Jun 16, 2019: Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity (C)

Introduction

One of the aspects of God that the Jewish Scriptures never fully revealed is that ours is a triune God.  Now that our long celebration of Easter, which concentrated on the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, has concluded and we have commemorated the Holy Spirit last week at Pentecost, today we have the opportunity to appreciate the fuller context of God being three Persons in one nature.

The feast of the Blessed Trinity was introduced in the 9th century and was added to the general calendar of the Church in 1331 by Pope John XXII.

The dogma of faith we celebrate on this feast is this: there is one God and in this one God there are three Divine Persons; the Father is God, the Son is God, the Holy Spirit is God. Yet there are not three Gods, but one, eternal, incomprehensible God.

The feast of the Blessed Trinity can be seen as a kind of finale to all the preceding feasts: the mystery of the Trinity is a synthesis of Christmas, Epiphany, Easter, Ascension, and Pentecost.  All three divine Persons contributed to and shared in the work of redemption:

  • The Father sent the Son to earth, for “God so loved the world as to give His only-begotten Son.” The Father called us to the faith.
  • The Son, our Savior Jesus Christ, became man and died for us. He redeemed us and made us children of God.
  • After Christ’s ascension, the Holy Spirit became our Teacher, our Leader, our Guide, our Consoler.

1st Reading – Proverbs 8:22-31

Thus says the wisdom of God:
“The LORD possessed me, the beginning of his ways,
the forerunner of his prodigies of long ago;
from of old I was poured forth,
at the first, before the earth.
When there were no depths I was brought forth,
when there were no fountains or springs of water;
before the mountains were settled into place,
before the hills, I was brought forth;
while as yet the earth and fields were not made,
nor the first clods of the world.

“When the Lord established the heavens I was there,
when he marked out the vault over the face of the deep;
when he made firm the skies above,
when he fixed fast the foundations of the earth;
when he set for the sea its limit,
so that the waters should not transgress his command;
then was I beside him as his craftsman,
and I was his delight day by day,
playing before him all the while,
playing on the surface of his earth;
and I found delight in the human race.”

Today’s first reading describes Woman Wisdom, a mysterious figure that has intrigued interpreters since the day she first appeared alongside God at the time of the creation of the universe.

Thus says the wisdom of God: “The LORD possessed me, the beginning of his ways, the forerunner of his prodigies of long ago; from of old I was poured forth, at the first, before the earth. 

Several characteristics of Wisdom have always been puzzling.  Only a deity would have been present before creation began and yet the Hebrew verb qānâ can be translated “made” as well as “possessed.”

Hebrew has no word for eternity, but mê‘ōwlām (translated here as “from of old”) signifies an indefinite period of time. “Poured forth” is an image of birth.

When we read of Wisdom being poured forth before creation, we think of the Holy Spirit.  When we read of someone being present with the Father before creation of the world, we think of Jesus, the pre-existent Word who became flesh (John 1:1-14).  We must remember that the author of Proverbs did not share our belief in the Trinity; rather, in describing Wisdom, he is personifying one of God’s attributes.

When there were no depths I was brought forth, when there were no fountains or springs of water; before the mountains were settled into place, before the hills, I was brought forth; while as yet the earth and fields were not made, nor the first clods of the world.

The created world is beautifully portrayed in this passage, helping us realize that we have a wonderful idea of God because we live in such a gorgeous world.  If we lived on the moon, our sense of God would reflect that more barren landscape.

“When the Lord established the heavens I was there, when he marked out the vault over the face of the deep; when he made firm the skies above,
when he fixed fast the foundations of the earth; when he set for the sea its limit, so that the waters should not transgress his command; 

Note how effortlessly God establishes the entire universe in tranquility and order.

then was I beside him as his craftsman,

The meaning of ’āmôn is uncertain, but the context leads most commentators to translate it “craftsman” or “architect.”

If Woman Wisdom acted as craftsman or architect for this magnificent project, then the principles of wisdom are woven into the very fabric of creation.  This would explain the order that can be discerned within its workings. However, as active as she may have been in these primordial events, it is God who really creates.

and I was his delight day by day, playing before him all the while, playing on the surface of his earth; 

There is rejoicing in this created world. God delights in Woman Wisdom; she rejoices before God.  Mention of playing should now make us think that Wisdom is a carefree child: this is the kind of rejoicing that springs forth from the very heart of the universe. It is the delight in the glory of creation and in creation’s God.

and I found delight in the human race.

The last verse brings all of this home to us.  Wisdom takes delight in the inhabited part of the earth, in the human race.  This brief statement locates humankind squarely within the created world; no other species is singled out in this way.  The verse leaves us at an open threshold gazing at the universe that unfolds before us, aware that this mysterious primordial figure has a special interest in us.

