The Portland Peninsula and Island Parishes
Reverend Kyle L. Doustou
May 27, 2018
There’s a story I’d like to share with you that I’m sure many of you already know, but for the sake of those who don’t I’d ask that you smile and bear with me. It is about Saint Augustine, the great Doctor of the Church and Bishop of Hippo from the late 4th century / early 5th century. He was arguably one of the most brilliant theologians the Church has ever seen and he was an incredibly prolific writer who wrote about every conceivable matter of theology, spirituality, and doctrine. It stands to reason, then, that he would also have written about one of the central doctrines of our faith – that of the Holy Trinity – which he did in his epic treatise De Trinitate. But as brilliant as Saint Augustine was, he struggled immensely in writing about the Trinity and it took him many years to finally finish. It is that one day, while trying to write, he became frustrated and decided to go for a walk along the beach. As he did so, he was attempting to contemplate the Trinity, trying to figure out and understand the great Mystery that in the one Godhead there are three distinct, consubstantial, co-eternal, co-equal Persons of a single nature. He had words to use, concepts to employ, but still his mind was unable to fully grasp the revealed truth of God’s inner life. In the midst of his pondering, his eyes took notice of a small boy off in the distance who was running back and forth from the water to a spot on the seashore. Saint Augustine moved closer and observed that the boy was using a seashell to carry water from the sea to a small hole he had dug in the sand. Perplexed by this, he approached the child and asked, “My boy, what are you doing?” With a sweet smile the boy replied, “I am trying to bring all the sea into this hole.” “But that is impossible!” Saint Augustine quickly insisted, “The hole is much too small and the sea is much too vast...there is no way that it can contain all the water.” The boy paused from his work, stood up, looked into the eyes of the saint, and said to him, “It is no more impossible that what you are trying to do – comprehend the immensity of the mystery of the Holy Trinity with your small intelligence.” Saint Augustine was immediately struck by the child’s words. He closed his eyes to absorb them and when he opened them again, the boy was gone. Some say that it was an angel sent by God to teach Saint Augustine a lesson on pride. Others say that it was the Christ Child Himself Who came to remind him of the limits of human understanding before the great mysteries of our faith. One thing is certain, though – the experience changed Saint Augustine and it deeply influenced the rest of his writings. No longer would he approach the Holy Trinity as simply a doctrine to understand or even a mystery to comprehend, but rather a divine relationship of Persons that he, and all of us, are called to enter into.
At the beginning of Deus Caritas Est, the very first encyclical of Pope Benedict XVI, the great Augustinian theologian who became the 264th successor of St. Peter offered these beautiful words very much in line with his ancient mentor: “Being a Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.” On this Trinity Sunday, we could spend time carefully spelling out the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, considering all of the theology and various metaphors to help us understand the Mystery...we could do so, but we’d come up short, and likely go away feeling frustrated. On the other hand, what I propose we do is take St. Augustine’s witness and Pope Benedict’s words to heart and realize that the greater truth available for our contemplation today lies in something else. It is the mind-blowing, life-changing reality that the infinite God of the universe loves us and dignifies us to the point of actually revealing Himself to us so that we can be in relationship with Him.
Let’s think about this for a second. There are two different ways a person can make him or herself known to another person. The first is at a basic, existential level. I can appear to you, I can let you hear my voice, I can let you know that I exist, etc. In doing so, it’s inevitable that I’m also revealing to you some of my basic attributes: that I’m human, that I’m a male, that I speak English, that I’m about 30 years old, etc., as well as also revealing my personality: that I’m kind, that I’m intelligent, etc. The longer I appear in your midst, the more you’ll be able to absorb and know about me...but only up to a point. There’s another level of self-revelation...a deeper, intimate level. You can’t know about my inner life...who I really am, what I really love and desire, what makes me me unless I willingly and deliberately choose to let you in and experience it.
Throughout time, our hidden God has slowly been revealing Himself to us at that first, basic level. He made the reality of His existence known to us in nature and some of the details of Himself known through direct revelation to the human race: to Abraham, Moses, and the Prophets. Through them, God made known to us some of His basic attributes: that He is one, that He is holy, that He is good, that He is almighty, that He is omniscient, that He is omnipresent, etc. But then, in the fullness of time, in the person of Jesus Christ, God takes His revelation of Himself to the next level. In Christ, He reveals to us not just things about Himself, but His inner life...Who He really is, what He really loves and desires, and what makes Him Him. What Christ shows us is that God, in His inner life, is relationship, is love, and that this relationship consists of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Do we understand it? Nope...at least not fully. But that’s not the point. When a friend reveals his or her inner life to us, the point is not that we are now able to analyze or to make sense of them...what it means is that they are inviting us in, loving us enough to make themselves known to us, and giving us something – someone – to love.
The mystery of the Trinity is amazing not because it exceeds our ability to comprehend or understand it, and not because it gives us useful information about God, but because it is God, in an incredible act of love for humanity, telling us Who He Is and giving Himself to us in such a way that we can actually love Him in return. God makes His inner life known to us because that’s what you do when you want to give and receive love. Today we celebrate not simply a doctrine, but the reality that God loves us and wants us to enter into His own inner life.
As we fill up our seashells with the immensity of God’s self-revelation and divine love today and run to fill up the holes we have dug in the sand, let’s remember to not be selfish with this gift. If God has made Himself known to us, let us make ourselves known to Him. The Mystery of the Trinity shows us that He has held nothing back from us and He invites us to do likewise. This means not hiding our weaknesses from Him, or our sins, or our worries, or our hungers, or our inadequacies. This means recognizing that we need Him and that we can’t muddle our way through this life without His grace and His Sacraments. This means letting the great and infinite Godhead, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, love us, small as we are, so that we can actually enter into this divine, loving community of Persons.
Today on this Trinity Sunday, let us give all praise and adoration to the one true God Who has revealed His inner life to mankind so that mankind might enter into His inner life. Let us bask in this great Mystery, not frustrated by our lack of understanding, but filled by the love that defines it. And let us cry out with unceasing gratitude and joy, announcing before all peoples and for all eternity:
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.
As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be,
world without end. Amen.