May 26, 2002 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Trinity Sunday
Reading I (Exodus 34:4b-6, 8-9) Reading II (2 Corinthians 13:11-13)
Gospel (St. John 3:16-18)
As we celebrate today the Feast of the Most Holy Trinity, this is something that, as Catholics, we have grown up with and take for granted; but we do not always recognize the necessity and the importance of the Trinity. We recognize that all three Persons of the Trinity are God, equal with one another. There is but one God, so all three are completely perfect. There is nothing in one that is lacking in another. All three are God.
Yet there is a necessity that there be three instead of one. What we see in the Old Testament is that God chose for Himself a people. Of all people on the face of the earth, He revealed to one people, the Jewish people, that He is one. Every other society had a multiplicity of false gods. The Jewish people themselves initially had all kinds of false gods. Over the years, they were able to work all of those things out to believe in one God. And so it was necessary that God had to show Himself to be one.
But even then there were indications that God was more than just one. It was a necessity that God be more than just one because one cannot be merely in love with oneís self. That is what we would call narcissism, and we would say that is a sin - and it is. Even the psychologists would say that narcissism is a psychological problem. Are we going to suggest that God is just sitting up there being a narcissist, focused on Himself and nothing else? No, one cannot be in love with oneís self. It cannot happen.
When we look in the Old Testament, we see that there are different names for God. One of the names that is very commonly used, even very early on in the Book of Genesis, is "Elohim". Elohim is plural; Godís name is "El". So on any of the names that come out of Hebrew like "Daniel" or "Gabriel" or "Michael" - all those words that either begin or end with "el" like "Elizabeth"- that "el" is "God". That is what it means. But when you put that into a plural form it becomes "Elohim". That is the way God is known, as "Elohim". There is a plurality of Persons, not a plurality of gods. God is one. That is what the Jewish people understood: that He is one God. But He has demonstrated many times over, even in the Old Testament by promising that He would send His Son who is also God, that there are more than one.
We know that Godís Holy Name is not to be pronounced. The Jewish people had such a profound respect for the Name of God that even now they do not pronounce it. The Church, recognizing that same thing, has also passed that along to us. If you look at the first reading today, you will find the word "LORD". God passed by Moses and pronounced His Name and it says, "LORD". Then he says, "The LORD, the LORD, a merciful and gracious God." The word LORD is not actually there. That is why the Church has put that in uppercase letters, because it is not the word for Lord; it is Godís Holy Name that is there. Out of respect for the Holy Name of God, as the Jewish people would never pronounce His Holy Name lest it came out even with the slightest imperfection, the Church, continuing in that tradition, gives it to us in a translated form and just simply puts "LORD". But you will notice further down in the same reading that the name "Lord" comes up again. While the "L" is in uppercase, the "ord" are all in lowercase letters because it is a different word that is used there. When you are reading Scripture, always keep that in mind: Whenever you find the uppercase letters, the word that is there is not actually "Lord", but rather it is the Holy Name of God that is not to be pronounced.
Even with these different names - the Holy Name saying that God is one, "Elohim" telling us that God is a plurality of Persons even though He is but one God - why do we need to have a multiplicity? As I have mentioned already, by the very nature of love, by the way that God has made things, God, who is love, is the One who shows to us what love is about. For us, love cannot remain in one person. As I have mentioned, you cannot just simply be in love with yourself. It is narcissism. But neither can love remain merely with two. You can be in love with another person, but the nature of love is that it is a relationship. It is a reciprocal, benevolent relationship. It is two people looking out for the good of one another and giving themselves to one another.
We know, therefore, that by the nature of love, God has to be at least two Persons because love cannot reside merely in one. But love overflows any boundaries; all one needs to do is look at a family. A man and a woman who are in love with one another and are joined together so that the two become one in imitation of the Holy Trinity are going to be life giving. That love overflows the boundaries of the two and becomes life giving for children. Even in those couples where there are struggles with fertility, the love still overflows and becomes life giving in other ways because that love is going to overflow the individual. Therefore, there must be at least three. There need not be any more than three for the perfection of love, but there must be at least three by the very nature of love. And God, who is perfect, must therefore be at least three Persons to be able to love perfectly.
Therefore, we have the revelation of the Most Holy Trinity Ė the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit: perfect love, giving and receiving one another so perfectly that the Three are One without distinction, without separation, without division of any kind, the only distinction being the distinction between Persons. In no other way is there any distinction. There is one mind in God. There is one will in God. Even if you want to look at it that way, for God to make an act of the intellect and for God to make an act of the will are two separate acts. And so, the Father making an act of the intellect is the Son, and for the Father to make an act of the will to love is the Holy Spirit. So again, you see that we have three for the perfection of what a person truly is. A person is a living being with a mind and a free will. God is three Persons with a mind and a free will; so we see the Three who are One.
