sent Jesus “not to judge the world” but to save it so that we might have life everlasting.
Sometimes we can think too deeply and make things that are really simple appear complex to the point of incomprehension. It is the same with the Holy Trinity. All that we need to remember is that we are made in the image of the Trinitarian God of Love (Father = Mind; Son = Body; Holy Spirit = Soul/Spirit).
We are called to cherish our uniqueness and to cherish the uniqueness of each and every person in the human family who too are temples of God. St. Elizabeth of the Trinity wrote: “I have found heaven on earth, since heaven is God, and God is in my soul.”
God is Love. We are made to Love. Love is a perpetual dialogue and fusion, which is what the Holy Trinity is. When we who are formed out of love, love in return, we too are the co-creators of the same Holy Spirit that is the love of the Father and Son.
And that reminds me of another quotation from Albert Einstein. On 9 July 1955, Einstein and the British philosopher, Bertrand Russell, published a Manifesto which began:
“In the tragic situation which confronts humanity, we feel that scientists should assemble in conference to appraise the perils that have arisen as a result of the development of weapons of mass destruction… ”
Before calling the Governments of the world to acknowledge publically: “… that their purpose cannot be furthered by a world war … and to find peaceful means for the settlement of all matters of dispute between them”, the manifesto starkly stated:
Remember your humanity
– and forget the rest.
The same is true of Christians. And, if we were to write a manifesto, we too can starkly state:
Remember your origins
God is Love – We are called to Love
– and forget the rest.