Solemnity of the Holy Trinity
Scripture Readings: Dt 4:32-34, 39-40; Rom 8:14-17; Mt 28:16-20
It was theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar who said that absolute love has been revealed…and it is beautiful. It was revealed because it was hidden in the inner life of God.
The relationships between the persons of the Holy Trinity show us the interior life of God. We, men and women made in the image of God, reflect the relationships of that interior life.
The distinction between the sexes significantly images God and is thus good. The distinctions are perfections inscribed in the very being of man and of woman. One of the distinctions is that the male gives and the female receives and let’s be. These reflect the image of the Trinity in us –as people in relation – because the persons of the Trinity are on-going giving and receiving. That giving and receiving constitutes life.
In short, the interior life of God is characterized by generativity and receptivity. What is generated and received is LOVE. The Trinity shows us that Love cannot be love unless it is both given and received. Today Paul tells us we have “received the Spirit of adoption,” and Jesus tells us to “Go…and teach…”. We can say that this giving and receiving of love is our God-given mission in life. We did not invent it; it was given to us.
That is why Love is the great commandment. And that is why in last Sunday’s gospel for Pentecost Jesus told the apostles, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you. Receive the Holy Spirit.” Being sent means that the one sent has a mission and must respond to it with obedience. Having a mission is what makes one a person. Jesus Christ was sent and His mission and His person are identical, they are one and the same. For that kind of inner unity, one has to be divine.
For us who are sent today, it is more complicated. Yes, we have a mission, but it takes a disciplined way of life for us to respond to it. Because love is our motive and we are free in how we direct love, our obedience to the mission requires us to renounce selfishness & self-centeredness and obey for the good of the community. This is why St. Benedict introduces our Rule by saying that a measure of strictness is necessary, “to amend faults and to safeguard love”; to safeguard the life of the Trinity within us.
We use our God-given freedom rightly when we use it to commit and protect our love. And we gladly surrender our freedom by laying it at the feet of the beloved.
True love wants to outlast time. For that reason it wants to rid itself of its most dangerous enemy: its own free choice. Hence every true love has the inner form of a vow: it binds itself to the beloved. This vow frees us from the bonds of the world and for the bonds of love. In the face of self-centeredness, vows –marital or monastic- form us toward a perfect love that is motivated by a desire to make oneself a total gift to the other. Because only Jesus Christ can make such a mission of love identical with his being, we need –and we must know that we need- His power given through His way of life. We are assured of that because He promised that when we bind our love on earth, it will be ratified by being bound in heaven.[i]
This is how we safeguard the giving & receiving of love; this is how we safeguard the life of the Trinity within us. This vowed commitment to mission is the imitation of Christ. Jesus Christ was given to us as a concrete vision of the life of the Trinity. We are to imitate Christ’s obedient relationship to the Father through the Spirit. This is how we are transformed in Christ. It is not in what we undertake for the purpose of transformation, but it is the things to which we devote ourselves for their own sake that will have the deepest effect on our formation. When love moves us to vow obedience, we are making our deepest response to that which (Who) is of highest value.[ii] We will experience it not as an accomplishment of will, but as the reception of a gift. As vowed people we no longer need ponder what we should do, but rather, what have we vowed to do. That will make us holy.
[i] Matt. 16:19 and 18:18. Hans Urs Von balthasar, The Christian State of Life, pp. 38-39.
[ii] Dietrich Von Hildebrrand, Transformation in Christ, p. 231-2.
Solemnity of the Holy Trinity
[Scripture Readings: Ex 34:4-6, 8-9; 2 Cor 13:11-13; Jn 3:16-18 ]
In our abbey we have two icons of Rublev's beautiful Trinity, one in our North cloister, and one at the foot of the center stairwell in the Guest House. Rublev's Trinity is from a scene in the life of Abraham when he served a meal to three heavenly visitors who passed his way. They appear as angels with wings touching each other. But we know this is the beginning of God's self-revelation as three Divine Persons in one nature who are inviting us to share in their happiness.
Unlike other paintings in which God the Father is presented as an elderly, bearded figure watching over his much younger Son with the Holy Spirit hovering nearby in the form of a dove, the great artist, Rublev, portrays the three Divine Persons as entirely equal, sharing the same youthfulness and beauty, exactly what we hope for. They are seated around a table in a quiet, gentle, contemplative presence.
