Thinking about the Trinity

The first time I preached on the Feast of the Most Trinity was on my first appointment as a deacon at the parish of Kings Cross. Kings Cross is the red light district of Sydney. I was the luckiest deacon in Sydney because my 70 year old Irish Jesuit parish priest Fr. Donal Taylor never directly said ’No" to any of my new and trendy ideas. He would simply say in his broad Irish accent, "I’d be slow on that one." One Friday before Trinity Sunday I told Fr Donal that I was going to preach that while Father, Son and Holy Spirit were privileged names for God, they did not exhaust the possibilities, and that God could helpfully be styled as our mother. Doubling-over in the chair he said, "I’d be slow on that one." At the Vigil Mass, Con, the most famous homeless person in Kings Cross, was in the front pew. During my homily wherein I was advocating for the maternity of God, Con jumped up and expressed what was probably a majority position in the church, "God’s not our mother, Mary’s our mother, God’s our father." Turning to the parish priest, he said, "Father Donal this young bloke hasn’t got a clue." And marched out of the church. I looked at Donal, and then the congregation and said, "In the Name of the Father..." and sat down. And as I did Fr Taylor turned to his unteachable deacon and laughed, "I told you to be slow on that one." Later, over dinner, he told me to give the same homily at the other Masses, "because while it’s not cup of tea, there are people who need to hear that Father is not the only name for God." We hold that the Trinity is co-equal, co-eternal, and co-substantial. In other words, the Father and the Spirit never get jealous if the Son gets more attention than they do. And the Son and Father are fine with charismatics who give the Holy Spirit the credit for everything. The persons within the Trinity empower each other, and are equally present in every act of God in the world, be it in creating, redeeming or making holy. One person of the Trinity was not created by another person. They just are, and always have been. Some people say that these beggars belief, that the mystery of the Trinity is too much to deal with logically. The problem is, of course, that the Trinity is not a problem for our minds to solve, but a relationship to be drawn into, and to savor. Imagination, it seems to me, is the key to believing in the mystery. There are lots of things in the world I can’t explain--scientific things, genetic dispositions, why one human being would love one another, how some people can forgive, or how good some of us are to others, asking for nothing in return. I can’t explain these things, but I can imagine them, because I have witnessed them. Indeed, I can imagine a world where we speak the truth to each other gently and respectfully. I can imagine world where we share from our abundance with those who have nothing. I can imagine a world where understanding takes the place of retribution. And if I can imagine what others think is unimaginable about our world, I can also imagine an empowering God - Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Many people have tried to give us helpful images in regard to the Trinity. St. John of Damascus said the Trinity was a dance, a par-du-trios. St. Ignatius Loyola described it as three notes in a single chord. St Patrick famously used the three-leaf clover as a teaching aid to get the point across to the Irish, and St. Augustine thought the Trinity acted in unison in the same way that memory intelligence and will does within each of us. All these images are helpful, but when I witness the life of the Trinity in action, the leap of faith is even easier. When I see Christians treating others as equals, especially those they don’t like, according them rights and dignity as children of God, then I can move beyond imagining the life of the Trinity, and experiencing it first hand. You see if we dare imagine the Trinity, we can also imagine ourselves empowered by Power itself to be beacons of equality, exemplars of what’s best in human nature, and with our feet on the ground turning our eyes to eternity. Richard Leonard, S.J.
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