Theologically, the Trinity has had its doubters from the earliest days of the Church. It’s not surprising really, when one considers that during my life-time people have doubted, and continue to doubt that the Holocaust, the murder of millions of Jews in extermination camps during WWII not forgetting other victims including ethnic minorities, those born with disabilities, and other atrocities committed by nation upon nation actually happened. All these atrocities were witnessed! Photographs of thousands of bones and skulls, piles of shoes and clothes, shed-loads of human hair, spectacles, teeth!!!! …….The sacredness of the human body despoiled, emaciated, stripped naked, humiliated, for all to see, and yet some say it never happened! The maxim ‘seeing is believing’ has its disbelievers, because people only believe what they want or choose to believe. It’s akin to having a ‘selective faith’!
If one believes in Jesus, Son of God and Son of Man, God made man, then in my mind it follows that one would believe in his words and his actions. To quote from John’s gospel chosen for Pentecost Sunday, Jesus said to his disciples, who we are told had been hiding from the Jews out of fear and were delighted and relieved when he came into their midst, and said:
‘As the Father sent me,
so am I sending you.’
After this he breathed on them and said:
‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’
Jesus was affirming the reality of the Holy Spirit with the Father and himself. To me, that says one in unity, equal in divinity, and to cap it all, we, Jesus’ disciples are part of that unity and divinity as we are the Body of Christ! To quote from St Augustine who offered the following words of divine insight: ….. (Augustine’s Sermon on the Ascension. Mai 98. Div Office, Ascension)
‘He [Jesus Christ] did not leave heaven when he came down to us from heaven; he did not leave us when he ascended to heaven again. His own words’ says Augustine, ‘show that he was in heaven while he was here: [on earth]. No one has ascended into heaven but he who descended from heaven, the Son of man who is in heaven. He said this because of the unity between us and himself, for he is our head and we are his body. The words ‘no one but he’ are true, since we are Christ, in the sense that he is the Son of man because of us, and we are the children of God because of him. ‘
I’m always reminded of the People of God being the Body of Christ during the ‘Preparation of the Altar and the Gifts’ during Mass, when the priest says ‘By the mystery of this water and wine may we come to share in the divinity of Christ, who humbled himself to share in our humanity.’
What has always intrigued me are the instructions to the priest which state that he should say this invocation quietly. In fact during a Mass unaccompanied by music, I don’t understand why the whole congregation shouldn’t pray in unison with the celebrant. I’m sure someone will give me a reason.
In the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Section Two on ‘THE PROFESSION OF THE CHRISTIAN FAITH’, (the Creeds) the Third chapter of this section examines the phrase ‘I Believe in the Holy Spirit:’. Concerning creation, it says in No 703 …….. The Word of God and his Breath are at the origin of the being and life of every creature: and No 704 is a quote from St Irenaeus who writes:
‘God [that is the Son and the Holy Spirit] fashioned man with his own hands and impressed his own form on the flesh he had fashioned, in such a way, that even what was visible might bear the divine form.’
May I add here a quote from Jn 14:9ish. Philip said to Jesus, ‘Lord, show us the Father, and that’ll be proof enough for us.’ Jesus replied, ‘Philip, I’ve been with you all this time and still you don’t know me? If you have seen me, then you have seen the Father. Get a grip!!’ [a colloquial translation]
Some people can have all the proof in the world, and still they will not believe in the Trinity, just as some people will see all the photographs taken at the liberation of the extermination camps at the end of WWII, including eye-witness accounts, and admissions of guilt by the guilty, and still will not believe that the holocaust ever happened.
My personal understanding of the Trinity is what I was taught at my mother’s knee, so-to-speak, namely, the Trinity as explained as the perfect family. The perfect family? Yes! In purely human terms: Father, Mother, Child. Nowadays, such a statement can be open to challenge by the number of single parent families in the UK, but the number is less than one may be given to believe. According to government statistics, lone parent families number 2.9 million, 14.9% of the population, and again contrary to popular perception, a majority of these families are not spongers off the State, and the children thrive. 91% of lone parents with dependent children are women, and pro rata, earn considerably less than a two parent household. How they survive and maintain their drive and dignity deserves both admiration and respect and of course practical and moral support.
However, back to the Trinity as the perfect family. [for humanity to imitate]
As ever, I begin with a quote from a book! a book entitled ‘Trials of the State’ with a sub-title: ‘Law and the Decline of Politics.’ Its’ author is Jonathan Sumption, more widely known not only as a historian, but as a former Supreme Court Justice. The preface of the book explains that the book is based on the five BBC Reith Lectures broadcast on Radio 4 in May and June 2019, [and] substantially reproduces the text of the lectures with [some] additions and modifications. Chapter 5 is headed ‘Constitutions, New and Old’ and this quote is from the beginning of the opening paragraph of Chapter 5.
