Brief synopsis of the readings: From Proverbs we read that “The Wisdom of God cries aloud:” and then describes how God created me [Wisdom] from the beginning, before the earth was created. “When he fixed the heavens firm, I was there.” In John’s Gospel we hear Jesus talking with his disciples (before his death). He tells them that he has more to tell them but “they would be too much for you now.” He foreshadows the Spirit instructs them to listen: “All he tells you will be taken from what is mine.”
The Solemnity of the Holy Trinity has historically struck fear in those who teach about Catholic doctrine and delighted in students (like me) who liked nothing better than to make our teachers squirm.
In fairness, our teaching on the Trinity has not been a doctrine that came to us quickly or easily. This was the first time in human history where we’ve had to grapple with this type of relationship between different divine beings.
The Greeks believed that the gods lived on Mt. Olympus but the gods were little better than humans. They had their own agendas. Some were good, some were evil, and most were in the middle. And some of them mated with humans and conceived children: Hercules was the child of Zeus (god) and Lacmene (human).
But we were different. From the earliest days after after God spoke to Abraham we were told that we weren’t pagans. Our God wasn’t one of a number of gods, and God wasn’t the leader of other gods: It was only God and us. We even have a term for that: Monotheism. Even to this day we have understood that God is God alone who doesn’t share power or answer to anyone.
So how do we understand the relationship between God and Jesus? And where does the Holy Spirit fit? I won’t bore you (as I was bored in seminary) with the nuances of the debate in our first few centuries but suffice it to say that our belief in the Trinity came out of the Council of Nicea in the year 325. When we pray the Nicean Creed at mass, we pray the prayer that came out of this council.
And yet we continue to struggle. Are they three persons with one agenda? Are they three facets of the same person? Are they three persons with different jobs but the same goal?
In the last thirty years we’ve come to an understanding of what we call “inclusive language”: Changing the language of Scripture to make it more inclusive troubles many but most people I know have no trouble changing “God wishes the salvation of all men” to “God wishes the salvation of all.” But some wished to change the sign of the cross from “In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” to “In the Name of the Creator, and of the Redeemer, and of the Sanctifier.” They found the fact that Father and Son are masculine terms troubling.
This created a crisis of sort because the attempt to be inclusive to some appeared to others to diminish the Trinity from a doctrine to a set of job descriptions. Perhaps someday we’ll find the words to describe the Trinity that includes male and female in a way that doesn’t diminish their relationships with each other to job descriptions.
Earlier I described the difficulty teachers have with the Trinity and the glee students have with watching their teachers sweat. When we dug in and asked questions they couldn’t answer, they finally fell on the sword and said: “The Trinity is a mystery that we’ll never fully understand”
In fairness I think they’re right. I believe the Trinity is not about roles or jobs, but about relationships. The Father, Son, and Spirit relate to each other in perfect love in a way that we find mysterious.
So what does that have to tell us today? Perhaps the Trinity encourages us to see mystery not as a problem to be solved but as something to be explored and enjoyed. When we think about the closest relationships in our lives, some of them were thrust upon us. Our parents, our siblings, our children, cousins, etc. are people we found ourselves in relationship. We didn’t choose them but we can still explore them and understand who they are. I’ve spoken to many parents who tell me about their joy in learning about their children: what they love, what they’re good at, how their gifted, and how they love.
But I’m most fascinated by couples who meet as strangers, fall in love and marry. They know nothing of each other but they find themselves attracted. They then spend the rest of their lives exploring the mystery of their beloved.
I’ve known couples whose marriage has failed. Some of them failed because of infidelity or abandonment, but I know of some couples who split because they simply lost interest in each other. I find that sad because I suspect they simply lost interest in exploring the mystery of the other person.
On the other hand I’ve spoken with couples who have been together for 60 or 70 years and I’ve asked them what has kept them together. They’ve given me many answers, but they all come to the same reason: they’ve never lost the ability to learn about their spouse. They’ve never stopped being fascinated with the person they chose so many years ago.
We are complex people. We have lives before we met out spouse and we spend part of our courtship learning about each other’s history. My wife and I were born 5 months and 3,000 miles apart and we love talking about shared experiences: which concerts did you go to in high school? Who spoke at your graduation? What was your first car when you got your driver’s license? Where were you when this famous event happened?
That’s good as far as it goes, but if we explore only our spouse’s past we’ll run out of material at some point. Exploring each other demands that we not limit ourselves to each other’s past but also the present. What matters most to you now? How do you feel about this current issue? Why do you feel this way about this issue?
And how do you see our future? How do you dream about us? At the end of your life, what do you want to remember most about me?
We are complex creatures and we’ll never (in this world) find the perfect relationship that we find in the Trinity, but it should not discourage us from trying.
When I think of those closest to me, I find great joy and great love in learning more about the people I love.