Ex 34:4b-6, 8-9; II Cor 13:11-13; Jn 3:16-18
Anecdote: Simplified explanations by Ss. Patrick, Cyril, John Maria Vianney and St. Spyridon: The shamrock, a kind of clover, is a leguminous herb that grows in marshy places. St. Patrick, the missionary patron saint of Ireland, used the shamrock to explain the Holy Trinity. The story goes that one day his friends asked Patrick to explain the Mystery of the Trinity. He looked at the ground and saw shamrocks growing amid the grass at his feet. He picked one up one of its trifoliate leaves and asked if it were one leaf or three. Patrick's friends couldn't answer – the shamrock leaf looked like one but it clearly had three parts. Patrick explained to them: "The mystery of the Holy Trinity – one God in Three Persons: The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit - is like this, but more complex and unintelligible.” St. Cyril, the teacher of the Slavs, tried to explain the Mystery of the Most Holy Trinity using sun as an example. He said, "God the Father is that blazing sun. God the Son is its light and God the Holy Spirit is its heat — but there is only one sun. So, there are three Persons in the Holy Trinity but God is One and indivisible." St. John Maria Vianney used to explain Holy Trinity using lighted candles and roses on the altar and water in the cruets. “The flame has color, warmth and shape. But these are expressions of one flame. Similarly, the rose has color, fragrance and shape. But these are expressions of one reality, namely, rose. Water, steam and ice are three distinct expressions of one reality. In the same way one God revealed Himself to us as Father, Son and the Holy Spirit.” According to Tradition, when St. Spyridon of Trimithund was asked at the Council of Nicaea (A.D. 325) how three can simultaneously be one, he responded (with a little Divine help!) by taking up a brick and squeezing it. From the now-soft clay in his hands, a flame flared up, while simultaneously water flowed downward. “As there is fire and water in this brick,” said St. Spyridon, “in the same way there are three persons in the one Godhead.”
Introduction: Today’s feast invites us to live in the awareness of the presence of the Triune God within us: The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. The mystery of the Holy Trinity, a doctrine enunciated by the ecumenical councils of Nicaea and Constantinople, is one of the fundamental doctrines of Christianity and the greatest mystery of our Faith, namely, that there are Three Divine Persons, sharing the same Divine nature in one God. “There is one God, who has three Persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Each Person is God, yet there is still only one God” (CCC #234, #253-256). We have the Father Who is the Creator, the Son the Redeemer and the Holy Spirit the Sanctifier and the Counselor. The doctrine of Three Persons in one God, co-equal and co-eternal in Divinity yet distinct in Person, is not explicitly spelt out in the Bible. Even the very word “Trinity” is not found in the Bible. But the doctrine of the Trinity underlies all major Christian feasts, including Christmas, the Epiphany, Good Friday, Easter, the Ascension and Pentecost. All the official prayers of the Church, including the Holy Mass and the Sacraments, begin with an address to the Holy Trinity: “In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” We are baptized, absolved of our sins and anointed in the name of the Blessed Trinity. Throughout the world, church bells can ring three times a day inviting Christians to pray to God the Father (the Provider); God the Son (the Savior); and God the Holy Spirit (the Sanctifier), giving glory to the Triune God for the Incarnation of the Son and our Redemption. We bless ourselves with the Sign of the Cross, invoking the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and we conclude our prayers glorifying the Holy Trinity, saying “Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit.” Today’s readings convey the fundamental mystery that the Triune God reaches out to people with love, seeking the deepest communion with them.
