Preached May 27, 2018; St. Peter Catholic Church, The Dalles, Oregon
Know and fix in your heart that the Lord is God in heavens above and on the earth below, and that there is no other. Our Catholic faith is placed in the One God, Creator of heaven and earth, who is revealed to us as the Most Holy Trinity.
God infinitely exceeds all that we can ever think or say about him, but we can still think and speak truly about him. We give him many names and titles of praise because we can never praise him sufficiently, and if our praise is worthy, our names and titles are true. Nevertheless, the sheer multiplicity of names and titles can become confusing, especially in the matter of the Most Holy Trinity.
For that reason it is good, before saying anything else, to set before our minds the very basics that we teach the school children and that you should be teaching your children.
We believe in One God in three divine persons. “God” answers the question ‘what?’; the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit are all answers the question “who?” One indivisible ‘what’ and three ‘whos’.
If we diagram this with a triangle, with the names ‘Father’, ‘Son’, and ‘Holy Spirit’ at each of the corners and a circle in the center with the word ‘God’, then we can connect each corner to the center with a line labeled by the word ‘is’. The Father is God; the Son is God; the Holy Spirit is God. The sides of the triangle, however, need to be labeled with the words ‘is not’: The Father is not the Son; the Son is not the Holy Spirit; the Holy Spirit is not the Father.
Everything that is true about God, as God, is true of each of the three; there is no greater nor less; no parts nor whole; no division, but also no confusion of the persons. That is the eternal reality of the Most Holy Trinity, one God who is not a solitary God, but a communion of life and love.
Nevertheless, because of the distinction of the persons, only one divine person, the Son of God, Jesus Christ, became man, was born of the Virgin Mary, died on the Cross, rose from the dead, and in his sacred humanity is now glorified at the right hand of the Father. God was born of the Virgin Mary; God died on the Cross, God rose again from the dead – not God the Father, nor God the Holy Spirit, but only God the Son.
Apart from the humanity of Jesus, everything that belongs to the Father belongs to the Son and the Holy Spirit; everything that belongs to the Son belongs to the Father and the Holy Spirit; everything that belongs to the Holy Spirit belongs to the Father and the Son.
Still, in order to get some grasp of the distinction of the persons while we speak of Jesus through the uniqueness of his humanity, we speak of the Father in terms of the creation of heaven and earth (through the Son and in the Holy Spirit) and the election of the people of Israel and we speak of the Holy Spirit, who proceeds from the Father and the Son, as dwelling in the hearts of the faithful (together with the Father and the Son) sanctifying us and uniting us to God.
So let us consider today’s 1st reading.
Moses is marveling about God’s election of Israel, freeing them from slavery in Egypt, entering into a covenant with them on Sinai, and guiding them through the desert. He declares: Did anything so great ever happen before? Was it ever heard of? Did a people ever hear the voice of God speaking from the midst of the fire, as you did and live? Or did any god venture to go and take a nation for himself from the midst of another nation … by signs and wonders … with strong hand and outstretched arm? … That is why you must now know, and fix in your heart, that the Lord is God in the heavens above and on the earth below, and that there is no other.
The consequence: You must keep his statutes and commandments that I enjoin on you today.
Now we can apply the same line of thought to what God has accomplished in Jesus Christ. Did anything so great ever happen before? Was it ever heard of? Did it ever happen that a god did not just appear in human form, but actually become man, live among us, speak to us face to face, as did Jesus Christ, the very Son of God through whom all things were made? Or did it ever happen that the very Son of God through whom all things were made give his life on a Cross and rise again from the dead to deliver us all from the slavery of sin and death and lead us into the resurrection of life? That is why you must now know, and fix in your heart, that the Lord is God in the heavens above and on the earth below, and that there is no other.
The consequence: You must keep the commandment of Jesus that he enjoined upon us, to love one another as he loved us.
Now we can apply the same line of thought to the great gift of the Holy Spirit. Did anything so great ever happen before? Was it ever heard of? Did it ever happen that God sent his very Spirit, who gives life to all things, into our hearts, to dwell in them, to write his law therein, to sanctify us, to make us his children, and to lead us to the land of the living? That is why you must now know, and fix in your heart, that the Lord is God in the heavens above and on the earth below, and that there is no other.
The consequence: We must let ourselves be guided by the Holy Spirit to the fulfillment of God’s law and not gratify the desires of the flesh. (cf. Gal 5:16-25)
Before departing from this earth Jesus commanded his Apostles saying, Make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. Baptism involves more than a mere washing of the body, more even than the washing away of sin, baptism means immersion into the very life of God, the Most Holy Trinity, who calls us to the eternal embrace of his love and who accompanies us along the way, according to Jesus’ promise, Behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.