Too often Christian believers are prone to regard the mystery of the Trinity as a piece of theological trivia, with little practical relevance for their lives. “The God I believe in is three-persons-in-one-essence, or so I am told,” we might hear ourselves saying. “It’s weird, but it’s the way it is, and we may as well just accept it and move on.”
As an incomprehensible and strange doctrine, it can be difficult to see how the tri-unity of God can impact our daily, lived reality.
There is a truth here: The mystery of God is indeed transcendent, far beyond the grasp of our minds. Even in the next life he will remain incomprehensible to us in his infinite majesty. As such, the mystery of God’s threefold unity as Father, Son and Spirit will always be something that remains above and beyond us. It will never be something we can fully master, much less reduce to the categories of our experience so as to render it “merely practical.”
But this is only part of the story. If we were to stop here, we would miss an essential dimension of the Christian doctrine of God. For while the mystery of the Trinity is something that transcends our understanding and experience, it is also something that embraces us in a way that decisively shapes our identity and existence as baptized Christians.
Consider the words of St. Paul from his letter to the Romans, which we hear in our second reading this Sunday:
“Those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.
For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear,
but you received a Spirit of adoption,
through whom we cry, ‘Abba, Father!’
The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit
that we are children of God,
and if children, then heirs,
heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ.”
Paul teaches us here that we have received the “Spirit of adoption” (the Spirit of God), who transforms us into children of God and “joint heirs with Christ,” thus enabling us to cry out to God as “Abba, Father.” Through the Spirit, then, we are so intimately united with Christ that we are able to claim as our own his unique relationship with the Father, even to the point of taking his words upon our lips. We are thus invited to enter into the very relationship between the Father and the Son.
The Trinity is spoken of here, but now not simply as a remote mystery far removed from our lives. Rather, we hear the Trinity spoken of as something in which we are directly implicated. As Christians, we are taken up, by the free gift of God’s grace, into the very relationship which the Son enjoys with the Father in the Spirit.
In this sense, the Trinity, while remaining “ever greater” in its transcendence, also comes very close to us, embracing us and, in a certain way, enveloping us. And while we will never be able to fully grasp it, we can come in a certain way to “know” this mystery within the dynamics of our Christian life and existence.
What does it mean to be a “child” of God? It means to relate to God as the Son relates to the Father. And the heart of this relation is revealed to us in the perfect surrender of Jesus in his Passion, when he says “not my will but yours be done,” and “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” So too, Mary shows us what it looks like to enter into this relationship when she utters her fiat to the message of the angel, “Let it be done unto me according to your will.” So too, the saints, in the manifold diversity of their lives, show us what it looks like to live as children of God when they, each in their own way, surrender themselves perfectly to God.
So too, each of us, who have received the “Spirit of Jesus” in baptism, can come to know from within something of what it means to live as children of God, as the Spirit teaches us both in prayer and in action how to surrender ourselves to God and neighbor without reserve. It is indeed an essential aspect of the joy of faith to learn that this “losing of self” in Christ-like love in fact coincides with the fullness of life. In truth, it is a share in God’s trinitarian life, where Father, Son and Holy Spirit have themselves only by giving themselves to one another without reserve. As we learn this mystery and enter into it by our own practice of Christian charity, we at once discover something of the joy contained in sacrifice, and gain a small glimpse of how it is that many can live as one when they are united in the mutual sharing of perfect love.
The Trinity, then, is not simply an arcane doctrine that is purely external to us. If we live out the gift of grace that has been given us in baptism, it is a mystery that we can know from within, a mystery that we can participate in, and even gain an inner sympathy for. This is pure joy. And knowing this makes all the difference for our daily Christian life.
Father Evans is parochial vicar of Our Lady of Lourdes in Minneapolis and co-director of the Habiger Institute for Leadership at the University of St. Thomas’ Center for Catholic Studies in St. Paul. He can be reached at [email protected]
Sunday, May 30
Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity
Category: Sunday Scriptures