FROM A READING FOR MAY 22, HOLY TRINITY
'Hope does not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us...' -- Romans 5:5


In listening to Sunday's readings, we must remember that the definition of the Trinity we learned in our Baltimore Catechism -- "three persons in one God" -- wasn't formulated until the Council of Nicea in 325 CE, more than 130 years after John's Gospel was written.

It certainly wasn't a "dogma" His disciples understood either on Easter Sunday evening or on the day after Jesus' ascension. It took many generations before His followers were able to put their experiences of Him into such precise words.

Yet, even before followers of God encountered Jesus of Nazareth, they knew that, when they were dealing with God, they were dealing with someone totally "other" -- someone who went far beyond any definitions or metaphors they could apply to one another. This is certainly clear in Sunday's Proverbs (8:22-31) passage.

The author actually personifies God's wisdom. Though scholars presume he or she is speaking metaphorically, they're convinced this insight comes from the writer's experience of God in everyday life. God's ability to bring meaning to that life is something which symbolically stands outside any normal individual's personality.

Experiencing God
If we're expected to make sense of creation, God's wisdom must have been "poured forth" before creation began. To surface meaning in creation is to surface God in creation.

Centuries after Proverbs was composed, people began to experience Jesus of Nazareth -- and the more they experienced this itinerant preacher, the more they experienced dimensions of God they hadn't surfaced or noticed before. As Paul of Tarsus realized in his own life, when he gave himself over to the risen Jesus in faith and love, he also received the same Spirit which had driven Jesus throughout His earthly ministry.

Amazingly, he reminds the Christian community in Rome (Romans 5:1-5) that one of the places he most noticed this Spirit was in a situation he never could have imagined His presence before it actually happened: affliction.

Affliction is usually something we try to avoid. Yet, because of the Spirit's presence, Paul began to recognize a unique endurance, character and hope that he could attain no other way. Instead of affliction being a lack of something, the afflicted Apostle found himself overwhelmed with "the love of God" -- a love that only could have come through the Spirit Jesus had instilled in His followers. What a Spirit-filled insight!

Writing about 35 years after Paul's martyrdom, John (16:12-15) reflects on even more aspects of Jesus' divine personality, especially when it comes to His Spirit. Though John's convinced the risen Jesus totally identifies with the Father, he's also certain that Jesus' Spirit is the force which breaks the limits of this Galilean carpenter's earthly ministry.

Spirit opens doors
John's Jesus assures us, "I have much more to tell you, but you can't bear it now. But when He comes, the Spirit of truth, He will guide you to all truth."

Followers of Jesus don't just repeat what the historical Jesus said and did. They believe the Holy Spirit is leading them through doors the historical Jesus never went through, doors most of His early disciples didn't even know existed.

One example that immediately comes to mind is slavery. No Christian biblical author ever condemns slavery as such. Paul even sends the runaway slave Onesimus back to Philemon, his master, something Christians wouldn't even think of doing today. Without Scriptural backing, we can only blame Jesus' Spirit for leading many Christians to the forefront of the abolition movement.

If we acknowledge Jesus' Spirit as the force behind such a radical change in our culture, into what areas is that same Spirit leading us today?