Frank Sheed’s explanation of the Holy Trinity: The great apologist Frank Sheed used to give a very interesting explanation of the Most Holy Trinity. He started by thinking about our own human nature. Each one of us exists, but since we are spiritual, we also have an idea of ourselves. We can think about ourselves, reflect on ourselves, know ourselves. This is why human beings are the only animals on earth who write diaries. That's similar to what happens in the relationship between God the Father and God the Son. God the Father is spiritual, able to know Himself. He has an Idea of himself. But, since His knowledge is limitless, unlike ours, that Idea of Himself is perfect and perfectly complete. But to be perfect, the Idea, or the Word, has to share in God's own existence; the Word has to actually be a Divine Person. And so, God the Father, from all eternity, knowing Himself, engenders the Son, the perfect Image of the Father. And then, of course, since both the Father and the Son are Infinitely Good and Beautiful, as soon as They know Each Other, They also love Each Other. Even we, when we think about ourselves, love ourselves. We want the best for ourselves. We are glad that we exist. But God's Love, like his Knowledge, is unlimited, and so this Love, too, has to be so intense and so full that it shares fully in the Divine existence; this Love is a Divine Person - the Holy Spirit. This is the mystery we profess each week when we affirm our belief in the Son of God, who is "consubstantial [one in Being] with the Father, God from God, light from light true God from true God" and in the Holy Spirit, who "with the Father and the Son is worshipped and glorified." (The great 20th-century Catholic Theologian Father Karl Rahner, SJ, was supposedly asked once by a priest friend how he should explain the Holy Trinity when preaching. Father Rahner’s reply was simple: “Don’t!” The mystery we celebrate in today’s feast defies not only explanation but also comprehension (OSV)
Importance in Christian life: 1) All prayers in the Church begin in the Name of the Holy Trinity and end glorifying the Trinity. 2) All Sacraments are administered (we are baptized, confirmed, anointed, our sins are forgiven, our marriage blessed, and our Bishops, priests and deacons ordained) in the name of the Holy Trinity.3) Church bells ring thrice daily, reminding us to give glory to the Holy Trinity for the Incarnation of Jesus and His Redemption of all of us.4) We bless ourselves, and the priest blesses us, in the Name of the Holy Trinity.
The first reading, taken from the book of Exodus, describes how God revealed His name to Moses as “Yahweh,” which means, “I am Who am.” But Orthodox Jews never used that name. They addressed God by calling Him Lord. The passage also is as close as the Bible comes to giving a definition of God. According to that text, the Lord is “a merciful and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity.” Every part of that statement stresses God in relationship to humankind, and it emphasizes especially God’s great love for us. The revelation of God’s nature as Triune was made by Jesus. In fact the very word "Trinity,” referring to Three Persons in one God, one in Godhead yet distinct in Person, is not explicitly spelled out in the Bible, although the doctrine on Trinity is mentioned about forty times in the New Testament without using the term “Trinity.” Rather, the early Church arrived at the doctrine of the Trinity when she reflected on the Revelation which she had received from Jesus in Faith.
Today’s second reading, taken from St. Paul’s second Letter to the Corinthians, contains the ancient apostolic blessing in the name of the Holy Trinity: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.” Paul reminds the people of the Father’s love, the grace that comes through Jesus Christ and the fellowship or the unifying power of the Holy Spirit. The word “grace” in a theological context refers to Divine favor. In Christ, God has shown favor toward us humans, a special care for us and a desire that through Jesus’ life, death and Resurrection we might find and enjoy a right relationship with God. We often use the phrase “the love of God” to describe our response to God and our duty to love God. That is both correct and appropriate. But what comes first is God’s love for us. The Scriptures emphasize that God has loved us first and that our love for God is only a fitting response. And the fellowship of the Holy Spirit: The Holy Spirit shapes and animates the life of the Christian community. In other words, we live our Christian lives in the fellowship, or koinonia, formed by the Holy Spirit because it is He who guides, empowers and teaches in Christ’s place and brings us together in Faith, Love and Hope. In the story of salvation, we usually attribute Creation to the Father, Redemption to the Son and Sanctification to the Holy Spirit. Nevertheless, though they are distinct as Persons, neither the Father nor the Son nor the Holy Spirit ever exists in separation or acts in isolation from the other Two Persons of the Godhead. The inner relationship of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit is such that each of them is fully God, yet They are not three Gods but One. This is not comprehendible by the human mind. It is a Mystery.
Today’s Gospel comes from the story of Jesus’ encounter with Nicodemus. Jesus speaks about the Father who has sent him (the Son), and after the Last Supper, He speaks about the Holy Spirit Whom he will send. He says that the Father has given him (the Son) all that He has and that Jesus, in turn, has given to the Holy Spirit all that he has received from the Father. In this we see the unity of purpose among the Three Persons of the Trinity.
Exegetical notes 1) The development of the Trinitarian doctrine in the Church. The oldest doctrinal formulation of the Church’s belief in the Trinity is found in the Apostles’ Creed which has served both as the basis of instruction for catechumens and as the Baptismal confession of Faith since the second century. Later, the Nicene Creed, originating at the Council of Nicaea (AD 325), stated the doctrine more explicitly. This creed was introduced into our Western liturgy by the regional council of Toledo in AD 589. God has revealed to us three separate functions that are carried out by the Three Persons. He has told us that it is proper to attribute to God the Father the work of Creation, to God the Son the work of Redemption and to God the Holy Spirit the work of Sanctification. Our knowledge of God as Trinity is made possible by God, Who has chosen to reveal Himself as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. As Father, God has brought forth the created universe, including our own being. As Son, Jesus has made known a God who hears our cries, who cares, who counts the hairs on our head and who loves us so passionately that He became one of us in order to suffer for our sins, and even to die for us. As Spirit, God remains with us and within us.
