Fr. Roger J. Landry
Espirito Santo Parish, Fall River, MA
Trinity Sunday, Year A
May 26, 2002
Ex 34:4-6,8-9; 2Cor 13:11-13; Jn 3:16-18
1) Every Sunday is, in a very real sense, dedicated to God and therefore every Sunday is, in a very real sense, Trinity Sunday. Since the 1300s however, there has been a feast on the Sunday immediately following Pentecost dedicated to the Most Blessed Trinity. Why the feast? Because the Church has long recognized that it is good to focus explicitly on who God is, to give the whole Church a chance to reflect on the unfathomable mystery who is God.
2) Many Catholics, especially those who haven’t received good catechesis on the faith at home and at school or CCD, are often confused. Sometimes they look at the Father, Son and Holy Spirit as three separate gods, but that’s false. There are not three separate Gods, but rather, one God, in three persons. The word, Trinity, in fact is meant to put into words this mystery. The word “Trinity” does not appear in the Bible, but it is clear that the teaching of the reality of God is found there, for example, when Jesus, before his ascension, commissioned his disciples to go out into the whole world and baptize “in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” The word Trinity was “invented,” we could say by a theologian around the year 200 named Tertullian, who wanted to put into words what the Catholic faith believed about the God revealed by Jesus Christ, that the one God was in fact one God in three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. So Tertullian took the word for unity in Latin (unitas) and the word for three (trinus) and combined them to form the word “trinity,” one God in three persons. But the mystery remains and is one that we will never be able to figure out fully here on earth. Our minds cannot comprehend what it means to be one God in three persons. But we believe in the Trinity because of all that Jesus revealed to us about God. He said, “The Father and I are one.” In fact, he, the Father and the Holy Spirit are one.
3) What I’d like to focus on during this time, though, is why the Father, Son and Holy Spirit would be one; why, in fact, despite the fact that our human minds are never going to be able to comprehend how there can be one God in three persons, that the Trinity makes tremendous sense all the same. Almost, in a sense, why the one God would have to be a Trinity. This will not only introduce us into a deeper understanding of God, but allow us to understand our deep introduction into God and his life.
4) Why is it fitting that God be a Trinity, that God be three persons in the one God-head? In St. John’s Gospel and letters, Jesus revealed the deepest truth about the mystery of God. This in a certain sense said it all, although we can never fathom all this means. He said it in three words. “God is …” Do you remember? God is love. Now if God is love, it would be fitting for him not to be unitary, but in fact to be a communion of persons. I want you to think back to before the world was created, before Adam and Eve, before the entire universe even existed. God already existed. He exists in eternity. Even before time was created, God existed. That’s what eternity means. There has never been, nor could there ever be, a time in which God didn’t exist. When you think of it, until God created the universe, the earth, animals and man, there was nothing else in all of creation besides God. So if God is love, and he has always been and always will be love, how could God have been love if he were unitary (one God and one person). Let me ask you this: Can you love if you’re the only person, the only thing, in the whole universe? Can one person, surrounded by nothing and no one, and never surrounded by anything or anyone, truly be able to love? Whom or what would that person love? No. For God to be love, it meant that God could not be unitary. God had to have someone to love, and someone to love in all eternity. The way the great saints have explained the mystery of love in the heart of the Trinity, is God is love because from all eternity God the Father loved the Son and God the Son loved the father so much that their love, together, became a third person, who is the eternal bond of love between the two. In order for God to be eternally love, there needed to be an eternal lover, an eternal beloved, and an eternal love that unites the two. God is a communion of three persons in love.
5) This might seem a little too abstract and hard to understand perhaps, but God has set up all of creation, especially the human person, in such a way as to give us a great means to understand this communion of persons in love. He’s done it in a reality that should be very clear to many of the people here at Mass today. Do you know of any reality in the world created by God in which two persons can love each other so much that their love can generate another person, who is a bond of love between them? Human marriage is such a reality. A husband can love his wife, and a wife her husband, so much that together their love can generate a concrete living, breathing, crying fruit of their love together. They can make “love.” They can have their love take on personhood. This is a tremendous reality. When husband and wife truly make “love,” the love which they make becomes another person with God’s help. That’s why Pope John Paul II has always called loving sacramental marriage an “image of the Trinity,” because within the family we see a glimpse into the mystery of God. There are two clear differences between the “Trinity of the Family” and the Trinitarian God. The first is that man is a body-soul composite and hence the love they make actually leads to the generation of another body-soul composite, whereas God is spiritual (from all eternity). The second is that in the family the three persons, father, mother and child, are really completely independent of each other. The three person are three separate individuals, whereas in the Trinitarian God, there are three persons in only one individual, who is God. That, again, is part of the mind-blowing mystery of God. But the point I want to stress up until now is that it makes sense that God, who is love, would be Trinitarian because you need more than one to love.
