Once upon a time, a saintly hermit and his young disciple were building a simple house for themselves alongside a river. However, at one point when the young man swung his ax, the head came loose from the handle, flew into the river, and sank out of sight. The disciple cried out in dismay—for not only was the ax the only tool he had to work with, but it had been borrowed from someone else. Responding to his disciple’s agitation, the master said, “Fear not, my son; not only will we recover the ax head, but in doing so, I will show you an important lesson about what we believe.” Then the holy hermit took a wooden log and tossed it into the river, right where the ax head had disappeared. As the log sank, the ax head rose, and then floated to the shore, where the master picked it up and said, “You see, my son, this iron represents our human nature; just as the ax head sank into the mire at the bottom of the river, so our souls sink into the depths of sin and iniquity, even though God wanted them to remain here on the surface of His creation, where it’s our duty to work to build a lasting home for ourselves in Heaven. Seeing our distress and spiritual slavery, God the Father cast His Son—the wood of the root of Jesse—into the stream of time, and behold: as Jesus sank into the humility of His earthly life and into the degradation of His passion and death, so our human nature was raised up and restored to its original dignity and purpose” (Rev. Francis Spirago, Anecdotes and Examples for the Catechism, p. 84). This simple analogy speaks to the truth of the Gospel: God loves us, and personally and actively works for our salvation. The Father sent the Son for our redemption; Jesus died to free us from our sins, and the Holy Spirit guides and strengthens us as we answer God’s call and journey to eternal life in Heaven.
Each year on the Sunday after Pentecost, the Church celebrates the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity. Our belief in Three Divine Persons in One God—a truth revealed only in Christianity—speaks to us of God not merely in an abstract theological manner, but also in a very personal one. God exists, and He knows and loves each one of us in a wonderful and unique way. As described to Moses, He is “a merciful and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity.” This means our relationship with Him can be rooted in love, not in fear. Jesus confirms this truth in the Gospel of John by telling us that “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.” Our Creator wants us to dwell in His Presence for all eternity—but because He respects our free will, this can only happen if we choose to allow it. That’s why St. Paul urges us to “mend [our] ways, encourage one another, agree with one another, [and] live in peace”—for in this way the God of love and peace will be with us. Faith is not meant to be primarily an intellectual or theoretical experience, nor merely a set of religious propositions to be acknowledged and believed, but a reality to be lived and shared—and those who try to do this will discover that Divine Truth is actually very loving and joyful.
In the year 1425, a Russian artist named Andrew Rublev painted the famous Icon of the Holy Trinity, showing three angelic figures seated around a table, facing each other. The renowned 20th century Catholic author Fr. Henri Nouwen wrote of this scene, “As we place ourselves in front of the icon in prayer, we come to experience a gentle invitation to participate in the intimate conversation that is taking place among the three divine angels and to join them around the table. The movement from the Father toward the Son and the movement of both Son and Spirit towards the Father become a movement in which the one who prays is lifted up and held secure” (quoted in Through the Church Year: Reflections for Feasts and Seasons, Francis D. Kelly, pp. 103-104). In other words, the best, most theologically correct, and most practical, way of understanding the Holy Trinity is in terms of a relationship of love. The Three Divine Persons are not sitting back passively somewhere “out there,” but are actively involved in our world and, if we allow it, in our lives, inviting us to experience, rejoice in, and share Their love.
What does this mean for us as Christians? In honor of the Holy Trinity, I’ll make three suggestions, under the themes of memory, dignity, and fidelity. In terms of memory, we must always call to mind the truth that we did not come into existence by accident; we were freely and deliberately created by God. This means every single human being has value, and every single human life has a purpose. In order to discover and live this truth as it applies uniquely to us, we must remember to obey God’s commandments, including the Third Commandment, which summons us to attend Mass every weekend; we must also regularly spend time with God in prayer, ideally every day; and we must try to hear and answer God’s personal call to us, or our vocation, whatever it may be. In terms of dignity, we must actively embrace the truth that Jesus, through His death and Resurrection, has restored us to our original status as children of God—and this means we must live by a higher standard than the false values and sinful lifestyles promoted by this world. We must allow ourselves to become a new creation in Christ, actively trying to grow in grace through the Church’s sacraments; we must also encourage others, by our words and example, to discover that freedom, joy, and peace which can only come from following Jesus. In terms of fidelity, we must freely choose to use the Gifts of the Holy Spirit which we received in Confirmation—so as to be faithful followers of Christ, and to do our part in carrying out the mission He entrusted to His Church on earth. Each of us is supposed to be an evangelizer, and a witness to God’s love and truth—but it’s only through the Holy Spirit that we’ll know what to say and do in any given situation, and have the courage and strength to obey. Opening our hearts to the guidance and Gifts of the Spirit is essential if we are to be faithful to our Christian calling.
The Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity is the Church’s reminder to us that we are invited to believe in, experience, and share the love of the Three Divine Persons in a down-to-earth, personal way. Most of the theological implications of this central doctrine of Christianity may be beyond us, but each of us is confronted by a simple, undeniable truth: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit invite us to enter into their loving and glorious relationship, and only by doing so can we find inner peace and eternal happiness.