Year A Solemnity of the Holy Trinity
There’s the old standby joke about how the Trinity is incomprehensible, so the pastor always makes the associate preach on the Solemnity of the Holy Trinity. It’s an old standby, but it’s not at all funny now that, for the first time in my life, I’m the associate!
I’m the one who’s going to be laughing in a moment, though, because you’re all about to get a serious philosophy lecture…
To understand the Trinity, we have to begin with a seemingly unrelated mental exercise. I want you to take a moment and think about yourself. You can mentally picture looking at yourself in a mirror. You got it? Now, notice what we have accomplished. In a sense, we have separated you from yourself. On the one hand, there is your true self, and on the other hand there is your self-concept that you created just now. These are not the same.
Scientists once did a study about what people see when they look in the mirror; women thought they looked overweight and weighed more than they really did. Men, and this won’t surprise anyone who has ever met a man, were pretty impressed with how big their muscles looked and how handsome their reflection was. This phenomenon is at the heart of the reason why a man will, against all reason, attempt to single-handedly carry a washing machine down the stairs. The alleged handsomeness and muscles, and this won’t surprise you either, are vastly over-rated. This accounts for the phenomenon of men making more than their fair share of trips to the emergency room.
The point is, no one has an accurate self-concept. Who you think you are might not be accurate, and other people might describe you very differently. This is mainly due to pride or doubt. This is the human condition, and the reason why when Socrates saw the inscription on the Temple at Delphi that said, “Know thyself,” he laughed. So, when a self-concept springs forth from us, it’s a tentative exercise at best. We’re always learning more about who we are.
Now, God too has a self concept. He speaks a Word, and a self-concept springs forth. This is what St. Thomas Aquinas calls, “the word in the heart.” Recall the beginning of John’s Gospel, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” This divine self-concept is the Word, the 2nd person of the Trinity, Jesus Christ. God’s self-concept, unlike ours, is perfect, and because God’s very nature is to be the great I AM must exist by his very nature, his self concept doesn’t remain a mental exercise but must express itself in personhood.
I talked last week for Pentecost about how the Holy Spirit is The Divine Romance, the love that is shared between the Father and Son, a love so powerful that it too had to be expressed in a person. What I didn’t get into is how, when we love someone, that someone becomes a part of us. Which of us, having lost a loved one too soon, wouldn’t describe it as feeling like a piece of your heart has been taken away from you? Which of you who are married didn’t vow to share the very core of your being with your spouse? Which of you parents fail to see how each and every child you are blessed with has taken complete ownership of your affections? This is why Aquinas says, “The object loved is present in the lover.” This imprint of love is how the Father and Son generate the Holy Spirit from all eternity.
This is all to say that the main distinctions within the Trinity are not that the Father is an old man, the son a hippie with a beard, and the spirit a dove. The distinctions in the Trinity are relational, and these relationships are summarized with a single word – Love. It is love that allows God to possess perfect self-knowledge, because it is the eye of the lover that sees most clearly. And now we’re drilling down to the heart of existence, because God also created us out of love, and he holds us in his perfect knowledge. We may not know ourselves – but God knows us.
The mystery of our existence, the way in which we can come to terms with who we truly are, is to see ourselves through the eye of God, to reconnect with the primal goodness that gave birth to the universe. His inner nature is unfolding for us, revealing layer upon layer of grace. And like a root putting forth a tender shoot, the Trinity incarnates Our Lord and reveals the heart of God. This may all sound very high minded and theoretical, so maybe St. John can summarize it for us, “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.”
Do you want to know yourself? Find your identity and the very meaning of your existence in God’s love.
Do you want to love those around you more faithfully, love yourself and be happy? Rest in the perfect love of God, for it is the most powerful force in the universe, it is the explanation for the mystery of the Holy Trinity, it can create worlds, and through God’s mercy will bestow a second birth and remake each human soul that allows his grace to dwell within.
Three-personed God, we give you our hearts.