Q. While I try to apply the Church’s teaching to my life, I do not know how to make sense of the Trinity. I believe in the Trinity, but do not know what sense it makes to me personally. It seems like a complete mystery. Can you give me some guidance?
A. Here’s a reply from Msgr. M. Francis Mannion:
Catholic teaching tells us that human beings are made in the image of God. If we are made in the image of God, we are made in the image of the Trinity, and the life of the Trinity must be in some way be reflected in our lives.
This means that the activities traditionally identified with each person of the Trinity find expression in us. Thus reflection on human existence gives us some insight into the Trinitarian life of God.
In the Christian tradition, the Father, the first person of the Trinity, is associated with creation and generation. Much of our own activity as human beings can be seen as a participation in this work of the Father. This includes bringing forth new life, designing and making, tilling the land, fashioning all kinds of things. All crafts, technologies, all science and the application of new knowledge fall under this heading. By such activities the image of God the Father is at work in us and finds constant expression.
The image of the Son, the second person of the Trinity, is also reflected in the human soul. Works of compassion, reconciliation, sacrifice, forgiveness and healing reflect the work of redemption and reconciliation identified most closely with the Son.
Jesus’ ministry can be summed up in the word “salvation.” To the extent that every human being is a maker of a world in which people and things are saved, to that extent the Son is at work in them. When we give bread to the hungry, shelter to the homeless, lift up those who are bowed down, forgive others, the second person of the Trinity is at work in us.
The role of the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity, is reflected in every positive and ennobling movement of the human heart and soul. The Spirit is the life in us and the source of every life-giving activity. The artist, writer, musician and philosopher may embody and express this kind of creativity most noticeably, but there is not one of us who is not moved on a constant basis by inspiration, wisdom and insight. In our better moments we find in our hearts a constant flow of high ideals and virtuous impulses. These are the works of the Spirit.
The challenge of the Church and of Christian believers in each generation is to discover anew the richness of the great truth of the Trinity. Each of us has to go through this exercise personally — or else the Trinity is only dry doctrine with no experiential dimension.
To know God as Father means to know God through the glory of creation; to trust, to hope, to believe — and experience — divine providence in our lives.
To know God as Son is to return time and again to the very words and the ministry of Jesus and to shape one’s own life in terms of his life. It is above all to encounter him in the Mass and the sacraments.
To know God as Spirit is to know the depth of life within and about us; to be awed by the fact that we exist; to communicate with God within our hearts; to find joy, hope, peace, consolation and contentment; to have a sense that, as St. Augustine said, God is closer to us than we are to ourselves.