Circles and Triangles and Lava and Ice, Oh My

Today is Trinity Sunday, when the Church celebrates one of its greatest mysteries. We affirm our belief in the mystery of the Trinity every time we recite the Nicene Creed. The mysteries of the Church are supernatural truths. These are realities that we know to be true, and we accept the fact that we cannot fully define them because they are above and beyond our human nature. We simply don’t have the words.

Now, we need words for definitions, but they are not so important for contemplation. Trinity Sunday is a day for us to ponder the infinite, eternal, triune God. All the mysteries of the Church, including the mystery of the Trinity, are invitations to contemplation. And a good place to begin contemplation of a mystery like the Trinity is the writings of the Church Fathers.

St. Athanasius was a deacon at the Council of Nicea in 325, where the Church met to respond to the heretical claim that Jesus was not truly the same as God the Father. Athanasius later became Bishop of Alexandria, and he spent the rest of his life defending the truth of the Holy Trinity.

Athanasius was firm on the “oneness” of God. In the Athanasian Creed it says, “the catholic faith is this: That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity.”

God the Father is God, God the Son is God, God the Holy Spirit is God. The three persons are all of the same substance. If you are tempted to think of the Trinity as an equilateral triangle, imagine the triangle as being a triangle that is also a circle at the same time because you cannot tell one of the three faces of the triangle from the other two because they are all one thing.

If you having some difficulty picturing a triangle that is a circle without losing its basic triangle-ness, then you are beginning to contemplate a mystery.

The Athanasian Creed is equally firm on the “three-ness” of God, for it says, “there is one person of the Father, another of the Son, and another of the Holy Spirit.” Now, when I add one (for the Father) and another (for the Son) and another (for the Holy Spirit), I get a total of Three. Which is probably why the next line in the Creed is this: “But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit is all one, the glory equal, the majesty co-eternal.”

So there is one God, and there are three persons.

The three persons are not separate but they are distinct in relation to each other.

We teach that the Son – the Word of God – is begotten of the Father. The Word proceeds from the Father while at the same time remaining in the Father. We say in the Nicene Creed, “Light from light.” When we light a candle from another candle, the light of the first candle is not lessened by the light of the second candle. But the father and the son are not two separate beings, as two candles are two beings. This begetting occurs within the inner life of the one God.

We teach that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. The Father loves the Son, and the Son loves the Father, and the infinite love between them is the breath of God, the Holy Spirit and the third person of the one God.

I mentioned the image of the light from candles, and there are other natural things used in the scripture to help us approach the mystery of the Trinity. At the baptism of the Lord, the voice of the Father comes from the heavens and the spirit of God descends like a dove. Thus we see that the fullness of the Godhead is with us whenever we sense the presence of any person of the Trinity.

There are also some natural phenomena that might help us approach these truths of the faith that are just too big for us to comprehend fully. When we see an iceberg floating in the sea, we know but cannot fully comprehend how much ice is below the surface. When we see pictures of the lava flows on the big island of Hawaii, can we really comprehend in our minds how hot it has to be to set rock on fire? We’ve all seen ice, and we’ve all seen fire, but arctic icebergs and volcanic lava serve as reminders we don’t really know the fullness of ice and fire.

What are we to do in our daily lives with a mystery like the Holy Trinity? How does it apply to us?

First, this Triune God loves us and called us to be his sons and daughters. St. Paul reminds the Roman Christians that if we are led by the Spirit of God, we receive a spirit of adoption and intimacy so we can call God the Father, “Abba” just as a young child today calls his father, “Daddy.” Our God loves us so much he became Man – the Word was made flesh – and died on the Cross for us. Our God loves us so much the breath of God is here as a Holy Comforter and Advocate to protect the Church from the assaults of the Devil. We are loved by our God, more than we can possibly imagine. And our prayers should include contemplating that love.

Second, this Triune God wants us to share his love for us with our neighbors. On the mountain in Galilee, Jesus sends out his Apostles. He tells them to “make disciples of all nations.” Our job is to share the Good News. How should we share that Good News, how do we make disciples? Probably not by trying to explain the mystery of the Trinity. All we have to do is to live a holy life, one marked by the fruits of the Holy Spirit. If we are joyful people, if we are peaceful people, if we are kind people, if we are gentle people, and if we are people of self-control, others will want whatever it is that makes us joyful, peaceful, kind, and gentle. You or I may be the first book of the Bible some other person reads. Let’s make sure they want to read the rest of the Bible.

I love you but No

There was a teacher at my kids’ high school who would often respond to the students’ persistent requests with an unassailable conversation stopper:

I love you, but No.

For the kids, it was the last word in that sentence which resonated. They didn’t really believe the first part. And that is understandable, for much of our teacher-student, boss-employee, or parent-child conversations operate in an atmosphere of power. Those with power may from time to time sprinkle nice words in their directives, but their underlings often hear only the directive.

As Christians, we have been given the two greatest commandments: to love God with all that we have, and to love our neighbor as we want to be loved. For us, then, the better wording of the conversation stopper might be:

I love you, so No.

