Commentary by Donagh O’Shea OP, www.goodnews.ie
For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God.
You have probably seen reproductions of the famous Roublev icon of the Trinity. The three Persons are seated around a table in an attitude of harmony and peace; the very lines of the icon create a circle within which the unity of the Persons, the manner of their presence to one another, is visible. At the focal point of the icon there is a cup between them on the table. It is a wonderful use of symbol and suggestion. The Trinity hints at the Eucharist. It is as if the divine Persons were saying to us: be one with one another as we are one (see John 17:21). To make the invitation even clearer, there is an empty place at the table.
Last Sunday was Pentecost Sunday, the feast of the Holy Spirit. It was the end of the Eastertide Liturgy. Today, having (as it were) collected all three Divine Persons, we celebrate the Trinity. We are taking a look at our God. Or admiring the full scope of the Christian revelation. It is vast: it is as vast as three religions! You can’t miss God. No matter which way you point (up to the Father, out and around you to Jesus, and in to the Spirit) you are embraced in the vast presence. Christianity is able to feel with all the religions of the world, because it has something of them in itself. Of course Christians have often ignored or despised other religions in the course of its history, but that is not the spirit of Christianity. We are to “discern the spirits” (1 Cor 12:10), to see which come from God. The spirit of our Faith is as wide as the world – wider than the world.
We are being invited and drawn into the inner life of the Trinity, to sit at that empty place at God’s table. The Father is the destination, Jesus is the way, the Spirit is the inner urge to move that way. “No one can come to me unless drawn by the Fathers who sent me” (Jn 6:44). Commenting on this in the fifth century, St Augustine wrote: “He did not say lead, but draw. This ‘violence’ is done to the heart, not to the body…. Believe and you come; love and you are drawn. Do not suppose here any rough and uneasy violence. It is gentle, it is sweet, it is the sweetness that draws you. Is not a sheep drawn when fresh grass is shown to it in its hunger? Yet I imagine that it is not driven bodily on, but bound by desire. In this way too you come to Christ: do not imagine long journeyings; in the very place where you believe, there you come. For to him who is everywhere we come by love, not by sailing.”
The Trinity is living in us and we in the Trinity. This contrasts sharply with the experience that many people have of God; but we are never to doubt it. The life of God is ours, and it is to be ours even more. Jesus once said, “It is the Father living in me who is doing this work” (Jn 14:10). We should all be able to say the same.
Let’s try to understand this in a homely way. When you do something awkwardly you know all too well that it is you who are doing it. Your thumbs get in the way, you drop things, the job takes a long time. But when you do something skilfully it is as if it happened by itself; it happened through you, you were just a finely-tuned instrument. I have heard golfers say things like this, and potters and carpenters. Such skilful actions are like moments of grace – natural grace. They give us some impression of how supernatural grace works. Something perfect happens through you and you say “thanks be to God!” In such moments you are free of the ego and you can say “the Father living in me is doing this work”.