May 22, 2005 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Trinity Sunday
Reading I (Exodus 34:4b-6, 8-9) Reading II (2 Corinthians 13:11-13)
Gospel (St. John 3:16-18)
If we were simply to look objectively at what it means to be Christian, there are quite a number of things that we can point to as being critical to our faith. However, the central tenet of our faith is the belief in the Most Holy Trinity; everything else revolves around that single point. It is something which, on one level, we tend to take for granted, and, on another level, most of us probably rarely even think about it. It is something that is so critical that without it we could not even call ourselves Christian.
For instance, you can think about the Jehovah’s Witnesses who run around banging on your doors, and also the Mormons who do the same thing. They call themselves Christian, but they are not. They do not believe in the Trinity. And because they do not believe in the Trinity, neither do they even believe in the same Jesus. They talk about Jesus, but they do not believe the same thing about Him. The Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that Jesus is Saint Michael the Archangel, and the Mormons think that Jesus is just one of us, that He is not God but He is just a human being like the rest of us. They talk about Him as being a “nice guy” but that is all they can really say. They will claim He is the savior of this world, but that is because the Mormons claim that each one of us will be a savior of our own world, so we are no different than He is and He is no different than we are. This is just the world that God gave Him to save; we will all have our own.
So we see that to deny the Trinity is to deny everything that we believe about the Person of Jesus Christ. This is why it is so critical in the Gospel reading today that Saint John tells us that God sent His Son into the world not to condemn the world but that the world might be saved through Him, and that everyone who believes in the Name of the only Son of God has eternal life and anyone who does not believe has condemnation because they did not believe in the Name of the only Son of God. It is not just believing generically in the Name of Jesus, but it is believing in the very Person of Jesus Christ. To believe in the essence of Christ is to believe that He is God and that He is one with His heavenly Father, Who revealed His Name to Moses upon the mountain as He passed by.
Of course, it is translated in the reading that we just heard as “Lord” but that is not what it says in Scripture. What it says in Scripture is “Yahweh” – I AM, the One Who is eternal. So if we believe that Jesus Christ is one with His heavenly Father, then He also is eternal. He has no beginning and He has no end. In His humanness, there is a beginning but there will be no end, just like our souls have a beginning but they will have no end. But His Person as God has no beginning and has no end. God is eternal, and eternity means no beginning and no end. Our souls are immortal. They have a beginning, they were created at a specific time, and they will have no end. Our souls cannot die, so they will continue to live in one of two places for eternity; and as is made clear, that is going to depend upon our belief in Jesus Christ.
Not the kind of belief that so many Christians would say, “As long as you believe in Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior you are going to heaven.” That is not what it means. It means to believe in the very Person of Jesus Christ, to believe in Who He is. If we believe in Who He is as the Second Person of the Most Holy Trinity, one with the Father and the Holy Spirit, God Who lives and reigns forever, then that means we have to believe in every single thing that He has taught and everything that He is. It is no longer merely an objective belief that we can look at a series of propositions to ask, “Do I believe that or do I not?” But it is about entering into a relationship with a Person. The only way to enter into a depth of a relationship with the Person of Jesus Christ is through the Holy Spirit because no one can even say “Jesus is Lord” except through the Holy Spirit. So we see how the entire thing works together.
There are only two other religions in the world who believe in only one God, that is the Jewish people and the Muslims. But, again, even though they believe in one God, both reject the concept of the Trinity. The Jewish people believe in God Who revealed Himself in the Old Testament. But the idea that God revealed Himself as one was to be able to show the pagans, who were worshipping all of their false gods, all of their little idols, that it was wrong and there is only one God. There are certainly indications in the Old Testament about the Trinity, but what was made clear in the Old Testament was the oneness of God. In the New Testament, the fullness of the revelation of God is in the Person of Christ and in the sending of the Holy Spirit.
So what we have to look at is this belief in the Trinity. So central, in fact, is this belief to who we are, that already in the Mass (not just today’s Mass because of the Trinity, but every single Sunday) we have expressed our belief in the Trinity on five occasions. We began with the Sign of the Cross. In the greeting, we repeated exactly what we heard in the second reading from Saint Paul when he wrote to the Corinthians: The grace and peace of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. That was the second point at which we pronounced our faith in the Trinity. Then in the Kyrie, three times we prayed: Lord, have mercy; Christ, have mercy; Lord, have mercy in honor of the Three Persons of the Most Holy Trinity. And then in the Gloria, once again we prayed to our Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Then at the end of the Collect, or the opening prayer, we asked through Our Lord Jesus Christ that the Holy Spirit would pray to the Father. So we see that just in the first couple of moments of Mass we expressed this belief in the Trinity five times. All of our prayers are made in the Trinity. It is critical to who we are and who we understand ourselves to be.
If the Trinity is not a reality then our faith in Jesus Christ is blasphemy. If God is not a Trinity of Persons then everything we believe about the Eucharist is completely false, because if God is not a Trinity then Jesus is not God. If God is not a Trinity then the Holy Spirit could not have overshadowed Our Lady for the conception of Jesus Christ, He could not come down upon the bread and wine to change them into the very Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, and He could not be given to each one of us to lead us into all truth. We begin to see that this point is so central that without it every single thing we can say about our faith is false. It is so central that without our belief in the Trinity everything else completely falls apart.
