God is one, but He is not alone or solitary. God is a communion of Persons. He is the Most Holy Trinity, an eternal communion of three Persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This is the central mystery of the Christian faith. (CCC 261) St. Patrick converted Ireland with the analogy of the Shamrock: three leafs, one clover. God is an eternal unity of three distinct divine Persons, each of who is wholly and substantively God. They are consubstantial to each other. (CCC 253) The three Persons of the Trinity are relational to one another in two internal divine processions: The Father eternally generates the Son, and the Holy Spirit eternally proceeds from the Father and the Son. (CCC 254) The one Godhead is an inter-relational Being of three Persons. In short, God is a family.
The triune family of the one God is apparent from the very beginning. In Genesis, at the foundation of the world, the Creator says, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” (Gen. 1:26) Here, in the preternatural prologue to human history, before Adam and Eve, God the Creator refers to Himself as “us” and “our,” both plural pronouns. The most common name for God in the Hebrew Bible is “Elohim,” which is a plural, masculine noun. Later in Genesis, in the time of Abraham, scripture says “the Lord appeared to him”(Gen. 18:1), and in the very next verse, “..behold, three men stood in front of him.” (Gen. 18:2) The prophet Isaiah refers to God as one who is holy – thrice times. He says, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts” (Is. 6:3), emphasizing the triune nature of the Godhead. Even in the Shema, the prayer the Jews consider the most important, Judaism’s central monotheistic creed, the name of God appears three times. It says, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord.” (Deut. 6:4) (שְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל: יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵינוּ יְהוָה אֶחָד) In effect, Moses is saying the name of God three times (Yahweh, Elohenu, Yahweh) is a united one. There are other inferences too, such as Isaiah’s Immanuel, “God with us” (Is. 7:14); Daniel’s “Son of Man” references (Dan. 7:13-14); and David’s psalm on “The Lord said to my Lord.” (Ps. 110:1)
This was part of the on-going self-revelation of God to Israel and humanity over the course of salvation history. Just as St. Augustine taught, what lies hidden in the old is revealed in the new. That is, what God hinted at in the Old Testament is made explicit in the New Testament. (CCC 129) This, of course, refers to the revelation of the Son of God in Jesus Christ and the revelation of the Holy Spirit. At the Baptism of Jesus, we see the Trinitarian formula. The Son is baptized in water, the Holy Spirit descends upon Him like a dove, and the Father’s voice comes from Heaven. (Lk. 3:21-22) In the Last Supper Discourse, Jesus tells His Apostles that the Father will send the Counselor in His name, again linking the Trinitarian formula of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. (Jn. 14) In Jesus’ Great Commission, before His final ascension into Heaven, He tells His disciples, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit..” (Mt. 28:19) Jesus’ final message is to baptize the whole world in the “name” (singular) of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. (CCC 233)
Man is ontologically created in the image of the Trinitarian God. As God is a family, so is man created in His image as a relational being made for families. This is why in Genesis, after God creates Adam, He says, “It is not good that man is alone.” (Gen. 2:18) Man by himself did not yet fully image the relational nature of God. With that, God creates Eve, the first woman, so that man “cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh.” (Gen. 2:24) This is the primordial sacrament of marriage. It is Trinitarian by nature. Husband and wife become a communion of persons in the natural order, where the two become one, reflecting the communion of Persons in the Godhead in the heavenly order. The perfect self-knowledge of the Father eternally begets the second divine Person, the Son; and the perfect self-offering of will and mutual love between the Father and the Son eternally spirates the third divine Person, the Holy Spirit. Husband and wife come together in a mutual self-offering of love, consummated in the sexual union, which conceives a third independent being, a child, just as from the Father and Son comes the Holy Spirit. Although an infinitely imperfect analogy with obvious dissimilarities, this is our closest reproduction of Trinitarian relations in the natural order. This is partially why the Church rejects contraception, because it obscures the openness to life in our Trinitarian image. Adam and Eve, in their marriage and procreation, make visible the Trinitarian image in their lives, and so, God blesses them, “Be fruitful and multiply.” (Gen. 1:28) In effect, He is saying show forth the image of the Trinity, as reflected in the communion of persons in marriage and family, across the natural and humanly world. This is partially why the Church rejects contraception, as it obscures the openness to life in our Trinitarian image. For this reason, Pope John Paul II wrote in his Theology of the Body series, “Man becomes the image of God not so much in the moment of solitude as in the moment of communion.”
