Before there was anything there was only God. One insight we can glean from this statement is that God, qua God, is not a “thing” or “object” somewhere in the universe. God, therefore, is no-thing. As such God is the reason there is anything and everything. This is the point of our first reading from the Book of Proverbs as well as our responsorial Psalm. I grasp that this can be more than a little confusing, especially if you believe that faith should never require you to think.
In reality, nothing should cause you to think more deeply or critically than faith. St. Anselm of Canterbury was quite right to conceive of theology as faith seeking understanding. Faith that does not seek understanding is not faith because it will either disappear or not grow, thus not realizing its full purpose, which is to love perfectly after the manner of Christ. Perfect love consists of knowing as you are known by God, who called you by name.1
Faith matures into knowledge by means of hope. This knowledge is learned through experience, especially through relationships. The kind of experience through which we come to know as we are known is gained by our relationship with God through Christ which is both made possible and fully realized by the power of their Holy Spirit. A few questions provide examples. How do you know your parents love you? How do you know your spouse loves you? How do they know you love them? Not a bad question to ask on Father’s Day. To a large extent, your happiness depends on whether you know you are loved and how well you know it.
The Church teaches us that truth is hierarchical. This simply means that some truths are more important than others. The most important truths we call dogmas of the faith. Atop the hierarchy of truth, we find dogmas concerning the Incarnation of the Son of God, the Second Person of the Trinity, Jesus of Nazareth, and the Most Holy Trinity. Of course, it is Jesus who explicitly revealed the Trinity, which is only implied in the Old Testament. We call these truths “mysteries.”
In theological terms, a mystery does not refer either to an unsolvable puzzle or an intellectual conundrum that is difficult to figure out. Theological mysteries refer to something known only because God has revealed it. Some truths of revelation complement what we know by means of human reason. These are not mysteries, strictly speaking. For example, the Church “holds and teaches that God, the first principle and last end of all things, can be known with certainty from the created world by the natural light of human reason.”2 What cannot be discerned apart from revelation is that God is a “trinity” of persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
The most succinct way to describe the Most Holy Trinity is one God in three divine persons. What is potentially confusing about this is that in the same sentence we use “one” and “three” in reference to God. As a result, many Christians mistakenly believe that the “mystery” of the Trinity consists of somehow wrapping your mind around the idea that 3=1. We know that 3≠1. Three and one differ by two every time. You’ll be relieved to know that at the heart of our faith is not a gross arithmetical error.
The mystery of the Most Holy Trinity is perhaps best expounded in a phrase used twice in the course of eight verses in the fourth chapter of St. John’s First Letter: “God is love.”3 At a minimum, love that is truly love and not narcissism requires a lover and a beloved. Because love is profuse, because love is abundant to the point of overflowing, love gives life. What is the Holy Spirit if not the love between the Father and the Son personified?
Accepting Jesus’s invitation to pick-up the cross and follow him, the way God makes his love manifest, according to St. Paul in our second reading from his Letter to the Romans, is not by preserving us from affliction but precisely through our passing through various afflictions. It is very important to point out that God is not the immediate or even the remote cause of our suffering. But perhaps more than anything else, God uses our suffering to draw us to himself. This is why the apostle writes that “we even boast of our afflictions.”4
Christians are people who understand that hope lies beyond optimism. Optimism would have the Father spare his Son the cross. Hope is what led Jesus to the cross. This hope is borne out in the Jesus’s resurrection; Christus resurrexit quia Deus caritas est (i.e., Christ is resurrected because God is love)! It is this same self-emptying, sacrificial, other-centered love that Paul says is poured into our hearts by the power of the Holy Spirit.5 This is the “grace in which we stand” and on the basis of which “we boast in hope of the glory of God.”6
Realizing that hope lies beyond optimism is nothing other than our recognition “that eye has not seen, and ear has not heard, and what has not entered the human heart, what God has prepared for those who love him.”7 What God has in store for us is much greater than anything we can imagine because presently “we see indistinctly, as in a mirror.”8 St. Paul tells us love “bears all things” and “endures all things.”9
Jesus ascended to be closer to us, not to disappear. He is more present by his seeming absence than he would be otherwise. Earlier in the same chapter from which our Gospel reading for today is taken, Jesus tells his disciples “if I do not go, the [Holy Spirit] will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.”10 That the Holy Spirit is the way the risen Christ remains present among us, in us, and through us is witnessed by what the Lord tells his disciples in today’s Gospel. He tells them his Spirit will guide them into all truth. Jesus says the Spirit will not speak of himself but will take from what Jesus teaches “and declare it to you.”11
In a way analogous to the Son revealing the Father, the Holy Spirit reveals the Son. The difference is that the Spirit does not merely reveal the Son to us. The Spirit reveals the Son in us and through us. Grace is nothing other than God sharing divine life with us. Because the Holy Spirit is “the Lord, the giver of life,” he is the way God shares life with us.12 Because the essence of divine life is self-emptying love, in turn, we are to share what receive, which why at the end of Mass each of us are sent forth to “announce the Gospel of the Lord,” to glorify “the Lord by your life.”13 God, who is Father, Son, and Spirit, sharing divine life with us cannot mean anything apart from God giving himself to us entirely.
It is by the power of the Holy Spirit that our humble gifts of bread of wine are transformed into Christ’s body and blood. In Eucharistic Prayer III, the celebrant implores the Father: “grant that we, who are nourished by the Body and Blood of your Son, and filled with his Holy Spirit, may become one body, one spirit in Christ.”14 This is the way you experience the love of God, to know as are known, to love as you are loved. Loving God by loving your neighbor as you love yourself is how faith leads you to perfect knowledge through hope, which has little to do with optimism. This, my dear friends, is how you grasp the mystery of the Most Holy Trinity.
1 1 Corinthians 13:12.↩
2 Vatican Council I, Dei Filius, sec. 2.↩
3 1 John 4:8.16↩
4 Romans 5:3.↩
5 Romans 5:5.↩
6 Romans 5:2.↩
7 1 Corinthians 2:9.↩
8 1 Corinthians 13:12.↩
9 1 Corinthians 13:7.↩
10 John 16:7.↩
11 John 16:15.↩
12 1 Roman Missal, “The Order of Mass,” sec. 18.↩
13 Ibid., sec. 144.↩
14 Ibid., sec. 113.↩