Now, the question we need to ask is what does this have to do with each one of us? It is a wonderful thing to know that God is one God who is three Persons, but what difference does that make for us? It makes all the difference in the world. First of all, because we can begin to understand the nature of love as I have already explained, but it also shows to us where the relationships with God are. All we need to do is look at Our Blessed Lady and we can see that. If you ever look at an icon - those beautiful pieces of art from the East - whenever you see Our Lady, normally she is going to be shown holding her Son and you will see upon her head, and upon the other shoulder where her Son is not held, a star. If she is not shown with her Son, you will see three stars: one on her head and one on each shoulder. The one on her head is because she is the daughter of the Father. The Son that she is holding demonstrates that she is the Mother of the Son. The third star on the other shoulder demonstrates that she is the spouse of the Holy Spirit. And so [it is] her relationship with the three Persons, a human person in relationship to the three Persons of God.
But the Holy Trinity also dwells within you because you are baptized - not merely into Jesus Christ, but you are baptized in a Trinitarian formula: In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Note what Jesus teaches us in that: there is one name. He does not say, "Baptize them in the names ofÖ" but rather "...in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit." One name for God. And so you have entered into Jesus Christ. But Jesus is one with the Father and the Holy Spirit, therefore, you have entered into a union with the Most Holy Trinity in your baptism. God is our Father; that is how Jesus has taught us to call Him. Therefore, Jesus is also our Brother; we are one with Him. He is God and yet He is man; so He is our Brother in that sense. And the Holy Spirit has been given to us to unite us with one another and with God. For each one of us, there is something of a spousal relationship with the Lord who has united Himself with us in our souls and made us one with Him.
And so we see that we have something of that relationship to the three Persons similar to the way that Our Lady had it. For her, it is perfect. For us, we recognize it in a relative form. Nonetheless, [we need] to be able to see that it is there and to be able to enter into a relationship, then, with each of the three Persons of the Holy Trinity. To pray to one is ultimately to pray to all three. But each of us needs to be able to recognize the headship of the Father and the lordship of Jesus Christ and the union and love which is ours in the Holy Spirit and the working of the Holy Spirit in each of our lives. We cannot reject or deny any one of them. We cannot truly have a relationship with Jesus apart from the Father and the Holy Spirit. "No one can say ĎJesus is Lordí except by the Holy Spirit," Saint Paul said. So if we are going to acknowledge Jesus as Lord and Master, if we are going to recognize that He is God and man, it is only through the Holy Spirit that that can be done. Saint John, in the Gospel, tells us that we have salvation because of Jesus and anyone who believes in Him and His Name has salvation.
Now to believe in His Name is not merely to say, "Intellectually, yes, I believe that Jesus is God; therefore, Iím going to Heaven." That is not what it means at all. It means to say, "Jesus Christ is Lord. Therefore, I believe in who He is, and He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Therefore, I believe that every word that comes from His mouth is true, and I will accept every single word that He teaches. He alone is the Way. Therefore, I am going to unite myself with Him because He is the only way to Heaven." He alone is the Life and only when we are in the state of grace do we have the life of Jesus Christ in us. So it is not merely sitting back, believing, and saying, "As long as I believe in Jesus I can go out and do anything that I want. Iím going to Heaven anyway." Not at all. It is to say, "If I profess my faith in Jesus Christ, I must change my life and I must live the life of Jesus Christ, who came, empowered with the Holy Spirit, to do the Will of His heavenly Father." That is precisely what God wants from each one of us: to live the life of Jesus Christ, which can only happen by the power of the Holy Spirit, and to seek in all things to know and to do the Will of our heavenly Father.
That is the glory that God has called each one of us to. That is what He wants for each one: salvation in Jesus Christ. But that salvation is going to be found only through union with the Lord, [by doing] His Will. And that Will is going to be done only through the working of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Each one of us, then, can look to Our Blessed Lady as the exemplar for our lives to be able to see how she did it - the spouse of the Holy Spirit, perfectly united to Him, so perfectly that Jesus Christ could become incarnate in her and be made in her image and likeness as she is already made in His because she did the Will of God perfectly.
So too for us, the Holy Spirit has been poured forth into our hearts so that we can cry out "Abba! Father!", so that each one of us can be formed and molded into the image of Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit and the intercession of Our Lady, so that each one of us can live the life of Jesus Christ. We can follow the example of Our Blessed Mother and we can follow the example of her Most Holy Son and we can live the Trinitarian life, a life of love, because we are created in the image and likeness of God, who is love. Love is not alone by ourselves, but rather, love goes out to others. Therefore, we are to love God - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit - and we are to love our neighbor. That is what God is calling each one of us to. It is only in this that we can truly say that we believe in Jesus Christ: when we are living the life of Christ, loving God, loving neighbor, and living the life of the Holy Trinity- a life of love in union with one another.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.