Sunday Sermon for June 4, 2023, the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity, Year A

Readings: Ex 34:4b-6, 8-9; 2 Cor 13:11-13; Jn 3:16-18

In the readings today, we hear about several attributes of God: grace, mercy, kind, faithful, slow to anger, fellowship, love, and peace.  It is also important to note that whenever God is spoken of, it is clear there is only one God.  In the first reading He reveals His Holy Name, which is singular, and then refers to Himself as “a merciful and gracious God.” 

In the second reading St. Paul speaks of the Trinity, but when he speaks of God it is always in the singular.  The same is true in the Gospel where we hear about God sending His only Son, but God is always singular.  This is the essence of the mystery we celebrate today: there is only one God, but He is three Persons.  How, people wonder, can three be one and one be three?

We must first understand that the three Persons of God are not like three human persons.  Each human person is his or her own person.  We all share the same human nature but, clearly, we are not the same.  In God, the three Persons are identical.  They all share the same divine nature, but they are absolutely identical.  Among human persons, even identical twins are not actually identical.  They may look similar, but they are each unique, separate persons with their own mind, will, and emotions.  Because of this, they have their own unique experiences and their own unique perspectives even when they experience the same event.

In God, there is only one divine mind and one divine will shared equally by all three Persons.  Because God does not have a body, He has no emotions.  Because there is only one mind and one will, there are no unique experiences or perspectives.  Everything is one and everything is identical. 

When we speak of the three Persons of God being identical, we must also understand that all three are absolutely perfect.  That means they are lacking in nothing.  If there are three Who are perfect and identical, then they are the same.  If they are the same, then there is only one.  Right?  Wrong.

It is true they are identical, and it is true that there is only one God, but the three Persons in God are distinguished only by their relationships with one another.  This is another area where the Persons of God are different from human persons.  We are not defined by our relationships; in fact, we can have many relationships and, not only do our relationships come and go, but they can also change.  For instance, a man can be a son, a brother, a friend, a husband, a father, a co-worker, etc. 

When the man gets married, he is still a son, a brother, and a friend, but now he is a husband.  When a child is born, he becomes a father.  Friends can come and go, jobs can change, but the person remains the same person with many different relationships.  In God, it is just the opposite.  The three Persons are defined by their relationships.  God the Son can only be the Son; He can never be the Father or the Holy Spirit.  God the Father is not and never was a Son; He is the Father, He can only be the Father, and He can never be anything but the Father. 

So, the three Persons are absolutely identical; the only distinction is in their relationships to one another.  This is very confusing to us because it is not the way we tend to think about things.  It may clear things up (or it may cause more confusion) if I use a different way to explain this mystery.  Think of a triangle, the obvious image for the Trinity.  If you wanted to illustrate yourself and your parents, you would put the three names at the three points of the triangle.  The three lines demonstrate the relationships between the three persons (husband and wife, mother to child, father to child).

If you are going to illustrate the Trinity, it is just the opposite.  The three lines demonstrate the three Persons.  In God, the relation is the Person.  Unlike us, there are not three points representing the three Persons.  If there were, that would mean there would be three gods who might be united, but they would be separate and unique like us.  There are no distinctions in God except for the relationships.

The three are one and the one God is three Persons.  This is our faith and, to reject it, as our Lord points out in the Gospel, is to choose condemnation.  We do not merely believe in one God, we believe in one God Who is three Persons.  This is an infinite mystery that we will enter into and ponder for eternity, and there will always be infinitely more!

Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit