Having completed the celebration of the liturgical seasons which highlight various aspects of the mystery of our redemption, today we simply celebrate the mystery of God himself: one God in three divine persons. No human categories can adequately express the mystery of God. When we speak of the three divine persons, for example, we must resist the temptation to conceive of the Trinity as three individuals who are all God. A creed from the fourth or fifth century called the Athanasian Creed says: “There is one person of the Father, another of the Son, another of the Holy Spirit. But the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit have one divinity, equal glory and coeternal majesty…The Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God. However, there are not three gods, but one God.” And so on.
Today we celebrate the third of the three solemnities of the Easter season, the Solemnity of Pentecost. It is the feast of the Holy Spirit and is often called the birthday of the Church.
“Who is the Holy Spirit?” When my class was being prepared for confirmation in 1966, our new parish priest, Father Patrick Hollern, wanted us to be sure to know the answer to that question. As many of us remember, in those days the confirmandi were always quizzed by the bishop before being confirmed. Father Hollern had attended some confirmations administered by Bishop Frederick Freking, still new to the diocese. He told us that this was one question Bishop Freking always asked and it usually was not answered correctly. Most would answer, “The Holy Spirit is the third person of the Blessed Trinity.” However that was not good enough for Bishop Freking. The correct answer was to be: “The Holy Spirit is God, the third person of the Blessed Trinity.” When the question was asked and the right answer was given, Bishop Freking correctly surmised that Father Hollern had tipped us off.
Today we celebrate the second of the three solemnities of the Easter season, the Ascension of the Lord. The Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles tell us that the risen Jesus appeared to his disciples over a period of about forty days before ascending into heaven in their sight. The ascension of Jesus, however, did not mark his departure from this world, but his presence in a new way. As Saint Paul states in today’s Second Reading: “[God the Father] put all things beneath [Christ’s] feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of the one who fills all things in every way.” Far from abandoning us, Christ’s ascension into glory has made it possible for him to dwell in us, who are his body, the living stones who are the Church. Christ’s presence is not confined to the dimensions of an individual human body, but “fills all things in every way.” Saint Leo the Great, in a sermon on the Ascension, said:
And so our Redeemer’s visible presence has passed into the sacraments…The truth is that the Son of Man was revealed as Son of God in a more perfect and transcendent way once he had entered into his Father’s glory; he now began to be indescribably more present in his divinity to those from whom he was further removed in his humanity.