Sunday, May 31, 2015

The Trinity: Accepting When I Cannot Comprehend

I grew up in a mainstream Protestant household, so I think of today's Gospel reading, Matthew 28:16-20, as describing the "great commission."

The phrase started rattling around in various European languages a few centuries back. Hudson Taylor, a Protestant missionary, popularized the English translation.

Folks at the Vatican describe evangelization as the "great commission" occasionally, generally when communicating with those who are more familiar with Protestant culture:
When I became a Catholic, I had to adjust some beliefs and assumptions — but the importance of Sacred Scripture wasn't one of them. Sacred Scripture, the Bible, is the inspired Word of God; something we're forcefully encouraged to read — often. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 101-133)

Changing the Presentation, Not the Message

That's why we've been taking Matthew 28:19 very seriously for two millennia. But this isn't the first, or 11th, century. It's the 21st. How we present our Lord's message of hope gets renewed regularly.
"...Proclaiming Jesus Christ the only Saviour of the World, today is more complex than in the past; but our task remains identical to that at the dawn of our history. The mission has not changed, just as the enthusiasm and courage that moved the Apostles and first disciples must not change. The Holy Spirit which prompted them to open the doors and made evangelizers of them (cf. Acts 2: 1-4) is the same Spirit which today moves the Church to a renewed proclamation of hope for the people of our time...."
("To participants in the Plenary Assembly of the Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelization,"1 Pope Benedict XVI (May 30, 2011))
Evangelization might be easier if we could side-step the hard bits: what our Lord said in John 6:54-55, for example. (June 22, 2014)

That's not an option, though. My reasons for joining my Lord's outfit are pretty much what Simon Peter said in John 6:68-69, and that's another topic. (September 13, 2014)

Today is Trinity Sunday, the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity: so I'd better leave Corpus Christi for next week, and talk about God being one, indivisible: and three persons.

One God - - -

The Trinity isn't like Bruce Wayne or Kal-El/Clark Kent, one person with multiple identities.

I've heard and read that some folks think Christians are polytheists, worshiping three gods. That's understandable, since we worship God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

That's not how it is, though.

Quite a bit of the Old Testament is an account of God convincing Abraham's and Isaac's descendants that God is One.
" 'But,' said Moses to God, 'when I go to the Israelites and say to them, "The God of your fathers has sent me to you," if they ask me, "What is his name?" what am I to tell them?'

"6 God replied, 'I am who am.' Then he added, 'This is what you shall tell the Israelites: I AM sent me to you.'"
(Exodus 3:13-14)

"You shall not have other gods besides me."
(Exodus 20:3)

"I am the LORD and there is no other, there is no God besides me...."
(Isaiah 45:5)
Jesus re-affirms that God is One in Mark 12:29, where our Lord quotes Deuteronomy 6:4. The Nicene Creed starts with "We believe in one God...." (Catechism, 200-202)

But it's not quite that simple.

- - - Three Persons

God is three Persons, and all three were at our Lord's baptism:
"12 After Jesus was baptized, he came up from the water and behold, the heavens were opened (for him), and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove (and) coming upon him.

"And a voice came from the heavens, saying, 'This is my beloved Son, 13 with whom I am well pleased.' "
(Matthew 3:16-17)
Matthew 28:19 tells us to baptize "in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit."

That isn't a grammatical error. It's a straightforward declaration of the Trinity. (Catechism, 233)

God the Son reveals God the Father, God the Holy Spirit reveals God the Father and Son, and there's a lot more to say about the Trinity. (Catechism, 232-260)

I like understanding things, but I don't understand how the Trinity works.

I understand that the Trinity exists: the Almighty Father, His only Son, and the Holy Spirit — one God, three Persons.

But how that works? Exactly? The operational details? No, I do not understand. It's literally a mystery of faith. It is a reality that I accept: but cannot comprehend. (Catechism, 232-237)

God's God, I'm not, and I'm okay with that. Like Saint Augustine said:
"If it is God (you claim to know), you do not understand; if you understand, it is not God."
(Saint Augustine, Sermon 52, 16; via Chapter 10, "Augustine's World," Donald X. Burt, O.S.A.; Villanova University)
And that's yet another topic.

More of my take on what's happened, and what's ahead:
A tip of the hat to Fr. Robert Carr, Holy Trinity Parish Quincy, Massachusetts, for contrasting comprehension and acceptance.
1 More about the New Evanglization:

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What's That Doing in a Nice Catholic Blog?

From time to time, a service that I use will display links to - odd - services and retailers.

I block a few of the more obvious dubious advertisers.

For example: psychic anything, numerology, mediums, and related practices are on the no-no list for Catholics. It has to do with the Church's stand on divination. I try to block those ads.

Sometime regrettable advertisements get through, anyway.

Bottom line? What that service displays reflects the local culture's norms, - not Catholic teaching.