June 6, 2004 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Trinity Sunday
Reading I (Proverbs 8:22-31) Reading II (Romans 5:1-5)
Gospel (St. John 16:12-15)
Today as we celebrate the solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity, we stop to consider something that we simply take for granted: We are baptized in the Name of the Holy Trinity; every time we make the Sign of the Cross, we remind ourselves of the Trinity; every time we pray the Glory Be, we honor the Holy Trinity. There are so many times in every day when we call to mind this mystery, yet it is something that most of us generally do not think about. Most of us, if we are going to address a prayer one way or another, it is simply to a Person of God, perhaps to God the Son, some to God the Father, some to the Holy Spirit, but it is rather unusual that people think about the Trinity. Yet it is the Holy Trinity more than anything else which sets us apart as Christian people, apart from the Jewish people to whom God had first revealed Himself as being one God, and certainly apart from the Muslims who claim to have the same God and yet do not believe that Jesus is God and they do not believe in the Holy Spirit. So, as Christian people, our belief in the Trinity is what sets us apart from any others who believe in one God.
This teaching about the Trinity is something that is a complete and total mystery, theologically known as an “absolute mystery”. That means it is something beyond our comprehension in this life, and it will be beyond us for all eternity. But that does not mean that we cannot say anything about it or that we cannot understand anything about it; it just means we will never understand the Trinity completely.
But what can we say about the Trinity? First of all, we are told in Sacred Scripture, in the First Letter of Saint John, that God is love. Love by its very nature must be a reciprocal, benevolent, communion of persons. Therefore, to believe in one God is something which is essential for us, and yet God cannot be all alone because if God were just simply in love with Himself (because God is love) that would be narcissism; narcissism is a sin, and we certainly are not going to try to project that onto God. And so we would have to say, therefore, that there has to be more than one person in God in order for God to love. God loves Himself, but in loving Himself, He loves His Son.
But love, again by its very nature, has to overflow the boundaries of just two. You cannot just get caught up within your own selves, but it overflows the boundaries of the two and becomes life-giving for others. When we look at God being love, by the very nature and essence and concept of love itself, God has to be at the very least three. Now it is possible theoretically that it could be more, but it is not, because all that is necessary is that it be three. And that is precisely what has been revealed to us: God is one God in three Persons. And so it is to be able to understand first that there has to be at least three persons – and there are only three Persons in God – but then to take it the next step and say, “But yet there is only one God, so how is it possible that there can be three persons in a perfect unity of one being, one God?”
We can understand that to some degree, for instance, when we look simply at the beautiful sacrament of Holy Matrimony where two persons become one. You could ask the question, “How is it possible that two human persons can become one being, one reality?” It is because of love. What happens when two people love one another is that they give themselves entirely to one another and they receive the gift of the other entirely to themselves. In that total giving and receiving, when you give yourself one hundred percent there is nothing left to take back, when you receive the other one hundred percent there is nothing left to reject; you take on the identity of the other person and therefore the two are one. In the Trinity, we have three Persons who give themselves entirely to one another as a gift and receive the gift of the other perfectly to themselves. It is an absolute giving and receiving, and therefore the three are one.
Now when we look at our own selves and we recognize that we are made in the image and likeness of God – and God is love – it means, of course, that we are made to love and to be loved. And so this concept of the love of God is something which is inherent in our own being, which is why there is that natural desire for a man and a woman to unite themselves to one another in love, to give themselves perfectly and to become one, because it is something within. But even if we are not called to marriage (or even within the context of marriage), there is still a greater unity that is being presented, a unity which is symbolized by marriage, a unity that is pointed to by the union of the couple in marriage, but a unity that is far greater and even far more intimate than that of marriage.
When you think of two people who are completely in love with one another, what they will say to one another is that they want somehow to get inside of the other one. If they could simply bore a hole in the chest and into the heart of the other one and crawl right in, that is what they would want to do. Of course, we cannot – but God can, and He has. He has given Himself to us in the Eucharist, but He has given Himself to us in the indwelling of the Trinity. This is the promise of Our Lord. He says to us in John 14: Anyone who loves Me, My Father will love him, and we will come to him and we will make our dwelling within him. This is something that we do not tend to accept, but it is a reality. It is an absolute teaching of the Church, and it is a teaching right from the mouth of Our Lord.
