The Church celebrates Trinity Sunday today. Saint Paul reminds us in his letter to the Romans: God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.
The Trinity is an invitation for us to ask how the Lord is with us and has been poured into our hearts. There is an infinite variety of ways of experiencing God with us. We relate to God in ways that make sense to each one of us. God is a mystery to us. We can never claim to fully know God. We can seek interior knowledge of God, but there is always room to grow, realizing that there are infinite depths to the nature of God.
Since the beginning of Christianity, we have referred to the relational nature of God: the Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We hear in the Gospels that we are invited to share in their unity.
Like all candidates for the priesthood, I took a Trinity class during my Master of Divinity program. I can’t say that I remember everything that was offered in Fr. Tibor Horvath’s class. But I do remember the words perichoresis and circuminsession. (I also remember his passionate thirst for learning.)
The first is a Greek term that basically describes the intimate relationship of fellowship and oneness of the Father and the Son, united in the Spirit.
The second is a Latin term. I recall Fr. Horvath using these words to describe a sacred dance between Father, Son and Holy Spirit, between the divine and human natures of Christ. In a similar way, John of Damascus, saw perichoresis as a cleaving together.
The Father and Son are one in being and one in the intimacy of their friendship. They embrace each other and permeate each other. Plenty of Christian art and symbols try to illustrate this.
I also recall Fr. Horvath telling us about St. Bernard of Clairvaux and how he viewed the Holy Spirit as the kiss of God. His exact words from his Sermon on the Song of Songs: “If, as is properly understood, the Father is he who kisses, the Son he who is kissed, then it cannot be wrong to see in the kiss the Holy Spirit, for he is the imperturbable peace of the Father and Son, their unshakable bond, their undivided love, their indivisible unity.”
What does all this mean for us? These theological contributions are a way of saying that God is dynamic and alive. If God is described like that, so also should my relationship with God be. St. Ignatius of Loyola stresses that the spiritual life is alive.
Stagnation is an enemy of the spiritual life. In all likelihood, no one is ever going to ask us to defend the doctrine of the Trinity. What they are usually more interested in is whether or not we have a relationship with God, and whether or not the relationship is alive and growing. One way of measuring that is by looking to see if my relationship with God has made a difference in my life. Am I more compassionate than I used to be? Am I loving and forgiving?
Our image and understanding of God develop over the course of life. The way I see God in my mid-60s is not the same understanding I had when I was six years old. I’ve grown and changed. The world around me has changed. There’s a good quote from St. John Henry Newman about the reality of change: “In the higher world it is otherwise, but here below, to live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often.” If our relationship with the Divine is alive, we’ve probably changed quite often. Hopefully we are moving closer to perfection in God.