The Church teaches we can know with certainty by our human reason that God exists. But there are truths that we cannot discover until God reveals them to us. The doctrine of the Trinity is such a Divinely Revealed truth.
Frank Sheed, one of the great Catholic apologists of the 20th Century, often spoke of the mysteries of our faith. He said that the word mystery “does not mean a truth of which we cannot know anything: it means a truth of which we cannot know everything.”
And that is important to remember, because today, we celebrate the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity, “the central mystery of Christian faith and life.” (CCC 234) We can never fully understand it, but let’s not be afraid to engage this mystery. Believe me, it is worth knowing. Why else would God reveal it? So, let’s get to it and discover what it teaches us about God and what it means to our daily lives.
First, this mystery is important because God has called each of us into relationship with Him. He wants us to attain more than only knowledge about Him; He wants us to actually know Him, personally. A central element of knowing Him is to know who He is. The doctrine of the Trinity helps us know who God is.
So, those who wish to know God as He is and enter into an ever-deepening relationship with Him must spend time in prayer and also study what the Church teaches in order to embrace and receive this knowledge of His Triune nature.
The Mystery of the Holy Trinity Defined
There are three great world religions that profess belief that God is One: Judaism, Islam and Christianity. We call these religions monotheistic. In this sense, each of these three religions knows something supremely important about God – He is One. We must never lose sight of this truth. But Christians know and profess a deeper knowledge of God’s nature, what God is, that extends to His identity, who God is. This is the mystery of God’s inner life. This is the mystery of the Holy Trinity.
- God is one nature… that is, there is one God.
- In God there are three distinct persons – Father, Son and Holy Spirit; they are one God, not three gods.
- The three persons of God each possess the one nature of God in totality – they do not share the nature.
- The Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God.
- The Father is not the Son, nor the Holy Spirit. The Son is not the Father, nor the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is not the Father, nor the Son.
Our natural reason might cause us to stumble here. For instance, if I look at myself, my mother and my father, I might see three members of the human species, that is, three humans. So when I consider the three persons of God, I might be misled by my reason to see three members of some divine species, that is, three gods. But God is not a species. And He is not three gods.
- God, the Father, in His infinite knowledge, knows Himself perfectly. He is capable of thinking of Himself. And that divine knowledge is so life-giving that the Father’s thought generates the Person of the Son by that knowledge. Theologians call that person – that thought – the Word.
- The infinite love of God is so life-giving that from the perfect, mutual love of the Father and the Son proceeds the Holy Spirit. In this sense, we begin to glimpse a truth that God is a communion of persons – a divine family. God’s knowledge and love has no beginning and no end, thus the three persons of God are co-eternal.
The Image and Likeness of God
So now we come to the second important point of this doctrine. Man and woman were created in the image and likeness of God. Although we may lose the likeness of God by sin, we never forfeit the image. Thus, in learning about God and coming to better know who He is through the doctrine of the Trinity, we learn something about ourselves. We were not made to be solitary beings; we were made to be in community. We were created to live and love as God does.
We all know that God is love. We’ve seen that God’s knowledge and expression of that love is the inner life of the Holy Trinity. And that teaches us something very important about us – if we are to be true to whom we were made to be, we will live and love as God does and in doing so we will find joy and peace.
God’s love is life-giving and boundless. We see that in today’s gospel, “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
This is the good news of Jesus Christ and the secret of life! God not only thinks of Himself, He thinks of you. And that thought created you. You exist because God first thought of and formed an image of you from Himself. God loves you perfectly and that love sustains your being and now redeems you.
Through the Redemption, He invites each of us to share in His inner life and become members of His family. Can you imagine that! Take a moment and let the love of God soak you down to your very soul.
The Family as an Image of the Trinity
Created in His image, God calls us to share in His life and work. The family – father, mother and children – is to be an image of the love shared in the Holy Trinity. In this way, the covenant of marriage is an image of New Covenant mediated by Jesus Christ, the Word, from the Cross. Through unconditional love and sacrifice, man and woman, in marriage, share in God’s work of creation and redemption.
A man loves his wife without condition and expectation. He gives everything to her, holding nothing back, willing to sacrifice even his life for her. A woman loves her husband without condition and expectation, holding nothing back, giving herself fully to her husband, willing even to die for him. This mutual love, sanctified by God, is so life-giving, that from that love pour forth children whose image was first formed in the mind of God… children made for heaven!
Fatherhood and the Family
Since today is Father Day, I want also pay attention to the role of fathers in the family. We refer to the family as the Domestic Church. You see, it is in the family that our children are first introduced to the faith… where they first encounter the Risen Lord and come to believe. The example of the father is crucial to the teaching of the children. Mother and father must be one in this.
I wish I had appreciated this more when my children were young. God, in His mysterious ways, helped us raise children who love and serve Him. I think back to my son’s sports years. I can’t tell you how many Saturday mornings would begin in Dunwoody at a soccer game and end in Buckhead at a baseball game… changing uniforms as we drove between the games. And I think of my daughter and the time we spent at her swim meets and lacrosse games. These were great times serving up wonderful family memories to last a lifetime.
Yet, looking back, I wonder… did I spend an equal or greater amount of time, a deeper excitement and passion, shared with them as they received their sacraments and grew in their knowledge of God?
Knowing the world’s spiritual poverty, and we must admit it is sometimes found even in our very families, how can we, especially we fathers, be lax about doing the work of the Father from whom all Fatherhood flows? I am blessed to know many of the fathers in my parish and they inspire me – they really do. Yet I believe that we must continually ask if there is more we can do. Dads, we must fulfill our fatherly duty. We must.
Fathers, and Moms, your children might be called by God to be a priest or join the religious life and serve some future congregation… or become a faith-filled father or mother who hands on this precious faith to your grandchildren. So much of their future depends on how well you live out your faith in the family today.
Let us also remember today our spiritual Fathers – our priests, especially our pastors. We know how blessed we are to know them as Father. Let us show them our gratitude and shower them with our prayers.
And may our God, who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit, grant us the grace to live and love in the image and likeness of the Holy Trinity.
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