It seems to be the most theoretical and impractical aspect of the Christian faith: the mystery of the Holy Trinity. The mystery of One God in Three Persons. This aspect seems to complicate unnecessarily the lives of those who try to defend their Christian belief. And yet, with seemingly obsessive persistence, the Church stands by that mystery, and – to my dismay – forces me to preach about it annually!
I earnestly hope you’ve picked up the sarcastic tone in my voice – otherwise I stand to be accused of undermining – or even rejecting – the fundamental truth of the faith, and be dismissed. I admit it is an annual challenge to preach on the Holy Trinity without repeating myself. And to add to the pressure upon me, the mystery of the Holy Trinity seemingly has hardly any practical implications for living out the faith. At the end of the day, what difference does it actually make whether God is One or Three Persons? We Christians are supposed to keep the Ten Commandments, avoid evil and do our best regardless, right? Wrong!
For the first two years of my priestly education, most of the lectures were on philosophy in its many aspects. In short, philosophy is ‘the study of the fundamental nature of knowledge, reality, and existence, especially when considered as an academic discipline’. Among many philosophical topics I studied was the existence and nature of God. I still remember – even after over 25 years – that the god of philosophy seemed to me utterly distant, alien, and completely disconnected from the real world and humankind. That was the god I didn’t know, and had no desire to get to know. The God I had encountered was the One that had transformed my life, was interested in me and cared about me. That was the God I wanted to serve and for whose sake I’d gone forward to become a priest. In essence, the God close to my heart was the Loving Father, whose only Son Jesus Christ died for me, and whose Holy Spirit leads me through life. He was God of love, not the god of philosophers.
The most concise definition of God we can find in the Bible comes from the First Letter of St John: ‘God is love.’ The implications of such a statement are massive. God’s love is not an act, performed or withheld on a whim. God’s love is his very existence – if God were to stop loving He would cease to exist. But love needs an object; love is a dynamic, two-way relationship between conscious beings. If God were a single Person, whom should God love before the creation of the universe? Jesus himself hinted at such eternal loving existence and unity between him and God the Father. That love generated between them is the Holy Spirit.
I have to admit that all it seems to be just religious blether, perhaps interesting to a few theologians, but leaving most of us cold. What practical meaning does it have for us? Firstly, the nature of love is that it actively wants to give itself to others; love spills over, it never keeps itself to itself. It means that God takes the initiative in loving you; he’s the one reaching out to you and keeping his proverbial hand extended towards you. Secondly, love never forces or pushes; love always wants and waits to be accepted and returned. So, God leaves you free to respond, even when it means his love for you is rejected. And last but not least, when you accept his love it transforms you. It makes you ready to love others, to reach out to them, to extend your own proverbial hand towards them, but never forcing them to accept your love. In that way, we can learn from God how to feel loved and how to love. And when we genuinely love like that, the world is changed for the better.