June 11, 2017

Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity


The great 20th-century Catholic theologian Father Karl Rahner, SJ, was supposedly asked once by a priest friend how he should explain the Holy Trinity when preaching. Father Rahner’s reply was simple: “Don’t!” The mystery we celebrate in today’s feast defies not only explanation but also comprehension. The preacher is left to reaffirm our core belief that God, remaining one, is somehow also triune. The preacher is further challenged to help his congregants (and himself) understand why that truth might matter in their daily lives.

First, God has graciously chosen to reveal the mystery of his inner nature to us in and through the person and teachings of Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God, who regularly prayed to God as Father, and who also sent his Spirit to abide with us. But for a Christian, the Trinity is not an abstract theological concept but a reality that is to be lived through, one that shapes our relationships to God and each other.

According to Tradition, when St. Spyridon of Trimithund was asked at the Council of Nicea (A.D. 325) how three can simultaneously be one, he responded (with a little divine help!) by taking up a brick and squeezing it. From the now-soft clay in his hands, a flame flared up, while simultaneously water flowed downward. “As there is fire and water in this brick,” said St. Spyridon, “in the same way there are three persons in the one Godhead.”

Another approach might be to remind ourselves that God remains always beyond our comprehension — the creator of all that is. Yet it is that same God who also has drawn near us by experiencing human nature just as we do. He continues to come to us in time and space, especially in the Eucharist. Yet again, that same God dwells mystically within us, guiding and enabling us to cry out, “Abba, Father,” and to praise Jesus as Lord.

If we fail at times to think of the mystery of the Trinity in our daily lives, perhaps we are to be forgiven. We are like fish who fail to ponder the mystery of water; the Trinity surrounds us, sustains us. It is such a basic part of our reality as believers that we consciously cease to notice it.

Trinity as Our Ultimate Goal

“The Trinity … is also the ultimate goal toward which our earthly pilgrimage is geared. The path of Christian life is in fact a path that is essentially ‘trinitarian’: the Holy Spirit guides us to full knowledge of the teachings of Christ. And it also reminds us of what Jesus taught us.... Everything, in Christian life, revolves around the mystery of the Trinity and is fulfilled in this infinite mystery.”

— Pope Francis, May 31, 2015

Homily Helps for the May issue were written by FATHER DAN RUFF, SJ, who teaches homiletics as an adjunct faculty member at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Wynnewood, Pa., and is a full-time member of the campus ministry staff at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia.