The Image Within

(Trinity Sunday, Year C)

Memory improvement courses rely on two principles. First, make some striking connection. Suppose you meet the auxiliary bishop of Seattle and wish to remember his name. Seeing his wavy hair, you invent a silly phrase – “Gorgeous George going To-Mass.” With that mental picture you have a hook ("mnemonic device") to recall his name - George Thomas.

Together with inventiveness must also come desire – the recognition that remembering Bishop Thomas’ name has some importance. Our former principal learned all 260 students’ names in a week. Amazed, people asked him how he did it. He said, “It is simple. I love them.”

Sixteen hundred years ago St. Augustine* discovered these same two principles of memory. What I referred to as “inventiveness” and “desire,” he designates more precisely: understanding (intelligencia) and will (voluntas):

Let us especially consider and discuss these three--memory, understanding, will. For we may commonly discern in these three the character of the abilities of the young also; since the more tenaciously and easily a boy remembers, and the more acutely he understands, and the more ardently he studies, the more praiseworthy is he in point of ability.” (De Trinitate, X, 11, 17)

We remember not just because an image or word strikes our senses, but by applying intelligence and desire. St. Augustine sees a trace of the Trinity (vestigia sanctae trinitatis) in these three:

Since, then, these three, memory, understanding, will, are not three lives, but one life; nor three minds, but one mind; it follows certainly that neither are they three substances, but one substance.” (Ibid.)

What makes the human mind unique? Computers store and retrieve data much more reliably. Other animals receive a wider range of information - for instance, a dog’s olfactory powers. Still, they cannot engage understanding and will as we do. Thus we create – and pass on – culture. As Chesterton pointed out, “a history of cows in twelve volumes would not be very lively reading.” (Everlasting Man, chapter 7) In contrast, a single human event provides material for endless discussion. For example, whether the conspirators did well to assassinate Julius Caesar. Tho not so dramatic, our own deliberate acts have implications we can only begin to imagine. Because of our capacity to understand and choose, we possess an infinite reach.

Man’s dignity derives from being an image of God. This Sunday we add a precision: we are made in the image of the triune God. In seeking a comparison for the threeness of God, Augustine turned from physical images. The shamrock, for example, conveys too much separation, as if there were three Gods. (To compare the Trinity to a human family has great merit in bringing out the "social" nature of God. Nevertheless, as an analogy it has the same weakness as the shamrock.) A better comparison is the spring, fount and stream. The one flows from the other and they share the same substance – water. However, the comparison has pitfalls. The spring exists before the fount and brook. But Father, Son and Spirit are co-eternal. To convey some of that mystery requires a spiritual analogy. For that reason, Augustine looked inward to discover a more adequate image of the Trinity:

For I remember that I have memory and understanding, and will; and I understand that I understand, and will, and remember; and I will that I will, and remember, and understand; and I remember together my whole memory, and understanding, and will… And, therefore, while all are mutually comprehended by each, and as wholes, each as a whole is equal to each as a whole, and each as a whole at the same time to all as wholes; and these three are one, one life, one mind, one essence.” (X, 11, 18)

In his quest for a Trinitarian analogy, Augustine plunged deeper into human psychology than any previous writer. Still, his goal was not so much the mystery of the human mind, but rather the ultimate mystery, the one Jesus gives us a glimpse of this Sunday. “All that the Father has belongs to me. That is why I said that what he (the Spirit) will announce to you, he will have from me.” (Jn 16:15) Reflecting on Jesus’ words, Augustine made this poignant appeal:

"We may well cry out to the living God, 'Such knowledge is too wonderful for me: it is high, I cannot attain unto it.' For I understand by myself how wonderful and incomprehensible is Thy knowledge, by which Thou madest me, when I cannot even comprehend myself whom Thou hast made! And yet, 'while I was musing, the fire burned,' so that 'I seek Thy face evermore.'" (XV, 7, 13)


*Giving the Devil his Due: Garry Wills has a quite good introductory biography of Augustine. (After finishing I encourage you to read Augustine : Major Writings by Benedict J. Groeschel)

Spanish Version

Versión Castellana

From Archives (Trinity Sunday - Year C):

2016: Levels of Happiness
2013: The Desire to be Known
2010: I Have Much More to Tell You
2007: Hope Does Not Disappoint
2004: I Was There
2001: The Image Within
1998: Foundation of the Universe

Complete List:

2016: Levels of Happiness
2015: Disciple Makers Week 9: The Final Goal
2014: Who Look Into the Depths
2013: The Desire to be Known
2012: Ultimate Freedom
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

Other Homilies

Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C

Audio Files of Homilies (Simple Catholicism Blog)

Are these homilies a help to you? Please consider making a donation to St. Mary of the Valley Parish.

Fr. Brad's Homilies

Fr. Jim's Homilies

Fr. Michael White's Homilies ("messages")

Bulletin (St. Mary's Parish)

Parish Picture Album


Parish Picture Album

(May 2013)

My bulletin column (May 30, 2010)

St. Mary of the Valley Album

(May 2010)

Bulletin (Baccalaureate, Randy Terlicker, sad news - John Casio)


Prayer/Protest at NARAL Fundraising Breakfast (Sheraton Hotel, Seattle)

Warning: Graphic Pictures

Bulletin (Diversity & Unity, Mark Shea, Monsignor Kelly)


Archbishop O'Malley Targeted

Beatification for Emperor Karl, Anne Emmerich

Chicago Cardinal George's Remarks to the Pope: Church's Ability to Evangelize Is Diminished (well worth reading)

Deacon Keith A. Fournier on Barry Lynn's attack on Bishop Sheridan

Bishop Olmstead Suspends Dissenting Priest (I studied with the new bishop of Phoenix. I pray for him and all our bishops every day. Please do the same.)

Pope's Words to President Bush

Parish Picture Album

(June 2011)

Bulletin (Two Painless Ways to Evangelize; 40th Anniversary)


Interview on Birth Control

MBC - Mary Bloom Center, Puno, Peru