Sunday, June 7, 2009

Trinity Sunday

Romans 11:33-36 / Matthew 28:18-20

A nationally-syndicated advice columnist received a letter from a distraught man about a birthday cake. It seems as though every year is mother would invite friends and family over for her son's birthday, and every year she would bake for him a chocolate cake. All of the invitees had come to expect and look forward to their piece of the hostess' now famous chocolate cake, a cake she made precisely to please her son. All of the invitees, that is, except for one — her son. The son, who had written the columnist his letter, loathes chocolate in general, and chocolate cake in particular. He hated it as a child, and he continues to hate it as an adult. He told his mother in his childhood, and had continued to tell her to the present day, of his dislike for chocolate cake, and has pleaded with her to make another cake. She, however, either cannot or will not hear his pleas, and so he passes every birthday presented with a gift odious to him.

While the columnist's advice here is beside the point (I believe it was to make his own cake to bring to the party, an unsatisfactory solution at best), the scenario highlights crucial truths about loving relationships, namely that there is no real love where there is no true knowledge, and that there is no real knowledge where there is no authentically loving response. The mother would certainly protest that she had made the cake out of love, but in the face of his clear revelation of his actual desires, what sort of love would refuse to take them into account? Indeed, even had he kept silent, the fact that she did not know what sort of cake would make him happy would itself be a barrier to actually pleasing her son, however sincere her attempt to do so.

The example is of course trivial, but it might help us recall why God has chosen to reveal to us the mystery of his triune life. While profession of the Trinity permeates the life of every one of the Catholic faithful, with signs of the cross in the name of the Three Persons, the doxologies repeated in every recitation of the rosary or the Psalms, the conclusions of the collects at Mass or blessings at meals, we could be tempted to wonder what difference the mystery of the Trinity makes in the life of faith. We wonder, that is, whether getting the Trinity "right" helps us to live a better life, to love neighbor, or even God with any greater intensity than a more confused or even unexamined acceptance of Father, Son and Spirit. We may also consider our Jewish and Muslim neighbors, and perhaps even our Latter-Day Saint, Sikh, or Unitarian neighbors, who all in their own way insist that they, too, worship the one, true God. Do they fail to worship God in truth because they deny the Trinitarian confession of faith revealed in Jesus Christ? If they do not worship the true God for this reason, whom do they worship? If the fruits of the Spirit seem more evident in them than in our Christian brothers and sisters who confess the Holy and Undivided Trinity, does Trinitarian faith make all that much difference?

The reason that God revealed himself as Trinity, the reason that this revelation is the most fundamental of the whole Christian faith to which all other mysteries — Incarnation, Redemption, Resurrection, Eucharist, the sending of the Spirit — lead and from which they flow, is that God wants us to know who he is. He wants us to know who he is so that we can love him and out of that love and knowledge to live not simply as he commands, but enlivened by and participating in that interpersonal love which is the very divine essence. Not to care who God actually is, to think our natural intimations or incomplete revelations of him sufficient, is no different than trying to please one's son and refusing to take into account who he actually is and what he actually desires, but on a scale more fundamental, more essential to our very lives. The fact is we do not love God, cannot love him, apart from knowing who he is. Neither do any of our claims to know him have the slightest weight if we, in our thoughts and actions, do what he hates.

The mystery of the Trinity, then, is an invitation to know God that we might love him. It is the beginning and end of all that it means to share in eternal life. It is the heart of the Gospel because it is the heart, source, and summit of all that was, is and ever shall be. Blessed be God the Father and the Only-begotten Son of God, and also the Holy Spirit; because he has shown His mercy toward us.