Sunday's Feast of the Holy Trinity revolves
around something we humans can know about God: There are three persons in
God. Yet we must employ Scripture readings in our liturgy which come from a
period in which followers of God didn't know this specific divine
The classic formula - three persons in one
God - doesn't officially appear until Christian-ity's first ecumenical
council, held in Nicea in 325. Though Father, Son and Holy Spirit are
mentioned in our Christian sacred writings, no author puts them together in
such an "ontological" unity. The definition of the Trinity we
memorized in our first catechism classes took the Christian community almost
300 years to formulate.
That late date doesn't imply that God's
followers through the centuries discovered nothing of God's personality.
As we hear in the first reading (Ex 34: 4-6, 8-9), the quest to understand
and uncover the mysteries of God goes back to our earliest biblical
Moses and Yahweh
To better appreciate the reading, when you find
the title "Lord," replace it with the proper name
"Yahweh." Then notice how different the second verse sounds:
"having come down in a cloud, Yahweh stood with Moses there and
proclaimed His name, 'Yahweh,'...Yahweh, Yahweh, a merciful and gracious
God, slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity."
Yahweh is the name God revealed to Moses in the
famous burning bush episode in Exodus 3. It doesn't mean "Lord"
or "God;" it just means Yahweh: God's proper name, something
akin to Victor or Edna.
The name was changed to "Lord"
shortly before the time of Jesus by some holy, pious Jews who thought it
blasphemous to actually use God's name. Because they believed that knowing
anything about another person gives us a certain amount of control over that
individual, they reasoned that using God's name gave people power over
Those scrupulous Jews were correct, but it was
a power Yahweh freely granted Yahweh's disciples; the price Yahweh paid in
order to set up a relationship with the ancient Israelites.
Scholars differ on the exact meaning of the
name - some say it implies "I am who am;'" others, "I am
who cause to be" - but all agree "Yahweh" conveys a concept
of life. By giving us the name "Yahweh," God shows that He is
concerned with all and every dimension of our life-embracing existence.
We hear the same divine life-giving
characteristic in one of the last writings of the Christian Scriptures: John's
Gospel (Jn 3: 16-18). "God so loved the world," Jesus proclaims,
"that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him might
not perish but might have eternal life."
John contends that surfacing the risen Jesus
among us is one way to appreciate Yahweh's passionate desire to offer us
life. "To believe in the name of the only Son of God" is to become
one with that Son, to join in the dying and rising which both brought life
to Him and brings life to us.
That's why the ending of Paul's second
letter to the Corinthians is so important (2 Cor 13: 11-13). No doubt it was
chosen as one of Sunday's readings because of his one sentence mention of
Jesus, God and the Holy Spirit. But don't forget what the Apostle says
immediately before that verse: "Mend your ways, encourage one another,
agree with one another, live in peace, and the God of love and peace will be
Paul's message is clear: The more we die by
giving ourselves to others, the more we experience who God is in our midst.
Perhaps that's one of the reasons an increasing number of theologians
refer to God with both male and female pronouns.
One can't give oneself to women without also
noticing the feminine dimensions of God. Such modern pronoun changes are
simply a reminder that we're still evolving in our understanding of who