Saturday, May 30, 2015

Trinity Sunday: Hope Beyond Words

Through the centuries, Christian Tradition has discerned four attributes that seem to capture what is essential to Who God is. Drawing on earlier Greek writers, Saint Thomas Aquinas identified three of these “Divine Attributes”: Truth, Beauty, and Goodness; his contemporary, Saint Bonaventure, added unity to the list. More recently, Pope Benedict XVI reflected that: “There is no question of attempting to understand the meaning of it all, but simply the overflowing happiness of seeing the pure splendor of God’s truth and love. We want to let this joy reach out and touch us: truth exists, pure goodness exists, pure light exists. God is good” (Homily for Midnight Mass, 2012).

The Holy Trinity
by Nicoletto Semitecolo 

On the one hand, the doctrine of the Trinity is rich and complex, a mystery that has all-too-often been distorted into a sort of metaphysical brainteaser that theologians and philosophers have tried to puzzle-out since the first generations after Christ. On the other, there is a simplicity to the Trinity that allows us to connect and commune with God in a way that is ultimately accessible, especially when we engage the Trinity beyond the language of “Divine Persons” and “Natures,” entering into the relationship and possibility that is the God we worship. 

It took centuries for the Church to fully embrace the truth of the Trinity and to understand how to engage the mystery in prayer and worship. Although there have been churches dedicated to the Holy Trinity in the eighth century, there was no set feast celebrating the Trinity. When attempts were made to introduce such a celebration, medieval popes opposed the effort, citing that the mystery was already celebrated every Sunday and every day (cf. Adolf Adam, The Liturgical Year). Nevertheless, the idea of the feast spread and was embraced in the theologically and philosophically fertile decades of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries  (the age of Aquinas and Bonaventure), and it was added to the Universal Calendar in 1334. By placing the Feast of the Trinity on the Sunday after Pentecost (the climax of the Easter Season), the Church is summarizing in a single celebration the creative, saving, and sanctifying work of the God we worship as “one God in the Trinity and the Trinity in unity” (cf. Athanasian Creed and Catechism of the Catholic Church, 266).  

The reason that a celebration such as this remains important is that it places squarely in front of us the truth that God exists both in an internal relationship as Trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) and in relationship with humanity. Reflecting on these relationships, Henri Nouwen wrote:
[All] relationships are reflections of the relationship within God. God is the Lover, the Beloved, and the Love that binds us in unity. God invites us to be part of that inner movement of love… all our human relationships can be lived in God, and as witness to God’s divine presence in our lives.
I am deeply convinced that most human suffering comes from broken relationships. Anger, jealousy, resentment, and feelings of rejection all find their source in conflict between people who yearn for unity, community, and a deep sense of belonging. By claiming the Holy Trinity as home for our relational lives, we claim the truth that God gives us what we most desire and offers us the grace to forgive each other for not being perfect in love. (From Behold the Beauty of the Lord)
It is this “claiming the Holy Trinity” that Saint Paul spoke of when he said: “We have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith to this grace in which we stand… because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us” (Romans 5:1b-2, 5). In this brief passage, Paul is highlighting the relationships among God the Father/Creator, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit and reminding us that through them we are given peace, love, and hope.  

All of this having been said, it remains impossible for us to rationally describe the nature of the Trinity or how we share in that Divine relationship. It is the dynamic of the Trinity itself, and our experience of that dynamic, that makes it real for us. Our efforts to put words to this mystery will always fall short.

Although we are brought into the life of the Trinity in our baptism, our experiences of fear, anxiety, apprehension, and preoccupations cause us to pull back, to turn in on ourselves for protection, comfort, or security, responding to what the novelist Edwin O’Connor called “this spreading, endless despair, hanging low like a blanket, never lifting, the fatal slow smog of the spirit.”   
It is because we have faith and the assurance that we are united to God that we can find meaning in the darkness of the world around us and within us. Saint Paul teaches us that, “We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope” (Romans 5:3-4). Ultimately, we have a choice about whether we will live in the relationship and possibility of the God who is Three-in-One. This hope doesn’t rely on our ability to explain or adequately name the Trinity—it is a hope that is beyond words. 

Past the externals of sound bites, politicizing, and party-lines, is grace—the gift of possibility that is God-alive in each of us. It was possibility that allowed people of faith like Blessed Julian of Norwich to envision the world contained in a hazelnut and to declare that “all will be well” and Martin Luther King to dream his dream. It is by choosing to live a spiritual life, to pray, to breathe God’s breath, that we begin to open up to the possibilities and beauty in the world around us, without the definitions, causes, and explanations we all too often think we need. 

In Acedia & Me, Kathleen Norris wrote:
Mystery penetrates the Bible stories that intrigued me as a child and still offer sustenance: I pass through turbulent waters dry-shod and am led by a pillar of cloud or fire. I am refreshed by water that flows unexpectedly from rock. If I now see through a glass, darkly, I can hope to one day see face-to-face. Relying on reason yet pointing to truths beyond my imagining, religion always offers me something more than I can fully articulate or comprehend. And it makes me sense that I am not alone.
Trinity Sunday is an invitation to live beyond our selves. This celebration reminds us of the powerful ways that God is at work in the world: in the ongoing act of creation, in the perduring gifts  of healing and redemption, and the ever-vital Spirit that inspires and sustains faith, hope, and love.

A Prayer for the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity +
God our Father, who by sending into the world
the Word of truth and the Spirit of sanctification
made known to the human race your wondrous mystery,
grant us, we pray, that in professing the true faith,
we may acknowledge the Trinity of eternal glory
and adore your Unity, powerful in majesty.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
(from The Roman Missal)


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