I don’t know if you’re like me, but when I was growing up I used to ask a lot of questions. I don’t remember doing it, but my mother tells me I did and she’s right most of the time. I stopped asking so many questions at some point, so she must have been right about the answers she gave me too… most of the time. Some of the trickiest questions kids ask their parents have to do with God. Where is God? What is God like? Who made God? I love substitute teaching for grade school religion classes here at All Souls. They are genuinely curious about God, about the Catholic faith, about how the liturgy works, about the sacraments. It’s refreshing for a Catholic Priest to know that there are some people who want to learn about the faith. It’s also refreshing because when you have to answer a child’s question about God you have to keep it simple – and God Himself is simple, so if you can keep it simple, you will benefit from what you tell them. Life is like that: as we grow up, as we experience more things, as we are regularly confronted with considering more details and a bigger picture, as we are faced with people who think or respond in different ways, we become increasingly aware of the complexity of existence.
When I asked my mom about the Trinity, she told me what any normal Irish Catholic parent would say, “look at this clover honey, you see how it has three petals and they’re all connected in one plant. That’s what St. Patrick said.” I remember becoming fascinated with clover because of that, but it morphed into the more worldly fascination of finding a four-leafed clover – that was supposed to be lucky. No one but St. Patrick and Irish Catholics seemed to care about the ordinary three-leaved variety. Staring at the clover didn’t seem to elevate my appreciation for the Trinity either. At some point in my Catholic education, there was another new, clear idea to latch onto about the Trinity: we have paintings with an old man, a young man, and a bird. We were told that, “obviously that’s just an artistic representation of God the Father, God the Son aka Jesus, and the Holy Spirit.” The teachers would then tell us to draw our own image of the Trinity, secretly hoping that something we drew would finally help them make sense of it all. We agreed that it was foolish to think that the eternal God, the transcendent Trinity, was actually three things: one man, one bird, and one more man. We agreed that it was foolish, felt smarter, but we still didn’t know what to make of the Trinity.
I had a friend in High School named Raymond Tsao. He was a really smart guy, he got into Stanford, got a 1600 on his SAT, but the only thing we really cared about our senior year was basketball and weight-lifting. Raymond told me he read the whole Bible once, and he thought it was okay. He wasn’t Catholic or religious, but he had read more than I. As graduation and the prospect of new life in college became imminent, there was this phrase he would say slowly under his breath whenever some new end of year project, test or other frustration would emerge: “Release me.” Whenever he said it we would laugh, but the sentiment was sincere. Release me from this petty assignment, release me from this school, release me from this town, release me from this stage in my life. We knew that our spirits were meant for something more than high school, it would be foolish to try to stay there, we felt smarter, but we still didn’t know what to make of our lives.
Fast-forward to some point in college as a young adult after becoming much more interested in the Catholic faith. I went to a secular school, so I got to meet people who really did not believe in God. It occured to me then that those infidels needed a better explanation of how one being could be three without just being a man, a bird, and another man. I wasn’t an infidel, but if I was going to believe that God is a Trinity, I had to know that it isn’t a contradiction in terms, and how to explain it to others. After pouring over St. Thomas Aquinas – whom I hardly understood at the time – I had at last found the right vocabulary. Without understanding the Trinity, without being able to form a concept of the Trinity, I could affirm that three completely different persons, completely distinct from one another by origin, are of one nature and substance, indivisible, inseparable, divine. I felt smart, I felt informed, I felt like I could defend the doctrine with words, it sounded smart, but it also felt complicated and I only kind of understood it. The analytical Theology of the Trinity is not the Trinity, nor is it the best way to know the Trinity. Our spirits are meant for something more, we are made to live like God, like the Trinity.
I began to experience the life of the Trinity when I allowed my relationship with God to reach areas of my mind and heart that I did not understand – when I became open to to a being that is closer to me than I am to myself. The Trinity is closer to us than we are to ourselves. When I entered religious life and began to take time every day for silent mental prayer, I had lists of people that I wanted to pray for, intentions, books I wanted to read and meditate on, devotionals I thought were essential. We were asked to set all of that aside, and connect directly to God with our heart, adore Him, prostrate ourselves before His presence in the tabernacle and in our hearts. If we want to know the Trinity, we must first be close to Jesus. “No one knows the Father but the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal Him.” If we know and love Jesus, we will know the Father also. Philip said to Him, “Show us the Father and it will be enough for us.” Jesus replied, “You’ve been with me so long and you still don’t know me Philip? Whoever sees me has seen the Father.” Only Jesus can reveal the Father to us: “No one has ever seen God [the Father], the Only Son – who is in the Father’s heart – has made him known.” Jesus lifts us from our brokenness and sin to behold the Father: “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places… I will come back again and take you to myself, so that you may be with me where I am.” Jesus’ life has a direction and purpose: He has come to reveal the Father to us, He is going to the Father, and He’s taking us with Him.
When life’s direction or purpose seems unclear or complicated, I remember Raymond Tsao’s prayer: “Release me.” Release me Jesus from the burden of my sin, release me from the weight of my failures and guilt, release me from fear, release me from my selfishness, release me from my pride, release me from my complexity. Jesus is the great liberator of our spirit – and as he releases us, we catch a glimpse of the Father and our hearts burn with the fire of the Holy Spirit. The core of the Christian life is Trinitarian, it is relational, and it directs our hearts to our true home. Jesus unites himself to us: he has become one with us according to the flesh and graces us with His life by baptism. As we turn to Him in faith, He teaches us to say with Him, “Father, into your hands I release my spirit.” And the Holy Spirit assists us with murmurs that cannot be put into words, “Abba Father.” Christian prayer, the prayer of the liturgy is through the Son, to the Father, in the Holy Spirit. “Through Him, with Him, and in Him.” We stand with Jesus, He turns the eyes of our heart to the Father, and we call upon the Spirit who continuously unites us together in love.
Our God is Trinitarian, our faith is Trinitarian, and so may our lives become simply Trinitarian.