This Sunday’s observance of Trinity Sunday brings me back to my first encounter with that ineffable dogma. I came home from first grade, mischievously entertaining what I knew to be the mildly blasphemous definition, “God is the Supreme Bean.” (That would be Supreme Being, or Bein‘ in my teacher’s very pronounced Southern accent.) And this Supreme Being was One God in Three Persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The Son, I knew, is Jesus. The rest—and how it relates to us—as far as I could gather, all fell under the category of “It’s a mystery.”
For decades, even into my early religious life, I honestly thought that the mystery of the Holy Trinity was some kind of supernatural lagniappe: a little something extra thrown in with the truths of the Apostles’ Creed, the grace of the Sacraments, and the guidance of the Commandments; a reality to be revered, preserved and adored—from a distance. It didn’t cross my mind that this pinnacle mystery, this Mystery with a capital M, had any connection whatever to the human vocation.
And then Pope John Paul started giving his now-famous series of Wednesday morning talks, starting with the creation of the first man and woman, male and female, “in the divine image.”
“Man appears in the visible world as the highest expression of the divine gift, because he bears within himself the inner dimension of the gift, and with it he carries into the world his particular likeness to God.” [TOB 19]
From the beginning, the human body in its masculinity and femininity was a “transparent component of reciprocal giving in the communion of persons. Thus, in the mystery of creation, the human body carried within itself an unquestionable sign of the ‘image of God‘…” [TOB 27.3]
“Happiness is being rooted in Love” [TOB 16], and God, who is Love (1 Jn 4:8), created us so that we could participate in that selfsame happiness. The pope loved to quote (and did, at least twelve times!) Vatican II’s teaching that because we are made in the image of God, we can only find fulfillment through a “sincere gift of self” (Gaudium et Spes 24:3). He even gave this principle a name: “The Law of the Gift.”
The language John Paul uses in his Theology of the Body when speaking of human beings is the very same language he uses when writing of the mystery of God in his encyclical on the Holy Spirit, written about the same time. In fact, John Paul refers to the Holy Spirit as the “Person-Gift” of the Trinity.
A gift is always a sign of ourselves, given freely and without expectation of return. There is nothing more beautiful in life.
We reflect this with those we love every time we find ourselves planning a surprise for them for a special occasion, or simply because we saw something that would give delight. It is possible to turn almost everything into a kind of gift. It’s almost embarrassing how small these can be—friendly eye contact with a harried cashier; letting a car in at an intersection; welcoming the halting and imperfect expression of something that you may not fully agree with. Even receiving a gift can be a gift we return to the giver!
Thanks to the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus, the Holy Spirit is poured into our hearts so we can begin to love not only our dearest family and friends, but everyone—even (and this is the sheer grace of God) our enemies, something the Christians of Egypt, Iraq, Syria, and Sri Lanka teach us on an almost-daily basis.
The Trinity is not, as I thought since first grade, a remote “Supreme Being.” We ourselves are meant to reveal the Most Blessed Trinity; to be living images of the living Triune God whose life is gift: fully given, received and returned. We are meant to be the self-portraits of God in the world; living portraits, engaged in the Trinitarian life of self-giving love in myriad places, ways and occasions.
The Feast of the Most Holy Trinity is a renewal of the call to “be like God as his very dear children” (see Eph 5:1): something that is only possible if we live by the fruit of the Tree of Life, the Cross.
by Sr Anne Flanagan, FSP