Anthony de Mello tells the story of a Chinese boy who wanted to become a carver of jade. He was apprenticed to a master craftsman and could hardly sleep the night before his first day with the master.
When he arrived for work he greeted the master and sat down in front of him. The master continued to work but gave the boy a piece of jade to hold. All day the boy sat there before the master, watching him work, and all the time holding in his hand the precious piece of jade.
The next day and the next passed in the same way and when his parents asked him how it was going he said it was not like he expected because all he did was sit there with a lump of jade in his hands while the master worked.
After more than a week of this the boy decided to end his apprenticeship if the master did not give him some work to do and again asked him just to sit with a piece of jade in his hands.
Sure enough, he had hardly sat down when the master gave him another piece of jade to hold. He was just about to make his complaint when his attention was drawn to the stone in his hands. 'But master' said the boy 'this is not jade!'
The master smiled and said 'Well done, young man, you have learned your first lesson well.'
The old man was very wise because he knew there was something about jade that could be learned only by first hand ‘lived’ experience. That’s why he put the jade into the boy’s hands. He brought him into relationship with it over a number of days and so the boy learned to recognise by experience what the qualities of jade were. And the mystery of the Trinity is just like that. We can only understand or penetrate the mystery to the extent that it penetrates us. Perhaps we can explore this a little more deeply by asking ‘How do we know God is Trinity?’
The Jews knew only that God is One - the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob - one God. Jesus certainly never taught the doctrine of the Trinity to his disciples though we can say that the doctrine came from him. What is more, it is difficult to find in the Scriptures, or in any texts from the very early Church, anything explicit about the Blessed Trinity. The Sacred Scripture certainly never used the word "Trinity" anywhere in its pages even though it is saturated with its presence. So where does this teaching come from?
The answer, you already know, is Jesus - Trinity was the way Jesus experienced God. He experienced God as his Father and himself as co-equal Son. He told us that he and the Father were one yet he made it clear that he was not the Father.
Similarly he experienced the Holy Spirit, through whom he was conceived, as the Spirit and power and love of God, and yet, at the same time, he recognised that the Spirit was not the Father, nor was he the Son.
The Holy Spirit was the 'Advocate' who would teach the Apostles everything. The Father (and the Son) would send him when the Son had departed this earth at the Ascension.
How then did the Church come by the knowledge of the Blessed Trinity? How did Jesus pass this reality on to the Church?
Essentially the Church arrived at the doctrine of the Trinity after careful reflection and prayer on its experience of Jesus and of God. This reflection was painstakingly and, often, controversially thrashed out.
Trinity is how Jesus experienced God and how the Church experiences God. As the Church, through Sacred Scripture and Tradition, shapes our understanding of God it also instructs our experience of him. Like the boy with the jade we must be in touch with God in the experience of our own prayer and day to day life. It is here we will learn to say with Jesus - God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.