Liturgically speaking, the Sundays immediately following Pentecost are each celebrations of particular Feast days within the life of the Church. The first of them is the Feast of the Holy Trinity, which we celebrate today.
Usually, when believers are asked to try to say something about the Trinity, we are inclined to start mumbling that “it’s a mystery,” which, of course, it is. But “mystery” doesn’t mean that we have nothing to say, or that we can’t understand something. Rather, mystery suggests that while we might say a lot, our language is often inadequate to capture the entire meaning and significance of what we’re trying to articulate. But that doesn’t stop us from trying.
The traditional formula of words when speaking about the Holy Trinity is that of Father, Son and Spirit. We talk about the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, being three persons in One God. The Father is God, the Son is God, the Holy Spirit is God, yet we do not speak of three Gods, but only one God. They share the same being, the same nature, and the same substance. These categories and expressions of faith have been used in the Church from antiquity, drawing heavily on an understanding of Greek philosophy that is not very common today. For example, when we use the language of person in reference to the Trinity, we are not speaking of a physical, emotional and spiritual reality that we might think of when thinking of a person today. It’s no wonder it can seem confusing at times, and we might prefer not to get into it.
It’s not to say that the ancient Fathers of the Church had it all figured out and could easily articulate their beliefs and understanding of the nature of God. St. Athanasius came to be one of the main voices behind the Council of Nicea, from which we received the (Nicene) Creed that we most often recite on Sundays in Church. Paraphrasing him slightly, he taught that everything you can say about the Father, you can say about the Son and about the Holy Spirit, except the Son is not the Father, and the Spirit is not the Father. Everything you can say about the Son, you can say about the Father and about the Holy Spirit, except they are not the Son, and so on. As we can see from this little example, and indeed from reading our Catechism, it can be very challenging to appreciate the traditional language we use for God.
Almost twenty years ago I read a book, which I found incredibly helpful at the time, when it came to the use of language that allowed me to deepen my understanding of the Holy Trinity. The book was entitled “Altogether Gift” by Dr. Michael Downey. In his volume, Downey wrote of the spiritual and historical development of language in Trinitarian Theology. He uses the language of “love” and writes that where there is love there must be a “Lover” (the Father), a “Beloved” (the Son), and then there must exist the “Loving” (the Holy Spirit) between them. All three coexist, distinct but immutably interconnected. He also used the language of “Gift.” He wrote of the “Giver” (the Father), the “Gift” (the Son), and the “Gifting” (the Holy Spirit) between them.
Whatever language we use, it’s no small thing that the language we use for God is the language of relationship. From the heart of this mystery we find ourselves always living and striving for better relationships, with ourselves, with one another, and of course, with God. Good relationships, or “Right” relationships, are an integral part of our spiritual health and wellbeing. We cannot be “right“ with God without being “right” with one another, and within ourselves. The Mystery of the Holy Trinity serves to remind us that we are not gods ourselves, but rather that we are “of God,” and are destined to share in God’s own life of loving relationship. Growing into the fullness of this mystery is a life-time’s work. But we don’t hold back. Try working on a relationship that needs some attention or care in your life. It would be pretty odd if we were able to “right” a relationship with someone else without finding that our relationship with God is also made better.
Today we also celebrate Father’s Day on our secular calendar. Thank you to all the Dads of our parish for their witness and care in their relationships. May God continue to bless all our Dads, our Grandads, our Godfathers, our Fathers-in-law and all those who share the gift and generosity of fathering in our lives.