Most of you have probably heard the legends about St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland. One particular legend, which is based on fact, is his understanding of the concept of the Trinity. In his personal confession, he wrote:
For there is no other God, nor ever was before, nor shall be hereafter, but God the Father, unbegotten, and without beginning…and his son Jesus Christ, who always existed with the Father, before the beginning of time…And he poured out his Holy Spirit on us in abundance, which makes the believers and the obedient into sons (and daughters) of one God in the Trinity of Holy Name.
Saint Patrick was once asked to explain how God could be three in one. He reached down and picked up a shamrock. He held it up and asked, "Is it one leaf or three?". The reply was, "It is both one leaf and three", to which Saint Patrick replied, "And so it is with God"
Here's a simple example of how the Trinity works. God loves us and he is hurt when we turn away from him through sin. Jesus came to restore our relationship with God by paying the price for our sins. The Holy Spirit reminds us of everything Jesus and God said and did, and guides us on our daily walk of faith. The Holy Spirit lets us know that we are loved and that we can experience God's love in an immediate, personal and transforming way.
Why should we even talk about the Trinity, let alone listen to me preach about it? That is a question I asked myself several times during my preparation for this morning's homily. The Trinity is a difficult concept for anyone to grasp, and I remembered the reason why it is so difficult for us to understand when I came across these words which I found in the sermon I preached on Trinity Sunday in 2010.
In that sermon I mentioned that part of reason why the Trinity is so difficult to understand lies in how the Trinity is presented in John’s Gospel. John wrote his Gospel for an audience that was primarily Greek. The Greeks were leaders in science, thought and philosophy. In other words, Greek society was very intelligent and highly sophisticated, especially in terms of understanding abstract concepts. This is one reason why John’s Gospel is very theological in nature.
I also mentioned that the very complications of the Trinity are designed to bring us closer to God. There is something we need to know. We don’t know everything about God, but we know everything about Him that we need to know. The Scriptures assure us of that. We do not have to understand everything, spiritual or non-spiritual, the minute we become adults and that includes the Trinity. We know enough to save us. God pours out grace upon us, in abundance and consistently, whether we realize it or not. The Holy Spirit helps us and the Church to understand all of what Jesus said, especially what he said about God.
The Trinity is one of the most fascinating aspects of Christian theology, but it is also one of the most controversial. It is a mystery to us because it is a reality that is above our human ability to understand. We can begin to grasp it on our own, but we must really discover it through worship, symbol and faith. In essence, the Trinity is the belief that God is one in essence, but distinct in person. In other words, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are somehow distinct from one another, yet at the same time they are completely united in essence, will and tasks.
There are four good reasons why we need to talk about the Trinity. First, the Trinity is God. All three persons-Father, Son and Holy Spirit-are the same but different at the same time. Second, the Trinity is the basis of our Christian doctrine. If we eliminate the Trinity, we eliminate the doctrine of one God or we worship a God who can become better or worse or has needs.
Third, the Trinity reveals counterfeit gods. The Holy Spirit opens our eyes and minds to who Jesus really is. The Holy Spirit reminds us that Jesus is both the Son of God and God himself in the flesh. If we hear the Trinity preached regularly, we accept it and can counter the false gods of faith such as Islam, Mormonism or the Jehovah's Witnesses.
Finally, the Trinity is the basis for all human relations. All three members exist in prefect love and harmony, but the Holy Spirit submits to both the Son and the Father, and the Son submits to the Father. They submit to each other, but they are equal. (Pause)
The Trinity is not just a New Testament concept. The Holy Spirit was very active in the Old Testament. The Trinity was an active part of creation. People were regenerated in the Old Testament just like they were regenerated in the New Testament, and the only way people can be regenerated is by the influence of God the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit also gifted certain people in the Old Testament and equipped them for specific tasks. For example, kings were anointed with oil, which represented being empowered by the Holy Spirit to carry out their duties in a godly way.
The Holy Spirit brings spiritual truth to believers. It calls Scripture to mind, illuminates its meaning and couples itself with experience. The Holy Spirit glorifies God the Son. It vindicates the truth of his teachings and his identity. Unlike the disciples after Jesus ' resurrection and before Pentecost, we are not alone. We always have the Holy Spirit. It convicts the world of sin and changes people's lives.
