By The Reverend Monsignor Harry Entwistle
Sunday May 27th , 2018
Preached at St Ninians & St Chads Parish, Perth
St Paul’s Catholic Church, Mt Lawley
Christians, Jews and Muslims believe in One God, but the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church believes that God has revealed himself as a community of three, the persons of which are in perfect unity. The Father is God, the Son is God and the Holy Spirit is God. Yet there are not three gods but one God.
This mystery is unfathomable but think of Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan river. The heavenly voice says, “This is my beloved Son, listen to him.” Descending on Jesus in the form of a dove is the Holy Spirit, the love and power of God. In today’s gospel reading we heard that as Jesus returned to his Father, he commissioned his disciples to go into the world baptising in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
There is one God but three persons. Over the centuries many images have been used to try to help people understand this mystery. St Patrick spoke of a three leaved clover. Others have spoken of water as a liquid, ice and steam. Images are useful, but they are never good enough. They can only provide us with hints and glimpses of the truth.
The Church struggled for centuries to clarify what St Paul expressed in his greeting, “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” Despite the Church’s teaching, some who describe themselves as Christians still deny that God is a community of three, the Trinity. Unitarians and Jehovah’s witnesses are not Trinitarian, and Mormons tend to think of three gods united because they have the same purpose. Some Christians believe that the one God is recognised as three because he appears in different guises at different times. As Father the creator, then as Son in Jesus, then as the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. This is unitarian, not Trinitarian. Similarly, anyone who denies that Jesus is God but a human to be admired cannot be Trinitarian. The false teachings that the Church rejected in the first centuries of its life are still alive and well in today’s faith communities.
What does Jesus say in the Scriptures? He says, “I and the Father are One. He who has seen me has seen the Father” (Jn17:21). You cannot think of Jesus without seeing the Father. Think of the Father and he is seen in Jesus. Jesus also said that, “The Counsellor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things” (Jn 14:26).
The Scriptures reveal that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are One because they share the same substance, or divine nature. Every human being in the world is One because we all share the same nature – human nature. As the persons of the Trinity belong to the one Divinity, human beings belong to the one humanity. Despite occasional appearance to the contrary, humans don’t for example share the same nature as cats – cattiness!
Because Father, Son and Holy Spirit share the same divine nature they are One. What distinguishes them is the differing relationships between them. In a human family all members share human nature, but what distinguishes the differing members is the relationships between them, namely husband/wife; son/father/mother; daughter/mother, father; brother/sister. As in a human family, so with God. There is unity with relational distinctiveness.
What does this understanding of God as Trinity mean for the way we live our faith? It means that all the events in God’s relationship with his creation as he has brought us to salvation involves all three persons of the Trinity because they are in harmony with each other. All three were there when all things were created – the Father speaks the Word (Jesus) and breathes on the chaos to bring order (the Spirit). When the Son was born in Bethlehem, the Father sent Gabriel and the Holy Spirit overshadowed Mary. When Jesus was crucified, the Father was heard in the thunder following the Son’s death and Spirit was present in the suffering love of Jesus, Our Lady and the others at the foot of the Cross. The Father raised Jesus from the dead at Easter through the power of the Holy Spirit. When the Spirit overshadowed the disciples at Pentecost, the Father and Son were not absent. In all things, all three persons of the Trinity are present, working in unity with each other.
It is through faith that we are drawn into the life of God the Holy Trinity. We are invited to grow in communion with him and Jesus said that those who open their hearts when he stands at the door and knocks, the One God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit will enter and dwell there. The way we live our faith reveals our relationship with God the Holy Trinity, and that faith is lived in anticipation of our continuing heavenly relationship with him.
The Trinity may be a mystery, but it is a reality.
Monsignor Entwistle is the first Ordinary of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of the Southern Cross. Educated at St Chad's Theological College, he was ordained a priest in the Church of England Diocese of Blackburn in 1964. After reception into the Roman Catholic Church, he was ordained to the priesthood in St Mary's Cathedral, Perth on 15 June 2012.