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His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI
We can see in the Scriptural readings at today’s Mass that the word Trinity is not used at all. TheScriptures often use non personal language to speak about God, but God is also presented as Father in the Old Testament (Dt 32:6; Mal 2:10).
In the New Testament we know of the Holy Trinity simply because Jesus told us of his heavenly Father, and of the Holy Spirit, and because of the claims he made for himself. He talked of his Father in touching and intimate terms. He called him Abba, the ordinary language used by a son for a father in that society then. Indeed some of his listeners were shocked at such intimacy. How could a man of an inferior social class with no formal education presume to be so familiar with the God whose name they would not even pronounce, out of awe and reverence for his Person? (Jn 10:33). Yet Jesus called him Father and in such a way that those who followed him could also use that mode of address as their own: Our Father. Jesus was clear about his relationship to God as Son. I have honoured my Father and you have not honoured me (Jn 8:49).The Father and I are one (Jn 10:30).
He who sees me sees the Father (Jn 14:9). No one knows the Father except the Son and none knows the Son except the Father and those to whom he chooses to reveal him (Mt 11:27).
The Nature of Fatherhood and Sonship
To address the living God by that rather mathematical designation as Trinity is scarcely the best way of making us warm to him in love. Again a little example from ordinary life will help the point. People who have an office of political or social significance are far from us for as long as we know them only by the title they bear. Thus we talk of the President Mayor or the Consultant, but of course normally they have no flesh and blood for us at all until we get to know them personally behind the title they bear. And if we were just to talk to our friends about them as officers, office holders, or officials, our friends are not likely to warm to them. It is when we begin to talk about their characteristics, the kind of things they say, the sort of things they stand for, even their physical characteristics, and their sense of humour, and their emotional responses, and their catching laugh, that people will begin to take a personal interest in them.
Now it must not be altogether unlike that with God. For we do not talk to nor normally think about the Holy Trinity as Holy Trinity. That seems altogether too abstract unless we speak of institutions or buildings we may know and love carrying the name, like Trinity College Oxbridge, Dublin and so on. The Biblical writers present themselves similarly, so the biblical language talks about Father and Son and Holy Spirit when speaking of God. Following them we move relationally for we are talking about the God (whom) we know. We can pray to each of the three Persons in a personal way. We relate thus for example, in ordinary life, when we think of our family: Father is exactly the image we need. Traditionally in human experience, he is the one who provides, the pillar who solidifies the family, who takes pride in our achievement, who does not overawe us by showing us how much better he is than us.
The image of God as Father evokes love and compassion (Ps 102). God the Father in Biblical terms is the one who supplicates the Jews to be faithful, to be kind to each other, to have a care for those who have no Father; it is their mission to tell the world that he is the creator Father for everyone, that he fathered them in his own image and likeness, that he loves them with an eternal love (Jr 31:31). It is because we have received all this that we can love Him. We have experienced Him in our life; we do not love an abstraction.
The Son we know as Jesus of Nazareth.
That is the way that we have come to know the eternal Son. And what was his origin? The Bible answers: For all the reasons that the Father gave in the Old Testament for loving his creation. The Son was with the Father at the creation of the world. Yet he came as a man with a human mother, for all, with the mind and heart of his creator Father. I do everything that pleases Him, He said. He assured the disciples that the heavenly Father knew they had need of all the things they worried about, that the very hairs on their head were numbered. When the disciples had met Jesus God seemed ever more a Father and they learned anew what sonship was: devotion and care, care for what the Father cared for – following the path of love, even to the point of the Son’s dying for what he had proclaimed. With his departure the Son would not leave the disciples orphans: the Holy Spirit, the love of the Father and the Son would be sent to comfort, to console, to water the arid wastes of selfishness, to keep the wilful from going astray, to heal the wounds of those who are lonely in the world. It is all expressed in such a human way. Emotions are engaged, not elided. We are relational human beings.
Trinity and Unity
The family image remains essential. This is expressed especially in John’s Gospel at 17:21ff. That you all may be one, as I and the Father are one. Love one another. And to make it all possible Jesus sends The Paraclete when he returns to his Father. “If you see charity, you see the Trinity”. This citation from St Augustine (De Trinitate, VIII, 8) is given by Pope Benedict XVI in his encyclical Deus Caritas Est , (CTS, 2006, p. 23). The pope there describes the Church’s charitable activity as a manifestation of Trinitarian love.
We have been following the biblical way of presenting the believing experience of God. The way we relate together daily as believers illustrates the nature of the God we believe in. At the end of Matthew’s Gospel (28:28) Jesus said to the apostles: “…go into the whole world and teach them, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…and behold I am with you always until the close of the age.” We saw how they did it, not as armchair philosophers but as relational human beings setting up communities who care for each other and for everyone needy and looking for love. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church states (261): The mystery of the Trinity is the central mystery of the Christian faith and of Christian life.
And after today our Sundays follow Ordinary Time liturgically. We just go on living our believing lives and trying to love in the way we should, openly, inclusively and responsibly. It is never easy, especially as a massively important referendum comes upon us. How can we use our loving experience now? A happy feast to you all.
Rev Richard J. Taylor
Boarbank Hall, Cumbria, UK