The recently celebrated feast of the Holy Trinity is often accompanied by sermons that can be challenging to give and even harder to understand. Trinitarian theology can be daunting, but there is a simple way to understand what God has revealed to us about Who God is and who we are as well.
Whenever God reveals something about Himself, something is also revealed about who we are as human beings. More than anything else, the meaning of God as Trinity is that God is love. God isn’t just loving, God is love. The classic formulation goes like this: Father loves and gives His life to the Son, the Son returns that love in total to the Father, and the Holy Spirit is the love between the two. Therefore, God is a relationship of love, a communion of persons, a family. And of course, we are made in that image of love. We are made for love, for communion and for family. Our lives make no sense apart from that. God made us so that we could share in His beautiful, wondrous and mysterious life of love.
This simple understanding of God and ourselves is the basis for our approach to everything else. Our families, our communities and our society need to be based upon this fundamental truth that we are made in the image of a God Who is love. Yes, we have freedom as individuals. God did not create robots programmed to love and serve Him. And yet, that freedom was not given as an end in itself, but rather so that we might love God and others by giving ourselves away as Jesus did. All of Christ’s life was the revelation of this truth and there is no better way to understand the Trinity than by beholding Jesus on the cross! Love is a freely chosen total giving of self.
The meaning of this truth in our everyday lives can often seem a mystery to us. How am I actually called to love in this incredibly complex and rapidly changing world? I think that this is where the mystery of God’s Triune life is instructive for us. We can speak truly about God in our doctrines, and yet God’s ways are also mysterious. St. Augustine, one of the intellectual giants of the Church, returned time and again to the inscrutable nature of God. God’s ways and movements can be hard to understand and interpret and we should therefore take caution before limiting or circumscribing the ways of God!
Just as we are made in the image of love, we also share in the mystery of God. One of life’s temptations is to reduce the mystery of another person to a category or a label. Disability, race, class, gender, national origin, intelligence and religion are all ways to understand another person, but no one should be reduced to these categories. When we confront differences in another person that threatens us, isn’t our tendency to reduce their mystery to make life easier for ourselves? By doing so we reduce their dignity as a person. Perhaps we even do this to ourselves!
So God is love, but God is also a mystery. Just as we can speak truly about the nature of God, so, too, can we speak truly about a universal human nature and authentic diversity among God’s children.
It is by humbly reflecting on the mystery of Triune God that we can come to discern how we are called to love in the midst of the mystery of unity and diversity in our world. The doctrine of the Trinity is the beginning and the end of how we can truly understand God, ourselves, and the mysteries of life.
Anchor columnist Peter Shaughnessy is president/principal of Bishop Stang High School in North Dartmouth. He resides in Fairhaven with his wife, Anabela Vasconcelos Shaughnessy (Class of ’94), and their four children: Luke (Class of ’24), Emilia (Class of ’25), Dominic (Class of ’27) and Clare (Class of ’30).