Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 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, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Hearing the Word
“The Divine Presence”
On the feast of the Holy Trinity, the readings focus on the theme of God’s enduring presence with his people. At the heart of the doctrine of the Holy Trinity is the mystery of three persons, Father, Son and the Holy Spirit, who are distinct and yet one. Today’s readings reveal that these three persons exist in a unique communion which affects the believers in most profound ways.
The first reading from the book of Deuteronomy underscores God’s historical and liberating presence with the people of Israel. Moses addresses the people who have just completed a long journey through the desert and are about to enter their inheritance – the promised land. As a part of his instruction on how to live in this land, Moses spells out God’s magnificent deeds shown in the election of Israel to be God’s special people. God drew the people to himself, inviting them to have a close and unique relationship with himself. Israel needs to respond to God present in its midst with a deep and exclusive commitment; for them there is no other God. To highlight their privileged position, Moses asks a series of questions which require a resounding “no” answer. These questions are meant to highlight that there has never been a people as privileged as the Israelites who enjoy special status in all of God’s creation.
Moses reminds the nation that maintaining its relationship with God is absolutely necessary for life and survival. They must focus their existence on God and live by his law in order to live securely and prosperously in the land they are about to inherit. The right way to respond to God’s magnificent deeds and his presence is to live by the law. This law was given with the clear purpose of ensuring the continuing possession of the land and of bringing God’s lasting blessing. Israel is thus urged to remain keenly aware of God’s presence and cherish it by obeying the divine laws and commandments.
The second reading from the letter to the Romans highlights the presence of the Holy Spirit among the believers. The text, which forms the first part of ch. 8, focuses on the theme of “life in the Spirit.” The Greek term “pneuma”, translated as “spirit”, literally means “wind” or “breath”. For Paul, who was an Israelite, the “Spirit” meant the powerful breath of God blown into the believers to give them a new life. Paul highlights here the positive transformation that he and other Christians have experienced. Through the indwelling of the Spirit they become the children of God. When the Spirit-filled believers turn to God in prayer, they bear a sure testimony to their unique relationship with God. This relationship is described as adoption and becoming the heirs of God. The result is the ability to call out to God as, “Abba! Father!” This phrase reflects a close filial relationship with the heavenly Father, who is not distant but rather abides in them.
In the end, Paul reminds the believers that the life in the Spirit is rooted in the cross of Christ. Their identity as God’s children includes participation in Christ’s sufferings. But this suffering does not lead to death but to glorification – sharing in God’s eternal life. In this short passage Paul provide Trinitarian foundations for the believers’ identity. The Christian filled with the Spirit can relate to the Father in a filial way and participates in Christ’s suffering, all leading to profound union with the Trinity.
Today’s Gospel text focuses on the everlasting presence of Jesus Christ with his missionary disciples. The reading draws our attention to one of the best-known Trinitarian texts in the NT, where Jesus sends his disciples to all nations “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”. Often known as “the great commission”, this text narrates Jesus’ only appearance to the eleven disciples in Matthew’s Gospel. The emphasis falls on the parting words of Jesus which include a word of revelation, a word of command, and a word of promise.
The word of revelation reveals that all authority in heaven and on earth is given to Jesus. He is the glorified Lord over all creation. The word of command sends the disciples to make disciples of all nations by baptizing them in the name of the Trinity and teaching them all that he taught. The word of promise assures the disciples of Jesus’ enduring presence with them as they carry out their evangelizing task. This last word takes us back to the beginning of the Gospel, where Jesus was introduced as the “Emmanuel”, that is “God with us” (Matt 1:23). The risen Lord does not leave his disciples but is present with them always. Through Jesus God remains with the Church, empowering her to be faithful in her mission of proclaiming and witnessing to God’s salvation.
The command to baptise in the name of the Trinity reminds the readers of Matthew’s gospel of the Jesus’ own “trinitarian moment” which occurred at the beginning of his public life. At his baptism, the Spirit descended upon Jesus and the voice of the Father affirmed that “this is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matt 3:17). All this was an affirmation of God’s abiding presence and the Spirit’s work that would accompany Jesus in his ministry. Those who would believe and be baptized by the disciples in the name of the Triune God would enter and participate in the life of the Holy Trinity. They would be drawn into a similar divine-human communion which Jesus enjoyed during his life on earth.
