The Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity First Reading: Proverbs 8:22-31 Responsorial: Psalm 8:4-5, 6-7, 8-9 Second Reading: Romans 5:1-5 Gospel: John 16:12-15
To God's Own Self be true by Msgr. Richard Henning
My grandmother liked to remind me and my siblings of the wise maxim from Shakespeare: “to thine own self be true.” She wanted us to live in accord with, and building upon, our own nature. I do not dispute the truth of Shakespeare’s words, but perhaps this truth requires a larger context. Nature may be good, but grace makes it better. In fact, nature is made for grace.
The reading from Proverbs teaches us of the goodness of “nature.” In the creation accounts in Genesis, the Spirit of God moves upon the waters in the process of creation. The Spirit is spoken of in figurative terms as the very “breath” of God that breathes life into Creation. Here in proverbs also, God’s Spirit plays its role in the creation of the world, but the imagery is different. Instead of breath, there is a person: the feminine figure of Wisdom who takes part in creation and infuses herself into the fabric of the created. Wisdom’s presence in creation is real and discernible to the human mind and heart. And this figurative language really speaks of the presence of God in the creating and in the created. While the created, by definition, is something other than the Creator, there is always something of the Creator in the creature.
The awareness of this paradox animates today’s exclamatory Psalm. It acclaims the utter greatness of God, so far above creation, while also perceiving the goodness of God on display in the natural world.
When considered alongside Proverbs, Paul’s thoughts on nature may appear somewhat pessimistic. Paul also asserted that God’s presence may be discerned in creation. For this very reason, he critiqued the pagan world for its blindness to God’s presence. But for Paul, perceiving that presence involved a conundrum of its own. The Jewish people had the Law, relationship to and knowledge of the living God. For the Jews, there was no doubt of God’s presence in the world or God’s expectations of his creatures. But as Paul points out, this very fact leaves people trapped by their nature. They do not and cannot rise above their nature sufficiently to live as God intends. The Law becomes a goal that remains always just beyond reach.
The good news, for both the ignorant pagan world and the striving Jewish world is grace. In this, Paul ceases to be a pessimist. He may not have confidence in the power of nature to reach God by its own power, but he has experienced and proclaims God’s gracious reach towards humanity. By grace, God lifts nature to a new possibility. By grace, human beings find the capacity to live in a new way. Incredibly, it is the very way of living most true to human nature. This free, loving gift of God restores humanity and offers the possibility of union with God. It gives meaning, purpose, and direction to the human being; even affliction is transformed by its power. It promises even the hope of eternal life.
The Holy Spirit has an essential role to play in this new life. It is the spark of contact between humanity and God. In John’s Gospel, Jesus is the ultimate revelation of God’s inner life. To see him is to see the Father. In another sense, Jesus also reveals the possibilities in the human. As a human being, he lives in perfect faithfulness to God and at full peace with neighbor and nature. An icon of God, he is also the image of perfected humanity. His disciples, flawed as they are, will be drawn into Jesus’ relationship with the Father and find themselves transformed. And as today’s passage makes clear, the Spirit is the agent of that transformation.
Today, the Church celebrates the mystery of the Most Holy Trinity. We remember our collective experience of God, especially in the encounter between Jesus and humanity- an encounter that continues by the power of the Spirit. On this day, we remember that God is One and Three, a dynamic living relationship, a dance of grace. We remember that we have been invited into that relationship, into the inner life of God. We remember that God is encoded into our nature like the DNA that shapes our cells and we remember that our nature can only be complete when we open our hearts to the grace that God so freely offers. God is there in our nature, and our nature craves and needs God to find its true self. To be true to ourselves, we must be true to God.