Trinity and Family Life

The readings for Sunday, May 22, 2016, The Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity, Cycle C, are Proverbs 8:22-31; Romans 5:1-5; and John 16:12-15.

“Go…and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”

Some Church Fathers of the 2nd century included in their writings doxologies (prayers of praise like the Gloria of the Mass) in honor of the Holy Trinity. St. Basil the Great, died 397, cites a prayer used by Christians as they lit evening lamps in their homes. There are references to Masses to honor the Holy Trinity in the 8th and early 9th centuries. At the same time devotion to the Trinity began in monasteries. A feast in honor of the Trinity was established at Cluny in France in 1091, and at Canterbury by St. Thomas Becket in 1162. In 1331 Pope John XXII, a Frenchman who as Pope resided in France, extended to the universal church a feast in honor of the Trinity.

The gospel reading opens with these words of Jesus to the disciples, “I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot endure them now.” The statement should be understood to refer to the content which had yet to be revealed. Further revelation will be left to the Holy Spirit, as Jesus says in the next sentence, “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth…” See also John 14:26, “But the Paraclete, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things….”

Such statements about the role of the Holy Spirit in the life of the disciples, the life of the Christian Community, form some foundation for the legitimacy of oral tradition. The Gospel of John includes other foundational statements for oral tradition at the end of chapters 20 and 21. The latter reads as follows, “There are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.” The Holy Spirit will not be a freelance operator. The Spirit has a job description, a mission statement. Like the Son, so the Spirit will be sent. Thus Jesus says, “He will not speak on his own, but he will speak what he hears, and will declare to you the things that are to come.”

What are “the things to come?” No hint is given as to John’s meaning. A possible meaning: In early Christianity this phrase may have become a technical term for end time scenarios, such as we see in the Book of Revelation. There we repeatedly hear the words, “Let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” The last two sentences of today’s Gospel proclaim the total unity in being and in mission of the Trinity. “He will glorify me, because he will take from what is mine and declare it to you. Everything that the Father has is mine.” One can reason from these statements to the proclamation of our Creed, “The Holy Spirit.. .who proceeds from the Father and the Son.

Was the Trinity revealed in the Old Testament? Never explicitly.  It could be said that Trinitarian revelation is prepared in the Old Testament when God is often described as Father, or Father of Israel, Israel as the Father God’s firstborn son. Any preparatory, implicit statements about God as Son? In Wisdom Literature, such as today’s first reading, divine wisdom is sometimes spoken of as distinct from God, through whom and with whom God created the world. Isaiah 55:10- 11 speaks of God’s word going out from God, almost like a person, doing God’s will, then returning to God, mission accomplished. The Spirit of God is said to cause life, to inspire prophets.

Does the doctrine of the Holy Trinity have meaning in our practical lives? Marriage as sacrament is a sign of and reflects the unity between Jesus and the Church. Might it not also be said that a marriage, certainly an ideal marriage and the family which is its outcome, reflects the unity of the Trinity and the diversity of the relationships within the Trinity?

Between the Three there is mutual love productive (eternally) of life. So the love between wife and husband is productive of life, not only within themselves but in the children that love generates. In the ideal family there is equality but yet diversity. As God is eternally and infinitely generous and giving, so there is no institution on earth more generous, more serving, more giving than the loving home and family. There love causes children to come into the world and causes parents to selflessly raise and educate their children. The unlimited love in God and overflowing from God is the ideal model for family life and love.