Dear Ascension Family,
One of the first prayers our parents, usually our mother, taught us when we were a child is the Sign of the Cross. At first she got hold of our right hand, opened our fingers and guided them to our forehead, our heart, and our left and right shoulders, as she uttered the words of the prayer. Since then, making the Sign of the Cross has become part of our lives.
Do we know the meaning of those different motions? When we touch our forehead we make an affirmation of faith as well as dedicate our minds to the Father. As our fingertips rest at the base of our heart, we give our love to Jesus, our loving Redeemer. Then our hand moves from one shoulder to the other, signifying our eagerness to give our arms and hands to good works under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
The Sign of the Cross is more than just a routine procedure to begin and end a prayer. It is a prayer in itself and a profound one at that: it is a powerful profession of our faith in the Holy Trinity, the feast we celebrate today.
The word “trinity” is really a fusion of two words – “tri-unity,” “three-in-one. It is a theological term used to describe the three persons – the Father, Son and Holy Spirit – in one God. We express this faith in the Creed, which we pray every Sunday, when we say, “I believe in God the Father Almighty . . . . I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son . . . . I believe in the Holy Spirit.” And when we give glory to the Triune God we say, “Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit.”
To put it simply, the mystery of the Holy Trinity is this: God is a single being, composed of a trinity of persons – the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Father is truly God. The Son is truly God. The Holy Spirit is truly God. But there are not three Gods; there is only one God.
I am reminded of a Jesuit priest and mathematician, Fr. Ben Nebres, who was engaged in a discussion with somebody who commented, “I can’t understand why you Catholics believe that there are three persons in one God. Yet each person is God. Simple arithmetic will tell you that 1+1+1 = 3 not 1.” Fr. Nebres replied, “Yes, but you are forgetting that 1x1x1 = 1 not 3.” The doctrine of the Trinity is the most profound mystery. It is beyond human understanding. But just as in our experience there are many things that we do not understand yet accept, so we do accept the doctrine of the Holy Trinity on the authority of Jesus’ revelation as contained in Scriptures and as taught by the Church.
The best known biblical reference to the Trinity occurs at the very end of Matthew’s Gospel. Before ascending to heaven, Jesus says to his disciples, “Make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” The most graphic reference to the Trinity occurs at the baptism of Jesus. At the conclusion of that memorable event, the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus in the form of a dove. And a voice from heaven said of Jesus, You are my beloved Son.” The three images – a dove, a voice, and Jesus himself – present us with a Trinitarian perspective of God.
In the gospel reading today, Jesus speaks of the Father and the Spirit, as being different from himself. But he also speaks of them as being one with him. Jesus indicates they are so closely united one would not do anything without the other two. Jesus says, “The Spirit . . .will not speak on his own, but he will speak what he hears . . . . He will glorify me, because he will take from what is mine . . . . Everything that the Father has is mine.”
In speaking to his disciples about himself and his relationships with the Father and the Spirit, Jesus reveals to us the secret of Love. The mystery of God, the mystery of the Trinity, is the mystery of a relationship of love. This point is spelled out clearly by that well-known statement of John, whose richness is inexhaustible: “God is love.” There is total giving of self to and between the Father and Son. Everything the Father has he gives to the Son. Everything the Son has he gives to the Father. The Father does not keep anything from the Son; neither does the Son withheld anything from the Father. This total giving of self in mutual and eternal love between Father and Son is personified in and as the Holy Spirit.
Jesus wants us, his disciples, to pattern our communities, beginning with our families, after the Trinitarian community whose relationship is built on love. Of course, this is easier said than done since our experience tells us the opposite. There is so much greed, selfishness, and hate between persons and among peoples. Another kind of trinity – “I,” “Me,” and “Mine” – reigns. This is true in our families, our communities and in the community of nations. It is this unholy trinity which brings about misery, pain and conflicts among us and between communities and nations.
In honoring he Holy Trinity, we celebrate God’s awesome and extravagant love for each other and for all of us. May we respond in kind – in love for the Triune God and for one another.
Praying for you all,