The Central Mystery of the Faith, The Source of Reality

On the Readings for The Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity

(Photo: © zwiebackesser -

(Photo: © zwiebackesser -

• Ex 34:4b-6, 8-9
• Dan 3:52, 53, 54, 55, 56
• 2 Cor 13:11-13
• Jn 3:16-18

The Trinity, the Catechism states, is “the central mystery of Christian faith and life” (CCC 234). There are, I think, a couple of mistakes that can be made when it comes to thinking about this great mystery.

The first is to treat the dogma of the Trinity as a fascinating but abstract concept, a cosmic Rubik’s Cube that challenges us to fit all of the pieces into their place through elaborate, brain-twisting moves. What might begin as a sincere desire to understand better the mystery of one God in three persons can be a dry academic exercise. If we’re not careful, the Trinity can become a sort of theological artifact that is interesting to examine on occasion but which doesn’t affect how we think, speak, and live.

The second mistake is to simply avoid thoughtful consideration of the nature and meaning of the Trinity. The end result of this flawed perspective is similar to the first, minus all of the study: to throw up one’s hands in frustrated impatience, “Well, it doesn’t make any sense. I don’t see what it has to do with me and my life!” While many Christians might not consciously come to that conclusion, the way they think and live suggests that is, unfortunately, their attitude.

In a sermon given in the early 1970s, Father Joseph Ratzinger wrote of how “the Church makes a man a Christian by pronouncing the name of the triune God.” The essential point of being a Christian is to have faith in God. Yet, he wrote, this can be disappointing and incomprehensible if not understood correctly. The primary concern in Christianity, he explained, “is not the Church or man, but God. Christianity is not oriented to our own hopes, fears, and needs, but to God, to his sovereignty and power. The first proposition of the Christian faith and the fundamental orientation of Christian conversion is: ‘God is.’” (The God of Jesus Christ [Ignatius Press, 2008], pp 26-27).

This truth was dramatically revealed to Moses when God spoke from the burning bush and declared, “I AM WHO I AM” (Ex 3:14). In today’s Old Testament reading, from a later passage in Exodus, God further proclaims who and what He is: “a merciful and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity.”

But God, of course, is not static or even stoic. In the words of the French poet, Paul Claudel, “we worship a living God who acts, who breathes, who exhales his very Self.” This is beautifully expressed by Saint John the Theologian in today’s Gospel reading. While Moses had been sent by God to reveal the reality and name of God, the Son was sent by the Father to reveal the mystery of God’s inner life, which is perfect love and self-gift (cf., CCC 236, 257). “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son…” Why? That we might have eternal life. And what is eternal life? It is actually sharing in the supernatural life of the Blessed Trinity.

Far from being abstract or of little earthly value, the Trinity is the source of reality and the reason our earthly lives have meaning and purpose. Because God is, we have a reason to be. Because God is love, we are able to truly love. Because God is unity, we are able to be united to Him. Because God is three Persons, we are able to have communion with Him.

St. Gregory of Nazianzus once wrote, “Above all guard for me this great deposit of faith for which I live and fight, which I want to take with me as a companion, and which makes me bear all evils and despise all pleasures: I mean the profession of faith in the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.” (CCC 256). May we guard our belief in the Triune God with our lives. And may we better know that the Trinity gives us life. Make no mistake about it!

(This “Opening the Word” column originally appeared in the May 18, 2008, edition of Our Sunday Visitor newspaper.)

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About Carl E. Olson 1197 Articles
Carl E. Olson is editor of Catholic World Report and Ignatius Insight. He is the author of Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?, Will Catholics Be "Left Behind"?, co-editor/contributor to Called To Be the Children of God, co-author of The Da Vinci Hoax (Ignatius), and author of the "Catholicism" and "Priest Prophet King" Study Guides for Bishop Robert Barron/Word on Fire. His recent books on Lent and Advent—Praying the Our Father in Lent (2021) and Prepare the Way of the Lord (2021)—are published by Catholic Truth Society. He is also a contributor to "Our Sunday Visitor" newspaper, "The Catholic Answer" magazine, "The Imaginative Conservative", "The Catholic Herald", "National Catholic Register", "Chronicles", and other publications. Follow him on Twitter @carleolson.