The mystery of God's life
(Readings: Proverbs 8:22-31; Romans 5:15; John 16:12-15)
Introduction to Mass
Today is the feast of the Most Holy Trinity. It's a feast that encourages us to reflect on the mystery of God's own life, as he has revealed it to us, and to reflect on how our ultimate vocation as his creatures is to share his life. The doctrine of the Trinity reminds us that there's always a part of God that remains mysterious and incomprehensible to us, so that Christian life has to have a large element of prayer and contemplation in it, to make God more comprehensible to us and to draw us into the mystery of his life.
As we prepare to celebrate the mystery of Christ's love...
If we compare Jesus' words in today's gospel passage with the language of the first reading, one of the things we're bound to notice, I think, is the advance in the understanding of God's character that's taken place in the centuries that passed between the time that the Book of Proverbs was written and the time that Saint John came to give his account of Jesus' mission.
The passage from the book of Proverbs reflects the experience of the Chosen People in Old Testament times. They had encountered God as the Creator, powerful and awe-inspiring, existing high above the world and the creatures he has made, in the majesty of his divine holiness.
The short passage from John's gospel on the other hand reflects the experience of the new People of God, the first followers of Jesus. The "immortal, invisible" God of the Jewish tradition had now revealed himself to them in the mission of Jesus of Nazareth, and made himself present in another way in the Spirit that came to them at Pentecost.
Their experience of the risen Jesus and their experience of being filled with the Holy Spirit at Pentecost were events which they quickly interpreted - and proclaimed to others - as encounters with God himself. They decided that these events could only be interpreted as encounters with God himself.
They very rapidly revised their picture of what God was like and they started to see God as being made up - somehow, mysteriously - of Father, Son and Spirit, and before the first generation of Christians had died out, their fuller and more accurate understanding of what God was like was reflected, for example, in the formulas they used when they were baptising new members of the Church - in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit - and in their written accounts of Jesus' ministry, like today's gospel passage.
So our Christian belief in the Trinity isn't the result of a few theologians or intellectuals getting carried away with themselves and thinking up the most abstract and difficult concepts they can to describe the mysteries of God's inner life. It's the result of what happened to those first disciples of Christ - and the Christian faith rests, after all, on the testimony those first disciples gave of everything that happened to them in their dealings with Christ, and their conclusion that in Christ that had met God himself.
But if there are great differences between the picture of God in the book of Proverbs and the picture drawn by Saint John in his gospel, it's important surely to highlight some of the similarities as well and the continuity between the Old and the New Testaments. The authors of the book of Proverbs and Saint John were both praying to the same God.
In the gospel Jesus declares that there are many more things he could communicate about God to the disciples but that "they would be too much for you now". But when the Holy Spirit comes, he says, the Spirit will lead the disciples to the "complete truth", as Jesus puts it.
It's a way of speaking that reminds us - if we need reminding - that there's always an element, and a large element, of God that lies beyond our grasp and beyond our comprehension. The great insight of the author of the first reading, that God is the Creator, someone who lives on a different and a higher plane from his creatures, is still very true. We're not equal to God, and in spite of everything achieved by Christ, there's still an extent to which God remains hidden from us, and inaccessible to our understanding.
We have to recall the Christian conviction that our sinfulness, our wounded human nature, means that our ability to fathom God's holiness and truth and love is damaged - and in our fallen or wounded state we can never possess a full knowledge, or gain a direct vision, of God.
Penetrating the mystery of God's life and taking part in God's life can't be done without making the time and exerting a bit of discipline in the direction of prayer and reflection and a sort of quiet pondering of spiritual matters.
Our culture places so little value on quiet and stillness and contemplation that it's no surprise that so many people have their appetite for God stifled by the noise and distraction they create to assuage their own restlessness. There's also, I would argue, a tendency among church people to neglect the basic elements of personal spiritual life and the call to holiness in favour of some form of "activism" or ethical campaigning work.
The value of today's feast is that, amid the distractions and bustle with which we're liable to surround ourselves, it calls us back to God as he is in himself and the great mystery of his inner life. It calls us back to the fact that our basic vocation is to share that life - and that means giving over some time, while we still have time, to penetrating and entering the mystery.