The mystery of Father, Son and Holy Spirit is celebrated today in the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity. Three persons in one God is a mystery. We can identify the persons and describe their relationship, but we can never exhaust the reality of whom we honor, worship and adore.
Over the centuries, various images or symbols have been used to help conceptualize our understanding of the Trinity. St. Patrick is famously referenced as using a three-leafed shamrock; others have used a triangle — three lines joined forming three angles, yet one figure. Sometimes a three interlocking circles, or a Celtic knot (three oval-shaped loops with no apparent beginning or end), are used.
Religious artists may design a portrait of the crucified Lord with the Father’s outstretched arms above the Lord and a dove representing the Holy Spirit hovering in between.
Still another image is proposed by Tertullian, an early Christian theologian, who likened the Trinity to a flowering plant. God the Father is represented by its deep roots. Under the ground, they are not always seen, but they are present none the less, giving the plant nourishment and life. The Son, Jesus, is represented by the plant and flower. God is made known through Jesus, who can be seen by all who look upon him and through him come to know the Father and the Spirit. The Spirit is represented by the flower’s fragrance, unseen but real, whose beauty uplifts the person who encounters it.
These and many other descriptions or images of the Trinity have been proposed to help us enter into the mystery of the divine life of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
The Gospel reading for today’s liturgy presents the last words of Jesus in The Gospel According to St. Matthew. Jesus is about to ascend to the Father. He gathers the eleven apostles and they go up to a mountain top. He instructs them to carry on the mission, saying, “All power in heaven and earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”
Jesus tells the apostles to go to “all nations.” In other words, everyone is to be invited to share in the life offered by God through Jesus. All people, in various times and places, are welcome to become disciples through baptism. Baptism, then, is the entry point into divine life of Father, Son and Spirit.
The relationship of love between the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit is the source and sustenance of eternal life. In baptism, we share in the death of the Lord Jesus. We are united with him, and as St. Paul says in his Letter to the Romans, we become adopted children of God. In other words, we enter into the very life-giving relationship of the Holy Trinity, of God Himself whom we call “Abba, Father.” St. Paul elaborates on this saying: “…we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if only we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.”
One aspect of being children is that, no matter what our age is, we have the opportunity to grow. This is part of the mystery and beauty of our participation in the divine life: there is always room for more growth. The growth occurs when we seek to know and to keep the way of the Lord.
Moses’ instruction to the people in today’s first reading, taken from the Book of Deuteronomy, describes God as the author of life. He created the world and all the peoples in it, and he choose Israel to make himself known to all the nations. Moses urges the people never to forget the greatness of God and all he has done for them – giving them life and instructing them how to live.
Jesus brings this instruction to fulfillment and completion. His words echo Moses’ when he commands the disciples, not only to baptize but to teach and observe “all that I have commanded you.” It is in following in Jesus footsteps, as His disciples, that we grow as children of God to full maturity.
The inner life of God is the relationship between Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The relationship is one of love. Through Jesus, we have been invited to share in this divine and eternal life. No matter how the Holy Trinity is described or imagined, we are drawn into the mystery of this life. God is the source of life and the One who sustains us in life through love.
Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of Our Lady of Grace Parish, Penndel, and a former professor of Sacred Scripture and rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.
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