2nd Reading – Romans 5:1-5

Brothers and sisters:
Therefore, since we have been justified by faith,
we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,
through whom we have gained access by faith
to this grace in which we stand,
and we boast in hope of the glory of God.
Not only that, but we even boast of our afflictions,
knowing that affliction produces endurance,
and endurance, proven character,
and proven character, hope,
and hope does not disappoint,
because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts
through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.

The overarching theme in this reading from the letter to the Christian congregation in Rome is justification by faith.  Every blessing mentioned in the passage rests on the believers having been justified by faith in Jesus Christ.  There is also a Trinitarian theme present, appropriate for today’s feast.

Brothers and sisters: Therefore, since we have been justified by faith,

According to Paul, the justification of the Roman Christians is an accomplished fact.  They have already been reconciled with God; their guilt has already been forgiven.  They are already in right relationship with God, and though God is really the author of their justification, it has been accomplished through their faith in Jesus Christ.

“Let no one say to himself: ‘If [justification] is from faith, how is it freely given: If faith merits it, why is it not rather paid than given?’ Let the faithful man not say such a thing; for, if he says: ‘I have faith, therefore I merit justification,’ he will be answered: ‘What have you that you did not receive?’ If, therefore, faith entreats and receives justification, according as God has apportioned to each in the measure of his faith, nothing of human merit precedes the grace of God, but grace itself merits increase, and the increase merits perfection, with the will accompanying but not leading, following along but not going in advance.” [Saint Augustine of Hippo (A.D. 417), Letter to Paulinius of Nola 186,3,10]

we have peace with God

In the thinking of ancient Israel, peace was both a sign of, and the fruit flowing from, a covenantal union between God and the people.  This is probably the way that Paul is using the word.  Its presence indicates there is no longer enmity; instead, there is union.

through our Lord Jesus Christ,

Throughout his letter to the Romans, Paul repeatedly emphasizes the role Christ plays in this transformation.  He is the one who, through his death and resurrection, has reconciled all people with God; he is the mediator of the new covenant of peace.

Salvation is through God’s gracious action in Christ.

through whom we have gained access by faith to this grace in which we stand,

The idea of gaining access suggests being admitted into the presence of someone of very high estate.  Such access is only granted if one has earned the privilege to approach, which is certainly not the case here, or if someone who already has access is willing to user one in.  This seems to be the image Paul wishes to create: He is saying that it is through Christ we have been granted the grace to stand in the presence of God.

and we boast in hope of the glory of God.

There is a touch of Paul’s already-but-not-yet eschatological thinking here.  Those who have been justified by faith already have peace with God, already have access to grace.  However, they still wait in hope for the ultimate glory of God.

Christian hope is not merely the expectation of future good fortune; it is not based on possibility.  Instead, it is the guarantee of future blessing, based on the promises made by God out of his abundant love for us.  It is much firmer than mere desire; it is assurance.

Not only that, but we even boast of our afflictions,

The assurance of hope is not blind to the sufferings believers must endure.  There is no indication that Paul is here speaking about persecutions; the reference is probably to the ordinary struggles of life that face every person.

The word for “afflictions” (thlípsis) has theological significance: it refers to the necessary suffering that precedes the appearance of the reign of God.  Paul probably has such suffering in mind.

knowing that affliction produces endurance, and endurance, proven character, and proven character, hope, 

Most likely Paul is here instructing his hearers to use the difficulties of life to their best advantage. Afflictions work toward good in that they produce character and hope.

There is no guarantee that suffering will make people better — as we all know, it can also embitter, harden, and isolate them.  However, suffering has the potential for growth and transformation if we cooperate with God’s grace.  This is the process he sketches for the people of Rome.

and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts 

Paul ends his recital of virtues with hope, explaining that Christian hope does not disappoint us because it is grounded in the love God has for us.

The image he creates here is of a love bounteously given, lavishly poured out.

“Consider how great the things to come are, when we can rejoice even at things which appear to be distressful. … Sufferings are in themselves a good thing, insofar as they prepare for endurance.” [Saint John Chrysostom (A.D. 391), Homilies on the Epistle to the Romans 9]

through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.

The trinitarian nature of Paul’s faith and teaching is clear.  It is faith in Christ that justifies us with God; it is faith in Christ that gives us peace with God; it is faith in Christ that grants us access to the grace of God.

Because of the reconciliation won for us by Christ, the love of God is poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit.  In today’s gospel reading, Jesus promises that the Spirit will lead every generation to understand the truth of the Father’s love, as revealed by him, Jesus Christ.  We see that unfolding here, in Paul’s description.  The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are all involved in our ultimate union with our triune God.

Gospel – John 16:12-15

Jesus said to his disciples:
“I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now.
But when he comes, the Spirit of truth,
he will guide you to all truth.
He will not speak on his own,
but he will speak what he hears,
and will declare to you the things that are coming.
He will glorify me,
because he will take from what is mine and declare it to you.
Everything that the Father has is mine;
for this reason I told you that he will take from what is mine
and declare it to you.”

