Today we celebrate the truth of our faith that the One infinite and eternal God is also Three equal Persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This mystery, which is central to our Christian faith (cf. CCC 234), is notoriously hard to explain adequately. But to show how it can be meaningful and effective in our lives is actually not difficult at all. We could even say that the main concern of the whole New Testament is to set that forth for us. In their many different ways the New Testament writers all present the doctrine of the Holy Trinity as good news. It’s a revelation of supreme Truth, supreme Goodness, supreme Beauty. It must immeasurably transform our lives, if only we will accept it.
Today’s short Gospel passage sums up for us the heart of this revelation.
“God loved the world so much” says St. John, “that He sent his only-begotten Son, so that everyone who believes in Him might not be lost but might have eternal life.”
The Jews already knew, especially since the time of Moses, that there is only One God, the Creator of the whole universe. They also knew that He is a God of love, and the Father of His people Israel. So they daringly gave the title “sons of God” to some specially chosen representatives of Israel like King David and his descendants.
But in the light of the Resurrection, and by the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the first Christians understood that Jesus is the Son of God in an incomparably fuller sense. His relationship to God the Father is totally unique, for He the Son of God from all eternity. Although He receives all He is and has from the Father, He is not less than the Father, for He is the perfect image of the Father, and Himself truly God. And being truly God, He was sent into the world, to take on himself our human nature in Jesus Christ.
In sending us His only begotten Son, God gave all He had, holding back nothing at all. This is why for St. John refusal to believe in Christ is the ultimate sin. It’s a refusal to accept God’s total gift of Himself. If I deliberately reject Christ, I’m really telling the Almighty and Eternal God, who created me and holds me in being, that I don’t want Him, that He is not good enough for me. God in Christ has poured the unimaginable fullness of His love upon me, but I can prefer instead my own self isolation. He has invited me to share in His own wonderful light, but I can prefer the darkness. He has offered me a participation in His own Divine life, but I can make choice of death instead.
But we are here precisely because we do not reject Christ: on the contrary, we whole-heartedly accept Him in faith. What is the effect of that? St. John tells us: it’s eternal life. This eternal life isn’t just the life we are used to simply going on and on forever. No – we have received the Spirit of adoption. We have been given power to become in Christ, children of God. So the eternal life to which we are invited is the life of the Holy Trinity; the life the Son receives from the Father. The richness and depth and fullness of this life is utterly beyond our ability to comprehend: yet we know it is already ours, it has already started. By the indwelling Holy Spirit, according to St. Paul, we already address God with the intimacy of Jesus, as we cry with Him Abba! Father!
Also according to St. Paul, it is by the Holy Spirit that we are able to confess Jesus Christ as Lord, to live in Him, and to respond to His love with lives of corresponding holiness. The Holy Spirit is also the One who unerringly leads the Church to make formal definitions of her faith. The function of these definitions is not to exhaust the mystery, but precisely to preserve it. In proposing her definitions of faith, the Church defends her little ones against heresy. Every heresy there has ever been always seeks in some way to diminish the astounding wonder of what God is and has done. No, no, the heretics say, God cannot be that great, that wonderful. He can’t have loved and honoured you that much. But He is, and He has.
Hence the doctrine of the Holy Trinity is certainly meaningful for us. But how is it to be effective in our lives?
In our relationships with other people, the doctrine of the Holy Trinity will be effective when we strive to make the communion of love that is God a reality in our world.
It will be effective in our own individual lives when we live as befits our high dignity and vocation, as bearers of the Divine Life.
And it will be effective in our relationship with God, when we give Him right worship.
To live in this way is not complicated, but essentially simple. We remind ourselves of it in simple ways, such as by signing ourselves with the Cross, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, or by saying the Prayer Glory be to the Father. Here at Pluscarden, according to my calculations, as a community, and quite apart from any private devotions, on an ordinary ferial weekday we sign ourselves with the Cross 42 times, and bow to pray the Gloria Patri 52 times. It’s not too much at all, but is one little way of expressing just how important to us our faith in the Holy Trinity is.
And indeed if we’ve once understood what the Church teaches about the Holy Trinity, and believed it to be true, then our response can only be that of all the Saints and Angels in heaven: endless praise, and endless thanksgiving, in endless amazement and wonder and love.