St. Bede (673-735), also known as the Venerable Bede, was known for his piety and writing. His most famous work was “The Ecclesiastical History of the English People.” Toward the end of his life he began a new translation of the Gospel according to John. As he was nearing the end of this project he fell ill; it was the Tuesday before the Ascension. In spite of his illness he continued to work saying to his assistants: “Write with speed now, for I cannot tell how long I may last.”
The next day the illness was growing in intensity and there was still one chapter to be translated. His assistant tried to get him to stop but he insisted, saying, “take your pen again and write quickly.” This was at nine in the morning. They worked for six hours. When the last sentence was completed, the assistant said: “It is now finished.”
Bede replied: “You have said it well. Raise my head in your arms and turn my face toward the holy spot where I often prayed, for I desire to sit facing it and call upon my Father.” The assistant did as requested and St. Bede prayed: “Glory be to the Father, and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit.” As he said these words he died.
This last episode in the life of Bede and his final words were the culmination of a life of worship. His whole life was dedicated to giving praise and thanks to the Holy Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
On Sunday we celebrate the Solemnity of the Holy Trinity. As we reflect on the greatness of God we may consider three aspects of the divinity: transcendence, love and communion.
The passage from the Book of Proverbs that serves as this Sunday’s first reading and Psalm 8, which is the responsorial psalm, remind us of the transcendence of God and his greatness. So far above us is God. He is the one who created this world and all who live in it. He is the one not bound by time and space. He is the one who knows all. Pondering will eventually leave us speechless, for words will ultimately give way to the silence of wonder and awe.
The reading from Proverbs expresses the greatness of the wisdom of God in personal terms which, many times in the Scriptures, are associated with the Holy Spirit. The passage describes the presence of wisdom from the beginning: “When the Lord established the heavens I was there, when he marked out the vault over the face of the deep; when he made firm the skies above, when he fixed fast the foundations of the earth; when he set for the sea its limit, so that the waters should not transgress his command ….”
Psalm 8 provides our response: “What is man that you should be mindful of him, or the son of man that you should care for him?” We acknowledge and acclaim God’s greatness, so far beyond us, so far from our being worthy to be in his presence. Yet, as the psalm continues, “You have made him (human beings) little less than the angels, and crowned him with glory and honor. You have given him rule over the works of your hands, putting all things under his feet.”
God is great but his greatness does not distance him from man; instead, he humbles himself and reaches out to man, drawing man to himself in love.
The love of the Father is perfectly known in and through Jesus, the Son of God. Jesus comes from the Father in loving obedience to show us the way to the Father. Through his passion, death and resurrection he draws us into the life of love, the Holy Trinity. Through Jesus, we become one with God. The divine life shared between Father, Son and Holy Spirit is now shared with mere human beings.
St. Paul in his Letter to the Romans speaks of this in terms of peace. Peace exists when a relationship is one of harmony, concord and life. Recall Jesus’ greetings to the disciples after the resurrection when he repeatedly said: “Peace be with you.” He uses this not as a common greeting but as a declaration. Peace is established through him. The peace is with God, among us and even within us. Because of this everything about life can be understood through the love of God.
God’s love becomes the basis for life. We experience that love and life through faith in Christ Jesus. That faith has the power to transform even sorrow and suffering into something good, as St. Paul says: “Not only that, but we even boast of our afflictions, knowing that affliction produces endurance, and endurance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”
God draws us into the divine life and in doing so establishes our participation in the divine communion.
Jesus is the way to life in the Holy Trinity. The bond of love shared between Father, Son and Holy Spirit is accessible through Jesus. He invites us and indeed draws us into this life of love. Last week we celebrated Pentecost where Jesus sends forth the Spirit creating the bond of communion shared in the life of the church. The communion establishes his abiding presence among us in this world and leads us to its culmination in the Kingdom of God.
In Sunday’s Gospel passage, Jesus speaks of the Spirit’s presence in terms of the Trinity: “He (the Spirit) will not speak on his own, but he will speak what he hears, and will declare to you the things that are coming. He will glorify me, because he will take from what is mine and declare it to you. Everything that the Father has is mine; for this reason I told you that he will take from what is mine and declare it to you.”
The life that God gives us is brought to perfection in the communion of divine love.
As we celebrate the Holy Trinity in awe and thanksgiving, we are reminded that our whole lives are a gift. God created us and hence we are his. In mercy, he redeemed us. In love, he sanctifies us for a life of thankful praise.
St. Bede gives us a wonderful example. His whole life was an act of praise. His praise was expressed not only in times of prayer but his entire life was penetrated by the love of God. The story of his death mentioned earlier serves as a “snapshot” of a life offered to the Holy Trinity.
We are called to do the same. We are not all called to be monks, or theologians, or authors but we are all called to live the lives that God gives us in praise and thanksgiving. The last words of St. Bede were a prayer that he made not only at the time of death but throughout his life. May they be ours as well: “Glory be to the Father, and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit.”
Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of St. John the Evangelist Parish, Morrisville, and a former professor of Sacred Scripture and rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.