When we hear the word “mystery”, we usually think of it as some that has to be figured out or solved, almost like a math problem. Once you’ve got the answer, you move on.
When it comes to our faith, however, a mystery is something altogether different. It is not so much a puzzle or a problem that needs to be figured out as it is a truth that deals with the deepest dimensions of reality that can be entered into, and in doing so reveals itself to us more and more. The deeper we go into a mystery of faith, the more we understand, but at the same time the more we realize how much more we do not understand. So it is with the great mystery at the very heart of our faith: who is God?
Our faith teaches us that God is a Trinity of three divine Persons. Scripture never mentions this word “Trinity” – this was a word that the Church began to use later to describe who God, especially when various heresies about the identity of God were raging in the Church. What Scripture does tell us of course is that there is a Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but also that God is one; that there is only one God. Yet, how can God be one and also Father, Son, and Holy Spirit? The Church struggled with this for several centuries and there were many disagreements about this. But eventually the Church formulated the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, which says that, yes, there is only one God, but this one God is a relationship of three Persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Church used the word “Person”, because there was nothing else that worked better. But the Holy Trinity – God himself – is and remains a great mystery to us. And who God is, is obviously central to our faith, at the very heart of what we believe.
We were all created by God, this mysterious Trinity of three divine Persons, to be in relationship with God. In our first reading from Deuteronomy, Moses points out to the Israelites this special relationship that God has entered into with them: “Did a people ever hear the voice of God speaking from the midst of fire, as you did, and live? Or did any god venture to go and take a nation for himself from the midst of another nation … which the Lord your God did for you in Egypt before your very eyes?” God intervened in human history to save the Israelites from slavery in Egypt and made them his own people. And through them, he has revealed himself to the human race and offers everyone this invitation to be in relationship with Him: with God, the creator of the universe!
This relationship which God initiated with humanity gives us an identity, our true identity. In his letter to the Romans, St. Paul says that we are children of God and, as such, his heirs – God wants to give us everything – He wants us to enter into the very life and the love of the Holy Trinity. This is everything! And this is our true identity. This is the identity we receive at baptism. And we as Catholics believe that this is the greatest gift a mother or father can give to his or her child; that’s why we believe in infant baptism. Those little babies at baptism become God’s children and his heirs to the life and love of the Holy Trinity, even though they have absolutely no idea what’s going on. And of course, when they grow older, they can then choose to accept or reject this identity.
And hopefully everyone chooses to accept this identity. Because it’s the only one that will give us true peace and happiness, in this life and the next. But do we recognize that our primary identity is as a son or daughter of God? I would venture to say that we often forget this, or maybe never really learned it, or we don’t recognize the value of it. And we assume for ourselves other identities. Sometimes these are completely false identities: we pretend to be someone we are not. We wear a mask which we show to others. These masks are the image we think we need to show others in order to be loved or accepted by them, or to get something from them that we want. How often do we pretend to be someone we are not because we’re trying to impress other people or are perhaps afraid of them! How often do we let other people’s perceptions of us – or what we think their perceptions of us are – determine our identity and how we live our lives? But if you regard your identity as a child of God as your true identity, then how anyone sees you does not matter. Maybe they like you; maybe they don’t; if we are truly living out our identity as children of God, that doesn’t matter.
Sometimes we take an aspect of our personality, our character, our interests, and so on and make that our identity. That’s what we do when our job becomes our identity. Or when who we are in relation to another person becomes our whole identity: I’m so-and-so’s husband, or wife, or boyfriend, or girlfriend, or whatever. But what happens if we lose the job? What happens if we lose the husband, the wife, the boyfriend, the girlfriend, etc? What happens to our identity? Then suddenly we don’t really know who we are anymore. That’s not to say that those things don’t form a part who we are, but they’re not our primary identity. Who we are in relation to God forms our true and primary identity.
And in our society today, more and more, people are identifying themselves primarily by things like their politics, or their sexuality, or their status as a victim of one kind or another, or by all kinds of things. But identifying oneself like this is not healthy and can even be dangerous: first of all, doing so really limits who we are and who we can become and prevents us from truly growing as human beings. Second, doing so makes one vulnerable to exploitation by groups or individuals with different agendas. Third, this kind of identity is very often rooted in pain, and anger, and resentment, and you become stuck in those. And they hold you back from being able to grow and find true peace and happiness. I repeat: our true identity, and the only one that is going to make us whole and healthy and happy and fulfilled human beings, is our identity in relation to God, our Creator, as his sons and daughters.
And finally, this identity gives us a mission. What is our mission as sons and daughters of God? Jesus tells us in our Gospel today: “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” In other words, we are called to share with others about this relationship with God which gives us our true identity as human beings, the only identity that brings true and lasting peace and happiness. God gave us this mission because He desires that all people become his sons and daughters and likewise his heirs, and as such receive everything that God can give us: his life and love. As his heirs, we are given the promise of one day entering into the fullness of this relationship between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. We are given the promise of entering into the mystery of the Holy Trinity.