We’re back! As I write, we’ve had three Sunday Masses, and so far so good. It’s been a joy to see many of you in person again, and to have our parish slowly emerge from hibernation. Thanks again for your patience these past three months, and for your ongoing patience in the continued limitations we face. In case you’re wondering, I’ll keep these e-letters going at least until we get our bulletin up-and-running again and can have larger gatherings at Sunday Mass.
Today we celebrate the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity, and I sometimes think that the reason why we have Trinity Sunday in the liturgical calendar is because it’s a way of ensuring that us preachers actually talk about the Trinity at least once a year. I dare say that more than a few of us are mildly terrified at the prospect, in part because of how easy it is to get something wrong and inadvertently slip into heresy.
On that note, there’s an amusing YouTube video that does the rounds among my priest friends at this time each year, where St Patrick is struggling to explain the concept of the Trinity to a couple of uneducated Irishmen, but every time he tries to use an analogy to make his point, the supposedly simple Irishmen mockingly point out that he has slipped into one of the ancient heresies about the nature of God (here’s the video: https://youtu.be/KQLfgaUoQCw).
At the end of the day, there’s no perfect analogy for the Trinity. God is so far beyond our ability to comprehend Him, much less to express His inner nature in human speech, that all of our attempts to do so fall miserably short. And let’s be honest – if God was such that we could get our small minds around him, that would not really be a god worth worshipping.
So given the sheer immensity of God, it’s no accident that we speak of the Trinity as a mystery. But it’s important to note that the word “mystery” in this sense does not mean something we can’t know anything about. Rather, in this context it refers to something that can be understood on ever deeper levels, the meaning of which can never be exhausted. So while we’ll never be able to fully get out minds around the nature of God, there are aspects of his being that He has chosen to reveal to us, which we are capable of receiving in faith. So for instance, when we say that God is Three Persons in One Substance, we may not be able to fully understand the depths of this mystery, but we’re not just saying meaningless nonsense, either.
So I’m going to hit you with a bit of theology today—I hope it doesn’t give you a headache—but I think it’s important that we strive to understand what we can about the Trinity. Why? Because we’re talking about the inner life of God, and this is the very centrepiece of our faith! Our whole reason for existing is to know, love, and serve God in this world, so that we can be happy with Him in the next.
Furthermore, the Book of Genesis tells us that we have been made in the image and likeness of God. Therefore, to learn about the nature of God is fundamentally to learn about the nature of who we are.
So for instance, one of the central take-away points that we can draw from the doctrine of the Trinity is the revelation that God is relationship. The Divine Persons of the Trinity are engaged in an eternal exchange of love and glory, of mutual self-donation, divinity given and received. Saint Edith Stein once said: “God is love, and love is goodness giving itself away.” God is love, and love is goodness giving itself away. It’s a remarkable thing to ponder—as is the fact that we are made in the image and likeness of such a God.
As a result of this, we each have inbuilt within us a very powerful longing to give ourselves away to another. This longing is often surrounded by a thick wall of self-regard and self-preservation – but underneath it all remains this powerful longing nonetheless.
And this is something that the gears of our materialistic culture simply don’t get – at our core we simply aren’t satisfied by more cars and beer and computer games. Deep down, we long for something more – we long for an enthusiastic self-surrender to another. At the heart of all this—of course—is a longing for an enthusiastic self-surrender to the ultimate Other – to God himself. And this longing for self-donation directly follows from the movement of self-donation that takes place within the Trinity.
So, let’s take a quick look at the various pieces of the Trinitarian puzzle that God has revealed to us:
- God the Father is God;
- God the Son, Jesus Christ, is God;
- The Holy Spirit is God;
- These Three are Three distinct Persons; and yet that they are not three separate Gods.
- There is only one God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
- But the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are each fully God: it’s not as if they’re each 1/3rd of God.
Theologians throughout history have tried to put these pieces together, but it’s not easy. Here are a few keys to help:
First, the Trinity consists of Three Persons in One Substance. That’s the same as saying Three Persons sharing One Nature. So what’s the difference between a “Person” and a “Nature”? Basically, a person is who you are, and a nature is what you are. So—at the risk of sounding a bit like Dr Seuss—there are Three “Who’s” in the Trinity, but only One “What.”
