Exodus 34:4b–6:8–9; 2 Corinthians 13:11–13; John 3:16–18
Two hours in the rain
A practical prayer exercise can help the doctrine of the Trinity come alive in our daily lives.
There’s a park in London called Hyde Park. It’s a favorite place for soapbox orators. On a Sunday afternoon you can go there and hear talks on every topic under the sun. They range from talks on politics to talks on religion.
Frank Sheed, a famous Catholic layman who lived in England,
went there often to talk about religion. He used to say that
he could hold a crowd for two hours in the rain, talking on
Sheed’s remark is interesting. It makes an important point.
People are interested in the Trinity. They want to learn more about the Trinity. They want to make the Trinity come alive
in their everyday lives.
Unfortunately, very few articles are written about the Trinity,
and very few homilies are devoted to the Trinity. Even when you do read an article or hear a homily on the Trinity, it is often tedious.
This is understandable because when we talk about the Trinity, we are talking about a profound mystery.
The Bible makes many references to the Trinity. John’s Gospel, especially, talks about the Father of Jesus and the Holy Spirit.
Perhaps the best-known reference to the Trinity is found in Matthew’s Gospel. There Jesus tells his disciples:
Go, then, to all peoples everywhere and make them my disciples:
baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Matthew 28:19
The most graphic imagery of the Trinity, however, occurs at the baptism of Jesus. While a dovelike form hovers over Jesus,
a voice from heaven says, You are my own dear Son. Mark 1:11
The voice, the dove, and Jesus these three images create a vivid portrait of the Trinity.
Paul also refers to the Trinity. His best-known reference
is his famous blessing that we read in today’s second reading:
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
Luke, who wrote the Acts of the Apostles as well as his Gospel,
sees the history of our salvation in a kind of Trinitarian perspective.
The Old Testament period is the era of the Father.
The gospel period is the era of the Son. And the post-gospel period, which the Acts of the Apostles treats, is the era of the Holy Spirit.
The Creed, which we recite each Sunday at Mass, preserves this pattern. It begins with God the Father as Creator, moves on to God the Son as Redeemer, and ends with God the Holy Spirit as Life-Giver.
But we must never forget that where the Father is, there
also are the Son and the Holy Spirit. The Trinity is always
a profound mystery of unity and diversity.
Frank Sheed, when preaching at Hyde Park, used the falling rain to try to give people an insight into the unity
and diversity of the Trinity. He would say something like this:
The water that is falling is water, but it can exist in three different forms: gas, solid, and liquid that is, in steam, in ice, and in falling rain.
Of course, every analogy falls short of the reality. But I think you see his point. There are not three different kinds of water.
There is only water, but it exists in three different forms. In some similar way, we might think of God.
Another way of trying to get an insight into the unity and diversity of the Trinity is the example Saint Ignatius of Loyola used. Once, while at prayer, he perceived the Trinity in the form of three musical notes that made up a single chord or sound.
And finally, there was Saint Patrick, who used the three leaves of one clover to convey the idea of the Trinity.
How can we reduce all this to concrete action?
What can we do to make the Trinity come alive more in our own personal lives?
One way that some people find helpful is a prayer exercise they follow each night before falling asleep. They take three minutes to replay the day that has just ended for them.
During the first minute, they pick out the high point of their day, something good that happened to them like keeping calm when falsely accused. They speak to the Father about it and thank him for it.
During the second minute, they pick out the low point of their day, something bad that happened like ignoring someone
who really could have used their help. They speak to Jesus about it and ask him to forgive them.
During the third minute, they look ahead to tomorrow,
to some critical point like having to confront someone
about something. They speak to the Holy Spirit about it
and ask for the wisdom and courage to deal with it properly.
As you can see, this exercise combines prayer with an examination of conscience. But more importantly, it brings the Holy Trinity into the nitty-gritty of our everyday lives.
Might I suggest that in the week ahead you set aside three minutes each night and try out this prayer exercise in honor of the Trinity?
Let’s conclude together with the Trinitarian action
that has become the trademark of our faith the Sign
of the Cross:
In the same of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
Exodus 34:4b–6, 8–9; 2 Corinthians 13:11–13; John 3:16–18
In the unity of the Godhead there are three distinct persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Ahigh school religion teacher was talking to her students about the Trinity. After her presentation she gave her class a writing assignment on this question: “Which person of the Trinity do you relate to best at this time in your life?”
