31 May 2015
Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity
Jesus says: Go and baptize “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” Baptize “in the name of” the Trinity, “in the name of” God. And we can take that to mean: “Go baptize on behalf of me.” But there’s something more to it than that, I think. Scripture gives us at least five different ways to understand that phrase: “in the name of.”
But the way that’s significant for today’s solemnity is how Scripture uses the idea of a “name” as “immersion into something.” To be baptized “in the name of” the Trinity is to be immersed into the life of the Trinity itself—not symbolically, but really.
Go and baptize “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” . . . not merely on behalf of Jesus, but really and truly. During the Easter Vigil when adults are baptized, often times they’re plunged into the water. And that water surrounding them symbolizes the life of God. Jesus commissions us to dive head-first into the living water that is the life of God. And, while we’re at, bring the rest of the world along with us.
Today’s solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity is perhaps the most beautiful, and certainly the most difficult, to celebrate. The life of the Trinity, the divine life that’s shared between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is so far beyond our human experiences, so far beyond even our imagination that it’s hard to grasp what it means to baptize “in the name of” the Trinity, to immerse ourselves “into the name of” God.
But the Trinity is the womb, our birthplace, our homeland. And the Trinity is our ultimate and final home, the place where the light is always on, where there’s always a feast of gladness and the thrill of contentment. As hard as the Trinity may be to grasp, it is nonetheless familiar to us in so many ways. The name of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is right in our DNA, it’s all around us, it’s within us.
The divine life of the Trinity is, I suppose, like the constantly flowing, swirling currents of the ocean. And we’re like little fish in that ocean. The life of the Trinity surrounds us, and flows through us. Our bodies, our minds and souls are flooded with the life of the Trinity. God isn’t “out there.” Instead, we’re “in God.” God isn’t “out there,” and distant. Instead, we live inside of God; we live and move and have our being right here in the name of the Holy Trinity. We’re like the little fish, swimming and diving, living and dying in the ocean, in the living reality of the ocean of God’s divine life.
The mystery is, however, the ocean itself. That’s what we celebrate today: the name of God; the deep, unfathomable ocean; the living reality of the Trinity itself—the love, the perfect love between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This isn’t just a doctrine and a belief that’s developed over the past 3,000 years, or so. It’s our life—now—not only as Catholics, but as human beings, as creatures of the divine Creator.
The Trinity is the mystery of love and perfect friendship. Most people, I imagine, have been in love or have had close friendships. The two of you share yourselves with each other. You share life together: the good times and the bad, the joys, the sorrows. The wife is there for her husband; the husband is there for his wife. Or maybe a friend is a soulmate, one you can share anything with. And your friend knows that you’re there and present for him or her.
The relationship itself, that intangible, but very real experience of companionship and belonging, that knowledge that you are loved . . . that’s the “name” of God; that’s the reality of the Holy Trinity . . . right there between you and your spouse, you and your friend—in that intangible and mysterious thing we call a “relationship.”
For a long time, that’s a way the Church has seen and imagined the Holy Trinity to be. There is the Father, and there is the Son. And the total openness, the total self-gift of one to the other, the act of loving is the Holy Spirit. But, of course, the Trinity is not like us; rather, we are like the Trinity. And so, the Holy Trinity is like the most perfect relationship and friendship of love that we can imagine . . . and yet, it’s greater than that.
Jesus says, Go and baptize “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” In the name of. Immerse yourselves and others into this intangible reality we call divine love, divine friendship. Is it any wonder why the Lord tells us again and again and again, “Love one another.” Love God. Love yourself. Whatever we do, do it with love. Immerse ourselves, surround ourselves, saturate ourselves, mind, body, and soul with the mystery of the Holy Trinity . . . the mystery of divine and perfect love.
In the early Church, the Greek word “perichoresis” was used to describe the inner life of the Trinity. The prefix “peri” means “around” (like a peri-meter), and “choresis” is the same root for the word “choreography,” or “dancing.” In our Catholic Tradition, we envision the inner life of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit to be like a dance; they’re “dancing around and with” one another.