Love sanctifies power. Our all-powerful God is also the God of Love, and we are called to be like Him. As a parent, as a teacher, even a boss, we should start and finish our communication with those in our care with love.

It is because I truly love my children that I don’t give them so many things they want.

It is because I love my students that I hold them accountable to the requirements of the course.

It is harder to see love at the heart of employer-employee relationships because of the transactional character of modern capitalism, but God is against an impersonal, transactional economy. At the center of the Church’s teachings on social issues is a reminder of the deep dignity of the human person made in the image of God. No economic or political system is valid if it ignores that fundamental reality. So, love should be why I say No to my employees.

When we live, learn, and work together, we must bind our instructions and corrections in love. It is the way, the truth, and the life.

Come Holy Spirit

Today is Pentecost Sunday when the Holy Spirit was given to the apostles and to the church. Pentecost is sometimes called the birthday of the church. On the Church calendar, Pentecost is one of the Sundays when we sing something called the sequence before we hear the gospel proclaimed.

The sequence for today is an ancient and lovely poem beseeching the Holy Spirit to come and be with us. It reminds us that the action of Holy Spirit was not just what happened 50 days after Easter Sunday. On that Pentecost, the apostles were given the gift of tongues, so that men and women of every race and culture could hear the good news of Jesus Christ crucified and resurrected. The Holy Spirit is working today with each and every one of us, and it is doing the same thing it did on that Sunday: it is letting us hear in words we can understand, and in other forms of communication, the good news of Jesus Christ crucified and resurrected.

The gift of tongues given here in the gospel reading is basically the gift of translation. The people in the audience are surprised to hear men who are clearly from Galilee and Judea able to speak to them in their own language: Persian, Median, Greek, and others. But the gift of tongues is not only translation. It is nonverbal prayer and communication between us and our God. St. Paul writes in his letter to the Corinthians that the gift of tongues is the least of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Paul is in no way demeaning or diminishing the gift of the Holy Spirit. Rather, he is reminding us that we speak to God, and we hear from God, all the time in nonverbal ways of communication. The sequence today reminds us of some of the ways that we hear from God through the Holy Spirit in our everyday lives.

After the Ascension, the Holy Spirit is the presence of God. After the ascension Jesus has risen to his throne in heaven. He is truly Christ the King, the Lord of the universe. He continues to make himself present to us, fully, really, his body, his blood, his soul, his divinity, in the Eucharist, even though it continues to look like bread and continues to taste like wine. And this is a personal relationship with Jesus. Indeed, we can have no more personal relationship with Jesus than to receive him into our bodies at Holy Communion. It is however, the third person of the Holy Trinity, whom Jesus sent to us after his ascension, who is that sense of presence that we feel. The sequence today reminds us of some of the ways we do feel him.

And we need to feel God’s presence. We are flesh and blood human persons. We cannot live fully with only an intellectual or metaphysical understanding of God. We need to feel his presence. The Holy Spirit, the Advocate, what Jesus called the Paraclete, is that sensation of love, of rest-filled hearts, of good deeds, of warmth, of good thoughts. God sends the Holy Spirit, as the Sequence says, to heal our wounds and to renew our strength.

All the saints, and most likely all of us here today, have had periods of spiritual dryness. These are periods when we felt that we did not sense God’s presence. The sequence today reminds us that it is the Holy Spirit who “on our dryness pours out God’s dew,” who drenches us with his love.

Think of the times when you go to confession. After you confess your sins, the priest, acting in the person of Christ, gives you absolution, and your sins are forgiven. Many of us walk out of the confessional with lighter hearts and a spring in our step. Perhaps this is what the sequence means when it says the Holy Spirit will “come and wash the stains of guilt away.” We leave confession knowing we are forgiven, thanks to the words of the priest, and we leave feeling better, thanks to the gift of the Holy Spirit. God sends us an advocate, a protector, and a holy comforter to give us the good feelings that will strengthen us and renew us.

All of us should welcome the Holy Spirit into our lives. He is with us when we leave this sacred space. He is with us as we are fighting traffic in Atlanta. He is with us when our children are a struggle, or when our parents are a struggle, or when our boss is a struggle, or when our subordinates are a struggle. When we are at odds with each other we can be reminded to ask the Holy Spirit to “bend our stubborn heart and our stubborn will.” We can ask the Holy Spirit to “melt what is frozen and to warm what is chill.” We can ask the Holy Spirit to guide our steps when we have gone astray. It is the Holy Spirit that speaks to us in our inmost heart. It is the Holy Spirit who tells us, let’s go to Mass it’s been a while, or let’s go to confession it’s been too long. It is the Holy Spirit that lets us see joy when we are not very happy. It is the Holy Spirit who lets us see the grace of God when our lives are a mess. It is the Holy Spirit who lets us see peace when our lives seem to be full of contention.


Come Holy Spirit, come.

And from your celestial home shed a ray of light divine.

Come father of the poor, come source of all our store,

come within our bosoms shine.