I’d like to share with you three student answers to that question. One boy wrote:
My father and I have a zero relationship. I need a father right now, and since I can’t turn to my own dad, I turn to my Father in heaven. I sometimes talk to him about my problems, the way
I would like to talk to my dad about them.
A girl wrote:
My brother lives with my father, and I live with my mother. Ever since my parents’ divorce two years ago, we hardly ever see each other anymore. I never thought I’d miss my brother, but I do. So now I’ve kind of adopted Jesus as a brother.
Finally, another boy wrote:
Just recently I began praying to the Holy Spirit. I’m going to college in a year, and I have no idea what I want to take up.
I hope the Holy Spirit will enlighten me. Anyway, I’m praying
to him for guidance.
Ifind those comments refreshingly honest. I also find that they make me ask myself, “Which person of the Trinity do I relate to best?”
On this feast of the Holy Trinity, then, it might be good for us
to reflect on the mystery and the doctrine of the Trinity.
Put succinctly, the mystery of the Holy Trinity says that in the unity of the Godhead there are three distinct persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
The Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God.
Yet there are not three gods, but only one God.
To give people an idea of the Trinity, Saint Ignatius of Loyola used the example of a musical chord. It is composed
of several notes but has only one sound.
A modern writer used the example of water. It exists in three different forms steam, ice, and rain, that is, gas, solid, and liquid but each form is chemically the same.
These are weak comparisons, to be sure, but they may help us better appreciate the sublime mystery of the Holy Trinity.
The best-known Bible reference to the Trinity is in the final paragraph of Matthew’s Gospel, where Jesus instructs his disciples:
“Go . . . to all peoples everywhere and make them my disciples: baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.”
The most graphic Bible image of the Trinity is at the baptism of Jesus. Luke writes:
While [Jesus] was praying, heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit came down upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my own dear Son. I am pleased with you.” Luke 3:21–22
The most frequent mention of the Trinity is in John’s Gospel.
For example, Jesus speaks of the Father and the Spirit in passages like this:
“I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper,
who will stay with you forever. He is the Spirit, who reveals
the truth about God.” John 14:16–17
Statements like this angered Jewish authorities so much that they determined to kill Jesus because “he had said that God was his own Father and in this way had made himself equal with God.” John 5:18
The most fascinating theology of the Trinity is found in Luke.
From Luke’s Gospel and from his Acts of the Apostles, it’s clear that he sees the history of salvation in a trinitarian perspective.
For Luke, the Old Testament period is the “era of the Father.” The Gospel period is the “era of the Son.” And the post-Gospel period, which begins with Pentecost, is the “era
of the Holy Spirit.”
And finally, we find numerous allusions to the Trinity in Paul’s letters. Typical is Paul’s blessing in today’s second reading. It reads:
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. 2 Corinthians 13:13
This brings us to the liturgy. References to the Trinity abound in it. Consider just a few.
We baptize and confirm “in the name of the Father, the Son,
and the Holy Spirit.”
The Church also anoints the sick and absolves penitent sinners “in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.”
The most frequent mention of the Trinity, however, occurs in the Mass. Besides beginning and ending “in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,” the Mass is filled with prayers to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Typical is the Creed, which we will be reciting in a few minutes. It has a trinitarian structure. It begins with God the Father as Creator, moves to God the Son as Savior, and ends
with God the Holy Spirit as life-giver.
This brings us back to the question the teacher asked her students: “Which person of the Trinity do you relate to best?”
Do we relate best to the Father, who created us and loves us more than we love ourselves? Or do we relate best to the Son,
who lived among us and showed his love by dying on the cross for us? Or do we relate best to the Holy Spirit, whom the Father and the Son sent upon us to guide us in the way of truth and holiness? Or do we relate to all three persons
in a general way under the single title of God?
Let’s close with this excerpt from the Athanasian Creed,
which dates back to the fourth century:
Now this is the Catholic faith. . . . We worship one God in three persons and three persons in one God, without confusing the persons nor dividing the divine being. For the Father is one person, the Son is another, and the Holy Spirit is still another.
But there is one God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,
all equal in glory and eternal majesty. . . . This is the true faith that we believe. . . . This is the Catholic faith.
Exodus 34:4b–6:8–9; 2 Corinthians 13:11–13; John 3:16–18
The Holy Trinity
Three acts of love: creation, salvation, sanctification.
God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son . . .
to be its savior. John 3:16–17
J enny Lind was born to a very poor family in Sweden in 1820. The first four years of her life were spent with a foster family, where she would be assured of adequate care.