Now if this strikes us as being strange, just look back at the first reading from the Book of Proverbs today. We hear about Jesus, Who is the Wisdom of God, and we hear that He is the delight of the Father. That is right at the very beginning. God delighted in Him. And yet in Creation we are told that the Son of God found His delight to be among the children of men. Imagine that: God’s delight is to be among us! Again, that strikes us as being rather difficult to understand, because after all if we look at our sinfulness and we look at the grandeur and glory of God, we say, “How could God delight to be among someone who is less than a speck of dust?” Well, first, if you look at the rest of the material creation, there is nothing that is capable of loving. In the beauty of all the planets, the stars, the sun, and so on, there is nothing there; it is just a material body with no intellect and no will and no capacity to love and to be loved. In all the material creation, we are the only ones who are able to love. And God made us in His own image and likeness, which means He made us for the very purpose of loving us, and so He does – and that is all that He does. He loves us, and He loves us so much that He gives Himself to us.
Any parent would understand that. When you simply look at those beautiful children of yours, you ask yourself, “What limit would I put upon my love?” You would not. There is nothing reasonable that you would not do for your children. God, Who created the children, loves them even more than the parents who cooperated with God in the creation of the children. And if human parents are willing to give anything even to excess to their children in love, God is going to give even more in love to His children. That is why He gives Himself to us in the Blessed Sacrament. That is why He gives Himself to us in the indwelling of the Trinity.
You have to be able to understand that this is the truth: God dwells in you if you are in the state of grace. The Most Holy Trinity lives in your heart and loves in your heart, in your soul, if you are in the state of grace. That means that your soul has become heaven. Your soul has become the very dwelling place of God Himself, and it is the place where God has chosen to be, where God Himself has chosen to live and to love. You are caught up into the very love of God within your own self. Look at the dignity which is yours when you consider what it is that God is doing for you and in you. There is one day going to be an inversion of this, that is, when we go to heaven. But right now, as long we cannot be in heaven with God, God has come to us to be with us. Right now, God dwells in us; in eternity, we will dwell in God. Right now, God has been caught up into our being; in eternity, we will be caught up into His being. Right now, God loves within us; in eternity, we will love within God. There is this beautiful juxtaposition that takes place, but already it is foreshadowed by what is happening within us.
What we need to be able to do is to accept our dignity, to see what it is that God is doing for us and in us, to see how much He loves us, and to be able to accept that love. We heard in the second reading today that the love of God has been poured forth into our hearts through the Holy Spirit Who has been given to us, the Holy Spirit Who is God, Who is equal with the Father and the Son. Jesus, in the Gospel reading, told us that the Holy Spirit is going to take from what is the Lord’s, the fullness of truth, and give it to us. Jesus is the fullness of the truth, but He says the reason He can say that is because everything that the Father has is Jesus’ and everything that the Holy Spirit has is what has been given to Our Lord. So you see that it is in everything; it is an absolute. The three Persons are One, but the three Persons have come to dwell in you. They have made you in their own image and likeness; they have made you to love and to be loved; they have caught you up into the very love of God Himself.
Now what they want is for you to be able to share in that love, to share in the divine life fully even in this world as you prepare for the next. In eternity, we are going to love and to be loved, completely and totally. In this world, we are to prepare for that, we are to learn how to do that. God has already outdone us in any kind of generosity that we will ever be able to offer to Him. He loves us so much that He has found a way to literally enter into our hearts so that He could live there, because He loves us. And so you need to look at your own self and you need to be able to say to your own self, “Christian, look at your dignity. Accept your dignity. Become what you are.” It is already a reality, yet if we do not accept it and do not live it, we need now to work our way into that reality. It already exists within us; now we need to be transformed into what is happening within our own souls. We need to be transformed into the very love of God Himself. That is our dignity. That is our call, each and every one of us. So as we prepare now and ponder on the reality that will be ours for eternity if we live this love of God and we die in the state of grace – being caught up into the love of God – it is already taking place within our own souls. We simply now need to enter in and to be able to accept the love of God which has been poured forth into our hearts through the Holy Spirit Who has been given to us.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.