Back to the Basics

(Homily for Trinity Sunday)

A number of years ago our educational system spent a lot of time helping students feel good about themselves. It worked for a while, but when the students graduated, a high percentage could not correctly fill out an application or reconcile a bank statement. When their checks bounced and they did not get hired, their self-esteem took a nosedive. Many educators recognized the mistake and pretty soon we had a movement called, “back to the basics.” It emphasized teaching students the fundamentals of arithmetic, writing and reading.

In regard to teaching the faith, something similar needs to happen - and, thanks be to God, to a certain degree is happening. At one time religious educators placed great emphasis on teaching children that God loves them. Nothing wrong with that. None of us can hear that message too often. However, we need to know the foundation for God’s love, why he loves us and how we participate in that love. This Sunday we return to basics: the Trinity, the great mystery upon which the Christian faith (and ultimately the universe itself) is founded.

Early Christians summed up the mystery of the Trinity in these words: The Father is God, Jesus his Son is God and the Holy Spirit is God, but there are not three Gods, but one God. As the Athanasian Creed says, “We worship one God in three persons and three persons in one God, without confusing the persons or dividing the divine substance.” The persons are distinct: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, but the substance is one: God.

This bare definition points to a reality we can glimpse, but not capture. It is like the sun; we can take a glance, but its brightness causes us to turn away. Yet that very brightness makes it possible for us to see everything else. So it is with the Trinity. Jesus has given us a glimpse of his relation to the Father. The energy, the love between them is itself a third divine person, the Holy Spirit. If the universe sprung from the interplay of those ever existing Persons, then the things you and I experience must somehow reflect that mystery: for example, the self-giving between human beings, the elusive nature of the human mind and perhaps even physical phenomena, such as gravity and light, which we constantly experience and measure, but really don't know what they are.

St. Paul tells us that when we pray, the mystery of Trinity overtakes us. In our prayer we talk to God, but at its deepest level prayer is (take a deep breath) God speaking to God. The Spirit within us calls out “Abba,” that is, “Father.” The Spirit within us proclaims that Jesus is Lord and that through him we too are somehow share in his sonship.

We need to keep these basics before our minds - and teach them to our children. Some people have gotten the idea that the Trinity was invented in the fourth century. Well, today we hear Jesus telling his apostles to baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. A document called the Didache or Teachings of the Twelve - which may have been written as early as 50 A.D. - gives this mandate: “After the foregoing instructions, baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, in living [running] water. If you have no living water, then baptize in other water, and if you are not able in cold, then in warm. If you have neither, pour water three times on the head, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”

In other words, what matters is not the temperature or quantity of water, but the Trinitarian reality. It is time to return to the basics: our participation in the life of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.


Spanish Version

From Archives:

Trinity Sunday Homily 2011: Origin and Goal
2010: I Have Much More to Tell You
2009: Purpose of Our Existence
2008: Family as Origin and Goal
2007: Hope Does Not Disappoint
2006: Back to the Basics
2005: Alone Again
2004: I Was There
2003: The Name
2002: An Excellent Question
2001: The Image Within
2000: Out of the Midst of Fire
1999: A Capacity for God
1998: Foundation of the Universe

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