Marriage & the Trinity

Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity

The Trinity is something most Catholics learn about at some point during their faith formation, prior to Confirmation. The basics are not hard to grasp. The Father is God. The Son is God. And the Holy Spirit is God. They are the same God, not three different gods. The classic formula is “One God in Three Persons,” meaning the three Divine Persons share the same being or essence. Simple enough to learn. Impossible to truly comprehend. It is a deep mystery.

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The Indwelling of the Body

Solemnity of the Body & Blood of Christ (Corpus Christi)

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Last Sunday the Church celebrated the great solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity. On that day above all others we meditate upon the mystery of the inner life of God revealed to us in Christ; that the one eternal God exists as a community of three Persons. Divinity is Trinity in Unity. It is impossible for us, with our finite human minds, to fully understand what this communal life of God must be like, but theologians tell us that the three divine Persons are so united in love that they actually dwell within one another.
The Father lives in the Son and in the Spirit. The Son lives within the Father and the Spirit. The Spirit lives within the Father and the Son. Where any one of them are, there is the whole united Godhead. We cannot imagine what being inside another person must be like, although true romantic love can inspire in us something like a desire to dwell within our beloved. But even if we could imagine living inside of another person, that’s only part of the equation. In the Trinity, the Person you are dwelling inside of also dwells in you. To live inside of someone who is also inside of you is impossible, right?
But something like the mutual indwelling of the Trinity is what God calls us to. On the night before He was to suffer, Jesus prayed to the Father “that they may all be one, just as You are in Me and I am in You” (Jn 17:21). He doesn’t say “with me,” but You are in me and I am in You. Christ wants us to have that same sort of indwelling unity. We may think that this is impossible — but all things are possible with God.
This Sunday, we celebrate the solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ, also called Corpus Christi. It is the day that the Church celebrates in a special way the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. The gospel reading for the feast of Corpus Christi comes from John chapter 6, from what is called Jesus’ “Bread of Life” discourse. In it, Jesus says, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him” (Jn 6:56). Jesus uses the same sort of language here as He does to describe His relationship to the Father.  You are in me and I am in You.

The Eucharist is not the only thing we refer to as the Body of Christ. We also use that term to refer to the Church. And just as with the Eucharist, we do not use the term metaphorically. The Catholic Church is, in a real and substantial way, the Body of Christ. The Church is the continuation of the Incarnation here on earth. When you are baptized into the Church, you are baptized into Christ’s body. You become a part of His Body. Jesus is the head. We are the members. As St. Paul says in the second reading, “We, though many, are one body” (1 Cor 10:17).

Now think about what happens when you receive the Eucharist. It may look like you are just receiving a little piece of bread and a little sip of wine that a man in fancy robes said some nice words over. But we know it is more than that. We know that the bread and wine is not ordinary food and drink, but the Flesh and Blood of the Son of God who became flesh for us.

So now we, who dwell within Christ’s Body by grace of our baptism, are now able to receive Christ’s Body within us by the grace of the Eucharist. We dwell within Christ at the same time that Christ dwells within us. You are in Me and I am in You.

As Catholics, we know that Jesus Christ is truly present in the Eucharist. We know that the bread and wine, once consecrated, become the Body and Blood of Christ. This is a miracle, and more than we deserve. But for Jesus, it isn’t enough. Jesus does not stop at giving us His Body and Blood. He gives us His divinity. He gives us, in the Eucharist, a taste of the Trinity. He draws us into the life of God, a community of Persons dwelling within one another in an eternal communion of Love.

