Alone Again

(Homily for Trinity Sunday)

At a confirmation ceremony, the bishop asked one of the high school students to give a definition of the Trinity. A girl, who was somewhat soft spoken, said, “The Holy Trinity is three divine persons in one God.” Slightly hard of hearing, the bishop said, “I am sorry. I don’t understand what you are saying.” The girl replied, “Bishop, you are not supposed to understand. The Trinity is a mystery!”

What the girl said is true. The Trinity, three persons in one God, is the basic mystery of our faith, far beyond human understanding. Nevertheless we do have some clues. From the Bible we know that Jesus revealed himself as equal to the Father – or, as we say in the creed “one in being (consubstantial with) the Father.” Yet Jesus is distinct from the Father; he did the Father’s will. Together they sent the Holy Spirit, a third divine person. The early Christians expressed it this way: The Father is God, Jesus his Son is God and the Holy Spirit is God, but there are not three gods, but one God.

Besides the Bible, we have some clues from the world God created. The greatest clue is inside the human heart. We experience ourselves as radically social beings. To illustrate our social nature I would like to tell you about a man I will call Robert. He had been married for 35 years when his wife died after an extended illness. After her death Robert felt disoriented; he had difficulty motivating himself to do even simple tasks like preparing a meal. Eventually he got enough courage to attend a social group. The director began by asking how many were married. Out of habit Robert raised his hand. The director then asked the singles to show their hands. Realizing his mistake, Robert sheepishly lifted his hand a second time.

We can identity with Robert. Even those who are not married know that marriage has a cost, but the single state can be even more costly. In Robert’s case it was not just that he had grown dependent on his wife. It went much deeper, to the very root of his being. The Greek philosopher Aristotle spoke about a “social instinct implanted in all men by nature.” He went on to say that the “man who has no need of others, who is sufficient unto himself, must either be a beast or a god.”

Most of us are not so unhinged that we imagine ourselves to be gods. On a deep level we know that we need others. As the Bible says, “It is not good for man to be alone.” This refers not just to marriage, but to a desire for communion which goes way beyond the requirements for survival. People can spend hours in conversation or just in each others’ presence. People even seek communion through the Internet, for example, in chat rooms. I don’t know if it works, but it does point to our social nature.

Aristotle recognized man’s social nature, but he could not say where it comes from. The Bible goes further. It teaches that we are made in the image of God and that God himself is a communion of persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. He wants us to become a part of that communion. For that he created us. I saw this poignantly in my mom during the years after my dad died. She felt lonely and often talked about being reunited with him. I would sometimes say to her, “Ma, why do you say that? Why do feel so sad? After all, you have your children and grandchildren.” I knew of course that the loneliness was much deeper. Created in God’s image, she would always feel lonely until reunited with the one who had made her – the divine Source who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Today Jesus reassures us that the Father loves us so much that he will give all – his only begotten Son – so that we might have eternal life in him:

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.

************

Earlier Version

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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