Three in One

Editorial, February 2010

Every year priests are called upon to preach on the Holy Trinity on Trinity Sunday. That is a sermon I very much like to give because it gives me the opportunity to explain for our people the most fundamental mystery of all the great mysteries of our Catholic faith. Ignorance of the Trinity for a Catholic means that he does not understand the Creed at Mass, the Sign of the Cross, who Jesus Christ is and who the Holy Spirit is. Catholicism is essentially monotheistic (=One God) and trinitarian (=Three Persons). Jews and Muslims believe in one God, but they reject the Trinity.

When I was a young priest a middle-aged parishioner told me that he had never heard a homily or sermon on the Trinity. He said he thought perhaps most priests avoided talking about the Trinity because they were afraid they might preach a heresy because of the difficulty of the subject. Whether that is true or not, I do not know, but I resolved then that I would preach the Church’s doctrine about the Trinity every year. Thus, no one attending my Mass would be able to say that he had never heard a sermon on the Trinity.

In last month’s issue we had a treat for you in the lead article by Mr. Roy Abraham Varghese on “How the truth of the Trinity makes sense of EVERYTHING.” The difficulty for us with understanding the doctrine of the Trinity is in seeing how God can be both one and three at the same time. It is important to see that the Church does not say that one is three and three is one. That would be a contradiction. The Trinity is beyond our comprehension, but it does not involve a contradiction. Divine revelation tells us, and the Church guarantees it, that God is one in nature or essence and three in person. So there is one essence in three distinct Persons, but no separation.

In our experience each person is a different substance—Peter, James and John. For every human substance there is one human person. A human person has a body and a soul and the peak of the soul is the mind and the will. Every person has intelligence and free will. That applies to God also—there is one divine intellect and one divine will. But the difference from us is that, in the Trinity, there are three persons or “centers” that operate within the context of the one intellect and one will. We have no experience of that. This is a great mystery, revealed to us by Jesus himself when he speaks about the Father and the Holy Spirit as distinct from himself and when he sends out his Apostles into the whole world and commands them “to baptize them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 28:19).

In his article, Mr. Varghese gives us a clear presentation of the teaching of the Church on the Trinity as the heart of Catholicism. But he does more than that. He points out that reflection on our own thinking and willing and on the relations between parents and children is a faint reflection of the truth of the Trinity. In effect, this means that we live in a trinitarian world, even though most people do not see it that way. He says that our mind, will and thought reflect the trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. There is also a reflection of it in the family in the relations between father, mother and child.

This article on the Trinity offers each of us much food for thought and it is written in language that most can understand. I urge priests and deacons to read the article at least two times. It then should be supplemented by reading what the Catechism of the Catholic Church says about the Creed and the Trinity in numbers 2232 to 2260. Here you have all the information you need in order to preach an orthodox, informative and devout homily on the Most Holy Trinity—Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Many people in our society are confused about the meaning of their existence; they are seeking their “identity.” Our author helps us to understand that the truth of the Trinity makes sense of EVERYTHING.

Fr. Kenneth Baker, SJ About Fr. Kenneth Baker, SJ

Fr. Kenneth Baker, SJ, is editor emeritus of HPR, having served as editor for over 30 years. He is the author of the best selling Fundamentals of Catholicism (three volumes) and of the popular introduction to the Scripture, Inside the Bible.