Homily for the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity
Theme: God is Three, God is One.
By: Fr. Omokugbo Ojeifo
Homily for Sunday June 16, 2019
Trinity Sunday has come to be regarded as the most difficult day for a priest to preach a homily. Explaining to the congregation how there are three persons in one God and not three gods is not quite easy. I was at a Mass two years ago in a parish where the priest started his homily with a statement that I considered quite hilarious but also perhaps true. He said that on Trinity Sunday, there’s a sense of incredulity when the priest looks at the faces in his congregation. On the one hand, the priest is not sure that the congregation understands what he is saying. On the other hand, the congregation is not sure that the priest knows what he is saying.
Well, I’m not going to look at your faces. I have noticed that in the attempt to simplify the doctrine of the Trinity and to make it understood, some preachers would rather employ analogies. I have been at Mass where different priests have used an egg (shell, white, yoke), the sun (heat, rays, light) and a triangle (three equal sides) to explain the Trinity. But I think that even that is not helpful. Analogies work in the form of comparison, but here we are dealing with a mystery that cannot be compared. So analogies end up complicating everything or even reducing the very nature and essence of the mystery.
The great doctor of the Church, St. Augustine of Hippo, spent over 30 years working on his treatise on the Trinity (De Trinitate) in an endeavour to conceive an intelligible explanation of the mystery of the Trinity. He is even said to have a vision one day when he was walking by the seashore and contemplating the mystery of the Holy Trinity. He came across a little child running back and forth from the water to a spot on the seashore. The boy was using a shell to carry water from the large ocean and pour it into a small hole he had made in the sand. St. Augustine walked up to the little boy and asked him what he was doing.
“I’m going to pour this entire ocean into this hole,” the boy replied.
“What?” said Augustine. “That is impossible my dear child. The sea is so great and the shell and the hole are so little.”
“That is true,” the boy said. “It would be easier and quicker to draw all the water out of the sea and fit it into this hole than for you to fit the mystery of the Trinity and His Divinity into your little intellect; for the mystery of the Trinity is greater and larger in comparison with your intelligence than is this vast ocean in comparison with this little hole.” And the little child vanished.
Some people say it was the Christ child himself who came to remind Augustine of the limits of human understanding in relation to the great mysteries of our Faith. Thankfully, when we say the Trinity is a mystery we are not saying that it is something beyond our human understanding. On the contrary it means that we can understand it but we cannot exhaust its meaning. I would have been tempted to simply say to you: if you make the sign of the cross or if you pray the Doxology or if you have been baptised, then that is the Trinity, that is our Faith, that is what we believe. But that does not suffice. I think I should say more.
I will try to do two things briefly. First I will look at what the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches in its first part, which focuses on the Christian profession of faith – the Creed. It is under the Creed that the Catechism discusses the dogma of the Blessed Trinity (nos. 232-267). Secondly, I will turn to the readings of today briefly. The Catechism begins the discussion on the Trinity by stating that Christians are baptised in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit; not in their names but in their name because God is one. That is the first fundamental affirmation we make in the Creed: “I believe in one God.” In that sense, the faith of each one of us rests on the Trinity.
Going further, the Catechism says: “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 faith’” (CCC 234). This simply means that the mysteries of our faith are arranged systematically in a hierarchical order, in order of importance, and the Trinity occupies the topmost position. If a Christian were to say “I don’t believe in the Trinity” or “I don’t believe in God” everything collapses. He cannot believe any other truth of faith because they all hang on the Trinity.
Next the Catechism looks at God’s revelation of himself as Trinity in the history of salvation, beginning with indications of the Trinity in the Old Testament and concluding with Jesus’ revelation of God as Trinity in the New Testament. We find explicit references to the Trinity in the teachings of Jesus but more concretely at his Baptism, before his Ascension when he announced the gift of the Holy Spirit that the Father will send in his Name, and then the Great Commission where he instructed his Apostles to preach the gospel to all nations and baptise them in the name of the Trinity. The Catechism ends the discussion with the formulation of the dogma of the Trinity in the Church.
What about our readings today? What do they say about the great mystery we celebrate? Our first reading is from one of the Wisdom books of the Bible, the Book of Proverbs and it talks about the wisdom that was there in the beginning when God created the world. This wisdom is intangible but it speaks as a human being. It is personified. I remember that in secondary school, I was taught that personification is a figure of speech which gives human attributes or qualities to an inanimate object or non living thing. That is what happens here with wisdom speaking.
Properly understood, this wisdom is a person, Jesus Christ whom John the Evangelist refers to as the Logos, the Word of God. He is no longer the personification of wisdom but the incarnation of wisdom – Wisdom Incarnate. St John begins his gospel with these words: “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things came into being; not one thing came into being except through him” (Jn. 1:1-3). We affirm this in the Creed when we say of Jesus: “Begotten not made, consubstantial with the Father, through him all things were made.”
In the opening words of Prologue of his gospel (Jn. 1:1) John takes us back to the opening words of the creation narrative in Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” This wisdom of God who was there in the beginning is the Word of God through whom all things were made. That is why St Paul refers to Jesus as “the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Cor. 1:24). In the gospel of today, there is a clear indication of the Divine Godhead in Jesus’ farewell speech at the Last Supper with his disciples. Here Jesus speaks about the Father and the Holy Spirit in a way that shows a bond, a unity of the three divine persons.
Last Sunday we celebrated the Solemnity of Pentecost, the outpouring of God’s Holy Spirit in each one of us. At the very end of today’s second reading, St. Paul says: “the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” At the end of the day, the one lesson which today’s Solemnity enjoins upon us is this: we are invited to become what we profess – a people united, a community of love modelled on the love that binds the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit; as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.