We see signs with it at so many events. We see it at sporting events: John 3:16. We see it at concerts: John 3:16. I even have it as a patch on my jacket: John 3:16. So what does one of the most commonly seen Scripture citation say? “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life” (John 3:16).
The passage seems so simple, so kind, almost like a greeting card, yet it reveals a profound truth. Jesus, in taking on our human nature, did so to reveal to us something that we could not know on our own. Jesus came to reveal the very nature of God’s essence and His being, namely that God is a Trinity — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Three Divine Persons, yet only One Divine Substance.
Pretty deep, and very difficult to understand. The Catechism of the Catholic Church notes that “The mystery of the Most Holy Trinity is the central mystery of Christian faith and life. It is the mystery of God in himself. It is therefore the source of all the other mysteries of faith, the light that enlightens them. It is the most fundamental and essential teaching in the hierarchy of the truths of faith” (CCC #234). Saints and theologians have tried to give us images to help us understand the Trinity; the three sides of a triangle, three overlapping circles, and St. Patrick’s famous metaphor of the shamrock. All these images help, and all of them fall short in understanding the great mystery of our faith.
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI offers us another image of the Trinity, “The human family is, in a certain sense, the icon of the Trinity because of the love between its members and the fruitfulness of that love.” If we reflect on the Holy Trinity, one of the first things we notice is the inseparable relationship between the three distinct Persons who are the one God. The Father loves the Son, the Son loves the Father, and the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and Son. Similarly, the husband loves his wife, the wife loves her husband, and children are the fruit of the husband’s and wife’s love for each other. We might say that the life of the Triune God is the highest and supreme principle of familial relationship. This profound bond of unity among the three divine Persons makes them “inseparable in what they are,” and “inseparable in what they do” (CCC #267). This inseparable unity also occurs in matrimony: that Christian marital bond between man and wife which is established and sealed by God himself (see CCC #1639-1640).
Bob and Lisa Popcak, of the Pastoral Solutions Institute, offers some important suggestions of how we can make more perfect icons of the Trinity.
- Pray together: Families need to pray and worship together to learn how to love one another with the love that comes from God’s own heart. Families that pray and participate in the sacraments together are actively learning to love at the feet of the Master. Praying individually makes us God’s children. Praying together makes us God’s family, a domestic church.
- Love deeply: The love between Father, Son and Holy Spirit knows no bounds. Our families are also called to love one another deeply. How do we make this happen? We take time for each other. Parents who do not have time for one-on-one time with each of their children cannot communicate the intimate love God has in his heart for each of us. A family that doesn’t have time to be together cannot learn to be the team that represents the togetherness of the Trinity. Families cannot be an image of the Trinity by being collections of individuals sharing a roof and a data plan. Family time and parent-child time must come first.
- Love generously: The purer a love is, the more it longs to be shared. God creates because he loves. Work to make your family a deeply loving place, and consider the many ways you might be able to share that love. There are many ways to share the love you experience in your family. Welcome that next child through birth or adoption. Support other families in loving each other better through small acts of kindness. Host a family for dinner. Be the peaceful, joyful, welcoming home where your kids’ friends love to hang out. Work together as a family in your parish or community to serve those in need. Find ways to let others participate in the love your family shares just as God offers us ways to enter into the loving family that is the Trinity.
- Love joyfully: God asks those he loves to rejoice in that love (Phil 4:4). He wants us to live life more abundantly (Jn 10:10). Celebrate your life as a family. Create rituals for working, talking and praying together — and most of all, playing together! Remember Pope Francis’ encouragement, telling parents to “waste time with your children.” We were created to be happy forever with God in heaven. The family that rejoices together, plays together and laughs together creates a taste of heaven on earth.
God wants your family to become an amazing work of art that shows his face of love to the world. God wants your family to paint a picture with your lives that will change the world and call all of his children home to him. Let him make something beautiful in you!