Ex 34:4b-6,8-9 • 2 Cor 13:11-13 • Jn 3:16-18
“The mystery of the Most Holy Trinity is the central mystery of Christian faith and life. It is the mystery of God in himself. It is therefore the source of all the other mysteries of faith, the light that enlightens them. It is the most fundamental and essential teaching in the hierarchy of the truths of the faith. The whole history of salvation is identical with the history of the way and the means by which the one true God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, reveals himself to humanity and reconciles and unites with himself those who turn away from sin.” — Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 234
Do I believe in God? Most of us would answer yes. Who is God? While most of us believe there is a God, many do not know who God is, or at least they say they’ve never had an experience of God.
The term Trinity is, in fact, impossible to fully grasp, and yet the description of God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is central to most — although not all — Christian religions. Defining or explaining God is beyond human words; however, the doctrine of the Holy Trinity is about more than explaining God. Its primary purpose is to describe our experience of God. While this too is difficult, it is not impossible because so many of us have had an experience of God.
At many sporting events someone will hold up a placard for the cameras that simply reads, “John 3:16.” (God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him might not perish but might have eternal life.) For most, this is our primary experience of God: God loves us. We call the Trinity a mystery, but it is a different kind of mystery. The mystery of the Holy Trinity is a mystery that wants to be solved. How do we know this? What the Gospel teaches us is that God loves us so much that God acted first, and that God has always made the first move.
There are times when one spouse says to the other, “I love you.” Sometimes it is people in love who say it to the object of their affection. Sometimes it is a parent who says it to a child. Regardless of who says it, we are always hoping for a particular response: “And I love you.” Children might be excused from responding directly, but woe to the spouse or lover who fails to respond!
We know that, through the person of Jesus, God the Father has said to us, “I love you,” and just as would any spouse, parent or lover, God hopes for a response from us. More than saying back to God, “And I love you,” believing in Him and acting on our belief is our response.
Unfortunately some say that their experience of God is one of fear, an experience of God as judge, but John tells us that God does not judge. God sent His Son to save us, not to condemn us. What we learn from John is that if we do not accept this gift, we have, in effect, turned down God’s love and have thus judged ourselves.
At times God can seem distant, but at our worst or emptiest moments, His love somehow seeps in. We keep hearing John 3:16 — God so loves us that He sent His Son. Even when the Apostles turned their backs on Jesus at the crucifixion and fled, Jesus still did not judge or condemn. Jesus so loves us that He did not abandon his Apostles then or us when we sin now. Jesus sent the Holy Spirit in order that He will always remain present to us.
The prayer Paul offers at the conclusion of second Corinthians, which we use at the beginning of Mass, reminds us of who God is. We have the love of the Father. The word “grace” is a word that speaks of relationship, so we are reminded that, although we don’t always feel it, we are always in a relationship with Christ. And, too, we have the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. This fellowship is more than getting together at coffee and donuts and far more than the fellowship enjoyed at a club. This fellowship speaks of an intimate experience, an intimate communion.
As we ponder our personal experience of God, and as we struggle to put words to that experience, we should also ponder our response. How have we returned God’s statement, “I love you?” Do we behave as a person who believes that God loves us? Have we heard the urging of Paul to mend our ways or to encourage one another in our pursuit of God? Just as lovers strive to discover the depths of each other’s souls, do we choose to strive to discover the depth of God and His love?
The mystery of the Holy Trinity is tough to understand, but all of the mystery that we need to grasp is that we are loved by God.
FATHER STEINER, born and reared in Chattanooga, Tenn., is a priest of the Diocese of Nashville. He currently serves as rector of the Cathedral of the Incarnation in Nashville. Previously, he served in the diocesan high school as teacher, associate principal, and principal. He received his education from St. Meinrad Seminary in Indiana, the Gregorian University in Rome, and The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C..