There are plenty of ways we can get things wrong when we think about God, and it can be awfully intimidating when we start using theological jargon. Really, while these terms are confusing, they are important for helping us stay on the straight-and-narrow. The reason for this is that they help us stay in a good relationship with God. It isn’t always important to know just the right word to use, but we have to have the right idea in our minds to keep from losing our way.
As today is Trinity Sunday, a lot of these ideas come up. Sadly, the Holy Spirit often gets the short end, so our errors usually have something to do with not truly seeing the Holy Spirit as a Person of the Trinity. I often catch myself praying something like: “Send your Holy Spirit to guide me…” But I could have simply prayed: “Holy Spirit, guide me today…” The problem here is that I didn’t have a deep relationship with the Spirit for most of my life, and those habits die hard. I still catch myself sometimes thinking of Trinity with the Father at the top.
This really is a big issue because we are all passing on the Faith to the people around us. All the ways we live out our faith shape others’ ideas and beliefs, most certainly in the way others hear us pray. Any one of us can influence a child’s understanding of the Trinity, and it’s hard enough for any of us to grasp, especially when we hear it presented in the wrong way.
Now I will throw a wrench in things, in case you hadn’t already thought of it. What about all the songs we sing ask God to “send out your Spirit?” This was even our Responsorial Psalm last Sunday for Pentecost, which shows us why this confusion comes up so often. In Psalm 104, which was written around 1000 BC, the people are calling out to God asking to send out the Spirit. Because this was written long before Christ’s birth, the people praying it didn’t yet know much about the Trinity, yet there were already some who speculated about the strange ways that God worked, and what that might mean about who God Is. On Pentecost, we still sing this Psalm because it is a beautiful expression of what we are celebrating, the long-awaited gift of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
Sometimes something like this can change the way we talk about God, and even little phrases can condition us to think differently, when we hear or say them often enough. What we have to be careful of is to remember that God Is as God has Always Been. Just because we didn’t realize it, doesn’t mean it wasn’t true. The Father didn’t create the Son or the Spirit, they are One God, eternally. When we think of the Trinity that way, like a hierarchy, we miss out on so much that can come from having a true relationship with each Person of the Trinity. It would be a true shame to leave it that way, and we all have plenty of room to grow in our knowledge and love of God.