There is a circular movement in the icon from the Father on the left looking at the Son in the middle and the Holy Spirit at the far right. They return his loving gaze with their heads slightly bowed toward the Father, revealing the mystery of divine humility among equals. Behind the Holy Spirit, the inclination of his head is accentuated by the curve of a mountain in the background, leaning in the same direction. It is Mount Sinai where God appeared to Moses, and it is also Mount Sion where God pitched his tent among us, his Temple, and it is also Mount Calvary where Jesus gave his life for us. Creation itself is drawn into this exchange of love and reverence. The mountain points toward the tree of life behind the Son. The tree is also leaning toward the Father. It is the tree on which Jesus died, and it is the true vine on which we are grafted, restoring us to friendship with God, bringing us into this divine romance. As our gaze flows back to the Father we see behind him a castle. It is the Church and the heavenly Jerusalem. It is the place prepared for us from the foundation of the world. Its doors and windows are open inviting us to enter.
Then our gaze falls naturally back to the face of the Father and we are swept up again in this circular movement back to the Son and the Holy Spirit, a movement St. John Damascene called Perichoresis, a Greek word meaning “to dance around each other.”
As our gaze sweeps around the circle we come to a wide opening at the front and center of the icon, an open place at the table that invites us to be seated with the Trinity in their own unending romance of mutual love and happiness. On this table, like an altar, there is a chalice containing the tender young calf prepared by Abraham for his heavenly visitors. We immediately recognize this meal as the Eucharist, and the slain calf as the Lamb sacrificed on Calvary. It is Jesus, who died for us, who shared our pain and suffering so that we may be where he is and what he is, sharers in the divine nature. It is a place where there is no more mourning or crying or pain, where these three loving Persons wipe away every tear from our eyes, where death will be no more. We are invited to this banquet of joy that will never end, this circle of divine love. No matter how many come to sit in this open place, there is always room for more. We have a happy future!
Rublev's Trinity is not only about our future. It also tells us about God's presence in our lives here and now. Each of the three heavenly Visitors holds a staff, showing that they are on this journey with us. They accompany us in all our hardships and tribulations. By his passion, Jesus revealed that God suffers with us. In all the tragedies of life these three Divine Persons are with us, especially when we die. For death, itself, becomes part of the dance. It is the climactic moment when the dance appears to come to an abrupt and tragic end. But it is only a short pause. Then we will burst forth, free from all our human limitations, and the power of gravity, free to spiral upward in the company of these three Divine Persons in a dance and in a happiness that will never end.
Solemnity of the Holy Trinity
[Scripture Readings: Ex 34: 4-6, 8-9; 2 Cor 13:11-13; Jn 3:16-18]
“O Lord, do come along in our company,”. “Do stay with us and guide us in our sojourn.” This was the supplication of Moses to Yahweh as he came down from the mountain where he just spoke with God just like with an intimate friend. He was commissioned to lead Israel, a stiff-necked people against God. He expected that this hardhearted people deserved divine wrath; instead, God revealed himself as “the Lord, a merciful and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in kindness for a thousand generations,” . Despite their sins against him, God manifested his love and forgiveness. Through Moses, they saw his glory, but they were not allowed to see his face, lest they die, .
It would not take long before God would allow his creatures to see his face. Jesus in his public ministry revealed God fully as he said, “The Father and I are one…Whoever has seen me has seen the Father,”. Through Jesus, God is known not just as an almighty God, but more as a loving and merciful Father. The relationship with him has grown more personal and intimate.
Through the revelation by Jesus, we see a developed image of God. From the Invincible Warrior God who shields and bravely protects his people against their enemies, he is now seen as the God who is truly one with his people even in their sufferings and death. He is not One who comes down in magnificent glory behind clouds, but One who is born like any of us and lived our life beset with tribulations. Where else could you find a God such as the One whom Jesus reveals to us? Jesus says, “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him may not die but may have eternal life,”. This God is One who fully loves us His people. As the Father, He sent his Son to bear our pains and sufferings and the sting of death. By raising Jesus from the dead, He vanished the stigma of death. The risen Christ has returned to the Father but He has not left us orphaned. The Spirit has been sent this time by the Father through Christ to realize the bond of communion with the Father and the Son. Such then is the more accurate picture of the God we believe in. He is the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit: Three Persons in One Divine Nature. We have the mystery of the Most Holy Trinity whose solemn feast we celebrate today.
