An Excellent Question

(Homily for Trinity Sunday)

A good question is often more helpful than a good answer. In our confirmation course, a student asked:

“Father, if Jesus is God, how can he pray to God? It seems like he would be talking to himself.”

I congratulated him for his excellent question. My response was not original. It went back to Christian teachers of the earliest centuries: “The Father is God. His Son Jesus Christ is God. The Holy Spirit is God. Yet there are not three Gods, but one God.” That sums up the distinctive teaching of the New Testament. It is called the Holy Trinity.*

For fifty days we celebrated the fact that Jesus rose and then took his place at the right hand of the Father. Last Sunday, Pentecost, we recognized a Third Person whom the Father "poured out." His name is the Holy Spirit. Like Jesus and the Father, He is God.

The coming of the Holy Spirit was not a total surprise. Jesus spoke about sending someone with a mysterious name – Paraclete (paracletos). It comes from two words para “along side of” and cletos “called.” For that reason, we say the Holy Spirit is our Advocate (the Latin ad-vocatus means about the same as the Greek Paraclete). He is a Defender, or as we say today - an attorney.

We need an attorney when we have committed a crime or when accused of one. My dad, who installed septic systems, once dug a hole for a perk test. Unfortunately a cow slipped into the hole and broke her leg. My dad of course felt bad, but he felt even worse when the owner said it was his fault and wanted my dad to buy him a new cow. He took my dad to court. Pa got a lawyer and he won the case. Nothing like a good attorney!

Well, Jesus has given us the best of attorneys - and we need him because we face a vicious, unscrupulous accuser. According to Rev. 12:10, Satan accuses us “night and day.” Monotony does not depress him as it does us. He does not tire. Like a cruel person who spots your exact weakness, he keeps repeating: “You have sinned. You are garbage. If people really knew, they would be disgusted. Give up. Just end it all.” The devil desires suicide. Since the clergy scandals broke, two priests a have taken their own lives. A triumph for Satan, but a tragic loss for humanity.**

Against such a relentless accuser, our only hope is a powerful Defender. However, if we accept an all-seeing Attorney, we have to be willing to listen to him. He will not cover up the facts: "Yes, you have sinned. You do need to give yourself up. But not to anhilation. There is forgiveness. There is healing."

Last week I mentioned the Fr. Spitzer's prayer to the Holy Spirit. If you have not done so, please make that prayer for your own healing and for those you may have harmed. On this Trinity Sunday I want to take it a step further. You know, the young man who asked the question about God praying to God was not far from the mark. The fact is we could not pray unless the Holy Spirit prayed within us. He makes it possible for us to enter into the relation which is prior to all relations: the Father's eternal Word which is the Son - and the Son's loving submission to the Father. All that exists - including you and me - comes from that relationship of outpouring love. And it must return to it - or fall into eternal destruction. Having said that, we have arrived at the "bottom line" of all reality. Perhaps for that reason, Paul concludes his final letter to the Corinthians with these words:

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ
and the love of God
and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with all of you. (2 Cor 13:14)


*The word trinity (threeness) is not found in the New Testament. Nevertheless, it expresses Jesus' teaching in a precise way. Something similar could be said about other phrases: Incarnation, Blessed Sacrament, Immaculate Conception, Sunday worship, papacy, Communion of Saints, purgatory, infant baptism, etc.

About the Trinity, Gregory the Wonderworker (A.D. 262) wrote:

"That there are indeed three persons, inasmuch as there is one person of God the Father, and one of the Lord the Son, and one of the Holy Spirit; and yet that there is but one divinity, inasmuch as . . . there is one substance in the Trinity" (see God in Three Persons for other quotes.)

The Athanasian Creed sums up the teaching in this manner:

The Father uncreate, the Son uncreate : 
and the Holy Ghost uncreate. 
The Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible : 
and the Holy Ghost incomprehensible. 
The Father eternal, the Son eternal : 
and the Holy Ghost eternal. 

And yet they are not three eternals : 
but one eternal. 
As also there are not three incomprehensibles, nor three uncreated : 
but one uncreated, and one incomprehensible. 
So likewise the Father is Almighty, the Son Almighty : 
and the Holy Ghost Almighty. 
And yet they are not three Almighties : 
but one Almighty. 

So the Father is God, the Son is God : 
and the Holy Ghost is God. 
And yet they are not three Gods : 
but one God. 
So likewise the Father is Lord, the Son Lord : 
and the Holy Ghost Lord. 
And yet not three Lords : 
but one Lord. 

**I make no judgment about any individual suicide. The Catechism states:

"Suicide contradicts the natural inclination of the human being to preserve and perpetuate his life. It is gravely contrary to the just love of self. It likewise offends love of neighbor because it unjustly breaks the ties of solidarity with family, nation, and other human societies to which we continue to have obligations. Suicide is contrary to love for the living God." but also, "Grave psychological disturbances, anguish, or grave fear of hardship, suffering, or torture can diminish the responsibility of the one committing suicide." (#2282)

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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Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C

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Submission to the Ad Hoc Committee on Sexual Abuse United States Conference of Catholic Bishops by Germain Grisez, Ph.D., Professor of Christian Ethics

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