Sunday, May 30, 2010

The Spirit Will Take From What Is Mine, And Declare It To You.

The Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity
Reading I
Proverbs 8:22-31
Thus says the wisdom of God:
"The LORD possessed me,
the beginning of his ways,
the forerunner of his prodigies of long ago;
from of old I was poured forth,
at the first, before the earth.
When there were no depths
I was brought forth,
when there were no fountains or springs of water;
before the mountains were settled into place,
before the hills, I was brought forth;
while as yet the earth and fields were not made,
nor the first clods of the world.

"When the Lord established the heavens I was there,
when he marked out the vault over the face of the deep;
when he made firm the skies above,
when he fixed fast the foundations of the earth;
when he set for the sea its limit,
so that the waters should not transgress his command;
then was I beside him as his craftsman,
and I was his delight day by day,
playing before him all the while,
playing on the surface of his earth;
and I found delight in the human race."
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Psalm 8
O Lord, our God, how wonderful your name
in all the earth!
When I behold your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars which you set in place —
What is man that you should be mindful of him,
or the son of man that you should care for him?
O Lord, our God, how wonderful your name
in all the earth!
You have made him little less than the angels,
and crowned him with glory and honor.
You have given him rule over the works of your hands,
putting all things under his feet:
O Lord, our God, how wonderful your name
in all the earth!
All sheep and oxen,
yes, and the beasts of the field,
The birds of the air, the fishes of the sea,
and whatever swims the paths of the seas.
O Lord, our God, how wonderful your name
in all the earth!
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Reading II
Romans 5:1-5

Brothers and sisters:
Therefore, since we have been justified by faith,
we have peace with God
through our Lord Jesus Christ,
through whom we have gained access by faith
to this grace in which we stand,
and we boast in hope of the glory of God.
Not only that, but we even boast of our afflictions,
knowing that affliction produces endurance,
and endurance, proven character,
and proven character, hope,
and hope does not disappoint,
because the love of God
has been poured out into our hearts
through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.
John 16:12-15
Jesus said to his disciples:
"I have much more to tell you,
but you cannot bear it now.
But when he comes, the Spirit of truth,
he will guide you to all truth.
He will not speak on his own,
but he will speak what he hears,
and will declare to you
the things that are coming.
He will glorify me,
because he will take from what is mine
and declare it to you.
Everything that the Father has is mine;
for this reason I told you
that he will take from what is mine
and declare it to you."
THE FEAST OF THE HOLY TRINITY reminds us that God is a family of love. We are dealing here not just with some terribly abstract theological doctrine, still less with a mathematical contradiction that 3=1! We are not saying that one God is three gods but that in one God there are three Persons. What Scripture reveals to us is a unity of three real persons. Of course, to try to understand fully how one God can be three Persons is not really possible for us. There are two extremes to be avoided:
a. Breaking our head trying to work out fully how one God can be three Persons;
b. Saying, "Oh, it's a mystery" and not bother to have any understanding at all.

Our Search For Meaning

On the one hand, as human beings we want to understand, to find meaning in things and we should always try to go as far as we can in making sense of our faith. On the other hand, there are many things in life which are and probably always will be far beyond our understanding. (Recently, the famous scientist, Stephen Hawkings, said he had given up his dream of finding a single mathematical equation that would explain the ultimate existence of everything.) That does not meant we deny their truth or their existence. Even human life itself, even our own lives, our very identity as persons is something we never fully grasp.

Instead, then, of trying to indulge in theological acrobatics or worrying about orthodox formulations, let us instead try to enter into a relationship with these three Persons, through whom God is revealed to us. "The love of God," says Paul today in the Second Reading, "has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit which has been given to us." That is what it is all about.

Behavior and existence

It was the theologian St Thomas Aquinas who said many centuries ago that "action follows being". That is to say, the behavior of any person, animal, plant or thing is determined by what that person, plant, animal or thing is. Human beings can play the piano and geckos can walk along the ceiling. Dogs bark, horses neigh (they only speak on TV), donkeys bray, birds sing. Ducks can swim and fly but hens can do neither.

The reverse is also true. We can get some understanding of what a person or thing is by its behavior. If I say about someone, "He IS a very nice person." On what do I base my statement? Surely on the way that this person consistently behaves, on his ACTIONS. It becomes even clearer in something like atomic physics. No one has ever actually seen an atom - it is simply too small. But scientists can observe the behavior of atoms and from that behavior they can confidently describe something of what an atom is.

A world of mystery

One hears it said sometimes that science has removed all the mysteries from life. Nothing could be further from the truth. The more that science discovers about our universe, whether at the atomic or galactic level, the more questions, the more mysteries emerge.

Life is full of mysteries, including the mystery of my own self and there is no need to be discouraged by that fact. If the material world can be such a mystery, it is hardly surprising that its Creator should not be an even greater mystery too.

