Last Sunday, we celebrated the sending of the Spirit, which sealed God’s new covenant and made a new creation. Today is the second of three feasts that cap the Easter season—Pentecost, Trinity Sunday, and Corpus Christi.
We've all heard people say that “things happen in 3's.” There are many things unique about that number. Pythagoras said it was the first real number – the minimum number of point to establish a geometric pattern. When it comes to humor, three is the minimum number of pieces of information that you need for a humorous story – two to establish a pattern, - one break it in a way that evokes humor. Once there was a rabbi, a priest, and a minister walking down the road… And, while I don’t have a joke at the beginning of today’s homily I will say that there’s a humorous saying among theologians that you can’t talk about the Holy Trinity for more than a couple of minutes before getting into heresy. Anyone got a stop watch?
Seriously, the pattern of three appears in religious and cultural symbols from many ancient traditions and is woven into our scriptures. One such symbol that has come to associated with the Holy Trinity is that of three interlocking rings, referred to as Borromeam Rings, where, if any single ring is removed, the two remaining rigs fall apart. While I’m not inclined to dwell too much on numerology or symbology, it’s difficult to miss that:
Three Wise Men came to Jesus bearing three gifts; gold, frankincense and myrrh.
Jesus spread Christianity for three years – according to the Gospel of John.
Jesus predicted that Peter would deny knowing him three times before the cock crowed.
Jesus rose from the dead on the third day.
Regarding Saul after his encounter with the risen Christ “And for three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank”.
The 3 attributes of God are omniscience, omnipresence, and omnipotence.
The number 3, symbolized by the - Trinity Father, Son and Holy Ghost (Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer), has come to mean wholeness, and completion. And this is the reason for our feast day today.
Our first reading gives us a sense of the sweeping history of God’s intimate involvement in the lives of his chosen ones. It speaks of God’s constant intervention in the lives of those he loves. Moses is telling us that God, out of love, called Abraham and chose his descendants to be His own people. Through the Israel, He revealed to the nations that He alone is Lord and there is no other. We live in a family called by Father God.
In our second reading, Paul reminds the Romans of this fact: we have been called, like the Israelites, out of slavery and we are not only followers but children, not only children, but joint heirs with Christ where our humanity is redeemed and liked to a divine life that now that points us toward an eternal glory won for us.
Paul’s message is that you cannot truly suffer with someone unless your connection with them is intimate – close enough to feel what they feel. Paul is pointing us to an intimate familial relationship with Christ. If only we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him. Our intimate connection and kinship with Christ means that we can call Father God, by the name Abba, Daddy. We are adopted, grafted in, sharing the same divine life. We live in a family that derives its very life from the vine which is Christ and the very life of Christ flows into us through the Spirit.
And it is in this very image that the risen Christ comes to us in the Gospel today giving us the complete picture. Jesus reveals in the Gospel today that the one God is Father, Son, and Spirit, and that He desires to make all people His own in a family that shares in the very nature of its creator, is constantly being formed in his image, and will exist until the very end of the age. Entry into this family is by baptism into its very nature.
The first Council of Nicea, in AD met with the with the purpose of defining the nature of God for all of Christianity and eliminating confusion, controversy, and contention within the church. The Council overwhelmingly affirmed the deity and eternality of Jesus Christ and defined the relationship between the Father and the Son as “of one substance.” It also affirmed the Trinity—the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit were listed as three co-equal and co-eternal Persons.
St. Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria, in a late 4th Century letter on the Holy Trinity is calling the doctrine of the trinity an ancient tradition, teaching and faith of the Catholic Church and, in defense of the faith, Athanasius says “…if anyone were to lapse from it, he would no longer be a Christian either in fact or in name.”
He says, “We acknowledge the Trinity, holy and perfect, to consist of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. In this Trinity there is no intrusion of any alien element or of anything from outside, nor is the Trinity a blend of creative and created being.