6) The second thing I’d like to tackle is what our Trinitarian God of love has in mind for all of us. Why did he create in the first place? Because he wanted to share his love. He didn’t have to create us. But he wanted to, because he wanted to share his tremendous gift of love with us. The ancient teachers had an expression that referred to God as well as to human love. They said amor diffusivum sibi, love spreads itself. When someone really loves, he pours himself out for those he loves. It’s the same way with God. God wanted to pour out his love and hence he created man, so that he might share his love with us. He wanted to introduce us into the mystery of his love, within the love of the three persons. He wanted to incorporate us in that greatest of all mysteries. That’s what he had in mind with Adam and Eve, but they had other plans. But not even that could stop his love, but it only gave him the chance how deep his love really is. That’s what we read in today’s Gospel, which is perhaps one of the most famous passages in all of Sacred Scripture, made famous by its being posted in football stadiums across the country. “God so loved the world,” we read in St. John today, “that he gave his only Son, that he sent his only Son, that whoever believes in him may not die but may have eternal life.” God so loved the world. God so loved us that he allowed us even to kill him, so that we might see just how deep his love really runs. St. Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans — which we will get at Mass next month — that “God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.” Jesus said, “no greater love exists than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Jesus put those words into action, laying down his life for us. God wanted to be our friend, to introduce us, as friends do, to every good thing, and to the best thing, which is the overflowing boundless mystery of God’s love. What a tremendous gift! What a tremendous reality! And it’s ours!
7) The whole reason why we were created, the whole reason why we’re here on earth, is to be able to say to God by word, deed and reality, “I love you too!” And then to enter into that relationship of love with God, which will exceed every other pleasure, every other gift, every other treasure we might ever have. This is what the saints strived to do, to live in this love. There’s only one way to do this, as Jesus said during the Last Supper. “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you,” he said. He loved us just like the Father loved Him! How incredible is that. But his message to us comes next: “Abide in my love.” How can we do this? He tells us, “You will abide in my love if you keep my commandments, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.” Real love is shown in faithful obedience. If we want to experience the greatest reality ever, the reality of all realities, we have to keep God’s commandments. Everything else is a falsity, a lie, a mirage. God is reality and that reality is LOVE, but to experience it we have to enter into the love of faithfully keeping God’s commandments, saying to him, “Thy will be done!” just as Jesus did.
8 ) There is a consequence of this reality, this truth of truths. If God calls me into this communion of love with him, into the communion of love that is God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit; and if God calls you into that same communion of love, then we are called to love each other just like the persons in the Trinity love each other. I’m called to love you like the Father loves the Son and you’re called to love me as the Son loves the Father. Don’t take my word for this. Listen directly to the Lord. During the Last Supper, Jesus prayed to his Father in the following words: “Father, may they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” Jesus prays that we may all be one, just like the Father and he are one. Why? So that the world might recognize the Trinitarian God, the God of love, working through us. Jesus says the same thing in other words earlier during the Last Supper, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” We are called to love completely, so that others in seeing our love, might recognize the God of love and come first to believe in him and then to share in that love, here and for all eternity. We are Christians, believers in the Triune God of Love, followers of Jesus, who is love incarnate, to the extent that we love.
9) There’s a great story of a WWII POW in Japan which illustrates this truth. And I’ll end with this story. He was captured and thrown into prison. No POW is ever treated well, but he was given some food every day and the guards gave him what he needed to survive. But the POW camp was in the same place as the prison camp for Japanese soldiers who were considered traitors. These traitors were treated contemptuously by the guards, who, after beating them, would generally put them into the POW cells to let them know what they could expect if they tried to escape. Well, one guy was getting routinely tortured. A Catholic soldier had pity on him and tried to nurse his wounds. Then he would give him at night most of his own meager food, which was barely enough for him to stay alive, but much more than the Japanese soldier was getting. He did this over the course of a couple of weeks. The Japanese soldier spoke a little bit of English, the American a little bit of Japanese and they spoke about some small talk, about their families, about their backgrounds, about life in battle and in the war. One day, after a particularly harsh beating, the Japanese soldier was tossed into the room where the POWs were. The American knew that the Japanese man was not going to make it. He cared for him as best he could, but he could see that these would be the last few hours in the Japanese soldier’s life. The Catholic American said to himself that he had already shared most of what he had with the Japanese man, but had not shared what was most important to him. And so he told the Japanese man about Jesus. He told him about the God of love, and how Jesus was love incarnate. He hoped that the man would be given the gift of faith to say yes to Jesus on his deathbed and with the little water they were given each day be baptized. The American talked to him about the afterlife and how Christians hoped that if they died in Christ, they would rise with him to eternal life. Noticing that he was fading fast, the American told the Japanese man about the good thief and how he, even though he heard about him at the very last moment, would have a chance to be saved and see Jesus with his very own eyes in a matter of minutes. The Japanese soldier, summoning the strength to speak, smiled at the American and said, “If this Jesus you believe is anything like you, I cannot wait to meet him!”
10) We are called to reflect in our own lives that same love. May others — our children, our friends, our fellow-workers, even our enemies — one day be able to say the same thing about us.