Saint Augustine was working on his treatise De Trinitatae (“On the Trinity”). There is a story that one day he needed a break and went out for a walk. He went down to the beach and was walking along the shoreline.
At one point he comes across a young boy. The child had a bucket. He would walk to the water, fill the bucket, move in-land a short distance and filled a small hole he had dug with the water. When Augustine reached the lad, he asked: “Young sir, what are you doing?” The child replied: “I’m moving the ocean into that hole.”
Augustine walked with the boy to the edge of the water. He stretched out his hands wide and said: “Look at the vastness of the sea, there is no way it can be contained in a little hole.” There was silence. Augustine and the boy continued to look out over the sea. Then the boy said, “Neither can you understand the Trinity.” Then the boy disappeared.
Today we celebrate the Solemnity of the Holy Trinity. The belief, or dogma, that God is three persons in one divine being. The belief is rooted in divine revelation.
God has made Himself known to mankind as a trinity of persons. We know this through the second person of the Trinity, the Son of God, Jesus Christ. Understanding the Trinity is a mystery.
The story of the little boy and Augustine may help bring this out. Many things can be said or proposed about the Holy Trinity and the relationships between the Three in One. Some thoughts can be affirmed. Other thoughts can be rejected. Yet a complete or perfect understanding is beyond our reach. We use the term mystery because it recognizes this. God makes Himself known to us and invites us into a relationship with Him, Father, Son and Spirit. That relationship of love and life is eternal and inexhaustible; unlimited and unbounded.
Images, analogies and metaphors have been used over the ages to describe the Trinity – all good aids at gaining an insight into understanding. One image is that of a plant; roots (unseen under the ground) represent the Father; the stalk (visible, above ground) represents the Son; the fragrance of the flower and plant represent the Spirit (unseen but experienced). Saint Patrick used the shamrock. Geographic images have been used: the triangle and the three interlocking and overlapping circles. They all help us gain some insight into the mystery but do not capture the mystery fully, it is meant to be continually experienced anew – like one of Augustine’s descriptions of God “ever ancient, ever new.”
The readings for today’s celebration invite us to consider something about God: Father, Son and Spirit. The second reading contains the beautiful greeting that has been incorporated into our communal prayer: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.”
Here in one of the early writings of the New Testament we see the three persons of the Trinity invoked in the one blessing offered. Relationship is fundamental.
When Paul invokes God’s blessing it is one that seeks to draw the Corinthian community together and lift them up into the divine life. He uses the words: grace, love, and fellowship (which is also expressed as “communion”).
Paul also, before the benediction, exhorts the community to work toward unity, healing, and reconciliation.
He writes: “Mend your ways, encourage one another, agree with one another, live in peace, and the God of love and peace will be with you. Greet one another with a holy kiss.” The relationship of divine love and life is to be reflected in the life of the Church.
The first reading from Exodus is set at the time of the covenant. God had already given the Ten Commandments, inscribed on the two tablets. When Moses had come down from the top of Mt. Sinai, he found the people had abandoned God and were reveling in the worship of the golden calf. He smashed the calf with the tablets.
Today’s passage picks up shortly after this when Moses goes back up the mountain, as the Lord had commanded, with two new tablets. It is at this point that the Lord joins Moses. Standing there he, the Lord, “proclaimed his name, ‘LORD,’ [YHWH].”
The fact that God shares His name with Moses is important. The “name” represents who God is (as our names represent us).
We translate the name “LORD” in respect; literally “I am who am;” God is being itself) The Fourth Gospel recalls several times where Jesus uses this divine name for Himself.
Here on Sinai it not only represents God but His invitation to Moses, and through him to Israel, to know Him, His love and His mercy.
Hence the divine self-revelation continues as God says: “The LORD, the LORD, a merciful and gracious god, slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity.”
God’s forgiveness is already manifest as it is part of who He is. Moses, representing the people as intermediary, expresses their contrition and seeks an outpouring of mercy.
First in action – he bows down in worship; then in word – “This is a stiff-necked people; yet pardon our wickedness and sins, and receive us as your own.”
God’s mercy is one that heals the broken relationship and restores unity. God who is One invites Israel to share in His life through love and mercy. He heals so the union may be realized.
The Gospel recalls the famous words of the Gospel According to John which succinctly express the love of God and the mission of Jesus – offering mankind a share in divine life.
“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.” Jesus comes not to condemn but to save. The divine life of Father, Son and Spirit is offered to man, male and female, through the Son.
Our belief in Him is expressed and our union with Him accomplished sacramentally (mysteriously) in baptism, confirmation and eucharist. Through our union with Him, we can know God as Father, brother, friend and Lord.
God reveals himself as three persons in one divine being. A perfect relationship of love. As we worship, we ponder the greatness of His love, its power to heal, to strengthen, to forgive and to enliven.
We thank Him for giving us this life and offering us an ever-greater share in His divine life. Augustine spent a life-time working on De Trinitatae and, by some accounts, he never finished the entire work.
Perhaps that’s a good reminder to us that while we finite beings can never fully capture the magnificence of who God is in Himself; he reaches out to us and invites us to know Him, His love and His mercy – a relationship of love that has no end.
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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