Today we celebrate the feast of The Most Holy Trinity, in which we honor who God really is — a union of three individual persons with one divine nature — a perfect family, complete in Himself. In full transparency, this is not one of my favorite topics on which to write. Though I do appreciate the beauty of the Truth of the Trinity, wrapping one’s head around this mystery, while attempting to put it into words that will never fully do it justice, requires a certain level of mental gymnastics. With that, it seems the best place to begin is with the word mystery.
In our day-to-day lives, a mystery usually alludes to something unknown. When a favorite object goes suddenly missing in our home, it’s a mystery to us until it is found. When the police do not know who committed a crime, it remains a mystery until the case is solved. This is not quite how we define mystery in the Church. The Catholic Church teaches that a mystery is something that has been partially revealed to us by God, but will not be fully revealed to us until the end of time. A mystery, therefore, is a thing we cannot fully understand, but we can know something about with certainty through the eyes of faith. For example, we know, with faith, that in the mystery of the Eucharist the bread and wine substantially transform into the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ, while remaining under the appearance of bread and wine, but we do not perfectly understand how that happens. Likewise, we can know certain things about the Trinity without having a full and complete understanding of it, all while having the faith that it is true.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church calls the mystery of the Trinity, “the central mystery of faith and life,” (CCC #234). We may think the Eucharist is the central mystery, since the Catechism defines it as the “source and summit” of Christian life (CCC #1324) to which all the other sacraments are ordered, but in fact, it is the Trinity on which all things are centered. All things, all matters of the faith, find their beginning and ending in the Trinity. The Catechism dedicates 28 paragraphs to defining and applying this mystery, which I invite you to read, slowly meditating on each individual paragraph. (See CCC #232-260.)
As stated above, the Trinity is three persons with one divine nature. So, let us first define person and nature. The word person defines who we are, and the word nature defines what we are. You are a person with a name and a body — that is who you are — but your nature is what makes you, you. Your nature is your soul, your essence, and your personality that all uniquely animate your body. Our nature — our “what-ness” — is the source of why we do what we do, such as laugh, cry, sleep, or love. Then, we do these things in our person, our body — our “who-ness.” Thus, you can see there is a distinction between person and nature, but there is also a connectedness by which the two things cannot be separated. When referring to us human beings, this isn’t too difficult to understand because we have a 1:1 ratio of person to nature.
When it comes to the Blessed Trinity, things get a little more complicated. In God exists three distinct persons (who). There is God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Put another way, the Father is not the Son, the Son is not the Spirit, and the Sprit is not the Father. All three persons are individual and distinct from one another. However, it is one divine nature that animates all three of these distinct persons, making all equal and united as one God with one will, doing the work appropriate to each distinct person. When God the Father is acting, it is as God. When Jesus the Son is acting, He does so as the same God. And when the Holy Spirit is acting, He does so also as the same God. What’s more, this community of persons has existed from before time began and will continue to exist perpetually into eternity. In other words, even though Jesus had a start in time on earth in the flesh, He has always existed as one of the three persons of the Trinity.
Since the Trinity consists of three individual and distinct persons, there necessarily must be a relationship between them. That relationship can be described in one word: love. God exists as a community of persons in perfect love and self-knowledge. Nothing can be added or taken away from the Trinity since it is perfect and complete. It is pure love. This communal aspect of the Trinity is what led to our creation. By definition, communal love is to be shared. God did not need to share His love, as He was already perfectly sharing it among the three persons, but He wanted us to share in it. This is why all things find their beginning in the Trinity, for love. So, in creating us in His image and likeness, He’s given us an intellect, a will, and an ability to love. In giving us a completely free will, He invites us to participate in His Trinitarian life by choosing to love Him and all the things that go along with that.
It naturally follows that since God is communal and created us to participate in that community of love, He also made us relational beings. Therefore, we exist in family structures, which imitate the familial structure of the Trinity. Although they do so imperfectly, these family structures generate (or at least are intended to generate) love in imitation of the love generated by the three persons of the Holy Trinity. We have one, single perfect example of Trinitarian love on earth in the Holy Family with Mary, Joseph, and Jesus showing us how it’s done. Then, beyond our families, we carry this love out to the community at large.
At the beginning, we talked about how the Trinity is the central mystery of the Faith because everything finds its beginning and end in it. We talked about how our very creation came from the Trinity’s desire for us to share its communal love. So, what is the purpose of all of this? By living a life united to the love of the Trinity, which is a love demonstrated by doing His will, we will be reunited with the Trinity perfectly in heaven, where we will participate in His divine communal love for all eternity. By accepting the Trinity as the central doctrine of our Faith, all our activity will be ordered to participate in Trinitarian life according to the will of each distinct person — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Spend some time this week meditating on the truth that you were created by love and for love, that your own nature is ordered to love, and that you are intended to spend eternity enveloped by divine Trinitarian love.
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