As a divine mystery, the Trinity has always been a complex teaching to understand. Let the theologians and mystics help us understand this truth. Let images and icons assist us too in vividly imagining the dynamics of this mystery.
We come across the “Paternity” picture of a venerable bearded Father holding a young beardless Christ who likewise holds a globe adorned with a white dove, the Holy Spirit. Then there is also the “New Testament Trinity” icon which shows the Father and the Son seated on thrones while the Holy Spirit hovers over them. This was primary image used in the celebration of the Year of the Trinity as we prepared to enter into the Third Millennium. But the more preferred icon is the so called “Old Testament Trinity” that more fittingly depicts this divine mystery.1 In 1422, a monk named Andrei Rublev painted an icon of the Trinity upon commission by his abbot at the Trinity — St. Sergiy monastery in Zigorsk near Moscow. He portrayed the scene on the three visitors of Abraham and Sarah in Genesis chapter 18. Instead of the image of Yahweh with two angels, in this icon we see the image of three angels whose faces and features displayed similarity. They are totally united and they assume eternal youth and beauty in common. At the same time, they manifest individuality of attitude and expression. The three angels (from the left to the right) depict the Father to whom the creation of the world is attributed, the Son who redeemed the world and the Spirit who sanctifies the world. They are seated around a table; on it is a big cup (or chalice) containing a steer’s head to signify the sacrificial offering, the equivalent of a lamb in the New Testament. Sarah was prophesied to give birth to a son who would later be asked for in sacrifice. But with the sacrifice of Isaac, the sacrifice of the Son of God is foreshadowed. The artist thus portrayed that the central aspect of the life of the Trinity is focused on the Eucharist. John Paul II in his apostolic letter in this year of the Eucharist (2004-2005) calls this “a happy intuition” on the part of Rublev. The three divine persons are united in expressing God’s closeness to the world of men. Each one firmly gazes at the cup and blesses it. The Father willing sent his Son as the sacrificial victim. The Son at the center bows in humble obedience to the Father’s will. The Spirit transforms the offering into the divine gift to humanity for its redemption.
We may ask, where then does the essence of this mystery of the Holy Trinity lie? Its essence lies on the mystery of God’s profound love for us. “God so loved us that he did not spare His very son to die just to redeem us.” God did not have to create us, but yes, He did so out of love for us. When we have sinned against him, He did not have to waste himself for us, but yes, He saved us. Now that we are on the right path to salvation in His kingdom, He does not accompany us behind a column of cloud or sustain us through food that falls from heaven. God is so close to us that he has become truly one with us through the Son born like one of us. For our food in this pilgrim way, his body and blood offered in sacrifice becomes our very food. “I am the bread of life…This bread is my flesh for the life of the world,” said Jesus. It is in the Eucharist that this proclamation has become a reality. God is a true com-panion indeed, one who shares the bread, which is his own body and blood for our eternal life. The three persons act in unison to make our gifts the nourishing food for us. At the Mass in the third Eucharistic Prayer, the priest says, “Father, we bring you these gifts. We ask you to make them holy by the power of your Spirit, that they may become the body and blood of your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, at whose command we celebrate this Eucharist.” God (the Father, Son and Holy Spirit) initiates the giving of this food for our eternal life.
Our electronic gadgets like radios, TVs, cameras or computers, have knobs or sensitive antennas for fine-tuning the audio and visual reception of the messages they transmit. It is for this purpose, we could say, that the mystery of the Trinity was revealed to us. God is so closely one with us that the operations of the three divine persons allow us to see that in whatever direction or in whatever circumstances we find ourselves, there is God with us. A father and a son went to see a 3-D film on the marine life in the deep waters. The viewers were told to wear a special kind of tinted glasses. In the course of the showing, as the multicolored fish were swimming closer to the camera, a kid raised his hand to touch and grasp it. For him the creature seemed so real and close. Others tilted their heads a bit as a shark was coming close with its mouth wide open to avoid being bitten and eaten. After the film showing, the father told his son. “My son, we are fortunate to have these modern means. In my time, what we had were cut-out figures to cast shadows on a white screen, and that was the best movie we could have then. Now it is short of really catching the fish.” The mystery of the Trinity is a fine-tuned revelation of how close and united God is indeed with us, not in an illusion, but in reality till we hope to see God face to face.
