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Dancing with mystery

Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity

Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,

A few weeks ago, there was a solar eclipse that could be seen in the United States. The authorities repeatedly warned people not to look at the event without protection in their eyes, lest the excess of light may permanently damage the eyesight of those trying to look at the phenomenon.

This Sunday, the Church invites us to contemplate the very nature of God, His essence, His inner life. It is a very difficult endeavor. We are trying to deepen our knowledge of Him whose nature is to be, who has revealed Himself as One and Three, the one true God in whom there are three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

As it happened with the eclipse, if we are not careful, we may end up confused about the nature and inner life of the Blessed Trinity and muddled in error.

Firstly, we must state that the Blessed Trinity is not an abstraction devoid of consequences for our daily lives. On the contrary, God is One and Three because He is love and precisely because He is love, He creates everything that exists out of love. He does not create the universe on account of compulsion, or privation, rather because He loves and true love is always vivifying, life giving.

To ponder the nature of God helps us better understand who we are, what we exist for and to deepen our relationship with God. Ultimately, that is what we were created for, to participate in His own divine life. It also helps us grow in communion with our brothers and sisters and with all of creation where, as St. Augustine pointed out, we constantly see vestiges of the Trinity, an imprint of divine nature.

Secondly, we must acknowledge that our language and, obviously, our intellect too, are limited, unable to describe in its totality the inscrutable nature of God. That does not mean that we cannot know anything about God or predicate anything about His inner life. We know a great deal about divine nature because God has revealed Himself and also because having recourse to that revelation as a point of departure, by the application of our intellectual faculties we can come to know and infer many more things about Him. However, everything and anything we may say about God is insufficient and analogical.

It is insufficient because our intellectual and discursive faculties enable us to enter the mystery but are unable to exhaust our knowledge. When we talk about mystery, it is understood that we are speaking in the Catholic sense of the word, rather than its meaning in ordinary speech. When Catholics use the word “mystery,” we are not talking about a problem to solve or an unknown. We are describing a reality that is so vast and extensive that it is impossible for us to fully grasp, to capture. Thus, the Blessed Trinity, the nature of God is a mystery in which we are invited to live. We can penetrate because we exist and also thanks to the self-revelation of God and the application of our intellectual faculties enabling us to come to know the inner life of God, not just the way in which He relates to us, and to live accordingly.

Precisely because God is infinite and we are finite and so are our means, including language, everything we say about God is analogical, not metaphorical. There are elements in common with the predicate but there are also great differences. God reveals Himself as Father, but that does not mean that He is the same as our biological fathers. St. John Paul II explained that in His self-revelation as Father, God has recourse to images of human maternity to help us understand His divine fatherhood.

Lastly, we must also bear in mind the unity of God in the three divine persons. Sometimes we think and speak as if each person were one third God. Yet wherever one of the persons is present and active, God is present, therefore the Holy Trinity is present, the three persons, because the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God. One way to understand this fact is the notion of “perichoresis” of the three divine persons, a Greek word which etymologically means “to dance around.”

To contemplate the very nature of God, His inner life, what the theologians designate as the immanent Trinity inevitable leads us to consider His relationship with us, what the theologians call the economic Trinity.

The One who submitted to the power of death to destroy its power is God, Jesus Christ, Eternal Word of God incarnate, Second Person of the Most Holy Trinity who was crucified, died and rose from the dead on the third day. It was not the Father. It was not the Holy Spirit. He is the human face of God who reveals to us who God is and who we are. He makes manifest the radical and passionate love of the Father for those of us created in His image and likeness and also the greatness of our call to participate for all eternity, with the help of the Holy Spirit, in the very life of God One and Three.

Fr. Roberto M. Cid