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Trinity Sunday: Do I hear an “Amen!”?

Context is king in these weekly columns. Context enriches our encounter with the living Word of God during the sacred liturgical action. In our liturgical participation we, too, have contexts, life contexts. Our needs and concerns bring us to thank God and offer praise, to raise petitions and to express regret for sins of omission and commission reflecting and calling forth the classic “four ends of Mass,” “end” here being “purpose, goal.” We weave our contexts with the overarching macrocontexts of the year and the microcontexts of the elements of Mass, and in so doing we are transformed by our encounter with Mystery, ever alluring, ever overwhelming.

Where are we in the liturgical year? With the passing of the Octave of Pentecost, we enter into the Season after Pentecost, the Tempus per Annum. This liturgical season is not unrelated to the others. On the one hand, it echoes the themes of the Easter Season. On the other hand, especially as it comes to its close, it foreshadows the theme of the end of the world, and judgment, the Four Last Things with the Coming of Christ. Hence The Season after Pentecost, with its two dozen or so Sundays, dovetails with Paschaltide and with Advent. I like to think of this period as the “practical” part of the year wherein we learn better to live and integrate the great mysteries we celebrated over the last weeks in view of the Judgment we will face.

On this first day of the Season which celebrates no specific mystery, we celebrate the deepest mystery of all. While this Sunday does, in fact, have its own Mass formulary (which can be used during the weekdays), we celebrate and reflect on the Most Holy Trinity. Why now? In a sense reflection on the Trinity is the climax of all the feasts we have recently been through. While we address a great many of our prayers to God the Father, as Jesus did, we also invoke the Holy Name of Jesus and bind them up in the beautiful ribbon of the Holy Spirit. Also, as Pius Parsch once put it, the Feast of the Holy Trinity is like the Church’s great Te Deum, the mighty hymn of thanksgiving to God, sung especially at auspicious times and moments of victory. He goes on to say that Holy Trinity Sunday is “a synthesis of Christmas, Epiphany, Easter, Ascension and Pentecost.”

Moreover, if that is a macro way of looking at the feast, its micro look draws our focused attention to each time we pray in reference to the Trinity, which is virtually every Catholic prayer. It reminds us that the sign of the Cross is not a gesture to be made without full regard. It underscores our own identity because we were baptized in the Names of the Most Holy Trinity. We are absolved in the Names of the Trinity. We are on our deathbeds sent to God in the Names of the Trinity, each solemnly invoked.

Our task is to look into the first reading or Epistle for Sunday Masses. We have our context in the liturgical year. How about the context of the pericope, or “cutting” of Scripture for reading at Mass? We hear from the Apostle to the Gentiles, St. Paul, writing to the Romans. In the context of Romans, Paul has been talking about the relationship between the Chosen People and the Gentiles. In this chapter, 11, Paul uses the image of an olive tree to describe the Jews and Gentiles. Some branches are broken off, in God’s severity and, in His mercy others are grafted in their place. He says that branches from a wild olive (Gentiles) will take well to the graft, but how much more will branches taken from the original tree take to being grafted in. So, the Jews who have come to embrace Jesus and the Truth. Thence, Paul can only “sing” about the mystery of God’s mercy on us, so different from how we think and act:

O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!

“For who has known the mind of the Lord,
or who has been his counselor?”
“Or who has given a gift to him
that he might be repaid?”

For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory for ever. Amen.

I kept here something of the formatting in the Revised Standard version because of the poetic quality of the inserted words. It even ends with an “Amen!”

We have to contend with the statement that there are things we simply can’t understand, not with human knowing and worldly experience. God reveals some things about Himself, through nature itself and through graces. But God remains totally other. I am reminded of Paul’s words in Ephesians 3. See if this doesn’t touch on the themes of Romans, we have sheer praise, and also being “grounded,” which is like being “grafted,” followed by the mystery which cannot be expressed.

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with might through his Spirit in the inner man, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have power to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fulness of God.

The RSV gives us v. 36 as “For from him and through him and to him are all things.” In the Douay one finds, “For of him and by him, and in him, are all things.”

One way to approach this could be to consider Creation from the view of the Three Persons. Of course all Three Persons participate in the acts of each. However, we can make distinctions. For that statement, “For from Him,” we might think of the Father as the origin of the existence even of the uncreated, that which is divine. The Second and Third Persons proceed from the Father.

For that, “by Him/through Him” statement we might consider the entirety of the cosmos, the vastness of which becomes more astonishing with every deep search of the Hubble telescope. We read of the Second Person, the Divine Logos, in the Prologue of John, “All things were made by Him, and without Him was made nothing that was made.” We might also consider the unfathomable number of angels, the number of which could rival the number of everything that moves. If the Hubble shows us big things far away, billions of galaxies with billions of stars, other instruments show us subatomic particles… which move. Get your head around that in reference to the number of angels.

That “in Him/to Him” statement is a little harder, but we can apply it to the Holy Spirit. The Spirit, at the beginning of Creation, brought order to the void and primordial chaos. This was done by the one who proceeds from the Father and from the Son, the reciprocal love between the First and the Second Person, each giving their perfect self-gift to other, the gift of everything they are, including personhood. Hence, the ordering Spirit is also a Person, bringing the relationship of the Divine Persons into a harmony of Three rather than a closed circle of two. The ordering of Creation was in His ordering and it flows back to Him as the orderer of Love.

It is this originating, enacting, ordering indwelling Love that we thrust from our souls through mortal sin. That is what is restored in the Sacrament of Penance. We are made in the very image and likeness of God, make to know, to will, to love. We freely accept God in His Triune Mystery and we freely reject as well. That we can return to harmony and love in God after we sin…  how unsearchable are His judgments and how inscrutable His ways!


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