Sunday, June 03, 2012

What It Means to Say, “I Believe in the Blessed Trinity.”

(Trinity Sunday 2012: This homily was given on June 3, 2012 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Matthew 28: 16-20.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Trinity Sunday 2012]

What does it mean to say, “I believe in the Blessed Trinity”?

That seems like an appropriate question to explore on Trinity Sunday.  It’s also a very important question to explore because, as the Catechism says, the mystery of the Most Holy Trinity is “the central mystery of Christian faith and life.”  (CCC, 234)

In a certain sense, everything we believe as Catholic Christians about salvation rests on the reality—that is to say, the existence—of the Blessed Trinity.  Think about it.  If there is no Trinity, then Jesus Christ was certainly not the divine and only-begotten Son of God.  He couldn’t have been.  He was simply an ordinary, finite human person, whose actions were ordinary and finite—like yours and mine.  That means he was incapable of making atonement for the sins of the entire human race—because only a divine Person whose actions have infinite value could atone for the sins of the whole world and bring forgiveness and salvation to the entire human race.

So the bottom line is this: If the Blessed Trinity does not exist, you are, as St. Paul would say, “still in your sins.”

And there’s no hope of heaven—for you or anyone else!

Obviously, then, there’s a lot at stake here.

And what are some of the other concrete implications of this foundational teaching of the Church?  What else does it mean to say, “I believe in the Blessed Trinity?”

Well, on the negative side, to say you believe in the Blessed Trinity means that you’re not a Jehovah’s Witness or a Mormon.

People in those groups do not believe in the Trinity, even though they say they believe in the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  As Fr. William Saunders wrote in an article on EWTN’s website: “The Jehovah's Witnesses say that Jesus is God's Son, but is inferior to God. They condemn the Trinity as pagan idolatry and accordingly deny Christ's divinity.  Russell [the founder of the Jehovah’s Witnesses] even claimed that the Trinity was the idea of Satan. Ironically, however, when they baptize, they use the formula, ‘...In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.’”

Interestingly enough, so do the Mormons, but they also reject the traditional Christian teaching that there are three divine Persons in the one, eternal God.

Confusing?—yes, but true nonetheless!

To say you believe in the Blessed Trinity also means that you believe that God, in himself, is a kind of “family”—a family of divine Persons united by an intense and perfect bond of love.

And, if you believe that, of course, you will probably pray a lot to the three Persons of the Trinity for your family here on earth: You will pray that the perfect love present between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit will be reflected more perfectly in the love that your family members have for one another.

To say you believe in the Blessed Trinity also means that your view of marriage and sexuality will be different from the views of those who don’t believe in the Trinity. 

This is something Pope John Paul II taught us in his lessons on the Theology of the Body.  He said that, in a very real way, the self-giving of a husband and wife to one another in marriage (and especially in the marital act) mirrors the divine self-giving that is present in the inner life of the Blessed Trinity.

So much for the idea that the Church thinks that sex is dirty!  No, it’s the Hugh Hefners of the world who teach us that.  The Church teaches that within marriage sex is actually holy, because it reflects this total self-giving that we find between the Persons of the Trinity.

I should also mention here that this gives us an insight as to why so-called “gay marriage” is impossible.  The love between the Father and the Son in the Blessed Trinity is a fruitful love: from their intense and perfect love the Holy Spirit proceeds.

So if marriage here on earth is supposed to reflect the inner life of the Blessed Trinity, it obviously must have the natural potential to be fruitful.  But only a man and a woman have that potential by nature.  Two men don’t, and neither do two women.

And that’s true even if the man and woman are elderly.  Even in their 90s, a married man and woman still have the natural potential to have children, even though, practically speaking, a pregnancy won’t occur without a miracle.

To say you believe in the Blessed Trinity also means that you believe everything you say in the Nicene Creed every Sunday, and in the Apostles’ Creed when you say your Rosary.

To say you believe in the Blessed Trinity means you believe that there is only one God, but that he exists in three distinct divine Persons.  Thus, the Father is God and the Son is God and the Holy Spirit is God; however, the Father is not the Son, and the Son is not the Spirit, and the Father is not the Spirit.  They are not three gods; rather, they are one God, because they have one and the same divine nature.

Confusing?  Perhaps—but true nonetheless! 

Which brings me to my final point: We can know that God exists from reason alone.  We don’t need a special revelation to come to that conclusion.  We can figure out that God exists just from looking at the world around us.

But we would never know about the inner life of God—that he is one and three at the same time—unless he had revealed that truth to us in Sacred Scripture and in the teachings of Jesus Christ and his Church.

And so, to say you believe in the Blessed Trinity means that you accept the fact that you will never fully understand this mystery with your finite and imperfect human mind!

To coin a phrase from my former theology professor at PC, Fr. Giles Dimock, when it comes to the Blessed Trinity, we can know many things, but eventually we have to “fold the wings of our intellect, and bow to the mystery.”

May God—the Triune God (Father, Son and Holy Spirit)—give each of us the grace to do that.