The Trinitarian image is reflected in our families, and the family is the icon of Trinitarian life. This is why the Catechism teaches, “The Christian family is a communion of persons, a sign and image of the communion of the Father and the Son in the Holy Spirit.” (CCC 2205) A family coming together with in self-sacrificial offering and mutual life-giving love is the fullest expression and the closest analogy, despite obvious dissimilarities (ie, God is spirit who infinitely transcends human realities), that we have of the Trinitarian life. Our deepest bonds are our familial relationships; these offer faint glimpses of the eternal communion of love that exists within the heart of the Trinity. As the great theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar said, family is “..the most eloquent imago Trinitatis that we find woven into the fabric of the creature.” Living with a husband or wife and having children necessarily draws us out from ourselves. It challenges our pride and selfishness. It forces us to minimize ourselves for the sake of others. It pushes us to focus on someone else, not just our own well-being. It challenges us to be holy as God is holy. The family is the foundational building block of the Church, and of society. It was part of God’s plan for humanity from the beginning. Indeed, Jesus Himself incarnated into a family, in order to highlight its institutional importance, and to personally sanctify them. The family is the “domestic Church.” (CCC 1666) The Apostolic Exhortation Christifidelis Laici says families are “a ‘sign’ of that interpersonal communion of love which constitutes the mystical, intimate life of God, One in Three.” (CF, 52) The family is a prefigured sign and a primeval archetype of the relationships within the Trinity. It is a foretaste and preparation in the divine economy, within the concreteness of our flesh and blood, for our ultimate destiny of incorporating us into the eternal life of the Blessed Trinity. (CCC 260)
Of course, living a self-sacrificial marriage and complete self-offering to family is easier said than done. Marriage and children can be, and are, hard work. Understatement of the year! Our selfish pride and egocentric desires get in the way. Overcoming these often take a lifetime of tiny steps to incrementally grow over time in holiness and virtue. It is difficult to reflect at times that Trinitarian love and vision amidst the exhaustion of crying babies, soiled diapers, sibling squabbles, spousal arguments, stressful jobs, washing dishes and baskets of laundry. This is part of our daily Cross, to take up and follow Jesus, by denying ourselves and serving others. Yet, we should also remember that the supernatural spirit of God works in the ordinary and mundane activities of our everyday lives. The family is meant to be beautiful, reflecting here and now, in time and space, the eternal beauty of the Trinity’s relationships. Tragically, we need only look at the current sad state of fractured families and marriages today to see the greater challenges. Families are riddled with every type of pain and suffering, abuse and abandonment, dysfunction and dissolution. The Trinitarian image in many modern families is badly disfigured.
Fortunately, God has not left us orphans. He has left us His Church. He has left us the sacraments, which can heal and make us whole again. Even if we come from irreparable marriages and broken families, God has provided us with the communion of persons found in the Church. This is the supernatural family of God. (CCC 1655) Jesus Himself points to the Communion of saints, not biological or hereditary bonds, as His true family in faith, saying, “Here are My mother and My brothers!” (Mt. 12:49) The relations of our families are the closest natural approximation to the spiritual communion of Persons in the Trinity. However, beyond that, we have our supernatural communion of Persons in faith and the Church, in which, we can also live a Trinitarian life. The Catechism states, “For if we continue to love one another and to join in praising the Most Holy Trinity – all of us who are sons of God and form one family in Christ – we will be faithful to the deepest vocation of the Church.” (CCC 959) Our deepest vocation is to live in communion with each other in our marriages, in our families, and in our Church, with mutual self-sacrifice and life-giving love, in imitation of the Most Holy Trinity.