I have come to believe that the Feast of the Holy Trinity is one of the most important celebrations in our church year. In a world where we are encouraged to begin new relationships, struggle with existing relationships, warned against harmful relationships, expected to understand our relationships, and have relationships on social networks like Facebook and Twitter, we are given an opportunity to reflect and to celebrate our relationship with the three persons in one God.
During my life there were different ways that people tried to explain to me the relationship between the three persons of the Holy Trinity. In the fifth grade, after coming home after Mass on the Feast of the Holy Trinity, my father tried to explain to me what the priest said about the Holy Trinity in his homily. At the kitchen table, the coffee in my father’s cup became God the Father. The cream that my dad added became God the Son. The sugar that he stirred into the mixture became God the Holy Spirit. And I was the cup where all three persons came together. At the time, I suppose the breakfast table theology of my father made sense to him who always enjoyed a good cup of coffee. For me it was a chance to see how a man with an eighth grade education understood God through the simple things of life.
In the seminary, I read what the Fathers of the Church taught about the Holy Trinity. After looking up words like “homoousios” ”hypostases”, “procession”, and “spiration”, I memorized what the Church Fathers theorized about God’s inner relationship in order to pass the final exam. I was not impressed with what I was able to learn about God’s inner relationship. I was impressed with the struggle that people went through to discover how to understand and to explain God. The irony is that the early theologians who used difficult and vague language about the Trinity did so for no other reason than to safeguard the truth that God does connect and God does relate to all of us but in a very mysterious way.
The question of the Holy Trinity came up early in our church’s history because of how people were trying to describe the person of Jesus who walked, who talked, and who died like every human being. It was when theologians began to ask themselves what this might mean that the difficulties arose. After much argument and fighting our church came to the conclusion that when we say that we encounter God in Jesus we have to mean God in the strict sense of the term: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.
So the Trinity has this tremendous impact on our lives that the God in whom we believe is not a God who lies hidden, but a God who can be seen and heard, and touched in the person of Jesus. God is a god who is poured out in love for us through the Holy Spirit. The point is not that we should be puzzled by this relationship of three persons, but that we should realize that the puzzle arises in the first place because God decided to be revealed to us in the person of Jesus.
It is interesting that while the mystery of the Trinity is something that can be found in the scriptures, people did not go to the scriptures first. Instead they have somehow experienced the mystery of God in their own lives and then they go to the scriptures to explain it. The gospel challenge for us today is to find out how we can put our experiences of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit into words?
Fr. Bob Kelly
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