In this reading, the gospel writer attempts to show the relationship between the Father, Jesus, and the Spirit by somehow relating all three to the teaching of Jesus.  This is a very difficult and complex undertaking, and the resulting explanation is somewhat obscure — but here we find seeds of theological thought that will come to fruition later in salvation history.

Jesus said to his disciples: “I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now.

The scene is Jesus’ farewell discourse to his disciples the night before he dies.  He knows that they are simply unable to understand what he is telling them and that they will be equally unable to understand the events that they will soon encounter: Jesus’ arrest and scandalous death on a cross.

The statement that they cannot bear it now implies that they will be able to bear it at another time.

But when he comes, the Spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth. 

The reason they will be able to understand in the future is that they will then have been instructed by the Holy Spirit, the coming of which Jesus had already promised in John 14:25-26.

The relationship of truth, the Spirit, and Jesus’ teaching is not clearly delineated.  Is the Spirit called truth because of the quality of the teaching of Jesus, to which the Spirit will guide them?  Or is the teaching called truth because of the Spirit that guides the disciples to it?  We don’t know.

He will not speak on his own, but he will speak what he hears,

Jesus insists that the Spirit will not bring new teaching but teaching the Spirit has heard from another.

Jesus himself is the revelation of the Father’s love. However, the world has not yet understood this revelation or the mighty saving act that the Father has accomplished through Jesus.  So the Spirit will teach the same truth that Jesus has taught to a world that has not yet understood it.

and will declare to you the things that are coming.

Jesus is not saying that the Spirit will give the disciples knowledge about inevitable future events.  The “things that are coming,” in this context, are Jesus’ passion, death, and resurrection.  They will be frightened and disillusioned by these events, but once they receive the Spirit they will understand it in an entirely new light.

Essentially, the Paraclete will guide the community into its understanding of Jesus as the fulfillment of everything that had been promised in Scripture.

He will glorify me, because he will take from what is mine and declare it to you.

The Spirit will glorify Jesus by making the truth about his death and resurrection known to his disciples, revealing him to be the chosen one of God.

The truth the Spirit reveals is grounded in the teachings of Jesus, but it goes far beyond it.  In this way, there is continuity but not repetition.

Everything that the Father has is mine; for this reason I told you that he will take from what is mine and declare it to you.”

Twice Jesus says, “he will take from what is mine and declare it to you.” However, he also tells us that his truth is also the Father’s truth: “Everything that the Father has is mine.”

On this Trinity Sunday, we celebrate the Father, Son, and Spirit, who share the same truth: God is love.

The Son has revealed the Father’s love, and the Spirit has continued to teach this revelation through the centuries.

Connections and Themes

God the Creator.  Both the first reading and today’s responsorial psalm celebrate the marvels of creation, and by inference, the marvelous Creator who brought them into being.  They invite us to join the psalmist, standing back in awe of the creative power and imagination of God.  We have only scratched the surface in our understanding of the myriad of species that are on our planet alone.  One thing we have discovered about these creatures is that each is unique. No two persons are exactly the same, no stars, no snowflakes.  What creativity! What imagination!

God the Redeemer.   It is with Paul that we find the beginnings of trinitarian theology.  In the epistle reading for today, he very clearly credits God with our justification through faith and our possession of divine love.  There is no doubt in Paul’s mind about the source and mediator of our salvation.  Justification, or salvation, is accomplished by God through our Lord Jesus Christ.  The love of God is poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit.  Paul does not clearly state that the love of God we receive through the Holy Spirit sanctifies us, but one could certainly understand it in this way.

God the Source of Truth.  The trinitarian theology we find in the reading from the gospel of John closely resembles that of Paul.  In it, Jesus reveals the intimate connection between himself and the Father as well as himself and the Spirit.  The Spirit continues the mission of Jesus, neither adding anything to his teaching nor omitting anything from it.  The Spirit’s task is to lead us ever deeper into the truth that Jesus brought, truth that is really found in God.  Here again we might be tempted to say that John is describing the sanctifying work of the Spirit.  However, the passage is not clear, and it might be anachronistic to ascribe such a role to the Spirit at this time.

One point is clear from these readings.  While this is a feast that glorifies the central mystery of our faith, a mystery based on the way the three divine Persons relate to one another (ad intra), the readings all address the ways God relates to us (ad extra). This feast, which follows our celebration of the completion of the paschal mystery, is not intended for our clear articulation of doctrine; it is meant to give us an opportunity to commit ourselves to this God who, though beyond our comprehension, is present and active at the very core of our being. If we concentrate merely on the doctrine, we might be awed by an intellectual concept.  But if we concentrate, as the texts for today suggest we do, on all the ways our triune God has blessed us, we may be more inclined to cry out with the psalmist, “O Lord, our God, how wonderful your name in all the earth!”

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