Monday, May 23, 2005

Our Relationship with The Trinity

Homily for Trinity Sunday

Today we celebrate the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity: we call to mind and celebrate the mystery of God, who is One God, yet three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Sometimes I've heard priests say that this is their least favorite Sunday to preach, because preaching on the Trinity is so difficult. I know what they mean: certainly the Trinity is not easy to understand or explain. But we must make the effort to understand it, because it is at the heart of who God is. Being a mystery, it is something we cannot completely comprehend. But that does not mean we can't understand it at all - God would not have revealed it to us if it were utterly beyond our understanding.

Now, in the New Testament you will not find the word "Trinity", nor will you find anything like a detailed explanation of the Trinity. but nonetheless, the Trinity is found implicitly throughout the New Testament. Notice, in our second reading, from St. Paul's Second Letter to the Corinthians: St. Paul refers to each person of the Trinity in a different way: the grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. It's clear that St. Paul understands that somehow, God is One, yet Three.

There is a sense in which it would be accurate to say that God didn’t have to reveal the truth of the Trinity to us. The central tenet of our faith is that Christ, the Son of God, became one of us and was given up as an offering for us, suffering in expiation for our sins, and that he died and rose again so that we too might rise to new life in Him. One doesn’t need to know about the Trinity to understand this. But yet the Trinity is held as one of the most profound and important teachings of our faith. Why is this? Why did God reveal the Trinity to us?

The answer is this: God revealed the Trinity because he loves us. In the Gospel we are told that "God so loved the world that He sent his only Son"... Now one of the surest signs of love is the desire to be known. We want to be known by those we love: that is “built-in” to the very nature of love. Think for a moment of your own relationships with your loved ones: Did you ever try to tell your husband or wife something really important, and they didn’t get it? Have you ever felt, or even said to someone you love "You don't understand me"? You know how frustrating and hurtful that can be. That's because we desire to be known by those we love. Well, we are like that because God is like that: God was not content that we know merely what He did: He wants us to know who He is, and the Trinity is at the heart of who God is.

Now, when we think about the Trinity, we tend to get stuck on how God can be one, and yet be three. And we all know that one is not three: If I have three bananas in one hand (I was going to use apples but I like bananas much better than apples) and one banana in the other, no one is going to think they're the same. The key to understanding the Trinity is that it is not a math problem. (And that's a good thing, at least for me, because math was never my strongest subject.) The key is that we're not saying we have three bananas in one banana. Or that we have One God in three Gods. That's just nonsense, and God doesn't want us to think nonsense about the most important mystery of His existence.

No, we say, and the Church has held from the very earliest time, that God is three Persons having One Nature. And if we can get to the bottom of what these words mean, then we'll be well on our way to understanding the Trinity.

Now the nature of something is what it is — it's "whatness". For example, we can see that this [holding up the book of the Gospels] is a book. And we can see that the sacramentary [pointing to a server holding up the sacramentary] is also a book. These two things are different; they are distinct. But nonetheless we recognize each as being a book. They share a common book-nature, the same book-ness. Or look at one another. Each of us is different. In fact, we're each unique. But because we are unique, that doesn't mean that we are all isolated and incapable of relating to each other. No, in fact we do all relate to one another. That's because while each of us is distinct and even unique, we all share the same human nature. We recognize that human-ness in one another. We are all distinct persons, but we share the same human nature.

We can see then that things can be distinct, but yet share the same nature. Well, it's similar with the Godhead. God is three Persons: Father, Son, and Spirit. Each Person is distinct. But each Person partakes of the same Divine nature. Each Person of the Trinity is equally God: they are equal in Majesty, equal in Glory, equal in Power, and equal in Authority. And through the Son, Jesus, we are in relationship with each of the Persons of the Trinity. We are in relationship with God the Father, who created us and is the source and origin of all things. We are in relationship with the Son, who is God's very thought and Word - God's Word, which is so infinite and profound that is has being as a Person. And we are in relationship to God the Spirit, who is God's own life and love: the life and love of God, which is also so infinite and profound that it has being as a Person.

Now that we know what a nature is, the question is "how do we know a person?" Well, if I were to introduce you to John Smith, I might say, "this is John Smith. He's 36, he's a convert to the faith, he's an accountant, and he's married with 3 kids." After that, you'd feel that you know a few facts about John Smith, but you wouldn't say that you knew him. No, you know someone by spending time with him, by talking to him. We get to know someone by sharing our lives with one another.

It's the same way with God. We are in relationship with the whole God: We are in relationship to the Father, we are in relationship to the Son, and we are in relationship to the Spirit. And we will come to know these three Persons of the Trinity by living our relationship with them. We do that by spending time with God, by inviting the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit into our lives and hearts. We do that by talking to God: by prayer. But I would encourage you, I would urge you, from now on to make a point from time to time of praying to each of the Persons of the Trinity: to pray to the Father, to pray to the Son, and to pray to the Holy Spirit. It is by giving our life to the Trinity that we will be taken up into the life of the Trinity. And within that life, we will not just know about the Trinity, but we will know the Trinity itself, living in their communion of love.