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The One Thing Is Three

With humor and ease, Fr. Michael Gaitley, MIC, deftly unlocks the 'one thing,' the key to the Church's wisdom, and the greatest mystery of the Catholic faith: the Most Holy Trinity... Read more

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Trinity Sunday

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Everything else will turn out to be unimportant and inessential except for this: father, child, love. And then, looking at the simplest things, all of us will say: "Could we not have learned this long ago? Has this not always been embedded at the bottom of everything that is?" — St. Pope John Paul II, "Reflections on Fatherhood"

Happy Trinity Sunday! Today, we celebrate the heart of the Christian faith: God, who is One-in-Three. To explore this central mystery, we share an excerpt from Fr. Michael Gaitley, MIC's The 'One Thing' is Three: How the Most Holy Trinity Explains Everything:

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that, by far, the most important mystery of our faith is the Most Holy Trinity:

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, the light that enlightens them. It is the most fundamental and essential teaching in the "hierarchy of the truths of faith" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 234).

Since the goal of this book is to take us to very the heart of theology, it looks like we've come to the right place: The Trinity really is the "one thing." It's the mystery of our faith that's the source of all the other mysteries and shines light on them all. Alright, but what exactly is the Trinity?

The Catechism describes the Trinity as God's "innermost secret," which is that "God Himself is an eternal exchange of love, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit ... ." The Catechism then goes on to say something mind-blowingly amazing: "... and He has destined us to share in that exchange" (Catechism, 221). When this last line really hits home, it can transform our lives. We'll reflect on this powerful idea in due course, but first, let's try to appreciate the Trinity itself more deeply. ...

In our heart of hearts, what do we long for above all else? Love. We all want to love and to be loved. Specifically, we long for the communion of love. Look around — our culture makes it so obvious. Almost every song on the radio is about love (or a counterfeit of love). So much of what people say, do, and wear is really just an effort to be loveable, attractive, and accepted. Indeed, we hunger to be in communion with others and seek it out in so many forms, be they good or bad. For instance, we seek it in friendship, family, Facebook, fantasy, or fornication. With desire, we may run to these things while with fright, we run away from what seem to be the alternatives (loneliness and alienation).

Given our situation of being communion addicts, God is the perfect fit! He Himself fits the hole in our hearts, for we pine for the communion of love, and God Himself is the Communion of Love. We've often heard the "good news" that Jesus died for our sins — thank God and amen! But perhaps we haven't yet come to realize the good news that's just as good, namely, that God is Trinity. Put differently, He's the Communion of Love that we long for.

Let's think about this for a minute. Over and over, we've heard that the Trinity is a mystery. And many of us probably take mystery to mean "something we can't understand." Wrong. We can understand it, even if we can't comprehend it. In other words, the Trinity makes sense (we can understand it), but we'll never fully get to the bottom of the sense it makes (we can't comprehend it). We can always go deeper into the sense of the Trinity. Problem is, we often don't even try to scratch the surface of the sense it makes. But its sense speaks right to the core of our hearts, to our longing for the communion of love. So, we'd do well to reflect on the sense it makes, which has the power to make us mind-blowingly happy.

Now this makes sense: If we had to invent a God who would make us perfectly happy, we wouldn't invent the ancient Greek gods, and we wouldn't invent Aristotle's God. Rather, we'd invent the Trinity. Of course, nobody did (and actually, as the Church teaches, nobody could have done it), but it's one of those things that in hindsight, might make us say, "Oh, yeah. That makes perfect sense. Why didn't Aristotle think of that?" Look at it this way, starting with the basic truth: We long for the communion of love. But a communion of love takes at least two. Thus, our "invented God" would need to be at least two. Problem is, God must be one (Aristotle figured that much out). Otherwise, we're left with the cartoonish Gods of Greek mythology — or worse, the stick-and-dirt deities of primitive religion.

Okay, so our ideal God must be One, but if He is Love itself, it would seem that He would also need to be at least two, for love is about relationship, and relationship involves more than one. Alright then, let's look at a God who is One-in-Two, a "Holy Bi-nity."

On the one hand, this God is kind of disappointing, because relationships of two tend to be of the romantic kind, and those in such relationships often jealously guard their love. "Two is company and three's a crowd," as they say. Nevertheless, it would seem that a Holy Bi-nity would make us at least somewhat happy. It would give us the kind of contentment and warmth that some people feel when they watch a royal wedding. Of course, they're not actually involved with the royal couple, but as they watch the wedding on TV, they'll squeeze clenched hands to their hearts and get gushy about seeing the royals in love. So it would be with a Holy Bi-nity: We'd be glad to see that Mr. and Mrs. God are so in love with each other, but we'd still remain just outside observers.

Now here's an idea. What if our ideal God were not One-in-Two but One-in-Three? Okay, this gets us excited. It's kind of like the excitement people feel when, a few months after the royal wedding, they hear that a royal baby is on its way. Better yet, it's like the excitement when the baby finally arrives and people are gooo-ing and gaaa-ing over it, wishing they could hold it, and so on. It's especially the excitement of the grandparents who come rushing in. Of course, grandma and grandpa had loved seeing their child and his or her spouse happily married and in love, but when the baby comes, look out! Then they're over at the baby's house all the time. They want to caress the baby, kiss it, and give it presents.

In other words, while the intimacy of a husband and wife (marital love) is rightfully closed off to and exclusive of others, the intimacy of a mom, dad, and baby (family love) is rightfully open to others. This kind of family love is expansive and includes others, including other children. It's a fruitful love that multiplies. So, while a marital two is blissful, somewhat exclusive company, a familial three is a happy crowd that grows.

Thus, if we could come up with a God who would make us truly happy, our best bet would be to make One who is at least One-in-Three. For, then, we'd have a God who is a Family of Love and whose love could reach out to us in our existential loneliness, saying, "Come, join the Family!" Of course, this is as far as our hypothetical invention could go. We don't know that God would invite us to share in His inner life — and after the fall, it's definitely doubtful. But what if ... What if the God who is the Communion of Love invited us to join the Family? This would make us incomprehensibly happy.

Well, something beyond our wildest dreams is true: God is Trinity, an eternal Family of Love. What's more, He invites us to share in His own divine life. If we accept, we'll enjoy communion with Him, and it will make us incredibly happy.

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