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A God of Relationship

The Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity

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One must be very precise when talking about the Holy Trinity, theologically speaking. The concept of one God existing as three Persons, each distinct in personhood but united in being, is so far beyond our experience that we have to rely on metaphor to help us understand. Yet we cannot press any Trinitarian metaphor too hard without falling into heresy, as this humorous video put out by a group called “Lutheran Satire” so aptly illustrates.
My favorite way of talking about the Trinity focuses on the manner of procession of the Divine Persons. The Father knows Himself and thus begets the Son — also known as the Logos or Word — by way of intellect. The Father and the Son love one another and so the Holy Spirit (the Spirit of Love, c.f. 1 Tim 1:7) proceeds from the Father and Son by way of the will. But even then I have to be very careful not to reduce the Son and the Spirit to mere personifactions of God’s intellect and will.
The Son is God. The Spirit is God. The Father is God. Not parts of God. Not aspects or characteristics of God. But not three Gods, either. They are each fully and completely the same one God.
Indeed, the only way the three Divine Persons differ from one another is in their relationship to one another. The Son is like the Father in all things but one — He is not the Father. He is the Son. Their relationship defines them. Likewise with the Holy Spirit and His relationship with the Father and the Son. Really, when the Church describes the Son as being generated by the Father through the divine intellect, and the Spirit proceeding from them both through the divine will, it is an attempt to further describe the precise nature of the relationships within the Holy Trinity.
Relationship is such an important concept when it comes to the Holy Trinity — so much so, that whenever you hear the term “Holy Trinity” you should think in your mind, relationship. When we say God exists as a Trinity, three Persons in one God, what you should hear is God exists as relationship. 
This is important, for two reasons. First, it tells us something about the nature of God. God is perfect. God lacks nothing. God has within Himself everything He could possibly want or need, and that includes relationship with others. In other words, God did not create us or the angels because He was lonely. Quite apart from creation, God has within Himself a community of love. Part of the very nature of His existence is relationship. Isn’t that a wonderful thought?
The second reason this is important is because you and I are made in the image and likeness of God. That means you and I are also meant to be in relationship. But unlike God, who exists as a community of Persons, you and I and the rest of humanity have our existence as a single person. This is why the Trinity is such a hard thing for us to imagine. We exist as one person, and that’s it. We can’t begin to fathom what it would be like to share our existence with another person. But nevertheless, we are made in the image of a God who is relationship, and we are also called to be in relationship. It is part of our nature.
We are called first and foremost to be in relationship with God, our Creator. But we are also called to be in relationship with one another. And if you think about it, this is what the Christian religion is all about. It is about helping us to have a good, loving relationship with God, and good, loving relationships with one another. 
The first reading for today, from Exodus 34:4-9, talks about Moses carrying the “two stone tablets” to the top of Mount Sinai. Those are the tablets of the Ten Commandments. The first three commandments tell us how to love God. The last seven tell us how to love our neighbors. When people ask Jesus what is the greatest commandment?, Christ tells them first to love God, then to love your neighbor. The Christian life is all about living in right relationship with God and neighbor.
The two go hand in hand. It is impossible to love God without loving your neighbor. God tells us too many times in the scriptures that this is hypocrisy at its worse. The parable of the Good Samaritan is a good example, but perhaps the most direct statement comes in Matthew chapter 25 when Jesus tells us that whatever we have done (or failed to do) to the least of our brethren, we have done (or failed to do) to Him. How we love our neighbor, in other words, is counted as love for God. You cannot love God and hate your neighbor.
But nor can you love your neighbor without also loving God. Not truly. If you remove love of God from the equation, it falls all to easily into mere tolerance toward our neighbor, or kindness toward our neighbor. Tolerance and kindness are good and necessary things. But they are not the same as love.
If my neighbor engages in immoral and self-destructive behavior, I may be able to tolerate it well enough. And I can, and should, still be kind to them. After all, they are made in the image of God and that dignity deserves respect. But this is not love. Love is so much more than being kind and polite. And love cannot tolerate that which is harmful to the beloved.
We have to remind ourselves always that sin is never personal. If you think about all the different ways we can violate the commandments, most of the sins we commit are against other people. Sin is harmful to our human relationships, let alone our relationship with God. Even those sins we like to think of as secret, that affect no one but ourselves, keep us from being in right relationship with God and with one another. 
So if I truly love my neighbor, I will seek out ways and opportunities to correct sinful behavior. I will discourage immorality, not because I am perfect myself, but because I love them and want to be in right relationship with them. We see St. Paul doing this for the Christians in Corinth. In both of his letters to the Corinthians, he rebukes immoral and harmful behavior he has heard about in that community, but does it as a loving father would correct a wayward son or daughter. He does it because he loves them and desires above all communion with them in Christ.
The second reading for Trinity Sunday is from the closing of Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians. It is tempting to assume the Church chose this reading because of the Trinitarian close of the letter. However, I wonder if it was not chosen because of the way it highlights how our human relationships are meant to image the loving relationships of the Holy Trinity.