From these humble beginnings, Jenny Lind grew up to become one of the greatest musical performers the world
has ever known. She became the toast of kings and queens.
When the great entrepreneur, P. T. Barnum, brought her to the United States in September 1850, an estimated crowd
of 40,000 people lined the shoreline of New York harbor to welcome her.
“Jenny rage” as the press called it swept across the nation,
just as it had across Europe. To this day, in the United States,
streets, parks, halls, and products still bear her name.
After singing to 95 sellout crowds in cities across the country,
the famous soprano left for England. As in the United States, “Jenny rage” spread across the British Isles.
Then at the height of her career, Jenny Lind surprised
the world by abruptly retiring from the concert stage. She confined her musical involvement to teaching other future singers at England’s Royal Conservatory.
In his book Power for Living, Jamie Buckingham explains Jenny’s sudden decision to leave the spotlight.
One evening she was seated on the steps of a small ocean cottage, with an open Bible in her lap.
A friend happened by and sat with her in silence, savoring the lovely sunset. After a while her friend said to her: “Jenny, why did you leave the stage?”
Touching her Bible, she said: “When I found myself thinking less and less of this, what else could I do?” Then, nodding to the sunset, she said, “And when I found myself thinking
less and less of beauty like that, what else could I do?”
This beautiful story leads us to today’s feast of the Holy Trinity, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Traditionally, the work of creation is attributed to the Father, in a special way.
In other words we attribute to the Father the creation of such beautiful things as the ocean, the beach, and the sunset the things that touched the heart of Jenny so deeply. And, traditionally, we attribute to the Son, in a special way,
the work of salvation.
In other words, we attribute to Jesus the redemption of the human race as described so beautifully in the Bible lying
open on Jenny’s lap. Finally, we attribute to the Holy Spirit
the work of sanctifying the human race. For example, we attribute to the Holy Spirit the “gracing” of Jenny to follow her conscience and do what she thought she must do.
Let’s take a brief, closer look at these three great acts of love of the Trinity: creation, salvation, and sanctification.
First, let us look at creation.
Wernher von Braun has been called the “twentieth-century Columbus.” More than any other scientist, his genius put us into space and on the moon. Just before he died, von Braun wrote:
The natural laws of the universe are so precise that we have no difficulty building a spaceship to fly to the moon, and we can time the flight with the precision of a fraction of a second.
Anything . . . so precisely balanced . . . can only be the product of a Divine Idea. Unpublished Lecture
This brings us to the second act of love of the Trinity:
salvation, attributed to Jesus.
The Gospel details it, beginning with the birth and life of Jesus. From there it moves his teaching, death, resurrection, and glorious ascension into heaven.
In the process of detailing these mysteries, it spells out the deep personal love Jesus had for us. Jesus summed up his
love for us this way:
The greatest love you can have for your friends is to give up your life for them. And you are my friends . . . I chose you and appointed you to go out and bear much fruit. John 15:12–14, 16
This directs us to the the third act of love of the Trinity:
our sanctification, attributed to the Holy Spirit. Perhaps
one of the simplest ways to think of this act of love is to do
so in terms of the conscience.
Think of it as a kind of cell phone, by which the Holy Spirit can speak to us in any place and in any time.
Cardinal Newman describes the conscience this way:
It praises, it blames, it promises . . . It is more than man’s own self. The man himself has no power over it, or only with extreme difficulty . . . he may refuse to use it, but it remains. . . . its very existence throws us out of ourselves, to go seek him . . . whose Voice it is. Apologia Pro Vita Sua
If we listen carefully and prayerfully to our conscience,
we, too, will hear the Holy Spirit inviting us, inspiring us,
and guiding us.
And so today’s feast reminds us that the Holy Trinity loves us. It reminds us of something more. It reminds us that if
we are to become aware of the Holy Trinity and its love for
us, we need to do what Jenny Lind did.
We need to take time regularly to sit quietly with an open Bible in our laps, in prayerful meditation.
In other words, we need to do what we are doing at this Mass right now. We listen and reflect on the Word of God.
This is the Good News of today’s Gospel. This is the Good News we celebrate in this liturgy, as we return to the altar.
This is the Good News the Holy Trinity wants us to take from this Church today and share with our family and friends and all the world.
It is the Good News that the Father created us out of love,
the Son died for us out of love, and the Holy Spirit graces
and guides us out of love, every moment of our lives.