Fr. Raymond Lafontaine, E.V. June 7, 2020
Winston Churchill once referred to the Soviet Union as “a mystery wrapped in an enigma.” For many Catholics, when you ask them about the Trinity, you get a similar response. Their belief in the doctrine of the Trinity is notional, not real; it is something remote, incomprehensible, disconnected from the concerns of daily life.
We often refer to the Trinity as a “mystery”. But what is a mystery? Is it merely something we can’t understand, no matter how hard we try? Is it something that, given enough clues, we can “solve”, using the skills of a Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot, or Father Brown - or whoever your favourite detective happens to be? Or, as authors like Dan Brown or Richard Dawkins seem to suggest, is “mystery” a code word developed by religious hierarchs and authority figures, to convince us to stop thinking and blindly believe whatever we’re told?
It is important for us to know – as Catholics, as Christians – that we are not asked or expected to choose between faith and reason. The Church invites us to a profound dialogue between these two realities: “faith informed by reason, reason transformed by faith.” Being human, we seek to understand. That is normal and natural. It is an irrepressible force within the human spirit. No one is asking us to check our brains at the door with our coats! But before we can understand something, we need to experience it first.
In his seminal work Insight: A Study in Human Understanding, Canadian philosopher Bernard Lonergan traces the movement of the human spirit from experience to understanding, understanding to judging, judging to choosing, choosing to loving. If this movement is present in all forms of human knowing, how much more is it so with the experience of religious faith and love: love so infinite that it is beyond our capacity to grasp or imagine, yet a love that is made available to us as free gift, “poured out into our hearts by the Holy Spirit”, to which Paul bears witness today in his letter to the Romans.
Faith in God, belief in the Trinity, in the God who is love, is not about easy formulas or learned theological arguments. Nor is it about blind faith, passive submission to religious creeds. It is the Mystery of Divine Love: beyond the understanding of the wisest theologian, the most brilliant scientist, the most powerful politician; and yet, given to us as Gift, available to the vulnerable, the humble, the child, the poor in spirit. It is the revelation that God, in God’s very self, is relationship, overflowing love. God embraces us: our joys and hopes, our pain and struggles, all that belongs to our human existence. God does not stand above us or apart from us, but in solidarity with us. We are not alone. This is the truth that the saints, like 14th century English mystic Lady Julian of Norwich, knew both from revelation and personal experience:
“The almighty truth of the Trinity is our Father, for he makes us and keeps us in life. And the deep wisdom of the Trinity is our Mother, in whom we are enclosed as in the womb. And the high goodness of the Trinity is our Lord Jesus, in whom we are enclosed and he in us. We are enclosed in the Father and the Mother and the Son and the Holy Spirit, and they in us: almighty, all-loving, all beauty, all wisdom and all goodness; one God, one Lord, one Love, three persons.”
God is Love: three simple words containing infinite meaning, the mystery at the heart of our faith. Our God is a Trinity of Persons: creating Father, Incarnate Word, in-dwelling and life-giving Spirit. God’s deepest desire is to communicate God’s very Self – love, compassion, hope, mercy, forgiveness, salvation – to every one of his creatures. To you and to me. To experience that love, to be caught up in it, is a precious gift indeed. We are each invited to open our hearts to this gift, to allow ourselves to be caught up in this passionate love affair with the Trinity.
In many ways, the clear, conceptual voice of intellect and reason fails to capture the essence of the mystery at the heart of faith in the Triune God. In his “sonnet to the Holy Trinity”, Anglican mystic and poet Malcolm Guite employs the resources of the poetic imagination:
SONNET TO THE HOLY TRINITY (Malcolm Guite)In the Beginning, not in time or space, But in the quick before both space and time, In Life, in Love, in co-inherent Grace, In three in one and one in three, in rhyme, In music, in the whole creation story, In His own image, His imagination, The Triune Poet makes us for His glory, And makes us each the other’s inspiration. He calls us out of darkness, chaos, chance, To improvise a music of our own, To sing the chord that calls us to the dance, Three notes resounding from a single tone, To sing the End in whom we all begin; Our God beyond us, beside us, and within us.
So as we celebrate the Trinity, let us acknowledge this mystery of Divine Love as gift: a Father’s love taking on human flesh in Jesus, the Son, and poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit. Our God is relationship: God’s very being is self-giving, overflowing love, and we are not alone. Look upon creation and behold the reflection of the Trinity: dynamic, giving, expansive, radiant; extraordinarily diverse, yet finely-differentiated unity.
Faith in the Holy Trinity also grounds our belief in the dignity of the human person. Our God embraces us, stands in solidarity with us, dwells within us. Created by a loving Father, we are children of God; redeemed by the Son, we are brothers and sisters of Jesus, and of one another; sanctified by the Holy Spirit, we are Holy Ground, God’s own dwelling place.
The Trinity is no dry, dusty dogma, a theoretical construct without practical application. It is the core truth at the heart of Christian faith: God is love. God is relationship. God is unity in diversity. God is a communion of equals. And if this is who God is, then all of us, created in the divine image and likeness, are also called to reflect this love, harmony and unity in our own lives. So let us give glory to the Triune God in the familiar words of the Gloria Patri:
Glory be to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit: As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. AMEN.