A common approach to homiletics is to find some aspect of everyday life, explore it a bit, perhaps with a bit of humour, and then say something like, “and that’s a bit like our relationship with God,” or, “and that’s a bit like Jesus.” Well, whatever the merits or otherwise of such an approach it will not work for today’s feast. We can start from absolutely no aspect of life, no amusing anecdote, no hilarious or touching recollection, and end up saying, that’s a bit like the Trinity. We only come to the Trinity because the Trinity has first come to us. It is only by revelation that we come to believe, or even hear of, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. St. Maximos the Confessor, one of the greatest doctors of the Church, puts it with typical robust elegance: “Theology is taught us by the incarnate Logos of God, since He reveals in Himself the Father and the Holy Spirit. For the whole of the Father and the whole of the Holy Spirit were present essentially and perfectly in the whole of the incarnate Son.” It is only because of the Incarnation and the teaching of the Saviour that we know about the saving truth of the holy and undivided Trinity. “No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son, and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him” (Matt 11:27). Through the gift of faith and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit we are made capable of participating in and being transfigured by, the triune God.
Once we have received the sacred teaching which reveals the doctrine to us, we can then start to see aspects of the created order that reflect the Trinity. This is what theologians call the vestigia trinitatis. St Augustine famously meditated upon the traces of the likeness of God in the make up of our own soul. The fact that we have memory, intellect and will, points, however inadequately, to the triune nature of the Creator. (Funnily enough, even Sigmund Freud, in his allegedly scientific secular analysis of the psyche couldn’t get away from the number three, the id, the ego and the super-me). Augustine frequently noted the inadequacy of our language and concepts about God, but also our need and desire to talk about and to God, however inadequately: “the formula ‘three persons’ has been coined, not in order to give a complete explanation by means of it, but in order that we might not be obliged to remain silent.”
Also, once we have received the teaching, by prayerful reading of the Old Testament we can begin to see intimations of the mystery in its pages. On the very first page of Genesis, God utters his creative Word while the Spirit of God hovers over the waters. Ps 33 can be read as hinting at the role of the Word and the Spirit in the creation of the universe: “By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, and by the breath of his mouth all the stars.” It is the Spirit of God who inspires the prophets and reveals the saving plan of God. Abraham gives hospitality to three mysterious figures.
However, today’s feast is primarily about celebrating God as he is, the source and goal of all that is, and the beauty and goodness of the communion that is the heart of the Blessed Trinity. Given the profundity of this mystery, the best ways of approaching it is by living out this faith in the liturgy of the Church and in personal prayer. This can range from Blessed John Henry Newman’s simple but beautiful hymn: “Firmly I believe and truly/God is three and God is one/ and I next acknowledge duly/manhood taken by the Son”; to the sublime poetic beauty of the classic Trinitarian strophes:
O Lux beata Trinitas,
et principalis Unitas,
iam sol recedit igneus,
infunde lumen cordibus.
By prayer and devotion we can lift up our minds and hearts to begin to savour, even in this world, the beauty and grace that is the transcendence of God, and the eternal communion of love and life that is the Trinity. It is by contemplating the Trinity in prayer, silence and study that we are drawn ever deeper into the Triune life, by the entirely free gift of God. St Paul puts it most beautifully when he wrote: “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Cor 3:18).
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