Second, we should resist trying to use overly physical imagery to understand God. So for instance, if I loan you my car, then I don’t have my car anymore. But if I share an idea with you, you gain something without me losing anything. On this note, Scripture speaks of Christ as the “Word of God”, and this can be quite instructive. God the Father eternally speaks the Word, and He “breathes out” the Holy Spirit through the Son, but He doesn’t lose any of His divinity. This is a way we can speak of each Person being fully God without needing to divide the godhead into pieces.
Thirdly, we need to remember that God is love. Not “loving”, mind you, but love itself. Love is always bigger than one person: it’s an act of giving oneself over to another. And God does this perfectly – the Father pours out His love in begetting the Son, giving the Son everything that the Father has. Jesus says as much in John’s Gospel: “Everything that the Father has is mine.” He lovingly receives the Father’s substance without the Father loses His substance. And the fruit of this love between the Father and the Son is the Holy Spirit.
It’s this love that overflows for us and it’s this love that saves us upon the Cross. We creatures don’t share the nature of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – because we are not God. But in a radical way, we are invited to share in the union of love in grace, to let the Trinity live in our hearts, and so to participate in the life of God. That’s not just flowery language: that’s what the Christian life is all about, and if you sit with it for a while you’ll realise that it’s a mind-blowing thing! We are all invited into participation in the divine life.
Those who encounter Christ and enter into a friendly relationship with him welcome into their hearts Trinitarian Communion itself, in accordance with Jesus’ promise to his disciples: “If a man loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him” (Jn 14: 23).
And though in this world no one can see God, we believe that he has made himself known so that, with the Apostle John, we can affirm: “God is love”, and “we have come to know and to believe in the love God has for us.”
Thanks to the Holy Spirit, who helps us understand Jesus’ words and guides us to the whole truth, believers can experience, so to speak, the intimacy of God himself, discovering that he is not infinite solitude but a communion of light and love, life given and received in an eternal dialogue between the Father and the Son in the Holy Spirit.
So while we celebrate this Sunday a mystery that is hard to understand—and impossible to fully comprehend—thanks to revelation it is not entirely unintelligible. And it’s worth the effort because we’re talking about the central reality of our faith. To echo Saint Augustine, we worship a God who is love, Lover and Beloved, and we have the privilege of being invited to participate in His eternal life of love.
A few notices and links:
– We anticipate maintaining the current temporary Sunday schedule and sign-up system throughout the duration of Phase Three, but please feel free to give us feedback if you think there are steps we can take to improve things within the protocols we’ve been given. And if you do e-mail the office to reserve a spot at a Mass next Sunday, please remember to include your name and contact details in the e-mail. A reminder of our temporary Sunday schedule:
- Sat 5:30pm – Reconciliation
- Sat 6:30pm – Vigil Mass
- Sun 7:30am – Mass
- Sun 9:00am – Mass
- Sun 9:30am – Mass (St Kevin’s, Serpentine)
- Sun 10:30am – Mass
- Sun 5:30pm – Reconciliation
- Sun 6:00pm – Mass
– Our weekday Masses are now back to the regular schedule, though signing-in, use of hand-sanitiser, and social distancing remain conditions of entry. Also, now that the school pick-up system has thankfully returned to normal, the church will remain open for private prayer on weekdays until 4pm, and parking at the church can return to normal.
– We’re still not allowed to have collections during Sunday Mass at this stage, but we have placed baskets at the rear of the church, in which you can place your offerings as you leave if you wish. Note also that the latest set of donation envelopes have arrived and are in the church foyer.
– A number of parish activities are resuming this week, including the Parish Council (7:30pm Tuesday), the Finance Committee (7:30pm Thursday), and the Chi Rho sacrament preparation classes (4pm Tuesday). Baptisms have resumed, but will generally be held at 12noon at present to allow for the extra Sunday Mass. Baptism preparation meetings have resumed and are held on the first Thursday of the month at 6pm.
– This will be my last piano song for the time being (suffice to say my schedule is getting busier!). A cover of Coldplay’s “Clocks”: https://youtu.be/ZPVaaK1-xVo
– Finally, for a glimpse of the beauty of our faith, check out this remarkable little speech from acclaimed Orthodox composer Arvo Pärt: https://youtu.be/Qh-kjp2hLCw