While the liturgical focus of this Sunday after Pentecost is on the Trinity, the Readings for this cycle have a particular emphasis on the Holy Spirit. It is not often that we get to actually talk about the Trinity itself. The theological precision and nuances can be complicated, and it is a topic that seldom comes up in conversation. Although this was a hot topic in the fourth century!
The emphasis on a “personal relationship” with Jesus, the idealized images of the father as more of a grandfather, and the powerful yet flighty notions of the Holy Spirit, allow each one to have a sense of his own identity. No one thinks of a “personal relationship” with the Trinity. For most of us, then, the Trinity is a theological abstraction lacking that personal connection.
Yet it is impossible to have a ‘relationship” with one person of the Trinity without encountering the other two persons. The absolute oneness of God as demonstrably revealed to Moses and as taught by Jesus himself, is nonetheless a union of three distinct persons.
The insight offered in the First Reading from Proverbs harkens back to the very foundation of creation. The nature of God is expressed through creation. God is present – omnipresent – to creation and then, specifically to us, as we are created in the “image and likeness of God.”
When looking at the beauty of creation – with all of its splendor, wonder and awesome power – we encounter the handiwork of God. While some would like to believe that they “encounter” God in the beauty of creation, it is like saying that I met Michelangelo because I went to the Sistine Chapel. The handiwork of the artist offers an insight to the artist, but to actually meet the artist you would have to go to where the artist is, not merely to look at what he accomplished.
God is then seen in the act of creation, but as Proverbs reminds us – that which we know from Genesis – God hovers over the waters of creation; he does not enter the water nor does he become the water. God is separate from the creation, not the creation itself.
The presence of the Holy Spirit in the church is not to just leave us in awe of the works of God, but is, rather, instructive and directive. Jesus tells the apostles at the Last Supper that the Advocate/Paraclete will lead them to “all truth.” In the primal conflict between God and Satan in the universe, the Spirit stands as the guardian of the truth who leads us to the truth. In that sense, we understand the Holy Spirit’s role not as the expression of our deepest desires and emotions leading us to the father, but as the teacher of the faith and the primary line of defense in the battle for our souls. The Holy Spirit is neither passive nor whimsical, as often expressed modern theology. Rather, the Spirit protects the Church, while at the same time always drawing the Church closer to the truth.
The three persons in the Trinity always point to each other. The Spirit directs us to Jesus who points us to the father. The father announces Jesus who introduces the Spirit.
Recognizing the presence of the Trinity and at work within the Church and active in the world should lead us to a deeper sense of community. As God himself does not act “alone” so are we called, not to be in this enterprise of life and faith on our own, but to seek the community as the source of discerning and learning the power of God at work leading us to salvation.
Father Garry Koch is pastor of St. Benedict Parish, Holmdel.