Opening the Word: The Trinity is a gift of love

Holy Trinity painting from Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Renata Sedmakova/


You do not have to be trained as a theologian to recognize the movements of a typical Trinity Sunday homily. The homily often unfolds something like this: The Trinity is three persons and one God. What a mystery! We are not sure what it means. How is three one? One also three? Unknowable. But we do know that God is a community of persons (except not persons like us). So we should also be a community of persons more like God. The Trinity is a model for our community.

The problem with this homily is not that it is entirely wrong. God is three persons in one God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In this doctrine, we come to see what personhood really is. To be human is not a matter of isolation. In God, we discover that oneness is not aloneness. God’s oneness, divine transcendence, is really a communion of love.

And yet the doctrine of the Trinity is not a mathematical puzzle, a philosophical problem or even a model for human behavior. The doctrine of Trinity is a profession of faith, a statement about who God is for us.

June 7 – The Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity
Ex 34:4-6, 8-9
Dn 3:52, 53, 54, 55, 56
2 Cor 13:11-13
Jn 3:16-18

In Exodus, Moses takes the tablets of the Law up Mount Sinai. Israel had adored the golden calf, worshipping a god made in its own image. As a response, Moses had thrown the tablets upon the ground. And now, Moses goes back up the mountain with two stone tablets. The Law shall be rewritten by the hand of God.

God does not give up on Israel, despite its propensity for stiff-neckedness. The Lord does not break off communion. And Moses, encountering the divine presence, bends his neck to the ground. He does what Israel was unwilling to do: adores God and God alone. He worships in a way that Israel cannot.

He worships in a way that we cannot, either. Not without Jesus.

Jesus Christ, as the Word made flesh, the Son of the Father, bends his neck before the Father. He is obedient in love unto the very end. Such obedience is not accidental to him. It is who he is. He is God. He does not have to, but Jesus bends down in love.

He bends down in love as God, yet also as fully human. As the God-man, he heals our stiff-neckedness on the cross. The refusal of humanity to worship is transformed as he sacrifices his flesh and blood on the cross.

The perfect communion of love between the Father and the Son is made manifest on the cross. At last, we know who God is. The one who loves unto the end, who gives and gives. At last, we know what it means to be human. To give and to give and to give.

And yet, we can’t do this on our own. Go ahead! Establish that perfect communion of love through your own power. When you try, you’ll find that you confuse force for freedom, empire for communion, self for God.

So, the very communion that is God has descended on us in baptism. The power of the Holy Spirit descends on us as persons and as the whole Church. We do not establish this communion through our personal virtue but through a gift from God.

The feast of the Holy Trinity, thus, is healing for a stiff-necked people. We must give up the project of going it alone, a bootstraps Catholicism too often proposed through poor catechesis infiltrating Catholic blogs.

Instead, bow down and adore the God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Bow down and recognize what you’re not. And what you’re invited to share in through an unimaginable gift of love.

Timothy P. O’Malley, Ph.D., is the director of education at the McGrath Institute for Church Life at the University of Notre Dame.

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