Trinity Sunday

by Very Rev. Chrysostom Baer, O.Praem.


The mystery of the most holy Trinity is the most sublime dogma of our faith.  We affirm without hesitation that there is one and only one God.  And without the slightest shadow of contradiction, we likewise affirm that there are three divine Persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Each of these Persons is entirely God.  There is no divine attribute—goodness, wisdom, power, eternity, providence, and the like—nothing they do not each possess totally and equally.  None of the Persons is more or less than another, none subordinate or superior.  The only distinction between them is their relations to each other.  The Father is the origin without origin.  From Him the Son is begotten.  From them both the Holy Spirit proceeds.  Yet this distinction implies nothing about cause and effect.  The Father does not cause the Son or Holy Spirit, nor are They His effects.  They simply come from Him without ever being separated from Him.  These processions are eternal and ineffable.

Do not be confused into thinking I have just explained the mystery.  We put into words what we know to be true, but that does not mean we now comprehend it.  So why do we believe it?  Because God Himself, Who surely knows what He is talking about, revealed it to us.  There are many mysteries He has revealed, both natural and supernatural.  The natural we might possibly have figured out but more likely not, so He took pity on our stupidity and enlightened us.  Such would be the moral lessons given us in the books of Solomon in Sacred Scripture.  Supernatural mysteries include the various events in the life of our blessed Lord.  Aspects of these events were evident to the senses, and other aspects were completely hidden, for Christ is true God and true man.  What He does as man we see; what He does as God we have to believe.  And at the apex of it all is, as we have said, the Blessed Trinity.  Here everything is entirely opaque and veiled from our minds, did He not condescend to tell us.  The inner life of God is absolutely impenetrable.  Human reason might touch upon how fitting it would be if God were three Persons, but it could never, in all its wildest imagination, prove logically that it is so.

Here we are confronted with the excellence and challenge of our Catholic faith.  There are creedal systems that claim revelation only of the most accessible, natural, even base, doctrines, thereby showing their god is really no better than man, and often enough man not at his best.  Such teachings they claim to believe, but only because their minds can ascertain and see the truth of the matter, or more likely, because their passions want them to be true, or because they have been tricked by demons.  Such are those religions whose foundations are, for example, polygamy and military conquest, or polytheism and human sacrifice, or indifferentism both moral and doctrinal.  The real measure of faith becomes man himself: his desires, his preconceived notions, his fears, his pride.

The supernatural mysteries of Christ and His Mother, on the other hand, humble the proud human mind and inspire in it awe and reverence.  Their very nobility proves their divine origin.  The best the human mind can do is argue that these mysteries are not impossible, and that’s it.  And standing above them all, from the lofty heights of heaven unseen, again is the mystery of the Trinity.  If we claim to believe this and all the Christian mysteries, it simply cannot be because we grasp it.  We believe for this reason alone: God has revealed it.  Faith then becomes a statement of accepting God’s authority.

And if revelation by Him Who can neither deceive nor be deceived is the basis of our faith, we must logically accept our Catholic faith whole and entire or not at all.  The moment we reserve credence about one point because we don’t agree or don’t understand, at that very moment we make ourselves the more sure source of truth than God.  We make ourselves God.  If we reject His authority in revealing, everything revealed becomes suspect.

And so the lofty doctrine we celebrate today is the warm invitation for us to trust in a God Who at every step along the way has more than earned our trust.  If God became man to save us from our sins; if He created the universe out of nothing and constantly sustains it in being; if He removes the substance of bread and wine and in their place makes present the Body and Blood of His Son—why should we not believe His inner personal life is more amazing than we could ever comprehend, even when we see it face to face?  And so when He says that He wants our joy to be complete, that He will come for us and take us to Himself, that those who believe and are baptized will be saved, that those who persevere to the end will be saved, and that all things work unto good for those who love Him, may we remember this dogma of the Holy Trinity and our faith therein.  For if we grant that He knows what He’s talking about on this score, then we must also believe that His loving providence will indeed guide us through this valley of tears to the happiness of everlasting life.

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The Gospel passage we just heard comprises the entire fifteenth chapter of Luke, all thirty-two verses.  It reminds me of St. Justin Martyr’s second century description of the Mass: “On Sunday we have a common assembly of all our members,” he says. “The recollections of the Apostles are read, as long as there is time.”

Fortunately the three parables are fairly clear in their literal meaning; let us examine but some few points for their spiritual import.  In the parable of the lost sheep, notice how our Lord even phrases the question: “What man among you having a hundred sheep and losing one of them would not leave the ninety-nine in the desert and go after the lost one until he finds it?”  The scribes and Pharisees may not have been shepherds, but they weren’t stupid.  Not one of them would have left the ninety-nine to find the one because that’s the best way of losing the ninety-nine and still not finding the one.  

But in this they did not understand the deeper contrast Christ Jesus was drawing between God and man.  Man has to leave one place to go to another.  God remains with the ninety-nine even as He goes off to find the one.  The life of grace is not lost in the ninety-nine while He seeks by grace to draw back the heart of the one.  And the only way man can have a glimpse at how much God wants a sinner’s heart is by realizing He is so crazy with love as to leave the sure thing in favor of the impossible risk.

The other side of this perspective is the father in the parable of the prodigal son.  Without ever leaving his house, his vision extends to his son who is “still a long way off,” which implies not only that he was looking for him but that also his sight sees him where he is.  Put the two parables together, and we see that only if the Good Shepherd goes in search of the stray can the squalid son lift his head from the pig sty to dream of happiness at home.  Only then does the Father see his wretched son afar off and in mercy run out to meet him.

The reaction of son and father are perfect.  The son resolves to confess, and in his shame to accept a dignity lower than is truly his.  He does confess, but the father does not let him even ask for what is beneath him, let alone allow him to ask and then deny it to him, and instead enriches his son with tokens of love and esteem: the finest robe, a ring, sandals to wear, and the fattened calf to feast upon.

When in our sins we can no longer hide from the Good Shepherd and so we confess our sins to the Father’s representative, we are never lowered beneath our dignity as sons and daughters of God. Rather, every mark of honor we threw away is returned to us in love.  We are again clothed with the finest robe of sanctifying grace and charity which we received at baptism.  The ring is the signet whose seal of the Holy Spirit we received at confirmation.  Sandals are mortification from worldliness by separating us from the earth and keeping us from getting dirty as we tread the paths of this life; they also prepare our feet to run with the truths of the Gospel.  “How beautiful upon the mountains,” says Isaiah, “are the feet of him who brings glad tidings.”  In such a state, the full Catholic life in all its majesty, we are ready to feast on the fattened calf, Christ Jesus Himself sacrificed for our sins and given to us as food in the Holy Eucharist.

This is the happiness of our eternal Father.  His food is our salvation.  His joy is our redemption from sin.  As St. John Chrysostom says, “He feasts on the fruit of His mercy by the sacrifice of His Son.”  This is the festivity of the household ministers, the harmony of the angels, the symphony of the saints.  And it is for us every time we go to confession.

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