May 22 2016 (C) Trinity Sunday

A. The Bible as Guide in Life and Liturgy (Sunday Readings)

B. Reflection & Dialogue: Mystery of the Blessed Trinity and Mystery of the Church

A. The Bible as Guide in Life and Liturgy (Sunday Readings)

First Reading (Proverbs 8:22-31). Before the earth came into being, Wisdom was born. This reading is taken from one of the books of what is known as the Wisdom Literature of the Bible, probably the oldest book of this. Others, and later, books of this group are Ecclesiastes (Koheleth), Ecclesiasticus (Sira) and the Book of Wisdom. Wisdom literature, or literature related to these Bible books, was common in the ancient Middle East, in particular Egypt and Mesopotamia. This literature dealt with many aspects of human life. In Egypt and in early Jewish wisdom it gave instruction on how to live in family and public life. A notable feature of early biblical wisdom is that it drew its instructions and conclusions from experience, not from God’s revelation to Moses. Early wisdom meant know-how in personal, family and public life, in the arts and crafts. Wisdom was about plans and planning. It was a human attainment, possibly with a slight touch of craft or even craftiness about it. In earlier times it was not predicated of God. However, with the destruction of state institutions there was a new approach. Wisdom was applied to God, who also was wise, had a plan for his people and humanity. There is a collection of the older form of wisdom in Proverbs from chapter 10 onwards. This is prefaced by texts on personified wisdom, the best known of them in today’s first reading. Here Lady Wisdom sings her own praises, addressing all who wish to listen. She was with the creator from the very beginning, before the oldest of his works. We are familiar with the creation account of the book of Genesis. But there were others, and that in today’s reading is a poetic one of them. Lady Wisdom enjoyed God’s creation and relished conversation with humans on it. People naturally ask what precisely is meant by wisdom. Some think that the internal divine plan of creation is intended. It proclaims God’s glory and wisdom. In any event this Old Testament text is chosen because what is here said of Lady Wisdom is predicated of Christ in the New Testament: all things were created by Christ, through him and for him.           

Responsorial Psalm (Psalm 8).How great is your name, O Lord our God, through all the earth!

Second Reading (Romans 5:1-5). To God, through Christ, in the love poured out by the Spirit. This is Trinity Sunday and this particular reading is chosen by reason of its mention of God (the Father), Jesus Christ (the Son) and the Holy Spirit. Its rich content, however, merits our attention. Humanity is represented at enmity with God because of sin. Peace and friendship are restored through faith in Jesus Christ. Elsewhere in his letters Paul strongly condemns human boasting, as if humans had reason to boast of their own merits and virtue before God. Here, however, Paul boasts and advocates Christian boasting, but boasting based on God’s work of grace and the hope it engenders, boasting not of human achievements but of our union with Christ’s suffering, of the cross. This suffering in union with Christ is part of a process; it brings patience, perseverance and a hope that does not deceive, because of the love of God given lavishly by the Holy Spirit.

Gospel (John 16:12-15). Everything the Father has is mine; all the Spirit tells you is taken from what is mine. This reading from Chris’s Farewell Discourser is chose for this feast of the Blessed Trinity because of Christ’s (the Son) mention of the Father and the Holy Spirit. Its message is that of the readings from this same Gospel of John for last Sundays of Easter and for Pentecost – which can still be profitably consulted with the explanatory notes,

B. Reflection & Dialogue: 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 adequate biblical 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. This mystery of the Blessed Trinity 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, summarised in the heading to today’s second reading: We go “to God through Christ, in the love poured out by the Holy Spirit”. 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.

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