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Trinity Sunday, year A: Knowing your roots

My father was a quiet man. He never said much about himself. Being the youngest, there was also for me the slight disadvantage that he was in his sixties before I was eighteen, so conversation was not easy. I got to know him a little better in his final years, when he was housebound, but it was only after he died that I discovered a lot more about him especially from my three older brothers. It was a delight to hear their anecdotes and stories about his life and personality. For it is the most natural thing in the world that a child will want to know his parents intimately. It is a knowledge rooted in love. The more you know them, the deeper the bonds of love are. Parents can give deep security to their children just by talking about themselves, appropriately of course. In some sense, revealing yourself to your child, you help the child to know who he or she is.

The same is true in other relationships. If an acquaintance becomes a friend, the friendship is deeper when you share knowledge of your deepest self, when you reveal even weakness and sin. Sharing the darker side of ourselves is more difficult, and we can be afraid that it will scare someone off, but when the confidence to do so is there, the other will probably appreciate and love you all the more. They will feel strengthened by your trust in them. We have to tread carefully, of course, or someone will get hurt, but being careful should not lead us into being fearful. The risk of love, when sensible, is always worth taking. For what love is worth the name that does not involve some element of risk?

Knowing our roots, knowing those who are our roots, and knowing the lights and shades of those we love reaches its deepest depths when it comes to knowing God. And like a loving parent or trusting friend, God talks to us about Himself. He reveals who He is to his children, to us. Behind all of the words of Scripture and all the teachings of the Church, what is ultimately happening is that God is speaking to us of Himself. Take those words spoken to Moses in the silent morning up the sacred mountain: “The Lord, a God of tenderness and compassion, slow to anger rich in kindness and faithfulness.” Imagine that scene. Moses, alone with the Creator of the World in all its splendor and power, but presenting himself in the form of a cloud, in a way that would not hurt or harm Moses. It’s beautiful how the text says, “the Lord descended in the form of a cloud, and Moses stood with him there.” Picture that. Moses standing with God, as with a friend. And Moses wants to know God more deeply. He calls on the name of the Lord. In other words, he asks God to tell him more about himself, to show himself. And the Lord obliges by passing close to him and speaking of his tenderness, compassion, kindness and faithfulness. Moses had up to this point experienced the burning bush and God’s power and commandments, his plagues in Egypt and the might of blowing the Red Sea apart. Moses was like a child before a strong and fearful father, but one whom he loved and obeyed. Now, in the quiet intimacy of the mountain early in the morning, Moses experiences the joy of a deeper personal knowledge and love of God.

And as if to echo that, Jesus says as much to Nicodemus in the Gospel. Nicodemus doesn’t have the experience or faith of Moses, but he is curious about Jesus. He is a bit scared, so he goes to him by night, not in the morning. He meets Jesus not as God in the form of a cloud, but as a real man, incarnate. Face to face with Nicodemus, he spells out who God is and what he wants: “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son so that everyone who believes in him may not be lost but may have eternal life. For God sent his Son into the world not to condemn the world, but so that through him the world might be saved.” Nicodemus learns more than Moses, because Jesus tells him that God has a Son and that He Himself is that Son, sent to reveal the Father’s love. You could say, the plot thickens! Jesus is beginning to open up the mind of Nicodemus, a very learned follower of the Jewish tradition and of Moses. He is revealing that the God of Israel is not a solitary deity, but is Father and therefore has a Son. And Jesus takes it further. He says that faith in the Son brings eternal life to the believer. He is already hinting at the Holy Spirit who is the Lord and Giver of eternal life and who comes to us from the Son because we believe in Him.

By the time St. Paul is preaching, the faith of the Christian community in the Holy Trinity is well established. Paul ends his second letter to the Corinthians invoking the Trinity upon them, as we heard in the second reading. Paul’s invocation is one that we use at the start of Mass: “May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God the Father and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” Jesus is grace, free gift, the gift the Father has given to the world because he loves the world so much. The grace of Christ is his very person, the beauty and magnificence of his divine humanity, given to us in the incarnation, death and resurrection and made sacrament in the Eucharist. And that grace is rooted in the love, the agape, of the Father. The Father’s love, his tenderness, compassion, kindness and mercifulness, is the origin and mainstay of everything that exists. It is a love so great that it is personified in Jesus, the true image of the Father. And all of this, the grace of Christ and the love of the Father, comes to us, is actually and effectively given to us, by the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is the communicator, the deliverer of God’s life and wealth to the individual believer and to the whole Church. Any grace or gift we ask for from God is put into us by the Spirit, because of the death and resurrection of Christ and at the will of the Father’s love. In communing with us, the Spirit brings us into God and establishes the presence of the Trinity in our deepest souls. And if he does that for each, it means that he unites all in God. He is the soul of the Church, knitting us together and rooting us in God. Beyond death what is now invisible will become plain sight.

To know the grace of Christ, the love of the Father and the communion of the Spirit is to know our deepest roots as human beings. It is to know ourselves, for we are the offspring of the Trinity. The Trinity is in our spiritual DNA. We are made by the Trinity, we live and move and have our being in the Trinity, we are marked and enriched by the gifts of the Trinity and we are destined to live eternally in the Trinity. The Blessed Trinity is not primarily a dogma, and even less some obscure tenet of a Christian ideology. The Blessed Trinity is the source of all that is and that is good. Some talk scientifically of the “God particle.” But it is not a microscope that will show us God! The Trinity has already talked plainly and openly about itself, revealed itself in history in the person of Jesus Christ and in his Catholic Church. The more we listen to that revelation, the more we will know and love God, ourselves, others and creation itself. As St. Patrick put it in his breastplate, “I arise today through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity, through belief in the Threeness, through confession of the Oneness of the Creator of creation.” Your faith in the Trinity is your mighty strength, too. Invoke often each person and all three together. Live the shamrock, and the shamrock will give you eternal life.