What we mean by “mystery”

It is important to be aware that when we say the Trinity is a mystery we are not saying that it is just an impenetrable puzzle, still less a contradiction in terms (3=1). The word "mystery" when used in the Christian Testament rather speaks of something that was previously unknown but is now revealed to and shared by a privileged group of people. The membership card to this privileged group is faith - faith in God as Father, faith in God as the Son whom he sent to us as Jesus Christ, and faith in God as the Spirit that teaches and guides us here and now.

While the inner reality of the Trinity is something we cannot penetrate now, there is much about these three Persons that we can know from what they do. From their actions we can know a lot about who they are both in themselves, between themselves and in their relationship to us.

The “persona”

The Latin word persona translates the Greek word prosopon. Prosopon really refers to the mask that Greek actors used to wear to indicate the role they were playing. There is something similar in Chinese opera where the design of the make-up on the face lets the audience know immediately who or what kind of person the actor is supposed to be. The mask then comes to mean role or function. So even today in our play programs we look at the Dramatis Personae, the roles in the play.

What the Trinity then says is that God has three "masks" indicating three distinct roles or functions. God reaches us personally in three different ways. Although it took the Church a couple of centuries to express this in theological language, the three "roles" of God are clearly delineated in the Scriptures, both Hebrew and Christian. The three Readings today are clear testimony of this.

God as Creator

We see God as Father and Mother, the origin and creator of all life and dependent existence. This Person is the origin and goal, the Alpha and Omega, of all things, of all life. This Person is the source of all Truth and Love, a Person of Mercy and Compassion, the source of all Wisdom. And our hearts will find not rest until they rest in Him. It is beautifully expressed in the First Reading from the Book of Proverbs. (Take time out to read it slowly today.)

God’s Love in Jesus

In the Second Reading from the Letter to the Romans, Paul tells us how God's love has been made known to us in the Person of the Son, Jesus Christ. We see God as Son in Jesus, the visible and human revelation and manifestation of God's love and compassion for the whole world. This love is climaxed in the extraordinary events of Jesus suffering, dying and rising to life.

In Jesus, the transcendent and unknowable God is presented in a form, which helps us to have some understanding of his real nature and to reach out to him. Jesus builds a bridge between the human and divine. He is the pontifex, the bridge-maker. God's love becomes humanized and therefore tangible, understandable and able to be more easily followed and imitated. For when Jesus is at his most sublimely human we are in closest touch with the Divine in him.

The Spirit our Teacher

Finally, we see God as Spirit forming us, guiding us, teaching us, moving us, comforting and strengthening us. We find God through his Spirit acting in and through us, in and through others. Constantly creating and re-creating, making all things new. The Spirit is sometimes called the 'soul of the Church'. Without that 'soul' our Church is just a human institution.

A shared life

One final consideration. God's own life is a shared life, a life of mutually interacting relationships. From this we can consider that we are called to a shared living with the Three who are one God, with other people and with our whole created environment. We are called to find unity and harmony in the midst of ever-changing diversity.

Furthermore, has it ever occurred to us that each one of us - like God and yet differently from him - is a community of persons? We are a composite of all the persons that have entered deeply into our lives, beginning with our parents and our family members.
Deep divisions

Yet, both on the intra-personal and inter-personal level, we can experience deep divisions - divided in ourselves, divided against others. Inner conflicts, outer conflicts are often a source of great pain and anguish.

Let us turn to God in the community of his Persons, a community of perfect sharing and equality. It is in his image that we have been created and it is to grow ever more into his image that we are called. It is a world of harmony, peace and joy.

A simple but awesome prayer

Finally, today's feast can be a reminder to pray with much greater meaning and respectfulness that most common of all prayers, so common we hardly think of it as a prayer - the Sign of the Cross. It combines both the mystery of the Trinity and mystery of our salvation through Jesus' suffering, death and rising to life. It encapsulates in so few words and a simple movement of the arm all that we believe in and all that we live for. Let us then resolve to make this sign with greater dignity and reverence and in a spirit of real prayer.

1 comment:

Sarah in the tent said...

I have a rather unusual way of getting my head round the Trinity, Father ...

In the first century, the mathematical concept of '1' was very basic, but things have moved on in the past 2000 years.

Mathematics can be seen as a process of revelation, a bit like religion. Very slowly, people began to realize that there could be a -1. When they finally started using the concept of -1, someone soon wondered what its square root might be. After all, the square root of 1 is 1, but -1 x -1 is also 1. The idea of the square root of -1 was considered unimaginable, so it was called 'imaginary'. Very soon, people started using this 'imaginary' number to solve mathematical problems. It is essential in modern engineering.

So there have been three revelations of 1 to produce our understanding of the concept today. To me, this is a bit like the way the Holy Trinity was revealed.

Galileo is supposed to have called mathematics the language with which God wrote the universe. If nature can reveal God to us, why not mathematics?

Other monotheistic religions use the basic concept of 1 to reinforce their faith. I use the more advanced concept to reinforce mine. Actually, I think it's a bit of a miracle that the authors of the Nicene creed were able to formulate in natural terms a concept that would not be revealed to mathematicians for more than a thousand years.