Commentary by Fr Donagh O’Shea OP, www.goodnews.ie
The eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’
“Who can understand the Trinity?” wrote St Augustine in the 5th century. “Rare are the persons who, when they speak of it, also know what they speak of….” Then with all due qualifications and apologies, he suggests a way that might throw a little light on it. Look at yourself, he says; you see that you exist and that you have a mind and a will. These are three dimensions of your reality, and yet you are one. You are a kind of trinity: three in one and one in three. It is just an image, for as he said, “Who can in any way express it plainly? Who can in any way rashly make a pronouncement about it?”
It is only an image, yes, but it has this advantage: that it is taken from personal life, and not from mathematics. Sometimes people have seen the mystery of the Trinity as a piece of impossible mathematics in which 1 x 3 is still 1. St John, like Augustine, looked in personal life for analogies of the Trinity. He wrote, ‘Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love’ (1 Jn 4:8). This is a profoundly challenging statement. If I don’t live in love I don’t know God. A little further on John wrote, ‘God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them’ (1Jn 4:16). I may be the most learned theologian in the world, I may have hundreds of ideas for the betterment of the Church and society, I may be working like a slave to implement these ideas; but if I am not living in love it is wasted effort.
Let’s extend the personal image a little further, to groups of persons trying to live together. There are two things, mainly, that people suffer from in families and communities of every kind. One is a feeling of suffocation, of not being allowed to be themselves, of having no identity except that of the group. The other is opposite but equally painful: a loss of identification with the community. Here the individuals circle around one another at a distance, like planets, and this leads to loneliness. These two are opposite poles: too much family and too little, suffocation and loneliness. Now try to think again about the Trinity. The Father is eternally the Father. He never has been and never will be the Son or the Spirit. Likewise the other Persons. Each is eternally a unique Person. There is no suffocation. And yet they are so much one that we have to say there is only one God. The doctrine of the Trinity shows us that the inner life of God is a community – the only perfect community. Such a life we all aspire to, such a life we long for in all our dreams and waking: full presence to others without being diminished or disrespected in any way, a joyful pouring out of our lives for others, such that it makes us fully who we are ourselves.
Deep down, our longing for such a community is our longing for God. All our struggle to achieve it is our struggle for God, and all the pain and frustration we experience on the way is redeemed and given meaning by that transcendent Community that is God.