Today is Trinity Sunday, when the Church celebrates one of its greatest mysteries. We affirm our belief in this mystery 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 admit 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 soon 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 Athanasian Creed is also 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.”
The three persons are all of the same substance so they are three yet they are one. If you 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 have some difficulty picturing a triangle that is a circle without losing its basic triangle-ness, then you are beginning to contemplate a mystery.
St. Augustine wrote a book on the Trinity in which he showed that we can understand the Trinity better when we consider Love. God is love, and when we think of love we realize for love to be there must be a lover, one who is loved by the lover, and the love between the lover and the beloved. Thus, we can better imagine the trinity if we imagine a communion of love: the lover, the beloved, and the love between them.
The mystery of the Trinity is only one of the mysteries that are central to our faith. We also believe Christ is both fully God and fully human at the same time, that he was born and died as a human being but is eternal as God. And we believe in the mystery of the Eucharist, that our sacrifice of the Mass today participates in the sacrifice at Calvary over 2,000 years ago and at the same moment participates in the eternal Mass in Heaven.
Why does God choose mysteries to be so central to our faith? We’ve just made an effort to understand the mystery of the trinity, and we have to accept that we don’t have either the words or the concepts necessary to fully comprehend this teaching of our faith.
What does God want from us? It’s not that he wants to test us. He wants to help us. He wants us to be his children and to let Him be our God. He wants us to accept the gift that he has given us, our salvation through the Cross and the Easter Resurrection. And he wants us to do the work that he has given us.
The gift is that we do not need to worry so much about performing well enough to deserve heaven. We will go to heaven because he has already paid the price. We don’t have to earn our way into Heaven, and indeed, none of us could ever be good enough to deserve it on our own merits. All we have to do is accept the gift.
Accepting the gift is our life’s work. Imagine you’re sitting hot and thirsty and you would love a glass of lemonade. And your father puts a bowl of lemons in front of you and gives you a knife. “There’s your lemonade,” he says. If it were me, I’d look at him and say, “No, I have lemons. I want lemonade.” And he would smile and say, “cut the lemons, squeeze the lemons. You’ve been given lemonade if you’ll accept it.”
To get the gift – lemonade or salvation – I have to accept the gift as given to me by the giver. I don’t get to set the terms of the gift or redefine the gift. I just take it as given.
Now I could spend time arguing with him. And I could raise one issue after another about how I deserve lemonade and want lemonade yet find myself surrounded by lemons. And my Heavenly Father would smile, and with love, he would say, “Pick up your knife. Cut the lemon. Squeeze the lemon. Enjoy your lemonade.”
This is what we do to accept the gift. This is how we prepare to drink the lemonade – the gift of eternal salvation. If we can do that work of the Christian disciple, if we can pick up the lemon of anger and squeeze it into the lemonade of kindness. If we can choose to love when presented with the opportunity to hate, or we can choose the path of humility instead of vainglory. If we can sit and squeeze each of these lemons then we will end up with a beautiful glass of delicious lemonade, the very thing we had been hoping for. And each lemon we squeeze we should squeeze as if it were our first lemon, our last lemon, or even our only lemon. Because we don’t know how many opportunities we are going to be given.
But we do know that when run out of lemons, we will have a full glass of delicious lemonade that we can enjoy for all eternity. That’s the work of the Christian disciple. And if we do that, we will manifest our own personal mystery of the faith: how a sinner can grow in holiness, how a servant of the Lord can grow closer to his God.