Understanding the Trinity
by Rev. Robert J. Wagner
Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
To Sunday Gospel Reflections Index
Matthew wrote to show
that Christ fulfilled the
“Behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age” (Mt 28:20). It seems a strange thing for a man to say right before leaving. It is as if you said to your dinner hosts, “I must be going now, and I will stay for dessert.” Or a simple “Hello” as you walked out the door. This privilege to leave and to remain all at once belongs to God alone. He does not remain with us as He did before. He really did leave us and ascend into heaven. And yet He promised to remain — a promise so strong that He speaks it in the present: I am with you always, until the end of the age. So, how does He remain?
In this Sunday's Gospel, Jesus commanded his Apostles to “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” (Mt 28:19). In this call to evangelization, Our Lord clearly stated the mystery of the Holy Trinity, that our God is a unity of three persons. This truth is so unfathomable and unique that for many centuries the church struggled to understand and define it, resulting in a history of heresies whose condemnation illustrates what the Holy Trinity is by telling us what it is not. Yet, even these heresies have helped to further our appreciation and wonder of our Triune God.
In the Old Testament we see God as the uncreated Creator of all that inhabits the universe, including man and woman, who he makes in his image. God continues to reveal himself through his prophets, through his commands, and through his omnipotence. He invited his people into a covenant, even though he is their creator and not their equal. While he dwells among them, he never reveals his face. Instead, he remains veiled from their eyes.
With the Incarnation of Jesus Christ, the second person of the Trinity, God makes himself visible to humanity. In Jesus, we see the qualities of God, such as perfect love, mercy, truth, power, goodness. We also see that in his great love, God chose to be one of us, a mystery that rightly confounds us, as we are again cognizant that we are his limited, mortal creatures while he is our eternal and infinite Creator. Jesus instructs us in all truth, teaches us to pray, and shows God's power over all things, including storms, disease, the evil one and even death itself. He dies to free us from our sins, and rises from the dead so that, with faith, we may never die. He even gives us his Body and Blood in the Eucharist, commanding us to “Do this in memory of me,” that he may remain with us always.
Before his Ascension, Jesus promises to send us another Advocate, one who will reside within and animate his bride, the church. This Spirit of Truth descends upon the church at Pentecost, and he dwells within each of us beginning at our Baptism. The Holy Spirit connects us to God by enveloping us in the divine love that defines him (“God is love” 1 Jn 4:8). Again, in the Holy Spirit we see the humility of God and his desire to be near us and make his home within us, despite our sinfulness.
The mystery of the Trinity was revealed by God himself through Jesus Christ. Through his incarnation through the Virgin Mary, we see the interaction of the three divine persons. Jesus speaks to his heavenly Father, and invites us to call him “Abba” as well. He identifies the Holy Spirit as the Paraclete, sent by him and his Father that we may remain in God. We even witness the three divine Persons at the Baptism of Jesus, when the Father speaks from heaven and the Spirit descends like a dove upon Our Lord.
This mystery of the Holy Trinity helps us to know who God is, how he humbles himself in his desire to dwell among us, how he lives as three persons in perfect unity because of divine love. It also reveals to us who we are — creatures made in God's image. We are created for communion and love, and we are deeply loved by the God who is love.
This annual solemnity celebrating the Holy Trinity invites us to meditate on the humility, glory, and love of the three persons who are God, that we may more deeply enter into communion with them, and to all who are created through his divine love.
May we praise our loving God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, now and forever. Amen.
To Sunday Gospel Reflections Index