The readings of the Holy Trinity Sunday do not discuss the inner life of the Trinity. Rather they present how the three persons of the Trinity manifest their inner relationship outwardly. The first reading presents the acts of God by which he drew the people of Israel into a relationship with himself and gave them the gift of the law as means to enjoy lasting prosperity and blessedness. God acted with benevolence and out of his free will, manifesting himself as the loving protector. The second reading shows how the three divine persons relate to the believer to animate and empower their life of faith. Finally, Matthew’s Gospel assures that those who turn to Jesus in faith will be drawn into the very life of the Trinity and have the divine life in themselves. The words of the psalmist who discerns the divine presence in every facet of his life confirms God’s enduring presence stating, “truly the eye of the Lordis on those who fear him, on those who hope in his steadfast love”.
Listening to the Word of God
The theme of the divine presence in our lives invites a deeper reflection on whether we pay sufficient attention and due recognition to the gift of others’ presence in our lives.
For the start, as Christians we are called to continually live in God’s presence. Many Christians over the ages have been practicing the “prayer of the heart”. This practice consists in continuing repetition of a simple phrase, such as “Jesus Lord, have mercy on me”, or “Lord, you are my God, in you I trust”. This phrase can be whispered or repeated silently in the heart. With time, it becomes like a song continually resounding in the heart and mind. The purpose of this practice is to keep a person mindful of God at all times. It also ensures that a person continually feels God’s presence. There are other forms of prayer, such as the rosary or the Chaplet of the Divine Mercy which have similar effect. Like the Israelites who were reminded to keep God’s great deeds always in mind, so Christians are called to live mindful of God’s presence. In our world crowded with so many voices and diversions, maintaining the awareness of God is no easy task. But with an effort it can be achieved with great benefit for our spiritual life.
A part of our African heritage is the emphasis on acknowledging the presence of another person through extensive greetings. In many non-African countries people greet each other only with a passing gesture which means little. However, as Africans we usually stop and engage in a conversation which includes greetings and inquiry about the well-being of the person and the family. Such practice is very valuable because it reflects our awareness of another person. It demonstrates that we value that person’s presence and are genuinely interested in them. When we look at this practice from the Christian point of view, we could say that by minding another person, even those with different beliefs, we acknowledge their dignity as a child of God. If we truly consider a fellow Christian as a person in whom the Holy Spirit dwells, we must certainly reflect that belief by respecting that great dignity which comes from the divine presence. Adversely, when we disregard and commit acts which diminish somebody else’s dignity, we are also showing our disregard for God’s presence.
It is a truly valuable practice to approach other people with that kind of respect that they deserve as God’s children. As people of faith, we must look at another person as someone in whom God dwells. This is also a person for whom Jesus offered himself on the cross. The awareness that our fellow pilgrims on earth carry God within them can greatly help us to behave and treat others in a truly humane and Christian manner.
The relationship that exists within the Holy Trinity is expressed through acts which greatly benefit others. Since we ourselves are gifted in so many ways by the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit, our acknowledgment of their presence within us will also mean making their presence felt by others. As Christians our vocation is to make ourselves channels of that love which binds the three persons of the Holy Trinity and make that love binding in our human relationships as well.
“I am because you are.”
Am I aware of God’s presence in my life? In what ways do I feel and experience this presence?
How do I manifest my appreciation and recognition of the presence of those who are closest to me in my family, or community?
Response to God
This week I will practice “the prayer of the heart”. That means I will choose a simple phrase from the Scriptures and repeat it continuously in my heart whenever possible.
Response to your World
In the course of this week, I will make one single person feel that I am grateful for his or her presence in my life.
As a group we will have a session where each member will share an experience of becoming keenly and concretely aware of God’s presence in his or her life.
All Holy Trinity, I believe that you are really present in my life. I give you thanks for your love, O Father! I give you thanks for the gift of salvation, Lord Jesus! I give you thanks Holy Spirit for guiding me and giving me strength in my journey of life. I pray that I may be ever more aware of your presence and find ways to open myself to be joyfully filled with it. Amen.
Scripture quotations from New Revised Standard Version Bible: Catholic Edition, © 1989, 1993. Used with permission.