"Teaching" the Trinity

My friend and colleague Sr. Julie Vieira sent this to me via her blog, A Nun’s Life:

I just recently read an article about your website and decided you might be able to help me. I teach a Sunday class of 12-14 year olds.It is a basic doctrine class and these young people have been baptized and are preparing for the sacraments of Confession & Eucharist. They struggle with understanding the Holy Trinity and who God is. Where did He come from? where is He? etc. I believe and have always believed, but these young people are probably receiving these sacraments because the parents think it’s time. I’m not sure that they receive any religious instruction from their parents. I explain as best as I can and tell them that faith is so important. But in the end they say, “I don’t understand.” Is there anything you can suggest that I can tell them that might help them?

In Christ,


First, I think that it is best to not try to “explain” God or the Trinity. We can explain all that we want but ultimately, God, our Triune God, is a mystery. We may not fully understand God, but we can KNOW God.  We can experience God. Most of all, we learn about God through Jesus who reveals the face of God. Don’t focus on explaining but rather on inviting. Our God invites us into his divine life. The Trinity is the essence of loving relationship: 3 persons unified in one God. Whenever we experience and work toward building loving relationships with others, we are experiencing the life of the Trinity.

I would focus on inviting your young people into reflective prayer so that they can come to know God and God’s love for them rather than just knowing about God. Consider leading them in some guided reflections that invite them to encounter Jesus in their imagination within the setting of a Scripture story. A good program that contains such guided reflections is Finding God: Following Jesus and Finding God: Celebrating Church by Loyola Press.

After experiencing God’s presence, the young people will be in a better place to talk about their understanding of God. My point is that we don’t necessarily “teach” mystery, we invite people to enter into it and then we talk about it. Thanks Sr. Julie for passing this inquiry along and thanks Gracie for your question and for your dedication to the catechetical ministry.

Any other advice out there?

About Joe Paprocki 2736 Articles
Joe Paprocki, DMin, is National Consultant for Faith Formation at Loyola Press, where, in addition to his traveling/speaking responsibilities, he works on the development team for faith formation curriculum resources including Finding God: Our Response to God’s Gifts and God’s Gift: Reconciliation and Eucharist. Joe has more than 35 years of experience in ministry and has presented keynotes, presentations, and workshops in more than 100 dioceses in North America. Joe is a frequent presenter at national conferences including the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress, the Mid-Atlantic Congress, and the National Conference for Catechetical Leadership. He is the author of numerous books, including the best seller The Catechist’s Toolbox, A Church on the Move, Under the Influence of Jesus, and Called to Be Catholic—a bilingual, foundational supplemental program that helps young people know their faith and grow in their relationship with God. Joe is also the series editor for the Effective Catechetical Leader and blogs about his experiences in faith formation at www.catechistsjourney.com.

2 Comments on "Teaching" the Trinity

  1. I lead RCIA sessions–the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults and I explain the Trinity this way:
    The Trinity is a mystery and since it’s a mystery, you’ll never be able to get your mind totally “around it.” BUT, we can understand some things about a mystery. Trinity means there is ONE God, and there are THREE persons in the one God. The Father is God, the Son is God, the Holy Spirit is God. BUT the Father is not the Son or the Holy Spirit, the Son is not the Father or the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit is not the Father or the Son.

  2. Maria, thanks for sharing your thoughts about how you speak about the Trinity with your RCIA. Your explanation is very straightforward and understandable without being simplistic.

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