Fr. Britto's Blog

Holy Trinity

Perhaps you don’t know how much I love music. All through my seminary years I played an instrument and/or sang in the choir. Particularly I love the hymns that we sing in most parishes, hymns composed by such well-known composers as Haugen, Haas, Cooney and Joncas. Yet I am always deeply moved by the golden oldies like “Amazing Grace”. There is one classic hymn that always gets me. It is: “How Great Thou Art.” Its solemn melody reverberates in my guts and somehow I palpably experience the grandeur of God.

In recent years we have lost our sense of wonder and awe before God. One of the unforeseen consequences of the liturgy in the vernacular has been that even in our worship we somehow fail to touch the sense of mystery. Even though I am all for emphasizing God’s tremendous love for us, I am totally against even remotely suggesting that God is our buddy. God is totally the Other. Rudolf Otto in his classic volume, The Idea of the Holy, describes God as the “mysterium tremendum et fascinans.” He calls God the “tremendous and fascinating mystery.” Our only viable posture before God is one of humble prostration. Even St Thomas Aquinas would state that in our human language we can say what God is not, rather than what God is.

The Holy Trinity – whose feast we celebrate today – is a mystery that we could have never known through our unaided human intellect. In His unbounded generosity God has revealed it to us. The Hebrew Scriptures rightly speak of God as one and Christians too believe in the one God. However, Jesus spoke of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. He said, “The Father and I are one. If you have seen Me, you have seen the Father. I have to come to do the will of the Father.” He spoke of Himself as the Son. His sonship is unique. His relationship with the Father is unlike any other. He also spoke of the Holy Spirit. He said to His disciples: “I will not leave you orphans. I will send you the Comforter, the Holy Spirit. He will remind you of everything I have told you. He will teach you the complete truth.”

The Catechism of the Church insists that we could have never come to this truth of faith unless God Himself revealed it to us. It is the fundamental mystery. Here is what the Catechism says:

The Trinity is a mystery of faith in the strict sense, one of the “mysteries that are hidden in God, which can never be known unless they are revealed by God.” To be sure, God has left traces of his Trinitarian being in his work of creation and in his Revelation throughout the Old Testament. But his inmost Being as Holy Trinity is a mystery that is inaccessible to reason alone or even to Israel’s faith before the Incarnation of God’s Son and the sending of the Holy Spirit. (#237)

Having reflected on the words of Jesus, the Church has developed the doctrine of the Triune God. Great minds such as St Augustine have attempted to delve the mystery and failed. In trying to formulate the doctrine, the Church used philosophical categories that seem distant to the modern mind. To help us appreciate the mystery, the Church speaks of the different roles of the Three Persons of the Holy Trinity in the history of salvation. The Father is the Creator while the Son is the Redeemer. The Holy Spirit is the Sanctifier. The Old Testament is the age of the Father while the New Testament is the era of the Son. The time after the ascension of Christ until the end of the world belongs to the Holy Spirit.

As Christians what are we to do as we stand before this ineffable mystery? We must be careful with the vocabulary we use for God. All our language, all our categories and all our analogies are finite and imperfect. We can never, ever, fully grasp the essence of God. Hence we must develop a deep sense of awe before God. This feast calls on us to fall on our knees just like St Thomas who humbly fell on his knees before the Risen Christ. His prayer should become ours: “My Lord and My God!”  We must resist the temptation to look on God as one of us, even though the Son of God did become one of us. As the Bible says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”

The next time you get the opportunity to sing “How Great Thou Art,” dwell on the deep significance of the words:

O Lord my God, When I in awesome wonder
Consider all the works Thy Hand hath made,
I see the stars, I hear the mighty thunder,
Thy pow'r throughout the universe displayed;

When through the woods and forest glades I wander
I hear the birds sing sweetly in the trees;
When I look down from lofty mountain grandeur
And hear the brook and feel the gentle breeze;

Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to Thee,
How great Thou art! How great Thou art!

Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to Thee,
How great Thou art! How great Thou art!

Who is Fr. Britto?

Born in India to deeply-committed Catholic parents, Fr Britto is one of seven children. He joined the Salesians of Don Bosco as a young man and was ordained a priest in 1981.

After he completed his priestly formation and his early education in India, he came to the US for his graduate degree in Journalism at...Read more...

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