Story of St Augustine walking by shore and seeing little boy trying to pour the ocean into a little hole in the sand – “Neither will you be able to get the immensity of God into your tiny little mind!”
The story serves as a reminder to us not to try to work out God, as if our minds alone can grasp hold of his fullness. As St Augustine once wrote: ”If we could circumscribe God with our minds, he wouldn’t be God”. The immensity of God far, far outstrips our ability to comprehend him. Which doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t even try. St Paul speaks to the people of Athens, who were so proud of their ability to search the mysteries of the universe with their minds and their philosophy , and says to them, in Acts chapter 17:”The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything , since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things” (Acts 17: 24-25). This God, says Paul, has given us signs of his existence, so that we “could search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him – though indeed he is not far from each one of us. For “in him we live and move and have our being”. (17: 27-28). The mystery of God as Trinity is not a puzzle to be worked out, it is an ocean, and we are invited to plunge ourselves into that ocean, to explore more and more of the mystery, knowing we will never succeed in encompassing it altogether.
For the Athenians, as for all those who do not know Jesus Christ, that is all that they can do – to “grope” after God in an attempt to find him. The history of the world is very much a history of mankind’s attempts to search after, to find and to grasp who God is. Those attempts are necessary because our first parents, Adam and Eve, who used to “walk and talk with God in the cool of the evening” (Genesis 2:8) in the Garden of Eden and enjoyed an incredibly close intimacy and relationship with God, blew that wonderful privilege by rebelling against God, and trying to become gods themselves. As a result, as the book of Genesis shows us, they were expelled from Eden, excommunicated from that special place of intimacy they had enjoyed with God. Now they, and all their descendants had to find their way through a hostile world, and reach after God, who was no longer as close and personal to them as he used to be.
In fact, human beings would still not be able to find their way to an understanding of God, however limited, if God had not released grace through his Holy Spirit to help them. Even so, the best that human philosophy could do, even in Athens, was to build an altar to an “Unknown God” (Acts 17: 23) and find abstract descriptions of God such as “The unmoved mover”, or “The uncreated Creator”, arguing from what they could see of the world about them to the possibility of a divine Creator to explain its existence. Humankind, for thousands of years, was reduced to groping about in the dark, for a clear understanding of who God is.
And we would still be doing that if God had not chosen to reveal himself to us. He began with one man, Abraham, then extended that to Abraham’s family, then to all of his people, Israel, then to the prophets of Israel. And then, finally, he chose to reveal himself in a human being, the person of Jesus Christ, who, as Son of God, took on human flesh, and became God incarnate. ”The Word of God became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1: 14). The writer of the book of Hebrews puts it this way: ”Long ago, God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the world. He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word.” (Hebrews 1: 1 – 3). Because Jesus perfectly represents God the Father to us, it means that to see Jesus is to see God, to hear Jesus is to hear God, to have Jesus dwell within us through our baptism, is to have the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit dwelling within us also.
Without Jesus’ coming and the revelation he brought, we would never have known God in a personal way, as Father. Nor would we have known that God exists as Three Persons within the one divine nature. We would not have known that God had been working since the Fall of Adam and Eve to save us from eternal death and hell, by preparing his Son to be the atoning sacrifice to take away our sins and bring us back to the personal, intimate relationship with Him which human beings had before the Fall. We would never have known that Heaven is now thrown open to us because through our baptism, we have regained that divine nature which we shared with God from the very beginning of man’s existence .We would never have known that we would rise , after our death, to eternal life. The Church teaches that mankind, through the natural powers of their intellect, can arrive at an abstract belief in God as the Uncreated Creator, but that to move beyond that point, and arrive at an intimate knowledge of God, and personal relationship with him, could only come about through the supernatural revelation brought to us in the Person of God’s only-begotten Son, and the Person of the Holy Spirit.
Which is why the Church reserves the feast of the Holy Trinity to now, after the feasts of Easter and Pentecost. Because without Jesus and the Holy Spirit, we would never have known that God is not just One Person, One Nature, as we human beings are. He is Three Persons in One Nature. As I said at the beginning of Mass, God chose to reveal this about himself, because he wants us to know him, to know him fully, “even as we have been fully known “ by him (1 Corinthians 13: 12) And not just to know him, and be known by him, but also , to love him and be loved by him. As St Paul says in our second reading today: ”The love of God has been poured into our hearts by the holy Spirit who has been given to us “. Given to us in our baptism, by the way.
We are created for encounter, for encounter with God. God wants once more to walk with us, to talk with us, as he once used to do with Adam and Eve. As St Augustine once wrote: “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until we come to rest in you.” We are made for encounter with God. We are made to experience him.
The reason why so many Catholics have turned away from their faith, away from belief in God, is that they have never had a personal encounter, a personal relationship with him. They have never experienced in themselves the love of God, which the Holy Spirit continually pours out upon us. Prayer is, for them, simply saying prayers, instead of a lifting of mind and heart to God. The reading of the Bible is, for them, just reading stories about God and Jesus, rather than a personal love letter from God to them. Receiving holy communion is just taking a host into their mouths, rather than experiencing Jesus giving himself to them in the most intimate way possible. God has gone to incredible lengths to reach out to us, to invite us into friendship with him. He has dealt with the sin and shame and guilt which made us hide away from him, in the way that Adam and Eve hid away from God when they had sinned against him. He wants to say to each of us “Come back to me with all your hearts. Don’t let fear keep us apart.“
It is Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, who has revealed the heart of God the Father to us, who has communicated to us how much the Father loves us and wants us to return to him without fear and without shame. Let us ask Jesus and the Holy Spirit to, once more, bring us to know God, really know and love him, rather than just know about him. Let us pray….