Sunday, June 12, 2022

On Trinity Sunday


Today the One who cannot lie—the very one who is “the Way and the Truth and the Life”—addresses us as his intimate friends and makes us a solemn promise: I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now. But when he comes, the Spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth. As the source, foundation and final end of all lesser truths, surely the Reality of God’s Triune Being as a mystery beyond words, but embraced in faith and adored with love, is the deepest and most precious revelation that the Holy Spirit makes to the Church and to humanity.

This Mystery of the Holy Trinity that we celebrate today is eternally unfathomable, infinitely more so than the magnificence of all universes, real or imagined. Yet this ineffability is really no valid excuse for muteness, because mystery is the very spice of celebration, and human celebration requires language, no matter how imperfect and groping—rather like a blind person trying to describe the bright splendor of the sun while only feeling its heat.

But we shouldn’t approach God’s Tri-Unity as a head-splitting conundrum we must wrestle with once a year to make a dutiful bow to dogma. If I have grasped anything in today’s readings it’s that the Trinity is not a remote, abstract puzzle, forever frustrating my feeble attempts at believing it. The triune God revealed to us in our Lord Jesus Christ is not some abstract, mystifying construct but a perennial, personal Event of life and joy, endlessly overflowing over all creation with grace, love, compassion and transformative power. The God we believe in as Christians—the Blissful Trinity—is, purely and simply, Eternal Life outpoured and perfectly received.

Let’s first relish the following confession of love that God’s Wisdom herself sings to the universe, lifting the veil on God’s inner life: “The Lord possessed me, The beginning of his ways…I was [his] delight day by day, Playing before him all the while, Playing on the surface of his earth; And I found delight in the human race.

For God to be Trinity means that God explodes with delight from within. Such delight requires mutuality of persons, for it is delight at knowing and being known, delight at belonging to Another, delight at the inability of having one’s own existence apart from that Other, delight in never—for all eternity—having been absent from the life of the beloved Other, delight that celebrates its freedom in a playful, unstoppable dance that has as stage the whole enraptured cosmos and that thrills in abiding with the blessed Two who are Persons other than Oneself. This explosive, world-creating energy of delight wells up from the bosom of the Blessed Trinity like the most powerful of geysers bursting forth from the heart of the earth. 

What is good is “diffusive of itself”, says St Thomas Aquinas, quoting Aristotle, I believe. God is too good, and therefore too “diffusive” of himself—too exuberant and squandering of his Being—to keep his secret delight to himself. The action of a divine self-outpouring is a central biblical category already at work from the first verses of Genesis: In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth…. And the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters. And God said, ‘Let there be light.’

Each of these verbs—creating, moving and saying—imply a dynamic outward movement on God’s part, beyond the sphere of his own self-sufficient Being and into the void of nothingness, that he might pour himself out into what is Not-God. Note the Trinitarian undertones present in Scripture from the outset: God creates not out of a splendid isolation but with the collaboration of “the Beginning (the Archê)”—that is, the First Principle, who says: I was beside him as his craftsman—and God sends out their common Ruach (or Breath) to flutter lovingly like a mother-bird over the primal egg of chaos, to incubate a beautiful, orderly cosmos. And when God says, Let there be light, this implies his uttering his all-powerful Logos or Word as foundation of the universe. The Father created all things in the Word through the Spirit. 

Every action of God is a self-outpouring of divine life that in no way depletes the Being of God. This unending divine action, however, does not first occur with regard to creation—that is, with regard to ourselves and all other creatures—but within the interior life of God himself. This is crucial. For, if God is to be love for us, he must first be love within himself, and this implies eternal Relation, Mutuality, which in turn requires radical difference of Persons within absolute unity of Being. This is the meaning of Tri-unity. We have heard Wisdom affirm: From of old I was poured forth, at the first, before the earth… I was brought forth while as yet the earth and fields were not made, nor the first clods of the world. Wisdom herself insists here that she was generated eternally, before the creation.

God is love means, necessarily, then, that God, already in himself and quite apart from creation, is Community of Persons, since genuine love, whether in God or man, must circulate incessantly from Self to Other and back.

The expansive throbbing of God’s triune Heart can never quite contain itself because in God there are no “separate egos”; from here flows the delight which is the primary quality of the utterly free joy and in-joy-ment that blossom wherever Persons are in Love, are Love, beginning in the depths of the Uncreated Godhead. The beaming forth of that primal, triune Joy then provides the blissful pattern for all created love and friendship. From the Trinity we learn that our own greatest joy should be to fill someone else with life. Joy, in fact, may be said to be but another name for God; for what is joy but the spark that jumps from heart to heart at the sight of one another’s beauty? And where does this fire blaze more magnificently than among the divine Persons?

Jesus says to his disciples, I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete. Here Jesus is communicating to the disciples the essence of his being, which is his relationship to Father and to Spirit—their triune Joy in one another as the very substance of their common Life. My joy is Jesus’ superbly original name for his relationship with his Begetter and their common Breath. And this outpouring of Christ’s joy into our hearts reaches its culmination in the intimate Pentecost of the Cenacle. There Jesus, eight days after his Resurrection, breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’. The Greek text literally says that Jesus breathed [the Holy Spirit] into [them]. The unusual verb enephýsêsen (in English we could clumsily say insufflate) graphically evokes mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, and this word in John 20:22 duplicates down to the last accent mark the word we find in Genesis 2:7 concerning the creation of Adam: The Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into (enephýsêsen) his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.

Thus, the ecclesial event in the Cenacle amounts to nothing less than a re-creation and resurrection of the human race in the person of the apostles. The Breath they receive from Jesus’ mouth is the very Breath that sustains the life of the Three Divine Persons. All post-Resurrection encounters with Jesus imply and effect the resurrection of the apostles themselves. Jesus comes to transmit his own New Life to them, and only in that context does he give them his final commands and their mission to evangelize the world.

No wonder Christ immediately gives them the power to forgive or to retain sins, clearly a divine prerogative, now shared with weak and fallible human beings; but this enormity, which continually scandalized the Pharisees when practiced even by Jesus himself, can be explained only by the fact that Jesus, by this insufflation, is making the apostles “partakers of the divine nature”. No wonder either that St Paul today feels entitled to proclaim the astounding doctrine: We boast in hope of the glory of God … because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given us!

What is, then, the practical conclusion we ought to draw from the majestic mystery of the Most Holy Trinity, the central article of our faith? I suggest the following: If we—as Trinitarian communicators of life who have received the Holy Spirit into us—do not pour out our lives in selfless service, infusing God’s Breath into the breathless and loving them with God’s own creative Love, now active within us, then we will be denying in practice what we proclaim in word and rite: namely, that the God who indwells us, and whom we worship and glorify, is for us a revitalizing Trinity of Persons.

But we should never forget that “selfless service”, lovely though the idea sounds, can be learnt only with Our Lady at the foot of the Cross: for it was from the Cross that the most palpable and overwhelming divine self-outpouring of all occurred. On Golgotha, Jesus quite literally emptied himself for our sake when one of the soldiers pierced his side with a lance, and immediately blood and water flowed out.

In giving us Jesus, the Father has poured out to us the Beloved of his heart and given us all things desirable along with him. Our communion in Jesus’ Flesh and Blood will in a few moments fling open for us the entryway into God’s ecstatic swirl of expansive delight. May we allow the playful Wisdom of Father and Son come and delight in us, too, and thoroughly possess us and so heal all our sadness with the Joy that is God.

Today's homily by Father Simeon.