Even though we are now back in Ordinary Time, we are not yet wearing green on the weekends. Even after eight weeks of Easter celebration, it is almost like we don’t want to give it up. And so, the weekend after Pentecost (this weekend), we celebrate the Feast of the Most Holy Trinity, and then, to keep the celebration going, next weekend we celebrate the impressively titled Solemnity of “The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ.” Then, liturgically exhausted, we finally return to plain old, humdrum, Ordinary Time.
But today we celebrate the Trinity. Our belief in the Trinity distinguishes Christians from Jews, Muslims, Unitarians, and just about everybody else. We believe in one God, like other monotheists, but we complicate it by claiming in this one God three distinct persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Some call them Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier. They have three different roles, but one unique God. It is a bit like saying that one equals three, which leads, of course, to a lot of head scratching.
Even though I had a good theological education and knew the history of the development of the doctrine of the Trinity and the various theological explanations of the Trinity, the impact of this doctrine never came home to me till I had the opportunity to discuss it with a group of Muslims.
In 2008, through the San Francisco Interfaith Council, I was privileged to attend the World Parliament of Religions held in Melbourne, Australia. It was a wonderful experience. And while there I had the opportunity to meet followers of many of the world’s religions (including my only experience of a Zoroastrian), including a good discussion with several Muslims.
Muslims are monotheists. The belief that there is no God but Allah is fundamental to Muslim belief and worship. You could even say, as I have heard Muslims describe themselves, they are “radical monotheists.” Not radical in the sense of terrorism, but rather radical in the sense that monotheism is at the root of their religion. So Muslims are NOT trinitarians. That smacks to them too much of worshipping three gods. There is only ONE God, period.
The logical result of their radical monotheism is that God is always and completely “other.” God is holy, which we are not. God is inscrutable, we can’t figure God out. God’s will can never be questioned. And so God always appears distant, different, other.
Only in discussing with Muslims did I come to realize this, and so realize the very different feel or sense or understanding of Christianity where God is not only all holy and total mystery, wholly other than us, but God also truly became one of us in time and place and has a human face in Jesus, AND God is closer to us than our own breath in the indwelling Holy Spirit. Trinitarian spirituality is VERY different than strictly monotheistic spirituality. For us, the wholly other (God) is also fully involved in our human history and intimately involved in us in the Holy Spirit. And that makes a profound difference.
So as we celebrate the Feast of the Most Holy Trinity, give thanks that, even though difficult to understand and put into words, this Mystery brings God close to us and involves us intimately in the Divine Life itself.