During the week, I visited one of our Catholic schools in Melbourne, spending around an hour with some senior students. It was a free-flowing and engaging conversation, with no restrictions on the questions that could be asked. Inevitably, a student asked the one question that can never be adequately answered: Explain to me in two minutes who is the Blessed Trinity?
I think any Christian could make a fist of explaining each of the individual persons of the Trinity: the Father, the great all-powerful Creator and almighty God; the Son, God who became human to save us; the Holy Spirit, the ever-present gift of God among us. But putting the three persons together as the one God, the Blessed Trinity, is and always will be a mystery to adequately explain.
Yet while explanation might eludes us, we can learn to understand and appreciate who God is, and one word from today’s readings stands out in this regard. It is the word love. In our first reading, God names himself in this way, using the words compassion and mercy’—words which illuminate love. St Paul, the great explainer of our Christian faith, refers to the Father–Son–Spirit as the God of love and peace. And Jesus himself, the second of the Trinity, revealed just how much love God has for us in giving to us his own Son. Not in our readings today, but said, nonetheless, by the disciple who Jesus most loved, God is love, and anyone who fails to love fails to know God (1 John 4.8).
Of course, ‘love’ itself is a bit of a mystery by way of explanation. We can all point to manifestations of love—desire, sacrifice, friendship and so on—but it is a reality we find difficult to pin down with a definition. But we know of it, and deeply appreciate it. Love is what makes the world and our lives worth living.
For love to be love, it must be given. It is always, every time, a gift given by one to another. Love presumes there is someone to give it as a gift, and someone to receive it as a gift. For love to be, there is the giver, the receiver and the gift itself. Love is, in other words, something that is threefold in form. If it is not a gift, it is not love. If it is not given as a gift, it is not love. If it is not receivable as a gift, it is not love.
The Holy Trinity is this threefold love. The Father is the Person who gives the gift of himself to his Son. The Son is the Person who returns the gift of himself to the Father. The Holy Spirit is the Person who is the gift exchanged. One God, who is love, perfectly given and received in the persons of the Trinity. And it is this God, the trinitarian God of love, who gives himself to us. Perhaps not an explanation, but certainly a gift to place our trust in.
God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son,
so that everyone who believes in him may not be lost
but may have eternal life.
This is ours, in the triune God.
Main image: unknown illuminator, The Trinity, about 1440–1450, J Paul Getty Museum, digital image courtesy of Getty’s Open Content Program.