St. Augustine, one of the most influential theologians in the church, spent almost twenty years writing his great work De Trinitate (“On the Trinity”).
There is an old story about his reflections while working on the text. Augustine was walking along the seashore in North Africa one day, contemplating the mystery of Trinity. He noticed a small boy going back and forth from the water to the dry beach. As he approached, Augustine asked the boy what he was doing.
The boy replied: “I am trying to move the sea into this hole.”
“It is impossible, my dear boy, the sea is too vast to fit into that whole,” replied Augustine.
The boy then responded, “No more impossible than trying to put the Trinity into words.”
The story reflects the great mystery of God. Christians believe, based on divine revelation, that God is three Persons in one God — a mystery which can never be fully understood but nonetheless appreciated and pondered.
St. Catherine of Siena once wrote in prayer: “You, oh eternal Trinity, are a deep sea, into which the deeper I enter the more I find, and the more I find, the more I seek.”
Our contemplation of God is the contemplation of the Trinity, a relationship more fundamental than any other in all existence. This relationship is the relationship of love.
Our gateway to the experience of this love is Jesus Christ, who in his very being “holds all creation together in himself” (cf. Col 1:17).
The Gospel passage for today’s Solemnity of the Holy Trinity is John 3:16-17, which contains the famous quote
you may have seen on posters at sporting events: “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.”
Eternal life is life in the Trinity; it is divine life. Our baptism joins us to Christ Jesus and is our entry to eternal life. He comes that we might have life, “and have it more abundantly” (Jn 10:10). He is the “way, the truth and the life” (Jn 14:6). He is the one who shows us love: “There is no greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (Jn 15:13).
Jesus teaches us to call God “Father” (Mt 6:9). In fact, he uses the term “Abba,” which is an endearing term that in our culture might be rendered “Daddy” (Mk 14:36). Jesus teaches us about the Father, for Father and Son are one (Jn 10:30).
He promises and then pours out the Spirit, an event we just celebrated on Pentecost. His last words on earth as he prepared to ascend to the Father were: “Go therefore to all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit; teach them everything I have commanded you and know that I am
with you always until the end of the world” (Mt 28:18-20).
Our relationship with God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit is one of never-ending possibility. We enter through baptism, but the relationship grows and develops with time and energy.
Pondering the mystery of God’s love pulls us deeper and deeper in the mystery so that we want more. The experience of God’s love cannot and never will be exhausted by human contemplation or expression. Its fullest realization will come when we kneel before him as (in the words of the First Eucharistic Prayer of Reconciliation) “saints among the saints in the halls of heaven.”
Jesus is the door through which we enter into this mystery. That is why our relationship with him through prayer and sacrament is so important.
N.T. Wright, a prominent New Testament scholar and Anglican bishop, was once asked what would be his last words to his children. He replied: “Look at Jesus,” and explained why: “The (Person) who walks out of (the pages of the Gospels) to meet us is just central and irreplaceable. He is always a surprise. We never have Jesus in our pockets. He is always coming at us from different angles … If you want to know who God is, look at Jesus. If you want to know what it means to be human, look at Jesus. If you want to know what love is, look at Jesus. And go on looking until you’re not just a spectator, but part of the drama that has him as the central character.”
As we celebrate Trinity Sunday, we are once again invited by Him whom we celebrate, not to be observers or analysts, but to be participants – participants in the divine life of love as the children of God.
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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