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Blessed Trinity... Dreaded Trinity Sunday

Fr. Anthony Kelly, CSsR, STD

CloverTrinity Sunday draws near; homilists tremble; and congregations brace themselves for a higher geometry of triangles and interlocking circles, or for a kind of celestial quantum physics in which one is no way multiplied or divided by three.  We sigh for the simpler days of the shamrock.  In the meantime, hope in a world of violent divisions does not seem to get much help from such vision of undivided unity:  one divine nature, three divine persons -- not much comfort there for those suffering violence, persecution, hunger and disease as in Syria today!

Despite the outpouring of books on the Trinity in recent decades, thereby breaking a drought of many centuries, the trinitarian character of God remains far removed from the devotional heart of faith.  The greatest of mysteries is left to be exactly that, an incubus of impenetrable complication for an already sufficiently complex faith in a dreadfully complex world.

But there is a clue.  Traditionally, we are exhorted to make our “Easter duty” in the liturgical time between Ash Wednesday and Trinity Sunday.  At one limit, the dust and ashes of our earthy existence; at the other, communion with the divine three.  The two extremes mark a privileged time of reconciliation. 

In the Easter mystery of the resurrection of the Crucified these two extremes meet and intersect.  In the Cross the dust and ashes of the world's agony is drawn into communion with the Trinity.  Our problem of evil is confronted with another excess: the mystery of self-giving love, giving itself for the life of the world.  at this point, the trinity is not so much a mystery defined, but a story told, of how God so loved the world.  The divine persons figure as dramatis personae, where the drama unfolds in three acts, as the each of the three divine persons is compassionately involved in our human predicament.

Such a story is implicit in every Sign of the Cross we make:  'In the name of the Father': the source of love has given what is most intimate to itself, ' the only Son' into the world.  The self-effacing love of 'the Father Almighty' refuses to be known except in terms of the beloved Son: 'Hear him'.  The Father reveals himself as glorifying Jesus in the dreadful defencelessness of one living as though love, mercy and joyous surrender to God were what really mattered.

  'and of the Son...':  for his part, the whole force of the Jesus' personality as Son works to glorify the Father.  So that the Father's name might be hallowed and his kingdom come and his will be done, Jesus lives out his life to the end, 'even death upon a cross'.  Deep calls unto deep; love finds its joy in the other.

'and of the Holy Spirit'.  The self-effacing Spirit, in the midst of the powerplays of the world, acts only as the presence and power of self-sacrificing love.  In this Spirit, the Father has given what is most intimately his own, the Son, 'for us and our salvation'.  In the same Spirit, the Son has laid down his life.  Such is the Spirit given to us, whatever the world's darkness, as the ever-new energy of Christian life and hope: 'And hope does not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit...' (Rom 5:5).

Love for the other is the being of God.  It is the way things are both within the divine mystery and in the manner it reaches into the dark agonies of our existence and made them its own. 

Words and phrases like love, self-sacrifice, joy in the other's being, relationship in all its forms can come cheap.  But the Trinity is revealed because such meanings did not come cheap to God.  Love for the other is the being of God.  It is the way things are both within the divine mystery and in the manner it reaches into the dark agonies of our existence and made them its own.  Love has kept on being love, not only there in the eternal being of God, but also here where love often seems least real.

For any of us to invoke the Trinity while making the sign of the cross poses a puzzle that does not so much glaze the eye as awaken the heart.  In adoring the three divine persons, we are all left to ask, What does being a person mean?  To be an individual is one thing, a distinct instance of rights, possessions and life defended against the threat of the other.  To be a person, at least in its divine sense, is to allow ourselves too be drawn into a love-life of self-giving, of selfless communication with others, of having our individuality turned inside out.

If the God is really like that, we all tend to have a problem.  And the Trinity is not so much an intellectual puzzle designed to baffle the mind into faithful submission, as a disturbing invitation to live as we should.

Roublev's remarkable icon is now well known.  It depicts in glowing colours the delicate self-yielding relationships of the divine three.  It suggests the circulation of eternal life, drawing creation into itself through the chalice of the passion.  It lets the light of God shine through to brighten our vision.  Mystery in the best sense: where the heart comes home, and rests in life's final form and meaning.

Fr. Anthony Kelly, CSsR is a systematic theologian who has studied and lectured across the world. He is an emeritus member of the International Theological Commission established by the pope and emeritus Professor of Theology at the Australian Catholic University .