The webpage of the Youth Ministry of the Irish Province of Augustinians

Trinity Sunday - May 26th 2013

One of my earliest memories of being taught religion in school is when the nun said (and I can’t even remember the question that had been asked): “It’s a mystery, you’re not supposed to understand it…!”  This is not exactly a response that encourages investigation and yet, this statement, or something like it, is one that can provide a sort of refuge for those of us “condemned to preach” on Trinity Sunday.
St. Augustine, the author of the famous book on the Trinity, tells of a dream that he had where he was walking on the shore of the sea when he met a small child who was pouring water from the sea into a hole he had made in the sand.  Augustine asked him what he was doing and the child replied that he was going to put all of the water of the sea into the hole.  Augustine tells him that what he is trying to do is impossible and the child, in the way that children do, responds to Augustine by telling him that it is no more difficult than Augustine’s attempt to put the Trinity “into his head”.  The child, of course, is right; we can never completely grasp God.
St. Anselm, writing in the 11th century, explains that God is “that than which nothing greater can conceived”. In other words, when you think you have exhausted the meaning of the word God, realise that there is yet more that remains hidden.
All of this suggests that Trinity Sunday is a day on which we just have to accept our limitations and “get on with it”.  Faced with the mystery of God, it may well seem that it is better to remain silent.  If there is nothing we can say, perhaps we should say nothing.  In fact, to be cowed into silence by the greatness of God is an attitude that is to be found more than once in the Bible – but only in the Old Testament.  Jesus reveals an image of God that is radically different.
The revelation of God in Jesus is not one that leads us to anything like cowed silence.  The relationship between the God of Jesus Christ and the group of believers is the one of the Good Shepherd who goes in search of the lost sheep; the father in the story of the Prodigal Son who runs to meet the son; the Vinedresser who takes on the tiresome task of ensuring the best possible outcome for the vine; the God who counts the sparrows; and so many other images of care, concern, forgiveness and love that invite rejoicing, together with the experience of security and belonging. This is not a relationship of aloof silence!
I think it may be helpful to place today’s celebration in the context of last week’s celebration of Pentecost. The Holy Spirit, this intimate, indwelling presence of God in our lives is part of us as baptised followers of Christ. One of the gifts of the Spirit (remember those gifts you received at Confirmation?) is Understanding. To have this intimate relationship with God and also to have the gift of Understanding suggests to me that the proper attitude when we find ourselves faced with the mystery of the Trinity, is anything but silence. It is not the case that we can know everything, but rather that we don’t need to know everything.  We can, however, understand what is important.
I think today’s feast reminds us that we are God’s children. As children will know that they are loved but are unable to articulate it, so with us and God. Like children on the beach who will wander off and come back every once in a while to reassure themselves that the parents are still there, so are we with God. We don’t really know why this parent behaves as he does but we understand that when this parent is around, our needs are met. We can’t grasp why this parent brings us to this place or to the other, but we come to understand that when we are with this parent we feel safe.
It is not the issue that that child’s understanding is incomplete.  The point is that the child’s understanding gives the child all that it needs.
The feast of the Trinity does remind us that we are not God. We are, however, not indifferent to God because we are God’s children.  My nun (that I mentioned at the beginning), while in so many ways a gifted educator, probably misunderstood the question.  A child doesn’t ask to have every detail explained. A child just needs to be told that everything will be all right and Trinity Sunday reassures us of that.

Article posted on 20th of May 2013

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