“For 150 years, power has been deposited in Parliament, and for the last sixty or seventy years [Parliament] has been becoming more and more unpopular.” ‘The thought sounds familiar.’ says Sumption, and continues, ‘But the author was not a leader writer in a daily paper or a demonstrator in Parliament Square. It was Benjamin Disraeli, perhaps the only true genius ever to rise to the top of British politics. He [Disraeli] put [these words] into the mouth of his hero Sidonia in his novel Coningsby. Coningsby was published in 1844, at a time of great constitutional ferment in Britain, and on the eve of a political crisis in some ways like the present crisis about Brexit. [Remember Brexit? for the sake of being up-to-date may I substitute Covid 19?]. Of course, Sidonia was Disraeli himself, and his diagnosis was bleak. The peril of England, he said, lay not in laws and institutions but in what he called ‘the decline of its character as a community’. Without a powerful sense of community, even the best laws and institutions were a dead letter.’”
I was taught from my early years that basis of any community is the family, and therefore the bedrock of a nation state, and being born into a Catholic family I have experienced and witnessed how a family such as ours functioned, both practically, spiritually and within the local church and local community. Being the second of six children, and the gap between my eldest sister and my youngest being 16 years, in hindsight one can see how attitudes changed over time, not only between parents and children, but between siblings. There is no doubt that parental influence is a key element because as family circumstances change over time, children witness how parents deal with success or failure, with crises or good fortune.
During recent weeks I have been sifting through my worldly goods; recycling some, particularly clothes [which have shrunk over time!] and more importantly letters dating back more than 60 years, including some from my parents; and it is those letters which give a clear insight into their attitude to their love, commitment and involvement for, with, and to their children, ….. the family community.
The first quote is a letter from my Father which he posted on 7th July 1957. The occasion marked the dreaded ‘O’ level exams! …… dreaded because I knew damn well I wasn’t going to achieve shining results. To be honest I knew that more likely they would resemble rusty old corrugated iron as proved to be the case. Father knew his son, and the second paragraph of his letter to me was a softener. He wrote:
‘I am extremely gratified to hear of your good progress and the fine reputation you and Desmond [my younger brother, 3 years my junior] enjoy at Ratcliffe. This in itself is sufficient reward to your dear mother and I for any efforts we make.‘
I know this Monday starts the summer exams and doubtless you have a few butterflies in the tummy, and although it’s the accepted rule that you must pass exams to be given a piece of parchment to prove that you have attained a certain standard, it isn’t the beginning and the end of everything. So put your trust in Our Lady and her Divine Son, say a few prayers before you start and then try and forget it’s an exam and treat it as another lesson.
It’s easy to give advice I know, but my life has been a succession of hurdles and butterflies, and somehow with the grace of God you overcome them. Personally I think you’re going to do well, and needless to say none of us will forget you in our prayers, but whatever the outcome, don’t lose any sleep over it.’
What better letter could an errant child receive from a compassionate father on the eve of a disaster?
The next letter dated 29th Nov 1962 is from mother and is abridged, primarily to highlight the trust, confidence and understanding she had in her eldest son, although he didn’t realise it at the time! The background to the letter was that mother and father were looking to purchase another business, but needed to sell the current business and the family home to facilitate the move. After the opening paragraph she writes:
‘Everything here’s just as hectic as ever with loads of rumours going around, that a Supermarket is taking over [the business next door] in fact the whole rank [of shops]. But the rumour is that we are holding out. However [the rumour] may be true and it may not. We hope that it is, it will be just what the doctor ordered if it is, but up to now no one has approached us, so we shall have to keep quiet and wait.(and pray that it comes off).’
Mother then goes into the pros and cons of leasing or renting the new business, and the need to make a decision once for all before the prospective new business was advertised on the open market. Mother knew her own mind and wanted to go ahead but adds this:
‘This is where I get fidgety with Dad, he’s so unpredictable. So you can understand why I’m so keyed up at times and frustrated. Still what will be will be. You can do no other with a man like that. I’ve no doubt of course that we shall get something, because I shall definitely stick out this time and within the near future too. Of course I’m rather restricted until this bungalow is sold, but once it is, oh boy!!’
Two weeks after that letter was written she was dead!
Our parents knew each others’ capabilities, and that isn’t surprising as they had known each other for 36 years including the years prior to their marriage. Each had an independent spirit, yet their desire to bring up their children in the Faith, to give them a safe and loving home and a rounded education was their common goal. Both were generous to a fault in their attitude towards the parish and towards those in the community at large who needed help. Where possible, wherever we went, it was as a family, and that familial ethos has remained with us all. They shared their hopes and ideals with their children, and to my knowledge never criticised the choices we made in life. Dad used to say ‘Whatever you do, know why you’re doing it’!
I wonder how often I took his advice ….. if ever!