Solemnity of the Holy Trinity
[Scripture Readings: Prov 8:22-31; Rom 5:1-5; Jn 16:12-15]
A man, driving the car one morning, with his son seated beside him, heard the eleven year old boy turn and say to him: “Daddy, what is ‘butt dust’?” Hearing this, the father felt a little uneasy for two reasons: first: his eleven year old had just asked him a question, and he didn’t know the answer. And secondly, he was troubled, even a little irritated hearing that particular expression on the lips of his eleven year old son, especially since the family was just then returning home from Mass, when suddenly, the father remembered something. The Mass the family attended that morning was rather special: it was Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, and the whole family had celebrated Mass together and had received the imposition of ashes. In a sudden flashback, the father saw the very tall parish priest in his purple Lenten vestments towering over his little son and he saw his boy looking up, listening intently as the priest addressed him, crossing him on the forehead with ashes and declaring in a deep resonant voice for everyone to hear: “You are but dust . . . and to dust you shall return.”
If you want to understand the mystery of the Trinity that the church celebrates today, this story could be some help to you. You might think of the little boy in the story as the Holy Spirit. Note, he did not, as Jesus says in the gospel, speak on his own. He said only what he heard. Now, it’s clear that the thought never occurred to the little boy that what he said might displease his father. He was, after all, simply saying what he heard the priest say. The little boy was trusting; he was trusting completely that the person who was the source of those words was trustworthy and good, and trusting that what he received was good, he passed it on faithfully. There was, unfortunately, a bit of a misunderstanding on the boy’s part concerning what the priest’s words meant, and he seems to have had an inkling of this; an intuition that something was amiss. And so, having recourse to a loving father, he put to him his question.
His father, hearing the boy’s question and realizing there had been a misunderstanding, was moved by love for his son, so innocent and so vulnerable because of so much he still needed to learn about life, and his father proceeded to help the boy understand what the priest said and what he didn’t say. The father patiently explained to his son about how life brings each of us inevitably to death, and about the trust we have as believers, that God is love; that God so loved the world, he sent into the world his only son who died for us, in a sense died in our place; and whose redemptive death became for us a passage to everlasting life. In the end, so, far from thinking of himself as “butt dust,” the little boy came to realize he was a beloved child, not only of the man driving the car, but a child of God; a beloved child of God, destined to enjoy the inheritance of the first born Son of God, life everlasting! The man talking to his son is like the Second Person of the Holy Trinity. His role is to give true expression to what, at its origin is incomprehensible. What the priest said to the boy was good and right; it was a sacred formula conferring to the child something of God’s own divine life. But, at its source, on the lips of the priest, this divine gift was inscrutable; it’s meaning and value still hidden from the child. Those salutary words of the priest found no actual expression until the boy’s father made clear to him what the words meant. In the priest, then, we can see an image of God the Father; the Father who, as the source of impenetrable mystery, relies upon the action of the Divine Son to give expression; to make manifest the mystery in a way that we can receive it.
In our little story, you can actually see the content of this blessed mystery unfolding in stages. First, in the exchange between the priest and the boy, and later in another conversation between the boy and his father in the car. Back and forth between these three loving persons, the mystery passes and yields up its riches as each engages the other in conversation. And as they converse, love turns up again and again: the love of the priest for the child being signed with the cross, love inspiring the boy to listen attentively to the priest’s words and trust that they were for his good; love moving him later to inquire of his father what the priests words meant, love, finally, blossoming in the boy’s discovery of the true gift of those words. In every movement of this three way exchange, love is manifest and always in a new and splendid form as it goes round and round, renewing itself as it is shared and enjoyed by each of the three.
It might be worth asking yourself, if the mystery of the most Holy Trinity was reflected in such humble circumstances as these, where else might the Trinity be leaving traces of God’s divine life in the events of your own everyday life?
