Summary: 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.
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.