It is a wholly creative and energizing reality, self-consistent and undivided in its active power, for the Father makes all things through the Word and in the Holy Spirit, and in this way the unity of the holy Trinity is preserved.
God is above all things as Father, for He is principle and source; He is through all things through the Word; and He is in all things in the Holy Spirit.”
“...wholly creative and energizing reality, self-consistent and undivided in its active power;” this is a beautiful and powerful statement.
He goes on to say, “This is also Paul's teaching in his second letter to the Corinthians (2:13): The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
For grace and the gift of the Trinity are given by the Father through the Son in the Holy Spirit. Just as grace is given from the Father through the Son, so there could be no communication of the gift to us except in the Holy Spirit. But when we share in the Spirit, we possess the love of the Father, the grace of the Son and the fellowship of the Spirit himself. In 2 Peter 1:4 This is a precious and magnificent promise: “…so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature”.
For Athanasius, the Trinity is, like Boromeam Rings, something you can’t take apart and expect to have any identifiable relationship left; there is nothing to take apart and, in taking it apart, it becomes nothing.
There is an analog in nature. Scientists know that 99% of mass resides in the heart of the atom in the neutrons and protons. The mystery is that all this mass comes from nearly mass-less particles – called quarks – exchanging mass-less particles called gluons – in a dynamic process that boggles the mind; we don't understand it. And, what they have found out recently is even more mind boggling; that inside every proton in every atom in the universe is a pressure cooker environment that surpasses the atom-crushing heart of a neutron star. Published in the journal Nature, nuclear physicists Jefferson Lab found that quarks inside a proton are subjected to a pressure of 100 decillion Pascal (10^35) near the center of a proton; this is about 10 times greater than the pressure in the heart of a neutron star. You may recall that neutron stars are what’s left over after the core of a dying star collapses and turns into a super nova and the protons and electrons essentially melt into each other to form neutrons.
Quarks exit in a stable relationship only in groups of three; observable stable matter in the universe is made up of groups of three quarks. It takes the power of a research tool like Jefferson Lab to try to tease them apart and then what’s left will the decay into ephemeral particles called mesons with a lifetime of about 10^-14 seconds. If you could grab a group of these three quarks and attach one to a weight, you could lift more than 15 tons before the trinity of quarks would fly apart and cease to exist as a system - like Boromeam Rings. Each quark is dependent on the other two in a ceaseless and energetic exchange that gives substance to the universe.
Pope Emeritus Benedict the 16th speaks of the person of the trinity is a similar way. He says, “Each of the three persons in the trinity points to the other two. In this circle of love flowing and intermingling there is a high degree of unity and constancy and this, in turn, gives unity and constancy to everything that exists. Do you see the similarities?
I encourage you to look at the great mystery of the Trinity in the same way – with awe. While we can only contemplate this mystery, we should also be encouraged not miss what's already in front of us.
The nature of the Trinity is found in a very special way in the Sacraments of Marriage and Holy Orders. These sacraments allow us to enter into the mystery of the Trinity which is active and defining on every level. These sacraments provide a sort of window in on the interior life of the Trinity, where the lives of individuals become consecrated by entry into a living relationship, grafted in in a special way, nurtured by the flow of grace. Augustine said, “…it is fitting that God must be a trinity, to have true love you need lover, a beloved, love between them.” St. Augustine said, "If you see love, you see the Trinity.”
Of the Trinity, Pope Emeritus Benedict the 16th said, “The selflessness of those who bear witness to Christ gives authenticity to the church, just as Christ’s selflessness bore authentic testimony to himself and the Spirit… In this way a living interrelationship can develop [so] that growth can come about. We can be led into the fullness of truth; a truth that is greater and richer that anything we can invent.
To recap, God loved so much we sprang from that love. He loves us so much he became one of us. He loves us so much he remains in us abiding with us and continuing in astonishing ways to be present in his creation. Let us carry our faith in the Trinity forward to the Celebration of the Eucharist where we are once again receiving the living God as a perfect communion of love between Father, Son and Holy Spirit.