No one can escape God's wrath by natural means. It can only be done through faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It creates a sense of relief in believers, and only then can we start to live. Faith in God leads to peace with God. Peace does not mean tranquility. It means no longer being subject to God's anger because of sin. We can't earn our way out of our sin debt to God because we can never know how much is enough. The process of receiving God's grace through faith is just a start. It transforms us through the working of the Holy Spirit.
If we give ourselves to the Holy Spirit and let him guide us, we will never wander from the faith because he is ever-present. He glorifies Christ in the view of men. He convicts the world of righteousness. He comes to everyone who humbly seeks to know Christ. He intercedes in every area of our lives. He helps us understand God's Word. He convicts us of sin. He speaks the truth of God's Word. He teaches us what Christ taught either by himself or through the disciples.
In order to approach Scripture, we have to pray first. We have to pray to the Holy Spirit for guidance and understanding. We sense the Holy Spirit when it comes to us from God. God reveals himself to all of us, but only as much as we can understand with the help of the Holy Spirit. For example, in the reading from John 16:12-15, Jesus knew the disciples couldn't receive more truth because they were concerned with themselves. They could not understand the spiritual truth he wanted to teach them without the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit comes from God and glorifies the relationship between Jesus and God. It translates the words of Jesus for us when we encounter situations where we have to ask ourselves the famous question, "What would Jesus do?" It challenges us to shape our lives according to Jesus' teachings instead of shaping our lives according to the standards of the world.
The Holy Spirit emphasizes sin, righteousness and judgment. Faith in Jesus gives us God's grace and peace. It gives us hope and comforts us when we suffer as expressed in these words from Romans 5:3-4: "We also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance, perseverance produces character, and character produces hope". God pours out his love through the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit reminds us that God's love is watching over us. Suffering is good not because of the suffering itself, but because of the patience, experience and hope that come from it.
For example, those of you who have been farmers or who have planted gardens know that plants need soil, sun and rain in order to grow. If you take away any one of those ingredients, plants have a harder time growing. It's like the story of a man who toured an orange grove where an irrigation pump had broken. The season was dry and some of the trees were dying because they lacked water. The man who gave the tour then took the visitor to his own orchard where irrigation was used sparingly. He said, "These trees could go without rain for another two weeks. When they were young, I frequently kept water from them. This hardship caused them to send their roots deeper into the soil in search of moisture. Now, my trees have the deepest roots in the area. While others are being scorched by the sun, these are finding moisture at greater depths." Suffering can produce the "roots" we as believers need to survive and thrive in any season of life, but to grow these deep roots we have to plant ourselves in God's Words to find comfort and strength when we suffer.
We must remember that the Holy Spirit is our guide, not our controller. We keep our ability to choose to follow His leading. As a result, we are always responsible for our actions and our words. The Holy Spirit guides believers into truth, which in turn makes his guidance trustworthy. It helps believers decide what is true and what is false; what is wise and what is foolish; what is best and what is simply okay. When life bombards us, the Holy Spirit will guide us. He will give us that sense of discernment that we need to make both big and small decisions. As we become more sensitive to his guidance, we will worry less and less about the decisions we will make.
The Holy Spirit never speaks on his own. He submits to the Father's authority, so everything he speaks is directly from the Father. This makes sense because the Holy Spirit lives in all of us, and since he has direct access to our minds, he is the perfect candidate for communicating God's will to us.
The Trinity is a mystery, but this does not mean a riddle. Instead, the Trinity is a reality above our human comprehension that we may begin to grasp, but ultimately must know through worship, symbol and faith. In order to understand it, we must live in the light of its implications for our human lives. The relationship that exists among the three divine persons suggests to us that we can know God through our relationships---not only in God’s relationship to us, but to the entire created world.
God is real and we are never alone. We can draw close to him and know that he will provide for our needs because he cares for us. We are never beyond his reach because of the Holy Spirit. The Father opened the way for us to be in his family. Jesus continually offers his peace so we can experience peace of mind and heart, and the Holy Spirit cultivates the fruit of peace in our lives. As a result of our relationship with God through Jesus Christ, the God-kind of love dwells, abides and makes its home in our hearts, but it can't be expressed until we yield to the Holy Spirit in fellowship by confessing it and practicing it.