The Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoyevsky wrote, “The soul is healed by being with children.” On a recent Sunday, I experienced the truth contained in that quote. It was the first class for Religious Education at my parish. Going into my third year of volunteering as a catechist, I was comfortable with the subject matter, but I was a bit nervous about teaching third and fourth graders for the first time ever. Previously, I taught high school and middle school students.
The starting lesson was on the Holy Trinity. While that teaching is the most essential belief of Christianity it is also the most misunderstood and easy to fall into heresy. How could I explain this doctrine to younger students without getting too theological or technical?
In hindsight, I always am reminded that it was actually pointless to worry. Everything turned out fine. St. Paul wrote, “Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God” (Phil. 4:6-7). I have since bookmarked this passage. Although I failed to petition God for aid before the lesson I am expressing my gratitude in Him using my students as instruments to remind me of wondrous truths contained in the Mystery of the Holy Trinity.
1. God welcomes us
Entering the prayer room the students and I sat before the icon of the Holy Trinity (above). This famous religious artwork was painted by Russian artist Andrei Rublev in the 15th century. Another catechist acted as a prayer facilitator. She asked us to gaze at the iconic (no pun intended) image and asked about things that stood out.
One of the students raised her hand stated, “It looks like there is an empty seat at the table.” When asked who is the seat for the fourth grader replied, “Us! God is welcoming us to the table.”
Her simple statement goes to the heart of the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 237, The Trinity is a mystery of faith in the strict sense, one of the “mysteries that are hidden in God, which can never be known unless they are revealed by God”. Only by inviting us into the life of God will be able to know God.
2. You don’t have to be old to be wise
Another thing the children taught me is that wisdom does not come from old age, but rather it is a gift of the Holy Spirit. St. Lucy described it best, “Those whose hearts are pure are temples of the Holy Spirit.” Children’s hearts and intentions are free from prior motivation. The excitement and wonder of a child is something to be celebrated not stymied or stamped out. I have been struggling a lot with seeing the purity in my own children. Instead, I selfishly mistake the energy as causes for messes, extra noise, and an inconvenience at bedtime!
Watching the elementary students talk about the icon of the Holy Trinity with wonder and curiosity made me realize my pride and impatience at my own children. Our three year old with autism spectrum disorder had a week of regressions. Mass was basically a zoo with uncaged animals. He had several meltdowns and slipped the holy water at the entrance.
I should have been angry. Frustrated. Defeated. But somehow I did not let that accident before me. Later during the Mass our son finally calmed down. Walking over to the holy water fount after communion he dipped his hand in the water (thankfully he did not spill it again!!). “Father, Son, Holy Spirit. Amen!” he said with a grin on his face.
The Holy Trinity is the most central mystery of Christianity. How could I be mad at my kid when he expressed that important doctrine with such joy. Wisdom is given by the Holy Spirit. More often than not those less “educated” or “less worthy” will teach the prideful. It definitely happened to me with my students and son.
3. Equality matters
A third aspect of the doctrine of the Holy Trinity my students taught (or reminded) me was a different way to look at the Holy Trinity icon. One of the other things the students noticed about the painting is that all three persons of the Trinity had a halo. The catechist asked, “Why do you think they all have halos?” Quickly, one student quipped, “Because it would not be fair. They would not be equal if only one or two had a halo.” Another simple and profound observation. But it cuts to an important part of the teaching of the Holy Trinity— equality matters.
Christians profess belief in One God in Three Divine Persons not three separate gods. The Catechism teaches, “The Trinity is One. We do not confess three Gods, but one God in three persons, the “consubstantial Trinity”.83 The divine persons do not share the one divinity among themselves but each of them is God whole and entire” (CCC 253).
This image below is a common diagram used to explain (as best as humanly possible)
All analogies will fall short. This mystery of the Holy Trinity was revealed by God through Sacred Scripture and confirmed at the Council of Nicaea through the guidance of the Holy Spirit. I urge you to spend time in prayer before the icon of the Holy Trinity.
4. The Trinity is terrifyingly awesome
Another neat thing my students taught me about the Holy Trinity related to reverence. Referred to as fear of the Lord this gift of the Holy Spirit is a commonly misunderstood topic. The fear does not mean horror movie terror. But we should be in awe of the power and majesty of God.
My students and I were talking about the great Mystery of the Holy Trinity and one exclaimed, “This is kind of scary how awesome God is!” Later that day, I reflected on the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I too trembled before this mysterious relationship of God being three Persons in one God.
5. Don’t forget to ask the Holy Helper
Right before the end of class, the students and I were discussing the importance of having a relationship with each specific person of the Holy Trinity. I informed them that a title for the Holy Spirit is Paraclete— Advocate or Helper.
Students mentioned that they did not pray to the Holy Spirit as much as Jesus or God the Father. My focus this year is to rekindle my relationship with the Third Person of the Trinity. This will not detract from my relationship with God the Father or God the Son. Rather, I will grow even closer to them.
6. Reflect on the Mystery of the Holy Trinity this week
Ask your local parish if you go get access to view a copy of this image. If possible you could purchase this icon as part (or the start) of your home prayer chapel or icon wall. Or simply print off the image from the Internet if you are pinched or time and cannot get access to an actual painting of the icon. Bring your Bible and spend time in Eucharistic Adoration pondering this wondrous Mystery of the Holy Trinity. Ask the Holy Spirit for wisdom, understanding, patience, joy, gratitude, humility, and amazement. I am grateful for the gift of my students and my children who reminded me of the greatest gift— the Holy Trinity!