This Sunday, a Mystery That Makes ‘Perfect’ Sense

After months of pandemic lockdown, then days of rioting, America has rarely longed for unity to the degree it does right now.

Into this longing steps the Church with Trinity Sunday, presenting us with the ultimate example of unity out of diversity: The Father, Son and Holy Spirit, three persons and one God.

The Trinity is a mystery that we can never comprehend, but it makes a deep kind of sense nonetheless.

The doctrine of the Trinity is the most sensible understanding of God available.

It is, in fact, why this Sunday’s Gospel is so popular, John 3:16: “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.” It is makes sense to us to think of God as a Father in relationship with a Son who through the Holy Spirit includes us in his eternal life (by being “born of the Spirit,” Jesus says a few verses earlier); three distinct persons but one nature; a relationship that invites us in.

It makes less sense to think of him differently.

People have imagined many gods, but then they never seem very godlike. The Greek and Roman gods are too much at odds with each other, and the Hindu gods are too reduced in power.

We can imagine God being one, and that makes a lot more sense. But he always seems too solitary, and the universe is not made in the image of a solitary thing. Rather, everything from the biggest things (planets that orbit around stars) — to the smallest (protons, neutrons and electrons in atoms) everything comes in groups. Trees grow with other trees; grass grows in fields; birds fly in flocks; you even find rocks near other rocks like them.

C.S. Lewis pointed out that God as two might make some sense. “All sorts of people are fond of repeating the Christian statement that ‘God is love,’” he wrote. “But they seem not to notice that the words ‘God is love’ have no real meaning unless God contains at least two Persons.”

Ultimately, though, two doesn’t seem right either, as Father Michael Gaitley points out in his book The One Thing Is Three. That “would be a Holy Bi-nity:,” he wrote, and it would keep us out. “We’d be glad to see that Mr. and Mrs God are so in love with each other, but we’d still remain just outside observers.” God is changed by being Three in One just as a couple is. “While the intimacy of a husband and wife (marital love) is rightly closed off to and exclusive of others,” Father Gaitley points out, “the intimacy of mom, dad and baby (family love) is rightfully open to others.”

God as one feels too lonely; God as a pantheistic “Force” too impersonal; and God as a company feels too scattered. God as three makes sense.

It is the nature of the persons of the Trinity to draw us into one.

Sunday’s readings demonstrate how this works.

In the first reading, Moses was relieved to know that there is only one God, not several competing gods. The glory of that one God was so great that Moses had to hide himself when the Lord passed by and declared his one name. But Moses also experienced the divine “three-ness”: God the Father who speaks his own name; God the Son, who is his Word; and God the Holy Spirit.

In the Second Reading, Paul is relieved to know that God is three, and uses God’s three names in the oldest Trinitarian greeting of the Church. He does not ask that God be “with all of you.” He asks that “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ” — that is, the generous outpouring of gifts from God the Son — “and the love of God” — that is, the gracious kindness of the Father — “and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit” — that is, the constant companionship of a shared life, “be with all of you.” But Paul also invokes the “one-ness.” of “the God of love and peace.”

We experience the same God they did, in the same way.

The Father of all unites us by his commandments — three about unity with God and seven about unity with each other — as mentioned in the first reading. Jesus Christ unites us by his redemption, “that the world might be saved through him,” as the Gospel has it. The Holy Spirit makes us all one, despite our differences, such that we “greet one another with a holy kiss,” as the Second Reading puts it.

Thus, our Trinitarian God is the Mystery that makes perfect sense.

We are embedded in relationships, and so is he.

In the Psalm, he is not the Lord, God of me, but the “Lord, the God of our fathers.”

God is not just a quiet, subtle presence. He is “praiseworthy and exalted above all forever.”

God is not hiding in the past, lost in the present and hoped for future — he is the one who was, and is and will be to come.

God is not a force ready to break us — he is the Father longing to be followed.

God is not random divine affirmation — he is the Son who died for us in our sins in order to be trusted and loved.

God is not a source of solace for our souls — he is the Holy Spirit who challenges us to love.

He is three in one: power, mercy and grace; Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Tom Hoopes

Tom Hoopes

Tom Hoopes, author of The Rosary of Saint John Paul II and The Fatima Family Handbook, is writer in residence at Benedictine College in Kansas and hosts The Extraordinary Story podcast about the life of Christ. A former reporter in the Washington, D.C., area, he served as press secretary of the U.S. House Ways & Means Committee Chairman and spent 10 years as executive editor of the National Catholic Register newspaper and Faith & Family magazine. His work frequently appears in Catholic publications such as Aleteia.org and the Register. He and his wife, April, have nine children and live in Atchison, Kansas.