June 4, 2023 Essay: Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity

May 30, 2023

For centuries theologians have been trying to explain how the great One God can be Three Persons at the same time, and how being truly three persons that same God can be One. The explanations have gone from the simple (the three-leaf clover of St. Patrick) to the sophisticated if abstruse (the consubstantial Son proceeding from the eternal Father, and the Spirit proceeding from the Father and Son) to the aesthetic (three separate musical notes in one divine chord). The Greeks had the word Perichoresis—“peri” as in “perimeter,” “choresis” as in choreography: The three persons of the Trinity dance around each other all day! Undignified, perhaps, but very cheerful!

It reminds me of how the poet T.S. Eliot described it in “Burnt Norton”:

At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;

Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,
But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity,
Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,
Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.

Let me share with you what the Holy Trinity means to me, how I understand this mystery. It comes to me in three revelations, three names.

The first revelation is when God says to Moses, from the midst of fire, “I AM” (Exodus 3:14). The first revelation, the primordial statement of God, God’s name: Yahweh, four Hebrew consonants (tetragrammaton) so sacred the Jews don’t vocalize them. “I am, I am who am.” The first name, the first person of the Most Holy Trinity.

The second manifestation, the second name: “Emmanuel: I am WITH YOU.” The angel says to Saint Joseph in a dream, “Behold the Virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Emmanuel, which means ‘God with us’” (Matthew 1:23). The name ‘Emmanuel’ takes in the whole mystery of Jesus, who took on our nature and shared our flesh, who shows us the merciful face of God. “I am with you.” Not just the tremendous voice of God from the blazing fire, Jesus tells us that God visits a sick friend, helps the poor, steps out into the new, the unsettling, the unfamiliar, feels the pain of a dear friend departing, feels the joy of a returning friend. The second person.

The third name of this wonderful revelation we hear is when Jesus promises the Spirit of Truth (John 16:7, 13-14). In effect, Jesus says, “I am with you ALWAYS” (Matthew 28:20). The Holy Spirit is the Comforter, the Advocate, the one who showers us with gifts all through our lives, gifts like wisdom, fortitude, counsel, and understanding. Jesus tells his disciples: “I will send you the Spirit of Truth who will guide you, and remember, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”

In the course of our lifetime the Paraclete dwells in us and we come to know the God who is, and who is with us, and who is with us always.

This is something to dance about. We who walk together ploddingly on the earth are invited to live for each other, giving more of ourselves and thereby entering more into the life of God and the glory of God. This is why today is so central to our daily lives. What goes on inside God—shrouded in mystery—is the most relevant, the most pertinent, the most convincing key to the way we should live our own lives as Christians.

Behold, I AM. Behold, I AM WITH YOU. Behold, I AM WITH YOU ALWAYS. The cheerful, eternal, sublime dance we call God!

— Michael Hilbert, S.J., Associate Pastor