So it is something that we really need not merely to take for granted, but to enter into. The Trinity is one of the mysteries that is known as an “absolute mystery,” which means it is something we will never be able to understand fully. It could not have been known without specific revelation from God, and once it is revealed there are some things that we can say and understand about it but we will never be able to grasp it completely – even in the next life. Part of what is going to make heaven so wonderful is that there is always more, because God is infinite and our minds are merely finite. Consequently, the finite cannot comprehend the infinite. So there will always be more for all eternity. And since God is love, it is more love. Our hearts are going to be completely filled with the fullness of God, and there is always more. It never, ever will end. And what is it that we are going to be caught up into? The very love of God, Who is One in Three Persons.
Now we might say, “That sounds illogical. How can three be one?” Well, first of all, by the very nature of God. God is love. You cannot be in love with yourself; that is narcissism. So if God is one (and it is made very clear in the Old Testament that there is only one God), He cannot be alone because that completely contradicts the definition of love. Love requires a relationship; therefore, there must be at least two. But love by its very nature transcends the love of just two, as any husband and wife know. It is not enough just to be there and look at one another for the rest of your life. Love becomes life-giving; love transcends the two and becomes life-giving for others. Once again, just by its very nature, love cannot remain with two but it must go beyond that. For love to be complete, it requires at least three. It could have been more than that, but in the Trinity it is three. So the Three, loving one another perfectly, and the Three all being God, and God being perfect and the Supreme Being, that means there is nothing in one that is lacking in the other. Therefore, the Three are identical and they are One. The only difference between the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit is their relationship with one another; otherwise, all Three share the same Divine Substance. That would be as if somehow there were three of you but only one soul. Logically, we cannot grasp it, but that does not mean it is illogical, nor does it mean it is not true.
We can understand it by the very nature of what love means and therefore what it must be. We can see it in a variety of different ways throughout creation, the vestiges of God that are shown in so many ways that there are threes in so many things. But perhaps the clearest way to see it is to be able to look at any couple who is married. We see in the teachings of Jesus and of the Church that on the day you are married your souls are united and the two become one. How can two be one? It seems illogical, doesn’t it? Yet every married couple knows it is a reality. And every married couple knows that that love they have and the unity of persons has to be more than just themselves. Now you can ask yourself, “Just exactly how did the two become one?” You did not do that to yourselves. As much as you love one another, you cannot make yourselves into one; only God can do that. So in order for the two of you to become one, it required a third, and that third is God. Therefore, we see that marriage reflects the Trinity. There is a unity of persons and it is a union that is forged in love and that love is life-giving for new persons – just like the Trinity. The unity, obviously, of husband and wife is not quite the same as in the Trinity, because in the Trinity the Three are identical and Their love is perfect. That is not quite the way it works in a marriage. However, any older married couple will recognize, and any of us looking at an older married couple will recognize, that as that couple grows they become more identical. They start to look the same, they talk the same way, they act the same way, they think the same way. The oneness that is there from the beginning of their marriage is perfected and the two become more and more identical. Never, of course, in our humanity will we ever become completely perfectly identical, but we begin to see even in this human reality how there can be a unity of persons, how more than one can still be one, how a multiplicity of persons (Three, in this case of the Trinity) can be one God.
There are not three gods; there is one God. And that one God is Three Persons. And these Three Persons are all eternal. There is never a time that the Second or the Third Person of the Trinity did not exit. All Three have existed from all eternity, and all Three will exist for all eternity. The glory that is offered to each one of us is to enter into the love of the Trinity. We will not become part of the Trinity, but we will be brought into the very life and love of the Three Persons of the Trinity, and we will be caught up in perfect love for all eternity. That is what this is all about. Our very purpose for existence is love, and that is what God desires for each of us: to learn in this life how to love so that we will be prepared for what is to come in the next life.
So if we want to be able to love one another, if married couples want to be able to love one another more perfectly, if we want to love God and love neighbor as we have been commanded to do, then it begins by entering more deeply into the mystery that we celebrate today, to take this up in prayer and to begin even in this life to enter more deeply into the mystery of the Most Holy Trinity; and in that way to prepare yourself for eternity because that is what heaven will be: to be caught up into the love of the Trinity and to be filled to overflowing with the love of God and the love of neighbor. That is what we see in the Trinity: Three Persons loving one another perfectly, and in that perfection of love the Three are One. Each one of us, who is the overflow of the love of the Trinity, made in the image and likeness of God and sharing in the very life of God Himself, is called now to believe in the Name of the only Son of God and live that life of faith so that for eternity the fulfillment of the purpose of our creation will be ours where we will love and we will be loved, we will be caught up into this glorious mystery which will never end and which we will never even comprehend – hardly even a fraction of – for all eternity, and we will be filled to the fullness of the very love of God in the glory of the Three Persons Who are One.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.