But this isn’t any dance; it’s a dance of intimacy . . . between a Lover and the Beloved in the Spirit of Love. In the 12th Century, St. Bernard of Clairvaux saw the Holy Spirit as the kiss of God. He writes this: “If, as is properly understood, the Father is he who kisses, the Son he who is kissed, then it cannot be wrong to see in the kiss the Holy Spirit, for he is the imperturbable peace of the Father and the Son, their unshakeable bond, their undivided love, their indivisible unity” [Sermon 8, Sermons on the Song of Songs].
This divine dance of Love that is the Holy Trinity is not outside of us. This dance is the movement of that ocean of life and love into which we are immersed. God is not “out there,” this dance of Love between Father and Son in the Spirit is not outside of us. It is within us because we are in God himself. Perichoresis happens all around us, within us, and between us . . . in friendship and in love. The life of the Trinity is the foundation and the ultimate goal of all that we desire: beauty, truth, goodness, and unity. Those ideals are not outside us, the life of heaven is not outside us. In every breath we take, every word and every act of love that we do, the life of the Trinity is there.
But a great mystery within this mystery we call the Holy Trinity is that our God is revealed as “one in three” and “three in one.” The Father and Son share so completely with each other in the bond of love called the Holy Spirit that they are one. Their divine dance is to so ecstatic and overflowing with self-gift to the other that they are one. That’s a great mystery. But not beyond, at least, our imagination.
When a husband and wife are married for decades, and they’ve been faithful to one another, they become one. After my grandpa died in 2007, I don’t think my grandma ever referred to him in the past tense. Then again, they had been married since 1950. They shared life together for fifty-seven years. Their souls had become one. And I imagine you know similar stories in your own families.
That bond of marriage is powerful. And the longer you’re married, the more ups and downs you go through, the stronger the bond becomes (sometimes). Well, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have been bound in love since before time began! They are one. They are one . . . and yet, they are distinct. They have to be. Unity and love depend on there being distinct persons in the relationship.
The Father doesn’t swallow up the Son. The Son doesn’t swallow up the Father. And the Holy Spirit does not overshadow, or be overshadowed by, either of them. They each remain distinct persons because without the uniqueness of each person, there’s nothing to share, there’s nothing to give or receive in love.
It’s becoming very common nowadays to see at weddings a Unity Candle. There’s two smaller candles symbolizing the bride and groom’s baptism and their individuality, and then there’s the big candle between them. And they take the two smaller candles and, together, they light the big one as a symbol of their unity. But, the two smaller candles remain lit. They do not blow out those candles. Just because they are now one in the sacrament of marriage does not mean they cease to be unique individuals. In fact, their love depends on each of them remaining their own unique person.
That uniqueness is what’s shared between them. And that sharing and discovery of who each other is is where the Holy Trinity is present in their marriage. God is one, God is a unity in that bond of perfect sharing and love. But God is a Trinity: distinct, divine candles of life that feed into the one candle of eternal life.
Jesus says: Go and baptize “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” By marriage, by friendship, and by any truly vulnerable intimacy between people we are baptized, we are immersed right into the name of the Trinity, right into the living reality of love, into that moving ocean of the divine dance of eternal and heavenly life.
And that life isn’t “out there.” The Holy Trinity is not “out there.” Rather, we are in the Holy Trinity. We are baptized, immersed, surrounded by and held up by the love that exists between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Holy Trinity is an infinite ocean of living water in which we swim; an infinite sky with breezes that fill us with the beauty of love and life; the Holy Trinity is love itself, that intangible but powerful reality we know anytime we say to another, “I am yours,” and in return we hear the same, “And I am yours.”
Go and baptize “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” Baptize them, immerse them, surround them with love . . . the love which is the Holy Trinity; a mysterious love, a perfect love, a beautiful love . . . love beyond imagination and description—the Trinitarian love we call “heaven.”