Posted by: Larry T.
My thirty-nine year old daughter wrapped her email up with, “Dad I’ve been attending a class at our church and I’m having a real problem understanding the Holy Trinity. Can you help me?”
I instantly flashed back to religion class - to an incident that took place fifty years ago - when my classmates and I had been mercilessly pelting Sister Mary Rupert with endless questions concerning the Holy Trinity. We were all shocked when she finally exclaimed, “People it’s a matter of faith! Accept it, End of discussion!”
The Three Persons of the Trinity are at work in this Sunday’s gospel reading (January 13th, first option).
15 Now the people were filled with expectation, and all were asking in their hearts whether John might be the Messiah.
16 John answered them all, saying, “I am baptizing you with water, but one mightier than I is coming. I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.
21 After all the people had been baptized and Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, heaven was opened
22 and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” – Luke 3:15-16, 21-22 N.A.B.
We hear the voice of the Father and see the Holy Spirit in the form of the dove descending on the Son in verse 22.
I resisted the urge to repeat Sister Rupert’s answer to my daughter, and chose to quote one of the venerated fathers of the Church, Gregory Nazianzen (330-390 A.D.):
The Old Testament announced the Father openly and the Son more obscurely. The New made the Son manifest and alluded to the divinity of the Spirit. Now the Spirit is in our midst and he declares himself to us more openly. For it was unsafe, when the Father’s divinity had not yet been confessed, for the Son to be announced openly; nor, when the Son’s divinity had not yet been admitted, to impose the Holy Spirit as a kind of heavier burden, if one may speak in such a fashion, lest some of us might, as if weighed down with too much food and with eyes weakened by the sun’s rays, be unable to grasp even what lay within our powers.
Next I steered her to the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
When we pray to "our" Father, we personally address the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. By doing so we do not divide the Godhead, since the Father is its "source and origin," but rather confess that the Son is eternally begotten by him and the Holy Spirit proceeds from him. We are not confusing the persons, for we confess that our communion is with the Father and his Son, Jesus Christ, in their one Holy Spirit. The Holy Trinity is consubstantial and indivisible. When we pray to the Father, we adore and glorify him together with the Son and the Holy Spirit. – C.C.C. 2789
I wrapped up my response with a flourish quoting Cyril of Jerusalem (circa 318-386 A.D):
“For our salvation it is sufficient to know that there is a Father and a Son and a Holy Spirit – as our Church has always taught – it’s a matter of faith.”
Does that sound a little like Sister Mary Rupert’s exasperated exclamation?
My daughter’s next letter began, “Dad, just saying that it’s a matter of faith is a non-explanation. Isn’t there something more?” She had been hoping for something more concrete.
I reminded her, in my next letter, that some of the ways in which we personally experience the Three Persons of the Holy Trinity is by seeing the Father’s presence in the world He created, benefiting from the Son’s redeeming work (reconciliation and the Holy Eucharist), and reception of the Holy Spirit at baptism and confirmation. She hasn’t mentioned this subject again, and I pray that God has given her the grace necessary to accept the Holy Trinity as taught by our Church.
We cannot fully comprehend the Holy Trinity because to do so would be to understand the very essence of God - something that is not possible for human beings.
We can accept the Holy Trinity as a matter of faith in two ways:
First, we can reason that because of Holy Scripture the early Church fathers professed it, and it became Church doctrine, and must be true. Also because Sister Mary Rupert said so, and she was never wrong! This act of faith might not be pleasing to God.
Second, we can also accept, with humility and reverence, the truth of the Holy Trinity which God has made known to us through Holy Scripture and the Apostolic Tradition of the Catholic Church, and be alert to the workings of the Three Persons of the Trinity in our daily lives. This degree of faith would be pleasing to God, but requires the gift of His grace because we cannot reach this level of faith on our own.
God’s gift, to those who seek to understand Him and His workings, is the gift of grace through which He reveals more of Himself to the seeker.