The Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity [C]
Proverbs 8:22-31 + Romans 5:1-5 + John 16:12-15
May 22, 2016
“I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now.”
The Church throughout the world celebrates today the central mystery of our Christian Faith. The life of the Most Holy Trinity is the mystery from which all other mysteries of our Catholic Faith flow. Yet the mystery of the Most Holy Trinity is difficult to wrap our heads around.
By contrast, the mysteries of Jesus’ earthly life—for example, His Nativity, Resurrection and Ascension—are mysterious because they’re divine events, but they’re also historical events which took place right here on earth. We can tell stories about them, which makes them easier for our human minds to grasp. But the mystery of the Most Holy Trinity is altogether different.
How can a simple human being wrap his mind around the reality of God’s infinite, transcendent, divine nature? How can we even get a foothold—take even a first step—by which to begin to fathom Who God is?
Thanks be to God, God did that for us. That is to say, God took the first step, because He knew that we small human beings have great difficulty in grasping Who God is. So by looking at what God has done for us, we can start to get an idea of Who that God is, who did those things.
When we take this tack—when we try to get a running start at Who God is by looking at what He’s done—we’re using a simple principle. It’s used in philosophy and theology all the time. This principle has a very technical name. It’s called the “The Apple Doesn’t Fall Far From The Tree” principle.
The area of life where we’re most familiar with this principle is in families. You have a parent, and you have a child, and about the child you say, “That apple didn’t fall far from the tree”. When you say that, everyone knows what you mean. The child resembles its parent.
This same “apple principle” is found in many other areas of human life as well. You can see it, for example, in an art museum. Say that the Nelson-Atkins in Kansas City is hosting an exhibition of works from the entire career of a 19th century Impressionist painter. His works are grouped into periods called his “Blue Phase”, his “Red Phase”, and his “Green Phase”.
The paintings from his Blue Phase are marked by melancholy, with weeping figures, drooping flowers, and skies filled with thunderstorms. This period of his life was a time of great personal loss, as it turns out: his wife died at the age of 42, and afterwards her family successfully sued the artist for custody of his children, whom he never saw again. It was only two miracles that changed his life, ushering in the Red Phase of his artistic career, when his artwork was marked with exuberant joy and powerful imagery. Finally the Green Phase consisted of the last twenty years of his life, when he met and grew to love his eight grandchildren, and his artwork revealed a depth of peace and serenity, with his final painting a twenty-by-twelve foot canvas of an ocean landscape at dusk. Clearly this artist’s paintings reflect his biography. The apples—his paintings—didn’t fall far from the tree.
We hear a divine example of the “apple principle” in today’s First Reading from the Old Testament Book of Proverbs. The Book of Proverbs is a great book for summer reading. Lots of people take advantage of summertime to enjoy a good book, either on the back porch or by the lake. Why not enjoy the Good Book?
From the Old Testament, the seven books called the Wisdom Literature are especially fitting for summertime. There’s something about Summer—the calm, the rest, the leisure, and even the “laziness” in the best sense of the word—that offers a great opportunity for spiritual growth for those who don’t busy themselves out of this opportunity. Summertime suits these seven books of the Wisdom Literature, which are very reflective in nature, and invite the sort of meditation that seems to come more naturally during Summer.
Anyhow, in today’s passage from the eighth chapter of Proverbs, we hear a discourse from “the wisdom of God”. The Book of Proverbs doesn’t give us enough clues to know for sure exactly who this “wisdom of God” is who’s speaking. Nonetheless, what this wisdom says is important for us to listen to. In the first half of this passage we hear that Wisdom existed “before the earth”. But in the second half we hear two things even more interesting. Wisdom not only says, “When the Lord established the heavens I was there,” but also, “then was I beside Him as His craftsman… and I found delight in the human race.”
Wisdom is the Lord’s “craftsman”, who “found delight in the human race.” Everything God created in the universe was created with wisdom—that is, was created in an ordered way—because God Himself is All-Wise, and His apples don’t fall far from the tree. Nonetheless, out of all of God’s creation, it’s “in the human race” that wisdom takes particular delight. In the beginning—in the Book of Genesis—we hear the Lord say, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” In other words, the apple that is the human race didn’t fall far from the tree, and in fact is the apple of God’s eye.
Today’s Responsorial Psalm carries this same idea forward in its own poetic way. The psalmist cries out in wonder to God, asking, “When I behold Your heavens, the work of Your fingers… What is man that You should be mindful of him… ? [Yet] You have made him little less than the angels… You have given him rule over the works of your hands”. In this cry of faith, the psalmist reminds us that with great power comes great responsibility: that is, because God created mankind in His Image and likeness, God gave mankind a share in His “rule over the works of [God’s] hands”; or as we might rather put it today, God entrusted to man the stewardship of the works of God’s hands.
And so, from reflecting on us members of the human family being created in God’s Image and likeness, the Psalmist has helped us see that this means that each of us bears a share of God’s work. That, of course, begs two questions that lead us into the heart of today’s feast: #1: what is the Image and likeness of God; and #2: what is God’s work? The answer to both is simple, because the answer to both is the same: to love. The image and likeness of God is love, and God’s work is the work of love.
“God is love.” Because God is love through and through—because God is 100% love—everything that God does is loving. There’s no divorce between who God is and what He does, the way that in your and my lives as sinners, often what we choose to do does not reflect who God has called us to be. The divine Image is to be love, and so we also are called always to do what is loving in every circumstance.
In the seminary, during the final four years of study and formation, the focus of seminarians’ study is theology, which is simply the study of God: who He is, and what He does. The seminarian is assigned to read the works of great spiritual masters like St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas, both of whom wrote thousands upon thousands of words about God and His works. Although you and I can never stop growing into God’s love, it is true that the only start we need, is to understand that God is love. To truly understand this takes more than the intellect. It requires a move from the intellect to the will/the heart. We must choose to love in order to understand what “love” means.
Whenever persons ask what steps they might take to grow in their spiritual life, I often recommend daily study of the coming Sunday’s scripture passages. This is a good practice for many reasons. But this coming week, there’s an added reason.
We might say that last Sunday, this Sunday, and next Sunday form a triptych: a three-paneled icon that focuses our devotion. Pentecost, Trinity Sunday, and Corpus Christi display before us the Holy Spirit, the Father Who is the Source of the Trinity, and the Blessed Sacrament of Our Savior.
Prepare for next Sunday’s feast of Corpus Christi with an eye to growing in your capacity to love: to be love through your daily choices. The Sacrifice of Christ on Calvary, made present sacramentally through the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, shows us sinners our clearest example of what it means to “be love” through our human will and heart. Rather than love only those who are lovable, only when circumstances make it easy to do so, Christ calls us and strengthens us through the Eucharist to love from within His sacrificial love, and so enter more deeply into the Life of the Trinity.
 Cf. 1 John 4:10.
 Genesis 1:26.
 See Psalm 17:8.
 1 John 4:8.