Friday, May 29, 2015

Solemnity of the Holy Trinity

The Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity compels us to consider the most important truth of our faith.  We recall this truth every time we begin and end Mass.  We invoke the Trinity every time we pray.  We call upon the Trinity whenever we say the words Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  What we call the Trinitarian formula is critical to every sacrament from baptism to the anointing of the sick and dying. The sign of the cross with the Trinitarian formula begins and ends everything the Church does.  As it should.

We read in The Catechism of the Catholic Church,  “Christians are baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. "  I would add that they are never, and can never be, baptized in the name of the Creator, the Redeemer and the Sanctifier, a formula that some with delicate but bizarre sensitivities would like to use.

The Catechism continues, "The mystery of the Most Holy Trinity is the central mystery of Christian faith and life. It is the mystery of God in himself. It is therefore the source of all the other mysteries of faith . . . (It is) the light that enlightens them.  It is the most fundamental and essential teaching in the hierarchy of the truths of faith.”

The most fundamental and essential teaching in the hierarchy of the truths of faith.

Every time we make the sign of the cross, we recall a mystery that is inexplicable. The Trinity remains inexplicable despite the vast number of books written about it.  Though each book may contain a bit of insight into the nature of the Trinity, no book captures the essence of the Trinity.  No book, or the sum of all books, will ever capture that full essence.  The dogma of the Trinity depends on faith and faith alone.

One definition of faith is:  “Belief that does not rest on logical proof or material evidence.”  Another definition of faith comes from the Letter to the Hebrews: “Faith is the conviction of things unseen.”   Both definitions tell us something important in light of the doctrine of the Holy Trinity:  There will never be a logical proof of that doctrine.

We must become comfortable with the definition of faith as mysterious because despite the absence of logical proof, despite the impossibility of philosophy or science to begin to explain the Trinity,  one cannot call oneself Christian if he or she denies the Trinity.  Father.  Son.  Holy Spirit.

Many of you have probably heard the story that I did back in grade school a lot of decades ago.  It still serves to illustrate the impossibility of understanding the dogma of the Trinity.  The great theologian and philosopher St. Augustine was walking along a beach trying to understand One God in Three Divine Persons.  He wanted to explain the Trinity through logic.   He saw a child who had dug a hole in the sand.  The child was walking back and forth between the water and the hole with a small cup.  He would fill the cup at the water’s edge and then empty it into the hole in the sand.  Augustine observed this for a while and then moved closer to ask what he was doing.  The child responded that he was emptying the sea into the hole.  Augustine asked, “How do you expect to be able to empty something as vast as the sea into this small hole?”  The child responded, “I can empty the sea into this hole more easily than you can understand the Trinity.” 

The child’s point is still valid.  Only through faith can we understand some things that our inadequate intelligence will never be able to comprehend.  Even if we were to comprehend the Trinity, the limits of human vocabulary, the emptiness of all languages, the pallid nature of similes and metaphors, would not allow us to explain it in a way that others could understand.

The word Trinity does not appear anywhere in the Bible.  Rather, the understanding of the Trinity grew in the early years of the Church as the Church began to consider what Jesus had said and done during His time on earth.

The doctrine of the Trinity is the doctrine that in the unity of God there are three Persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Each of these three Persons is God.  There is only One God  yet the Persons are distinct. Thus, Jesus always speaks of His Father as distinct from Himself, yet also notes that  “I and the Father are One.”  The same is true of the Holy Spirit.

We are accustomed to persons being distinct and not the same, even when the persons are identical twins. We have a hard time wrapping our minds around three in one the same yet distinct.  Thus, Augustine’s walk along that distant shore. 

Over the past weeks many of the gospels have been taken from the farewell discourse of John’s Gospel.  Jesus refers to both the Father and the Holy Spirit in reference to Himself several times throughout this farewell.  Ultimately though, the Trinity is, and will remain forever, a mystery.

The Gospel antiphon following the Alleluia tells us everything we need to know.  "Glory to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit; to God who is, who was, and who is to come."
A very busy couple of weeks.  Spent Wednesday to Sunday before Memorial Day at Regina Laudis.  It was a nice time to be there.  So as not to repeat the dreadful drive of Easter Sunday that took 3 1/2 hours (should be about 2 1/2) I left not too long after Mass on Pentecost.  Will go back in July.  

Today is the 40th anniversary of our graduation from Temple Medical.  Shocking in some ways.  Despite sounding like the cliche that it is, it doesn't seem to have been that long.  But after forty years in medicine I can say I've done it all my life.  On Thursday night I sent an e-mail with some of the photos below to several friends with whom I have stayed in touch these forty years.  

The Kresge Building.  This was where it all happened.  I have strong memories of walking into that building the first time and being struck by its ugliness.  It wasn't too great inside.  Brutalist architecture was one of the saddest chapters in the history of American architecture.  The building was dark, cold, ungainly, and ugly.  Almost no natural light came through the small slit windows in the second photo.  The sad thing is that building faced directly east. It would have been nice to have direct sunlight at least some of the time.  

The building beyond Kresge was the research building.  It had no windows.  The guy who designed the building and the deans who thought it was a good idea should have been shot. 

John Franklin "Daddy" Huber, PhD.   Dr. Huber was universally called Daddy.  He interviewed me.  It was a pleasant interview of which I still have fond memories.  At one point Dean Brigham happened into the room.  He asked if I wanted a Coke.  Given that my mouth was so dry that my tongue was like a velcro blood pressure cuff on the roof of my mouth I was more than happy to accept.  At that point the dean carefully picked a few quarters of of his pocket, disappeared for a minute and returned from the soda machine in the "mezzanine" that was actually in the basement with two cans of Coke.  

The mailboxes.  These haven't changed though I don't think they are in use any longer now that the new school is opened.  These were a lifeline to the outside world in a day before e-mail, texting and face time.  

Jones Hall.  This was a dorm.  A number of the women in our class lived there during freshman year.  The roof was the scene of many a boozy party.  Superb views of Center City Philadelphia.  

The "Old Medical School."  I referred to it as that when I came home from my first semester. Dad asked what the "old" medical school looked like.  When I told him he noted that it was the brand new medical school when he was there (graduated in 1931).  It opened in 1929 or 30.  Unfortunately it is slated for demolition.  It was a much warmer, friendlier, and attractive building than bloody Kresge. 

Sitting on the wall.  A lot happened on that wall.  We ate lunch there on nice days.  Sat out there reading, chatting or trying to get a date.  There were a number of food trucks in front.  Cheap, good, and high volume food.  Yeah, that's me.  Forty years gone by.  Wow.

+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

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