Solemnity of the Holy Trinity
[Scripture Readings: Prov 8:22-31; Rom 5:1-5; Jn 16:12-15 ]
Once upon a time there was a woman in the glens of Ireland who had an only son. He was a proper lad, very fine to look upon. His eyes were bright blue — like the morning sky at sunrise—and when he spoke his voice was like music. Girls watched him smile, and found there was no heart left in them. His equal was not to be found among the Isles. All this he was to his mother and much more. He was her dawn, noonday, and evening tide. But then a war came and he fell. She died, too, not her body, but her heart. There was no end to her grieving. At last the Spirit of God, the Comforter, came to her and offered ways to heal such a wound. First he offered the gift of forgetfulness, but she would have none of that. She never wanted to forget the loveliness of her son’s face or the cheerfulness of his heart. Next the Holy Spirit offered her the gift of another child. That would be wonderful, but her heart would still bleed for the one she lost. Finally, the Comforter offered her the extraordinary gift of having her son back. “Yes,” she cried, “I want him back.” The Spirit agreed. Suddenly, the heavens opened and she saw her boy in an ecstasy of happiness, his face was radiant like the sun itself, shining so intensely she could not see what he was seeing-a vision of the Father’s infinite goodness pouring into his Son, and flowing back to him with infinite love in the embrace of the Holy Spirit. The body of her boy was arched like a bow pointing upward in the sky, his heart was like an arrow soaring into the midst of God’s own happiness. The arms of God’s love were wrapped around him, cradling her son with a tenderness she had never dreamed of. Then she saw an angel approaching her son to bring the lad back to her. “Wait!” she cried, “Let him be. Now I know it is I who must come to him, not he to me.” The Holy Spirit said to her, “But your heart is still bleeding.” “Let it bleed,” she replied, “it only bleeds for me. He is where I want him to be, his happiness in the Father’s arms is my consolation. I will feel his absence, and I want to miss him. But I do not want to take this happiness from him. Someday I will be with my son embraced with love. I will wait.” That day the woman went outside for the first time since her boy was buried. As she passed along the country road and greeted her neighbors, they said to one another, “Did you see her eyes? They are bright blue, like the morning sky at sunrise, and her voice, it is like music in the air.”
We are all called in Christ Jesus to an ecstasy of happiness, to God’s embrace, to be included in the romance that the three divine Persons have for each other and for us. How can we express our gratitude? In the gospel according to St. Luke, Jesus urges us to be generous with what we have. He tells the parable about a rich man who feasted every day and a poor man, Lazarus, who went hungry at his doorstep. And about the farmer who decided to build bigger barns but died that same night, and about the young man who was too attached to his wealth to follow Jesus, and about the tax collector, Zacchaeus, who gave half his possessions away and was saved. Long ago, another child from the glens of Ireland, St. Bridget, expressed her love that way. Her life is described in a poem by Phyllis McGinley.1 She writes:
Saint Bridget was
A problem child.
Although a lass
Demure and mild.
And though she strove
To please her dad,
Saint Bridget drove
The family mad.
For here’s the fault in Bridget lay:
She would give everything away.
To any soul
Whose luck was out
She’d give her bowl
She’d give her shawl,
Divide her purse
With one or all.
And what was worse,
When she ran out of things to give
She’d borrow from a relative.
Her father’s gold,
Her grandsire’s dinner,
She’d hand to cold
and hungry sinner;
Give wine, give meat,
No matter whose;
Take from her feet
The very shoes,
And when her shoes had gone to others,
Fetch forth her sister’s and her mother’s.
She could not quit.
She had to share;
Gave bit by bit
The barnyard geese,
The parlor rug,
Her little niece’s
Even her bed to those in want,
And then the mattress of her aunt.
An easy touch
For poor and lowly,
She gave so much
And grew so holy
That when she died
Of years and fame,
Put on her name.
And still the Isles of Erin fidget
With generous girls named Bride or Bridget.
Well one must love her.
In thinking of her
There’s no denial
She must have been
A sort of trial
To her kin.
The moral too seems rather quaint.
Who had the patience of a saint,
From evidence presented here?
Saint Bridget, or her near and dear?
All the mysteries of our Savior’s life have this purpose: to bestow on us his Father’s generosity who embraces us with the love of his Holy Spirit. In gratitude, may we be generous to others, even like St. Bridget, expecting nothing from them in return, because we are married to God and called to dance and play with three divine Persons forever!