Tuesday, June 6, 2017


Trinity Sunday Year A.  Ex. 34:4b-6, 8-9; 2 Cor.13:11-13; John 3:16-18.
AIM: To explain the doctrine of the Trinity in terms intelligible to the hearers and fruitful for their lives.
          Can we describe God? Down through the ages preachers have asked this question; and never more than on this Trinity Sunday, when we preachers have the task of explaining what it means to say that God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
          A story beloved of preachers tells of how the great fifth-century North African bishop St. Augustine strolled along the shore of the Mediterranean wondering how to explain the Trinity. As he did so, he saw a little girl going back and forth into the sea, filling a small bucket with water which she poured into a hole she had dug in the sand. “What are you doing, dear?” Augustine asked. “I’m trying to empty the sea into this hole,” the child replied. “How do you think that with your little bucket you can possibly empty this immense ocean into this tiny hole?” Augustine countered. To which the girl replied: “And how do you, with your small head, think you can comprehend the immensity of God?” No sooner had the girl spoken these words than she disappeared. 
          The story contains an important truth. God is a mystery: not in the sense that we can understand nothing about God; but that what we can understand is always less than what we cannot understand. Pope Benedict, who has a special love for St. Augustine, put that little girl’s shell into his coat of arms as a reminder of the mystery with which God is surrounded. One thing we can understand, however, is how people have experienced God.
          Our first reading shows us Moses experiencing God in a cloud — a symbol of mystery, for in a cloud we cannot see clearly. The same divine cloud appears at Jesus’ Transfiguration, when his clothes and face shine with heavenly light. A cloud enveloped Jesus at his Ascension. At the Transfiguration Peter, James, and John experience fear, and bow down in worship. Moses does the same in our first reading. The witnesses to Jesus’ Ascension also bowed down in worship. This is the first way people experience God in the Bible: as the utterly Other, whose presence inspires awe and compels worship.
          At the very moment, however, in which Moses was worshiping the true God atop Mount Sinai, his people below were bowing down in worship to a golden calf: a deity of their own devising, who made no demands upon them; who symbolized a superhuman virility and power which, the people vainly imagined, they could harness to their own ends. That is idolatry — for the Bible one of the worst sins there is. We become guilty of idolatry whenever we suppose that prayer and other religious practices give us access to some supernatural power which we can turn on or off like the light switch; which we can use to get whatever we want. God always hears and answers prayer. But he does so in sovereign freedom: not at the time, or in the way that we want — or think we can dictate. God is never at our disposal. We are at his disposal.
          God’s appearance to Moses at the very moment when Moses’ people were committing the ultimate sin of idolatry shows that God is not only mysterious and fearful. He is also tender and compassionate. He is a God of love. This is how Jesus experienced God. Our gospel reading reflects this experience: “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.” 
          Jesus devoted the whole of his earthly life to helping people experience God’s love. He demonstrated this love through deeds of compassion. He illustrated God’s love through stories, his parables, which are still told and pondered twenty centuries later. And on Calvary he gave us the supreme example of love.
          Following Jesus’ resurrection and ascension, his friends came to realize that he had not left them. He was still with them, though the manner of his presence was different. They recalled that Jesus had foretold this:
          “I will not leave you orphans. I will come back to you” (Jn. 14:18).
          “I will ask the Father and he will give you another to be your Advocate, who will be with you forever — the Spirit of truth” (Jn. 14:15).
          “I shall see you again; then your hearts will rejoice with a joy no one can take from you” (Jn. 16:22). This joy at Jesus’ continuing presence is the third way people experience God.
          Pondering these three ways in which people experienced God, the Church developed the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. The God who is one is also three: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This is the description, in formal religious language, of how we experience God. He is the utterly Other, who inspires awe and worship. But he is also a God of love, a love so amazing, so divine, so undeserved by sinners like ourselves that he kindles within us an answering love: love for God, love for our fellow humans. And whenever we experience God in either of these ways — as the almighty creator and Father of the universe whose presence inspires awe, or in his Son Jesus in whom we see unconditional love in human form — we are experiencing God in and through the power of his Holy Spirit. The Spirit is God at work in our world, and in our hearts and minds, here and now. The Spirit is God’s love: the love exchanged between Father and Son, the love poured into our hearts — not just to give us a warm feeling inside, but to share with others. 
          Our second reading, finally, speaks about this sharing: “Encourage one another, agree with one another, live in peace, and the God of love and peace will be with you.”
          St. Augustine’ words to the little girl are true. God is too immense to get into our small heads. But the threefold experience of God is within the reach of all, even of children. God discloses himself to us in these three ways to lift our eyes from earth to heaven; to make us, through the power of the Holy Spirit, what Jesus was and is: channels and instruments through whom heaven comes down to earth.