Father Donald Senior, CP

Holy Trinity: Awesomely transcendent, infinitely tender

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Perspectives on Scripture

May 22: Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity
Prv 8:22-31; Rom 5:1-15; Jn 16:12-15

This paradoxical cluster of words — “awesomely transcendent and infinitely tender” — sums up the mystery of the Trinity that we celebrate this Sunday and which marks the end of a liturgical season that has stretched from Lent to Easter, to the Ascension and Pentecost.

We are in debt to Judaism for this fundamental intuition about God. On the one hand, the Old Testament has an abiding reverence for God. No one has ever seen God, the Bible proclaims. Unto this day, devout Jews would never even say the name of God — substituting the phrase “My Lord” (“Adonai,” in Hebrew) when the proper name of God (Yahweh) appears in the biblical text.

At the same time, the Bible portrays God in tender, intimate terms — strolling in the evening with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden; distressed at the cry of the poor and oppressed in Exodus; compared to an abandoned husband in the laments of the prophet Hosea or to a mother enthralled with her new child in Isaiah. This is also the spirit of the beautiful Psalm 8 that is the responsorial psalm for today: “When I behold your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars which you set in place — What is man that you should be mindful of him or the son of man that you should care for him? Yet you have made him little less than the angels and crowned him with glory and honor …”

For the biblical peoples, God was never absent from the world but intimately present to it. One of the ways it expressed this conviction is found in the first reading for today from the Book of Proverbs, which speaks of the “wisdom of God.” Proverbs and similar books use the image of “wisdom” as a poetic way of personifying God’s presence in our world.

In this famous passage, the author affirms that “wisdom” — that is, God’s presence — was there guiding the work of creation from the very beginning, “when there were no fountains or springs of water; before the mountains were settled into place, before the hills, I was brought forth.”

Then “wisdom” observes the work of creation itself: “When the Lord established the heavens I was there, when he marked out the vault over the face of the deep …” What the Bible always affirms, wisdom as God’s presence finds “delight” in creation — especially “I found delight in the human race.”

Christian faith adds another level of insight into the wondrous presence of God. As Paul notes in the second reading from his Letter to the Romans, “we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” and that the “love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” We glimpse that God is one but also triune, a vortex of love among Father, Son and Spirit.

The love that defines God’s very essence breaks out into the goodness and beauty of creation, especially in the creation of the human person who is made in the image of God and therefore also capable of love. Above all, the unfathomable love of God is especially revealed in Jesus and in the Spirit of love with which he graces the world.

These are lofty thoughts, for sure, but they represent the most profound conviction of our Christian faith. What the Scriptures revealed over time and in various ways about God enabled the church, through the inspiration of the Spirit, to articulate our understanding of God — as partial as it is — more formally in the doctrine of the Trinity. This is precisely the way John’s Gospel sees the work of the Spirit, as we hear today in the Gospel passage from the last discourse of Jesus: “the Spirit of truth … will guide you to all truth.”

This is a day when, in the spirit of the Scriptures, we should simply sink to our knees and give thanks and praise for the beauty and mystery of the God who made us out of love and who, because of that love, will never abandon us.


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