June 13, 2014

Rejoice in the Lord

Trinity Sunday celebrates the mystery of God’s inner life

Archbishop Joseph W. TobinA week following Pentecost, the Church invites us to celebrate the mystery of the Most Holy Trinity. There is an important relationship between these two solemn feasts.

Pentecost recalls the Lord’s gift of the Holy Spirit to his disciples, and with this outpouring of God’s breath, the Church is born.

Trinity Sunday celebrates the mystery of God’s inner life. What we do not understand by reason alone, we accept with the eyes of faith.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that with the sending of the Holy Spirit, the mystery of God’s inner life was finally and fully revealed (#232-237). What was hinted at in the design of creation, and in the words of the Old Testament prophets, is now made manifest. God is One in Three (Father, Son and Holy Spirit).

This great truth, which is the central teaching of Christian life and faith, remains a mystery. We gain access to this marvelous teaching by opening our minds and hearts to the gifts of the Spirit.

To better understand the Trinity, we must first gain some understanding of who the Holy Spirit is and how he “proceeds from” the Father and the Son.

Have you ever found yourself unable to catch your breath—either because you stayed under water too long, ran further than you intended or climbed too high too fast? It’s a frightening experience.

We take for granted the air we breathe 24 hours each day, day in and day out over the course of an entire lifetime. “Breath” is the invisible, but absolutely essential, ingredient in sustaining our physical well-being. When we say someone “breathed his last,” we mean that he or she has died.

The Holy Spirit is the breath of God. By analogy, we can say that he is the invisible, but absolutely essential, ingredient in sustaining our spiritual well-being. But that would only be half of the story.

The Holy Spirit sustains all of God’s creation—both material and spiritual. No one has ever seen the Holy Spirit except in the images that we find in sacred Scripture (a dove, wind, fire, water, holy oils and more). Like the breath that sustains us physically, the Holy Spirit inspires us human beings to recognize who we are as children of God and who we are called to become as disciples of Jesus Christ.

There is an important relationship between prayer and the Holy Spirit. St. Paul tells us that when we pray we shouldn’t worry about what to say (Rom 8:26; Gal 4:6). The Holy Spirit speaks for us in prayer—even when our own words are inarticulate or routine or even half-hearted. The Holy Spirit helps us pray, worship, express heartfelt thanks and implore God’s mercy and assistance as we face the challenges of living and loving well each day.

Catholic theology, while acknowledging the undefinable mystery that is the Blessed Trinity, describes the Holy Spirit as the eternal Love that proceeds from the Father and his Son, the Divine Word. This Love is powerful. It creates from nothing. It sanctifies (makes holy) what is secular or profane. And, above all, it prompts all those who have received the gift of baptism to respond to God’s call in their lives with the same generosity and self-renunciation that Jesus showed when he gave his life as a ransom for many.

But equally important, the Holy Spirit plays an indispensable role in the lives of each one of us. He encourages, motivates and supports us in our prayer. Through all the sacraments, beginning with our baptism, the Holy Spirit sustains us in daily Christian living—in discerning God’s will, in making moral choices and in performing works of genuine charity and self-sacrifice.

In “The Joy of the Gospel,” Pope Francis tells us that the Holy Spirit was given to us by Christ to teach us how to live as missionary disciples and “spirit-filled evangelizers.” Because the Holy Spirit is the eternal Love that proceeds from the Father and the Son, he has the power to change us if we let him.

By the grace of the Holy Spirit, we can come to know God the Father. We can open our hearts to a personal encounter with God the Son. And we can live for others, as Jesus did, by the power of the Holy Spirit.

This Trinity Sunday, let’s thank God for making himself known to us through the mystery of his inner life. Let’s pray together that the grace of the Holy Spirit will allow us to become spirit-filled evangelizers who proclaim by our words and our actions the boundless love and mercy of the Triune God. †

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