Msgr. Joseph A. Pellegrino
The Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity: The Mystery of God
The celebration of the Trinity is the celebration of the deepest mystery of our faith. Mystery. What an overused word. We use the term to refer to everything that we do not comprehend from the deep knowledge of God to the way that the dryer gobbles up socks.
In the days before the Vatican Council the Church was so concerned that mystery be preserved that it cloaked the mysteries Jesus revealed to us in further, man-made mysteries. For example, even though Jesus spoke in the language of the people, most likely Aramaic, at the Last Supper, and even though the early Church celebrated the Lord’s Supper in the language of the local people, particularly Latin in the Western Roman Empire and Greek in the Eastern Roman Empire, the Church further shrouded the mystery of the Lord’s Supper by keeping the Mass in Latin long after people no longer spoke this language. And even though the mystery of the transformation of Bread and Wine into the Body and Blood of Christ was so deep that Peter complained that people were leaving Jesus because this was too hard for them to accept, the Church put a mystery around this mystery by hiding the Liturgy of the Eucharist behind the priest’s body as the priest said Mass with his back to the people. When these man made mysteries were eliminated by the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council, many people complained and some are still complaining that the mystery was being eliminated. This is incorrect. The mystery was more intense than ever because it was directly in front of us, not hidden from sight or proclaimed in a dead language.
Human beings need mystery. We need to be aware of that which is mysterious in life, truly mysterious. Husbands and wives who are truly in love, in a sacrificial love, the love of Christ, unite themselves in the mystery of each other. Yes, loving husbands and wives learn more about each other every day, but they also learn that there are those deep parts of their spouse whose existence only begins to be recognized after many years of deep love. Husbands delight in the mystery of her and wives delight in the mystery of him. They have been ushered into the intimacy of the person whom they love even though it is impossible to describe the essence of their husband or wife. This is the mystery of true love that you know experientially and that I can only contemplate.
At the same time there is a mystery about priesthood that you cannot fathom and that I am growing into a little more every time I say yes to this call I received. What is this mystery? You might think that it has to do with the administration of the sacraments or with the proclamation of scripture. It is true that priests hear confessions, refuse to dwell on what they heard and soon forget who said what--but this is natural, not mysterious. It is also true that priests work on a homily, make one little side comment and then listen to someone tell them how much that comment meant to them. This mysterious. Still the mystery of the priesthood is far deeper than this. The real mystery of the priesthood that I can only hint at because that is all that I can express is that the priest takes on Jesus and experiences his presence. Somehow or other, the priest touches on the life of Jesus, at Mass, in homilies, in the sacraments. He does not understand this. He can’t pinpoint this, but the more he becomes aware of his participation in mystery the happier he becomes. This is the mystery of the sacrament of Orders. It is not possible for you to understand this any more than it is possible for me to understand your mystery, the deep mystery of marriage.
In the Trinity, God shares his deep mystery with us. The sharing is not in the recitation of the dogma. “There is one God in three persons, Father Son and Holy Spirit. The Father is God and the Son is God and the Spirit is God, yet there is only one God.” Dogmas are dependent on the language and concepts of the people who frame them. The recitation of the fifth century European definition of the Trinity does nothing for us. It is a statement, not a deep mystery. The true mystery of the Trinity is found not in dogma but in our experiencing the intimate life of God. The life of God, the intimacy of God cannot be stated. It can only be experienced.
Dom Bede Griffiths, the Wanderer and Searcher for God who devoted his life to uniting the totality of mankind’s abilities, East and West, male and female, to come to a deeper experience of God, wrote: “Behind all the words and gestures, behind all thoughts and feelings, there is an inner center of prayer where we can meet one another in the presence of God. It is this inner center that is the real source of all life and activity and of all love. If we could learn to live from this center we should be living from the heart of life and our whole being would be moved by love. Here alone can all the conflicts of this life be resolved and we can experience a love which is beyond time and change.”
“Early in the morning Moses went up Mount Sinai as the Lord had commanded him, taking along the two stone tablets. Having come down in a cloud, the Lord stood with him there and proclaimed his name, "Lord." Thus the Lord passed before him and cried out, "The Lord, the Lord, a merciful and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity." Moses at once bowed down to the ground in worship.” Moses opened himself up to the mystery of the Lord and experienced his presence on that mountain.
Many years later the prophet Elijah would climb the same mountain searching for an experience of God. He was told that the LORD will be passing by. He expected thunder and lightning and an awe inspiring display of God’s power. Indeed there was " A strong and heavy wind rending the mountains and crushing rocks before the LORD--but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake--but the LORD was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake there was fire--but the LORD was not in the fire. After the fire there was a tiny whispering sound. And the Lord was there.”
When he heard this, Elijah hid his face in his cloak and went and stood at the entrance of the cave. A voice said to him, "Elijah, why are you here?"
We can experience the mystery of God’s life within us, the life of the Trinity we received at our baptism, but we must quiet ourselves down and expose ourselves to his presence as he is, not as we devise him.
John Shea relates the wonderful story called the Legend of the Bells. There was a tradition that there was a tiny island located two miles out in the sea from the mainland. On this island there was a beautiful Temple with a thousand bells. There were big bells and small bells and every type of bell. When a huge wind blew through, all the bells would sing out and people on the shore would hear the bells as loudly as if they were on the island. Over the centuries, though, the island sank into the sea, and with it the Temple and its bells. But there was a tradition that anyone who listened attentively could hear the bells. Now a young man came to the coastal village to hear the bells. But he couldn’t. He sat on the beach all day blocking out the sounds of the surf, just listening for the bells, but he could only hear those sounds that he was trying to reject. He spoke to the wise men and women of the village who told him that they heard the bells, but he didn’t. After weeks of trying, he finally decided to give up. He went to his favorite spot on the beach on his last day to say goodbye to the sea and the sky and the sands and the coconut palms. He didn’t try to shut out their sounds. He gave himself over to the sound, so much so that he sat barely conscious of himself. Then, in the depth of his silence, he heard it. He heard the tinkling of a tiny bell followed by another and another. Soon there were a thousand temple bells ringing in his ears and filling him with wonder and joy.
The story is a parable of the mystery of God. We don’t step over or around creation to experience God. We enter into creation and find the divine as its inner radiance. We were made in the image and likeness of God. We received his life at our baptisms. The intimate life of God, the Trinity, exists in the core of our lives. We need to find time, make time, to seek out the mystery of God within us. We need to make time to pray every day. We need to make time to be with Him, every day. We need to make time to experience God. We need to experience God in the wonders of his creation and in the wonders of who we are.
The celebration of the Solemnity of the Trinity is an invitation to enter into the mystery of God.