|The Shield of the Trinity|
Traditionally, today’s liturgical office includes an ancient text commonly called the Athanasian Creed. This text begins with a phrase which is quite politically incorrect in our over-sensitive days: “Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the catholic faith. Which faith except every one do keep whole and undefiled; without doubt he shall perish everlastingly.” The text then professes the Catholic belief in that most central of doctrines for our faith, that which we are celebrating today: the Most Holy Trinity.
With the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Church last week on Pentecost, God reveals to us who He really is in His fullness. God, being greater and more exalted than humanity, desires us to know Him, so that we may love Him and serve Him in response. The Bible can be summarized as God’s gradual revelation of Himself to the greatest of His creatures: man. We hear in the first reading about one of the greatest of those revelations to Moses on Mount Sinai. The encounter we hear, however, is not the great exchange in which God gives Moses the Ten Commandments; this particular encounter is after the sin of the Israelites in creating the golden calf and worshipping it as a false god. Yet the Almighty deigns to reveal, even after the sins of men, who He is: the one supreme Lord, He who Is as the actual Hebrew name of God translates, a God slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity.
Yet this does not fully reveal to us mere mortals who God is at His innermost being. It is not until the coming of the God-man that we are given the fullness of God’s being, a revelation that still leaves us in mystery. While the reception of the Holy Spirit concludes this revelation, we are still shrouded by questions. How can One be Three, and Three be One? How do the Father and the Son and the Spirit all relate to each other? The great danger in talking about the Holy Trinity is slipping into error, and it’s not too hard to do that. But what can we really say about the Trinity?
It is hard to say everything that could be said about the Trinity in a short homily, but the essentials must be covered. We worship one God, not three; the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Spirit is God. All three receive the adoration and glory that is due to God alone. Yet they are distinct from each other: the Father is neither the Son nor the Spirit, the Son is neither the Father nor the Spirit, and the Spirit is neither the Father nor the Son. The deity at the heart of our Catholic faith is one in the divine substance yet three persons as well, each with their particular role: the Father as the begetter, the Son as the begotten, and the Spirit as the bond of love between the Father and the Son. Clear?
Of course it isn’t that clear. This is why we describe this belief as the mystery of the Trinity. It is mystery because it is something that cannot be completely comprehended by our rational faculties. Saint Anselm defined God as that than which nothing greater could be conceived. If we can conceive it, it is still limited, yet God is infinite, incapable of being bounded by our lower corporal minds. If you think that you understand completely who God is, then you’re not thinking of the living God. While God’s complete being may be beyond our complete comprehension, yet He still desires us to know Him as He really is.
This is the work of the Church: to reveal God to the world. Everything the Church does is ultimately with this goal in mind: to reveal God as God revealed Himself, through Jesus Christ - His Son and our Lord. But the Church cannot carry out this task without that revelation itself. This is why the Church is not just a group concerned with external activity, but is also concerned with interior reflection and development, which is found in her sacred liturgy. For the liturgy is not primarily a tool for evangelization and conversion of non-Catholics; it is meant to be the means whereby the Christian faithful, those already members of the body of Christ, come to encounter more deeply and more richly the transcendent Trinity who becomes immanent through signs and symbols so that we may not be ignorant of Him, but drink deeply of His fullness.
While my time here at Saint John and Transfiguration has been short, I hope that I have helped you to realize more completely this essential truth of our Catholic faith. This is why I have sought to restore the traditional posture of the priest and people turned together to face God. This is why I have tried to make the sacred liturgy as noble and as beautiful as it can be here. Because we are not here to just be family or a club or anything the world offers; if that were the case, we’re doing a terrible job of it. We are here in this church because we are ultimately meant to be turned towards God, the Triune God, the God whose inner being as the Trinity reveals what our patron Saint John declares simply in his letters: God is love. It is that regular encounter with the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit that is meant to transform us so that the rest of our lives are sanctified by His grace and we can then live not as we did before our baptisms - living in sin and error and darkness - but to live in the glorious and loving light of God.
My prayer for you all as I leave is that you may continue to grow through the wondrous exchange of the Mass to be the holy people of God, to be what you are meant to be. Do not keep to the old ways of ignorance, but draw nearer to Him who has so much more to show you than I could even if I were to stay for forty years. Do not be like so many around us who focus on themselves, but radiate with that same divine light as did Moses when he encountered the living God on Mount Sinai. Turn to Jesus, the one Word spoken by God before all time, and listen to Him, for He is the best teacher and priest you will ever have. May the light and love of the Trinity burn in your hearts more fully each day, and may everything Saint Paul commands and exhorts today be yours as well, so that we may all do as the Psalmist exclaims: to give the Trinity glory and praise forever in the banquet of Heaven.