Brothers and sisters, rejoice.
Mend your ways, encourage one another,
agree with one another, live in peace,
and the God of love and peace will be with you.
Greet one another with a holy kiss.
All the holy ones greet you.
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ
and the love of God
and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with all of you
(2 Cor 13:11-13).

There is a lesson here for how we are to lovingly correct our neighbor who has fallen into sin. First St. Paul tells them to rejoice — even though sin has wounded their relationships, there is a remedy. Jesus Christ offers mercy that is greater than any transgression we may commit. And so we should rejoice!

Next Paul tells them to mend their ways. Before we can rebuke our neighbor we must first rebuke ourselves. We must be mindful of the fact that we are all fellow sinners, and correct our neighbor always from a place of humility.

Then he tells them to encourage one another. Correcting another’s sinful behavior should always be about encouraging one another to be the holy saints we are called to be, never about condemning others as irredeemable sinners (lest we get condemned ourselves).

Finally, if we do this, we will have peace. And what is peace, but living in right relationship with those around us? Our relationships in this world should be ordered toward this peace, so that we may all enjoy together the eternal peace of Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God the Father, in the union of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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The Trinity: Lover, Beloved, and the Love between them.

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There is perhaps no doctrine as essential to the Christian religion than the Holy Trinity.  The belief in one God in three Persons makes Christianity unique in all the world. In the words of the Athanasian Creed:

Now the Catholic faith is that we worship One God in Trinity and Trinity in Unity, neither confounding the Persons nor dividing the substance. For there is one Person of the Father, another of the Son, another of the Holy Spirit. But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, is One, the Glory equal, the Majesty coeternal.

If you don’t quite grasp that on first reading, don’t feel bad.  The Trinity is, fundamentally, a mystery.  It is something beyond our reason, beyond our ability to comprehend.  The Trinity involves the very essence of God, and to comprehend that, you’d have to be greater than God Himself.

But just because it is a mystery does not mean we shouldn’t spend time thinking about the Trinity. Rather it means we can spend our entire lives thinking about it and never come to the end of it.  This is, in fact, the Christian vocation — to spend all eternity pondering the great mystery of the Holy Trinity.

During the first several centuries of the Church, nearly all of the great heresies were Trinitarian.  They all involved some error about how Christ or the Holy Spirit were related to God the Father.  Is Jesus really God?  Is the Holy Spirit really God?  In each case, the Church held fast to the faith in one God existing as three Persons.  These three Persons share all things in common — even the very same being — differing only in their relationship to one another.

This idea of God having relationship within His being makes the doctrine of the Trinity so vital to our lives as Christians.  We are made in the image of God, which means there is something Trinitarian about us, as well.  No, we don’t exist as three persons in one being.  But we are made to be in relationship.  As John Donne said, “No man is an island.”  This is why Christ commands us to love God and our neighbors (Mk 12:31), and why He teaches that we will be judged according to how we treat our neighbors (Mt 25:31-46).  We are made for community.  We are made for communion.

The human relationship par excellence is marriage.  This is why God’s relationship to the Church is described in terms of a marriage (Eph 5:32).  And this is why the Church takes Christ’s teachings about marriage so seriously.  In his recent exhortation Amoris Laetitia (the Joy of Love), Pope Francis writes:

Marriage is the icon of God’s love for us.  Indeed, God is also communion: the three Persons of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit live eternally in perfect unity.  And this is precisely the mystery of marriage: God makes of the two spouses one single existence… This has concrete daily consequence, because the spouses… can make visible the love which Christ loves His Church and continues to give His life for her (AL 121).

Being made in the image of God means that we are made to be in relationship.  The fact that God has within Himself relationship, while being a mystery above our reason, nevertheless is compatible with reason. God, after all, is love (1 Jn 4:8).  And love requires both a lover and a beloved.  Love requires relationship.  You and I must look outside of ourselves for this; but God, perfect in every way, has this within His very being.  This is why instead of saying “God is loving,” we say “God is love.”  God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit is both the Lover and Beloved and the Love between them.