2) The Triune God as seen in the Old Testament: Since Yahweh, the God of Israel, was careful to protect His Chosen People from the pagan practice of worshipping several gods, the Old Testament books give only indirect and passing references to the Trinity, and the Jewish rabbis never understood them as references to the Holy Trinity. Genesis 1:26 presents God speaking to Himself: "Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness." Genesis 18:2 describes how Yahweh visited Abraham under the appearance of three men, an event that the Russian Orthodox Church celebrates as the “Trinitarian Experience of Abraham.” In Genesis 11:7, before punishing the proud builders of the Tower of Babel, God says, “Come, let Us go down among them and confuse their language. “These passages imply, rather than state, the doctrine of the Trinity.
3) Clear doctrine of the Trinity in the New Testament.
a) The Annunciation (Luke 1: 26-38), describes how God the Father sent the angel Gabriel to Mary to announce to her that God the Holy Spirit, would "come upon” her, that “the power the Most High will overshadow” her, that the Son would be made flesh in her womb: “Therefore, the Child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.”
b) During the baptism of Jesus (Matthew 3: 16-17), the Holy Spirit was shown descending on Jesus in the form of a Dove, while the Voice of God the Father was heard from the clouds, saying, “You are My Beloved Son in Whom I am well pleased” (Luke 4:22).
c) John (Chapters 15 through 18), presents the detailed teaching of Jesus on the Persons of the Holy Trinity.
d) In the preaching mission given by the risen Lord to the disciples, Jesus commanded them to baptize people “in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” (Confer also Matthew 28:19; John 10:30).
Life messages: 1) We need to respect ourselves and respect others. Our conviction of the presence of the Triune God within us should help us to esteem ourselves as God’s holy dwelling place, to behave well in His holy presence, and to lead purer and holier lives, practicing acts of justice and charity. This Triune Presence should also encourage us to respect and honor others as "Temples of the Holy Spirit."
2) We need to be aware of God as the Source of our strength and courage. The awareness and conviction of the presence of God within us gives us the strength to face the manifold problems of life with Christian courage. It was such a conviction that prompted the early Christian martyrs being taken to their execution to shout the heroic prayer of Faith from the Psalms: "The Lord of might is with us, our God is within us, and the God of Jacob is our helper" (Psalm 46).
3) We need to see the Trinity as the model for our Christian families: We are created in love to be a community of loving persons, just as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are united in Love. From the day of our Baptism, we have belonged to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. How privileged we are to grow up in such a beautiful Family! Hence, let us turn to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in prayer every day. We belong to the Family of the Triune God. The love, unity and joy in the relationship among the Father, Son and Holy Spirit should be the supreme model of our relationships within our Christian families. Our families become truly Christian when we live in a relationship of love with God and with others.
4) We are called to become more like the Triune God through all our relationships. We are made in God’s image and likeness. Just as God is God only in a Trinitarian relationship, so we can be fully human only as one member of a relationship of three partners. The self needs to be in a horizontal relationship with all other people and in a vertical relationship with God. In that way our life becomes Trinitarian like that of God. Modern society follows the so-called “I-and-I” principle of unbridled individualism and the resulting consumerism. But the doctrine of the Blessed Trinity challenges us to adopt an "I-and-God-and-neighbor" principle: “I am a Christian insofar as I live in a relationship of love with God and other people.” Like God the Father, we are called upon to be productive and creative persons by contributing to the building up of the fabric of life and love in our family, our Church, our community and our nation. Like God the Son, we are called upon to reconcile, to be peacemakers, to put back together that which has been broken, to restore what has been shattered. Like God the Holy Spirit, it is our task to uncover and teach truth and to dispel ignorance. St. Francis Xavier’s favorite prayer was: “Most Holy Trinity, who live in me, I praise You, I worship You, I adore You and I love You.” Let the Son lead us to the Father through the Spirit, to live with the Triune God forever and ever. Amen. (Prepared by Fr. Anthony Kadavil)