Holy Trinity Sunday
Oftentimes, we, Catholics, find it hard to explain when we are asked one very basic question like “Why do we make the sign of the Cross?”
Sometime in 2004, when I was still a seminarian, I was asked to give a talk to a group of catechists in our parish in Ma-a. In our session, I let them watch Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ and then, I entertained some questions afterwards. One catechist raised a question which was not related to the movie. She said she was asked by an elementary pupil: why do Catholics make the sign of the cross? But she could not answer it.
Now, I throw to you the same question: Why, do you think, we make the sign of the Cross? Before we give some answers to the question “Why”, let us first answer the questions “What is the sign of the cross?” and “What do we profess in it?”
Whenever we make the sign of the Cross, we profess basically two truths of our faith: (1) the Mystery of the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus (PDR), also known as the Paschal Mystery; and (2) the Mystery of the Holy Trinity. These are the two fundamental truths of our faith. But the most central – I would say – the source of all we believe and know about God is the second: the Mystery of the Holy Trinity, that God is One in Divine Substance (being God) but Three in Divine Persons (being Father, Son and Holy Spirit).
As we celebrate the Solemnity of the Holy Trinity today, let us review a little what we understand of the Mystery. A story is told about St. Augustine, who, one day, was walking on the beach, contemplating the Mystery of the Trinity. Then, he saw a boy in front of him who had dug a hole in the sand and was going out to the sea again and again bringing some water to pour into the hole. St. Augustine asked him, “What are you doing?” “I’m going to pour the entire ocean into this hole,” the boy replied. “That is impossible, the whole ocean will not fit in the hole you have made”, said the saint. The boy responded, “And you cannot fit the Trinity in your tiny little brain.”
Our tiny little brain can never contain the whole mystery, but this does not mean that the mystery is irrational and that we cannot be enlightened at least by some rational explanation. In order to avoid very simplistic explanations (like the electric fan metaphor, or 3-in-1 coffee analogy of the Holy Trinity), let us try to look into St. Augustine’s attempt to explain reasonably the Mystery as revealed to us in the Scriptures.
St. Augustine gave classic expression to the psychological analogy of the Trinity in which the unity of essence is likened to the rational part of the human soul, composed as it is of the mind, and the knowledge by which it knows itself, and the love by which it loves itself. St. Augustine likened the persons of the Holy Trinity to the human mind, knowledge and love.
In our human psychology, we have a mind that knows itself. We call it our “self-knowledge” or “self-image”. Our “self-image” is sometimes overrated or underrated. Sometimes, we pity ourselves simply because in our “self-image” we focus more on our defects or limitations rather than on our strengths.
God, the Father, also has a “self-image”: He looks at Himself, and He found His “self-image” very good; in fact, the Highest Good! The difference between our “self-image” and the Father’s “self-image” is that our “self-image” does not constitute another person because we are finite creatures. But the Father’s “Self-Image” constitutes another person because He is God, Infinite and Powerful. We understand, therefore, why St. Paul describes God the Son, Jesus Christ, as the “Image of the Invisible God” (Col. 1: 15).
As we look at our “self-image”, we tend either to love it or hate it, depending on whether we see ourselves as lovable or not. If we love our “self-image”, we say we have “high self-esteem”. If we hate ourselves, we say we have “low self-esteem”. However, because we are simply finite human beings, our self-love does not constitute another human person. But when the Father looks at Himself, He finds His “Self-Image” supremely good and, therefore, highly lovable. So He loves Himself infinitely. Since His “Self-Image” constitutes another Divine Person, that Person also loves the Father because love always involves two persons. Now, since these two persons who are in love with each other – the Father and the Son – are Infinite Divine Persons, their Love also constitutes another Divine Person, the Holy Spirit. Hence, the Holy Spirit is the Love that proceeds from the Father and the Son.
We see, therefore, that the best analogy in understanding a little rationally the Mystery of the Holy Trinity is through our psychological experience of our human mind that knows itself and loves itself. Mind, knowledge and love, therefore, could be likened to the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit. But what is the significance of this very little understanding of the Mystery to our life of faith? Three points only:
First, if God is our Father, and we are His children, then, we should not be worried whenever difficulties come. Our Father God will always provide for us, especially when we do our best. Second, since Jesus is the Perfect Image of God, the Father, if we want to be like God, we must be transformed into the image of Jesus Christ: to be a Christian, therefore, is to be Christ-like. Third, since the Holy Spirit is the love between the Father and the Son, we must ask the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with His love, so that we may truly love God and our neighbors as God loves us.
With this, we are now ready to give reasons why we make the sign of the Cross. We make the sign of the Cross because:
(1) We claim that we are children of God, the Father because we are baptized in the Name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Whenever we sign ourselves, we tell others that “We are sons or daughters of the Father”, the best Father of all (He should be the first that we greet: “Happy Father’s Day”).
(2) We manifest that we are disciples of Christ. The cross is the mark of discipleship. Pope Francis, in his first homily, emphasized the importance of the cross to Christ’s disciples. He said, “When we journey without the cross, when we build without the cross and when we confess a Christ without the cross, we are not disciples of the Lord: we are worldly, we are bishops, priests, cardinals, popes, but not disciples of the Lord”. By tracing the cross on our bodies, we are declaring that we belong to Christ alone: we become more Christ-like;
(3) Lastly, we declare that we want to live according to the Holy Spirit. When we sign ourselves, we express our decision to “crucify” the desires of our flesh – envy, jealousy, sensuality, anger, and all disordered inclinations – and to live according to the Holy Spirit, the Sanctifier. Like “tossing off a dirty shirt or blouse”, making the sign of the Cross indicates our stripping ourselves of our evil inclinations and clothing ourselves with the behaviors of Christ (see Col 3: 5-15).
So from now on, every time we make the sign of the Cross, we don’t just mechanically say “In the Name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”. We are actually saying: “I am the son/daughter of the Father, a disciple who wants to be like the Son, and who wants to live a life in the Holy Spirit”. Amen.