When Words Fail, Love Prevails

A story was told by the Archbishop of Genoa in the 13th century about the great theologian, St. Augustine, who one day was walking beside the seashore while prayerfully contemplating the great mystery of the Blessed Trinity.

He came upon a small child who had dug a small hole and was using a small spoon to transfer water from the sea to the hole.  St. Augustine asked him what he was doing and the boy replied, “I am going to empty the sea by putting it in this hole.”  St. Augustine replied that such a thing was impossible as the sea was so large and the spoon and hole so small.  The child replied, “No more so than your wit and mind ever fully understanding the mystery of the Trinity, for in comparison, the sea is smaller than the Trinity and this hole is larger than your mind.”

The lesson of this story is that we can never fully understand the Dogma of the Trinity. But that does not mean that we should not try to understand as much as we are capable of knowing. A mystery is not a thing we can know nothing about, it is simply a thing or a person we cannot know everything about. 

How can we understand the Trinity? Do we need to?

Three Persons in One God? – It would be easy to simply say, “The teaching of the Trinity is beyond me and I am not going to spend any more time thinking about it.”  But to not think about (meditate upon) the Trinity is to fail to spend time with the central mystery of the Catholic Faith – the mystery of who and what our God is. And the first thing this teaching reveals about God is that He is totally other, and we are not Him… no one is. So, the most fundamental thing we know about God teaches us that we are not capable of fully understanding Who and What He is – that as much as we might try, we can never strip away the mystery.

Therefore, to know Him as fully as we are capable requires that we approach Him in true humility – not a false humility that claims there is no point in trying and not the pride of one who thinks he knows everything and mistakenly thinks that mysteries are nothing more than puzzles to be solved.

To Know, Love and Serve God

If God made us, as our Church teaches, to know, love and serve Him in this life and to be with Him in joy forever in the life to come, then this question becomes all the more important.

We learn many things in this life.  We learn to walk and talk.  We learn to read and write. We learn to take care of ourselves, earn a living, raise a family, to drive a car. But ultimately, the goal of our learning is to know God. God has created us for Himself. He has bestowed on us free will, creating us in His Image and Likeness. He has placed us here on earth as pilgrims who journey to Heaven.  We are to come to know him more perfectly in this life, to come to more perfectly serve Him in this life, so that we will come to more perfectly love Him in this life and the one to come.

While the Mystery of the Blessed Trinity reveals that we are not capable of fully knowing and understanding God it calls us to a deeper understanding of God. We were made to know Him. Therefore, to not seek to know Him as He has revealed Himself is to fail to be who we were created to be.  We cannot come to more perfectly know ourselves if we do not come to more perfectly know our God. To authentically know God is a requirement to become more authentic – to become more like God, to come to live like Him, to love like Him and to enter into deeper communion with Him.

An Exercise in Love, Not Academics

There are so many things and persons in this life that we love and cherish, yet do not fully understand. There is no way I can adequately explain the love and wonder I feel for my grandchild who is barely a toddler yet already another of God’s mysteries. The more I think of this precious two year old, the more I contemplate who and what he is, the more I come to know about him and the more authentically I come to know him.   The same is true with God.  Even though words do not fully explain a mystery, they are essential to the beginning of our understanding. At some point, if we try, the words will fail us in the sense that they can add no more to our understanding, but if we have arrived at that point through a prayerful meditation motivated in humility by our love of God, then that Love Who is God will take over.

How can I begin? What can we know about the Trinity? 

The path to greater understanding and knowledge of God and His Triune Nature is humility and fidelity to the teachings of Christ’s Church.  Over the centuries, many people came up with novel and erroneous ideas of who God is and who He isn’t. The truth revealed by Christ was defended in the writings of the saints, the pronouncements of the Church’s councils and by the blood of martyrs who refused to embrace heresy even when threatened with punishment by death. So if we want to learn more about God, we will avoid the novel ideas about God put forth in popular writings of the day when they are contrary to Sacred Tradition and cling to what the Church has had to say about what Christ revealed.  Take these teachings into the life of prayer.  Meditate on them.

The following are just a few of the truths of the Dogma of the Blessed Trinity that we can take to prayer and ponder in our hearts.

  • We believe in One God in whom there are Three Persons… not three gods, but One God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The picture (Shield of Faith) in this article lays this out.  The Father is God, but is not the Son or the Holy Spirit. The Son is God, but is not the Father or the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is God, but not the Father or the Son.
  • There is one Divine Essence – One God. Each Divine Person is that One God. Each possesses in total the One Divine Essence – the Three Persons do not share the One Essence.
  • There is One Intelligence in God, One Will in God, and One Consciousness in God.
  • The Three Persons are co-eternal and distinct in their relations, but not separate in their being. It is misleading to think of the Persons of God in the same way that we think of human persons who are concretely separate in substance.
  • The Triune God is a Community of Love in Union. By revealing Himself to us, God has given us a look at His life.

Give it a try

The above points are theological points only and help us come to better understand the Essence of God.  This seems like a lot and may likely seem overwhelming.  Again, we may be tempted to simply not try.  But don’t forget, we are not trying to solve a riddle or excel in academics. We are trying to come to more perfectly know God through prayer. In prayer, we have God helping us; we are not left on our own.  In the coming weeks, commit to spend time regularly in meditative prayer, pondering one of the above truths in the presence of God. Tell Him you love Him and that you want to know Him better so that you can love Him more deeply. 

When our words fail, His Love prevails.

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About the Author

Deacon Michael Bickerstaff is the Editor in chief and co-founder of the The Integrated Catholic Life.™ A Catholic Deacon of the Roman Rite for the Archdiocese of Atlanta, Deacon Bickerstaff is assigned to St. Peter Chanel Catholic Church where he is the Director of Adult Education and Evangelization.

He is a co-founder of the successful annual Atlanta Catholic Business Conference; the Chaplain of the Atlanta Chapter of the Woodstock Theological Center’s Business Conference; and Chaplain of the St. Peter Chanel Faith at Work Business Association and co-founder and Chaplain of the Marriages Are Covenants Ministry, both of which serve as models for similar parish-based ministries.

He and his wife have two adult children, one daughter-in-law and three grandchildren.

NB: The views I express on this site are my own. I am not an official spokesman for either my parish or diocese.

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1 Comment

  1. I enjoyed this article, Deacon Mike.

    Several years ago, my brother-in-law and I were discussing the Mystery of the Holy Trinity when my (then) 30 year old son walked into the room. After listening to us for a few moments, he said,”The way I understand it is to relate it to our government: we have one government expressed in three branches: the Executive, the Congressional, and the Judicial – each part is government, but it takes all three working together to be The Government.”

    Any earthly analogy breaks down when examined too closely in light of the Divine…but I thought his basic concept was pretty sound.

    Victoria Walters

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