How can we understand the great mystery of the Trinity?

by Ben Cheng
The Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity

Deuteronomy 4:32-34, 39-40

Romans 8:14-17

Matthew 28:16-20

We celebrate today the Feast of Trinity Sunday. This is a great mystery that God is a Trinity of persons. God is one, but can be experienced in three different Persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God is a unity and yet a community of three Persons.

We may feel that it is a confusing language. Yes, we have to realize that we are talking about God. God is an infinite mystery, and as early church fathers say, He is “totally beyond being”. God is not a being in the world, and is not like anything in our experience. He is the source of all that exist. Therefore, it is appropriate that we use a strange, puzzling, and even confusing language when we are describing God. As Saint Augustine said, “If you understood him, it would not be God” (Catechism No. 230). Indeed, to an extent, the Trinitarian language of “God in one yet three”, is meant to confound us. Pope Emeritus, Benedict XVI, has an excellent comparison. He says that in liturgies we use incense. Part of the purposes is to appeal to our senses of beauty. Furthermore, incense also obscures, and sometimes burns our eyes so we cannot see it all. It reminds us that our Lord is a mystery which surpasses our capacity to understand. So the doctrine of the Trinity is like an "intellectual incense", smoke in the eyes of the mind. It reminds us that we are dealing with the ultimate mystery.

So, how do we understand the Trinity as a lay person? We can perceive it through the Paschal mystery, through Jesus Christ. The Gospel of John says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life” (Jn 3:16). The Father did not simply send one more prophet, one more spokesperson or a religious teacher. The Father sent one of the Trinity, God the Son, so that at the limit of God forsakenness, His son has rescued all of us who have wandered far away from the Divine Life. Moreover, “God so loved the world” means there is a love that connects the Father and the Son. It is in love that the Father sends His Son, the Son accepts His mission, and they are held together by love. This love is the Holy Spirit. It is Father, Son, Spirit, the Divine Community into which we have been gathered by the Paschal mystery. That is why the Trinity is not just one of “Rubik's cubes” for theologians to puzzle over, but it truly stands at the very heart of Christian faith. Without it, we are not saved, and we cannot be gathered into the Divine Life. Furthermore, it is not simply the case that God loves, but “God is Love”. God is the Trinity of Persons. It means that in the very inner life of God, there must be a lover, beloved, and the love they share. The Father so loved the world that He sent His only Son all the way to God’s forsakenness. In love this mission was accepted; lover, beloved, and the love they share. God's love is not just towards the world, but rather Love is what God is. Love constitutes the very being of God who determines and defines it.

With all these in mind, let us look at our Sunday Gospel: The risen and glorified Lord speaks to the new Israel of the Church, “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Mt 28:18). It is not an ordinary prophet nor a spiritual master might say, but it is Jesus, the very Word of God speaking. Therefore Jesus tells them go forth and do the work of gathering in. “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit” (Mt 28:19). What is the mission of the Church? It is the mission of the Son, in which all people are now gathered into the love that connects the Father and the Son. This is the Holy Spirit! Therefore, we should not allow this “arcane” language of theology to obscure the revolutionary meaning of the Trinity as a summon to mission, a call to action. The Son is saying to all of us, to our sons and daughters in Him, “You now go and do the work that was given to me, to gather the whole world into the dynamics of the Divine Life.”

Friends, allow this love to wash over you on this Trinity Sunday, the Trinity as an invitation into the dynamics of the Divine Life, and as a summon to mission and to action. May God bless you.



This is an excerpt from Bishop Robert Barron’s homilies, including “The Trinity As Call To Action”, “The Loving God”, and “God Is Love”. For more information, please visit