On the Gospel, Like God, Like Worshipers
The story is told of St Augustine of Hippo, a great philosopher and theologian. He was preoccupied with the doctrine of the Blessed Trinity. He wanted so much to understand the doctrine of one God in three persons and to be able to explain it logically. One day he was walking along the sea shore and reflecting on this matter. Suddenly, he saw a little child all alone on the shore. The child made a whole in the sand, ran to the sea with a little cup, filled her cup with sea water, ran up and emptied the cup into the hole she had made in the sand. Back and forth she went to the sea, filled her cup and came and poured it into the hole. Augustine drew up and said to her, “Little child, what are you doing?” She replied, “I am trying to empty the sea into this hole.”
“How do you think,” Augustine asked her, “that you can empty this immense sea into this tiny hole and with this tiny cup?”
She answered back, “And you, how do you suppose that with your small head you can comprehend the immensity of God?” With that the child disappeared.
The doctrine of the inner relationship of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in such a way that each of them is fully and equally God, yet there are not three Gods but one, cannot be fully comprehended by the human mind. It is a mystery.
If we expected today’s readings to give us a clear and elaborate presentation of the doctrine of the Blessed Trinity, we have found out that they simply do not. The doctrine of three persons in one God, equal in divinity yet distinct in personality, is not explicitly spelt out in the Bible. In fact the very word “Trinity” is not found in the Bible. Early Christians arrived at the doctrine when they applied their God-given reason to the revelation which they had received in faith. Jesus spoke about the Father who sent him (the Son) and about the Holy Spirit whom he was going to send. He said that the Father had given him (the Son) all that he has and that he in turn has given to the Holy Spirit all that he has received from the Father. In this we see the unity of purpose among the three persons of the Trinity.
In the story of salvation we usually attribute creation to the Father, redemption to the Son and sanctification to the Holy Spirit. Nevertheless, though they are distinct as persons, neither the Father nor the Son nor the Holy Spirit ever exists or acts in isolation from the other two persons of the Godhead.
Like Augustine we may not be able to understand the how of the Trinity but I think it is very important to understand the why. Why did God reveal to us this mystery regarding the very nature of the Supreme Being? The importance of this doctrine lies in this: we are made in the image of God, therefore, the more we understand God the more we understand ourselves. Experts in religion tell us that people always try to be like the god they worship. People who worship a warrior god tend to be warmongering, people who worship a god of pleasure tend to be pleasure-seeking, people who worship a god of wrath tend to be vengeful, and people who worship a god of love tend to be loving. Like a god, so the worshippers. Therefore, the more important question for us to ask today is: What does the doctrine of the Blessed Trinity tell us about the kind of God we worship and what does this say about the kind of people we should be? On this, I have two points to share with you.
(1) God does not exist in solitary individualism but in a community of love and sharing. God is not a loner. This means that a Christian in search of Godliness (Matthew 5:48) must shun every tendency to isolationism. The ideal Christian spirituality is not that of flight from the world like that of certain Buddhist monastic traditions where the quest for holiness means permanent withdrawal to the Himalayas away from contact and involvement with people and society.
(2) True love requires three partners. You remember the old saying “Two is company, three is a crowd.” The Trinity shows us that three is community, three is love at its best; three is not a crowd. Taking an example from the human condition we see that when a man A is in love with a woman B they seal the loving by producing a baby C. Father, mother and child — love when it perfected becomes a trinity.
We are made in God’s image and likeness. Just as God is God only in a Trinitarian relationship, so we can be fully human only in a relationship of three partners. The self needs to be in a horizontal relationship with others and a vertical relationship with God. In that way our life becomes Trinitarian like that of God. Then we discover that the so-called “I-and-I” principle of unbridled individualism which is acceptable in modern society leaves much to be desired. The doctrine of the Blessed Trinity challenges us to adopt rather an I-and-God-and-neighbour principle. I am a Christian insofar as I live in a relationship of love with God and other people. May the grace of the Holy Trinity help us to banish all traces of self-centeredness in our lives and to live in love of God and of neighbour.
On the Epistle, Life In the Trinity
The Easter season is over. It was concluded last Sunday with the Pentecost. Today we return to Sundays in Ordinary Time. If there is one theme that marks the Ordinary Time of the liturgical year, it is the theme of growth in Christian living. The liturgical colour green symbolizes life and growth, as we know from nature. Ordinary Time will take us to the end of the liturgical year. If the theme of the Ordinary Time is growth, why then does the church choose to come back to it with the solemnity of the Blessed Trinity? Growth is a practical, everyday concern but the Trinity seems to be high up there, a matter of theological and philosophical profundity.
The best explanation I can find why the church brings us back to the ordinary time of the year with the feast of the Holy Trinity is in the words of the French novelist Antoine de Saint-Exupery: “If you want to build a ship, don’t herd people together to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.” The church is presenting us with the big picture of the “endless immensity of the sea” we call God. When we are personally caught up in the mystery of the love of God, then we shall find the rationale and the motivation to work for our personal growth in Christian living.
Romans 5:1-5 links belief in the Trinity with the daily practice of Christian living. In this passage Paul speaks of the whole business of our justification and salvation as having peace with God. Being in right relationship with God our Father is the whole point of the Christian life. Paul is quick to add that the way to achieve this is through Christ.
“Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God” (Romans 5:1-2).
Our goal is to be at one with God. This is attained through Christ in whom we have access to the Father. Our hope is to share in God’s glory. This hope is nourished by our faith in Christ which justifies us.
Our hope to share in God’s glory in the future is not based on wishful thinking. It is based on the fact that even now God has already given us the surety or assurance of what is to come by pouring out the love of God into our hearts:
“And hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us” (Romans 5:5).
Note that the love of God is poured into our heart through the Holy Spirit. Christian life is, therefore, not possible without a relationship with God the Father, His Son Jesus Christ, and his Holy Spirit. This is one big difference between the Christian religion and other religions. Whereas other religions present salvation and godliness solely as a matter between the individual believer and God, the Christian religion agrees that it is indeed a matter between the individual and God and adds that we have two heavenly advocates on our side. First we have our Lord Jesus Christ who redeems us and reconciles us to the Father. And then we also have “another advocate” who carries on the work of our sanctification.
The business is not over the moment we believe in Christ and are justified before God. In fact the business of being a Christian has only begun. From then on, the rest of our lives should be devoted to the business of sanctification, the process of being holy as God is holy. This is where the Holy Spirit, the outpouring of whom we celebrated last Sunday, becomes the guiding principle of our lives. Through the Spirit God’s love is poured into our hearts, through the Spirit we learn to love God and our neighbour as Jesus teaches us. As we return to Ordinary Time and to the daily challenges of living the Christian life, let us know that we are not alone in the struggle. God the Father is on our side, Jesus Christ the Son of God is on our side, the Holy Spirit the Power of God Most High is on our side. Now this is hope, this is hope that never disappoints.