When we Christians worship the Trinity, we are worshiping Love.  When we defend the doctrine of the Trinity, we defend Love.  When we meditate on the Trinity, we learn the ways of Love.  And insofar as we love, we become like God.  Because “the love of God has been poured into our hearts, through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us” (Rom 5:5).

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Gospel For Today: Trinity Sunday


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Most Christians don’t spend a lot of time thinking about the Trinity, and that’s a shame.  Jesus in today’s gospel reading gives us the baptismal formula we are all familiar with.  

“Go, therefore, and 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).  The Trinity is the faith we are baptized into.  The Trinity is the life of God that we aspire to be united with in eternity.  
You’d think contemplating the mystery of the Trinity would be a priority for the Christian. It certainly was a major concern of the early Church.  Most of the early heresies the Church dealt with Trinitarian questions.  Was Jesus Christ God or man?  Is the Holy Spirit also God?  Does the Holy Spirit proceed from the Father only or also from the Son?  The result of these early controversies is found in the creed we recite each Sunday at Mass, which is nothing less than an expression of faith in the Trinity.
Perhaps because the Trinity is called a “mystery” people feel that we can never fully understand it, so why bother?  Isn’t the Trinity just one of those esoteric parts of our faith, of interest to theologians but not much use to the average Christian?  What does it matter if we care about the Trinity or not?
It does matter, and a great deal.  The Church’s teaching on the Trinity is nothing short of a privileged glimpse into the inner life of God.  Every time we begin or end our prayer with the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, we express our faith in the Trinity, one God existing in three Persons.  The definition of the Trinity is simple to state, but profoundly difficult to comprehend.  Part of the trouble is that it is so outside of our experience as human beings.  As far as we are concerned, each person we know (including ourselves) exists as a separate being.  I have an existence that is distinct from yours, even though we are both human persons. 
It is not so with God.  With God you have three distinct Persons all of whom share the same divine existence.  The key to understanding this is the fact that God’s very nature is existence.  In this God is unique.  I possess human nature meaning I exist as a human being.  But I could not exist.  I’m glad that I do, but the fact remains that my existence is optional.  My donkey, Waffles, possess donkey nature.  She exists as a donkey. She could just as easily not exist.  But God does not exist as anything.  He exists, period.  His nature, the Divine nature, is being itself.  This is why God revealed His name to Moses as “I am who am” (Ex 3:13).  He is the source of all existence, the only one whose existence is not dependent upon anything else.  God cannot not exist.
Since the divine nature is being itself, it follows that anyone who shares in that nature also shares in that being.  You and I can share in the same human nature as different beings.  Not so with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  They share the same divine nature and so share in the same being.  
God the Father knows Himself, and He knows Himself perfectly.  God’s image of Himself is not like some dim reflection in a mirror, but perfect and real.  It is such a perfect Image of His being that it also has being.  This perfect Image of God is the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, God the Son.  The Father and the Son know and love one another.  Their love is likewise so perfect that it shares in God’s existence and has being. This perfect Love of God is the Third Person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit.  All three Divine Persons know and love one another completely.
The unity of the three Persons of the Holy Spirit is a dynamic unity of love.  The Church at the Council of Florence stated, “Because of this unity the Father is entirely in the Son and entirely in the Holy Spirit; the Son is entirely in the Father and entirely in the Holy Spirit; the Holy Spirit is entirely in the Father and entirely in the Son.”  In other words, each Person of the Trinity dwells within the other two in a relationship of perfect love.
If you have followed along so far, you may be thinking, “That’s interesting, but why does that matter?”  It matters because the same God who exists as Three Persons dwelling eternally within one another in love also desires to dwell in you.  In John 14:23, Jesus says, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we shall come to him and make our home with him.”  God is love (1 Jn 4:8).  The fact that God exists as a community of Persons means that God, in His very nature, is both lover and beloved.  Love is part of the very nature of divinity, and this Love wants to make His home in you and I.  
No, we do not understand this fully, and we never will.  But we do not need to fully understand it in order to receive the gift of God’s love and His life, nor to appreciate its beauty.  If we accept the gift of God’s grace, we will be spending heaven contemplating and communing with the Trinity.  We begin that life here on earth.  We can begin that life today.

WCU Catholic Campus Ministry
Matthew Newsome, MTh, campus minister
(828)293-9374  |   POB 2766, Cullowhee NC 28723

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