Trinity Sunday (B) (June 3 2012)
A. The Bible as Guide in Life and Liturgy (Sunday Readings)
First Reading (Deuteronomy 4:32-34, 39-40).
In the Book of Deuteronomy today’s reading is part of Moses’ address to the Israelites before they enter the Promised Land. He is careful to remind them that they are to remain faithful to the revelation they have received from the One True God at Horeb (Sinai), to avoid the gross polytheism of Canaan into which the were about to enter and the immoral behaviour that went with this. They should recall, from the tradition they had received, the great things that the Lord had done for them. He was the sole God, in heaven above but also present to his people on earth. And as this living and active God, had chosen them as his own people, and spoken to them by his word, even though he was their invisible God. He chose them that they may be his witnesses on earth, which they would be by living really as his people, by keeping his commandments.
Responsorial Psalm (Psalm 32). Happy the people the Lord has chosen as his own.
Second Reading (Romans 8:14-17).
This reading is chosen today because it shows how intimately each of the three Persons of the Blessed Trinity is involved in the life of each individual believer, of each individual Christian and in the life of the Christian community. The Blessed Trinity, and each individual Person of the Trinity, is active in making each and every believer, and the entire Christian Church, aware of their dignity and of unity among themselves as children of God. The passage begins by a very fundamental truth: true Christian life is only there when it is under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Possession of the Holy Spirit from one’s baptism onwards gives believers a Christian awareness and a Christian boldness. It gives them awareness of being children of God, and the courage, the boldness, on the strength of this, to regard and call on God as Father, “Abba, Father”, Abba being the Aramaic word for “father” and that used by Jesus himself in Gethsemane (Mark 14:36). At Mass, as introduction to the Lord’s Prayer we say that it is (only) through divine example and teaching that we dare, have the courage, to say this prayer, to call on God as Our Father. The Holy Spirit, then, makes us aware of God as our loving Father, and of Jesus Christ, the second Person of the Blessed Trinity as our brother. As children of God we are heirs to all God’s promises, to the kingdom, and as brothers and sisters of Christ, we are coheirs with Christ. We are destined to share Christ’s glory, but this implies a life of union with Christ, in sharing the sufferings that go with belief in him, and bearing witness to him –- sometimes in a hostile world.
Gospel (Matthew 28:16-20).
This is the final scene in Matthew’s Gospel. The same Gospel recounts the beginning of Jesus’ preaching of the gospel in “Galilee of the Gentiles” (Matthew 4:12-16). On his way from the Last Supper to Gethsemane Jesus told his disciples that after he had been raised up (at his resurrection) he would go before them into Galilee (Matthew 26:32; Mark 14:28). After his resurrection the angels at the tomb told Mary Magdalene and the other women that Jesus had risen from the dead and that he would go before them into Galilee where they would see him (Matthew 28:7; Mark 16:7; see also Luke 24:8). Matthew’s Gospel ends with the appearance of Jesus to his apostles in Galilee, and with his commission to them to preach the Gospel to the ends of the earth. This reading is chosen for today’s feast because of its reference to baptize in the name of the Blessed Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This triad, father, Son and Spirit, in relation to baptism, recalls the scene of Jesus’ own baptism (Matthew 3:13-17) where a voice from heaven (the Father) spoke concerning his beloved Son, and the Spirit descended (Matthew 3:16-17; Mark 1:9-17; Luke 3:21-22). The formulation also seems to show that by the time Matthew’s Gospel was being composed (say about 80-90 A.D.) Christian reflection was already moving towards what would later become the official Church teaching concerning the Blessed Trinity.
B. The Bible in Dialogue with Questions of the Day
Mystery of the Blessed Trinity and Mystery of the Church
Today we celebrate the feast of the Blessed Trinity, or in the formal title, “The Solemnity of the Holy Trinity”. The Trinity is something of an abstraction. We rarely, if ever, hear of devotion to the Blessed Trinity. The Trinity is recognized as the greatest and deepest of the Christian mysteries. It took centuries, with errors, heresies and bad formulations, for the Church to arrive at the formulation of or belief in the Blessed Trinity as we have it to day. Belief in the Trinity is belief in one God in three divine persons. As formulated in the latest Catechism of the Catholic Church (paragraphs 253-260) the Trinity is One, We do not confess three Gods, but one God in three persons, the “consubstantial Trinity”. The divine persons do not share the one divinity among themselves but each of them is God whole and entire. The divine persons are really distinct from one another.
A brief survey of the development of the doctrine will help us to understand somewhat the development of the Church’s doctrine with regard to the mystery. Any development had to take place within the strict Jewish doctrine of monotheism, namely that there is one God, and only one God. In the New testament (as in Jewish piety) this God could be referred to as “Father”. Then there was Jesus who preached the advent of the kingdom. He once asked his disciples who people, and they themselves, thought he was. Peter, on behalf of the Twelve, said they believed he was the Christ, the Messiah (Mark; Luke, “the Christ of God”; Matthew, “the Christ, the Son of the living God”). The resurrection and the post-resurrection appearances opened a new period in Christian belief. Jesus was now seen as more than human; he was seated at God’s right hand, as Lord, that is the one who sends the Holy Spirit on the Church. By the end of the first century Jesus was worshipped as God. “In the beginning was the Word, … and the Word was God. … And the Word became flesh and lived among us”. Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, the Advocate, on the Church. The Holy Spirit was also worshipped as God. To express its belief in this mystery, respecting Christian tradition and the underlying belief in one and only God, the Church did not have biblical adequate language to do this. It resorted to the current Greek philosophical terms person, substance, nature (while recognising their partial inadequacy). The fourth-century formulation, still used, speaks of Father, Son and Holy Spirit as persons, really distinct from one another; not, however, three Gods, but each sharing the same divine nature or substance, and though distinct all three are active in all the works of salvation, even if a given activity is referred to just one of the three persons.
So much for the theology of belief in Father, Son and Holy Spirit, as the Trinity, the one true God. Such theology does not necessarily make for devotion, or a greater understanding of the mystery of the Trinity. This great mystery of Father, Son and Holy Spirit reveals the innermost nature and life of God to us: God as love, as saviour, as unity. We saw in the first reading how Moses reminded to Israelite of the great glory that was theirs in that the one true God chose them and revealed himself to them. The same is true of the Blessed Trinity. This mystery was revealed to us as source and model of our Christian life. In his farewell discourse at the Last Supper Jesus prayed to his Father for his followers, in all ages to come: “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be one in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me, I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, … that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (John 17:20-24). This is practically what Paul says in writing to the Romans, in the text read in the second reading today (Romans 8:14-17). The Holy Spirit in the hearts of believers makes them, makes us, aware of our dignity as children of God, called and enabled to live according to the pattern of the inner life of God himself, as revealed by Jesus, and continued in the mystery of the Church. The Church will never be properly understood unless viewed as a mystery, the Body of Christ, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit called to live in accord with that deep mystery which is the Blessed Trinity, and as a witness on earth to the living God, the source of true life.