When “Schoolhouse Rock” showed us the nature of the Trinity

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Readings:  Deut. 4:32-34, 39-40/Rom. 8:14-17

Psalm: 33:4-6, 9, 18-20, 22

Gospel:  Mt. 28:16-20


On April 24th, a man by the name of Bob Dorough passed away.  His name might not seem familiar.  He spent much of his life as a jazz musician.  A chance encounter with a New York ad exec, however, changed his life forever.  In 1971, this exec was starting a new animated show for kids and asked Bob to come up with a few songs that helped kids with their multiplication tables.  His own kids were having trouble with them and wanted a way for them to learn how to multiply that they could handle.  The show that was created was called “Schoolhouse Rock” and the first song that Dorough composed for it was called “Three is a Magic Number.”

While the song did bring a way to understand multiplication, some of the lyrics to the song was rather poignant about we view the number three.  The opening of the song goes like this, “Somewhere in ancient mystic trinity you get three as a magic number.  The past and the present and the future; Faith and Hope and Charity; The heart and the brain and the body; Give you three as a magic number.”  What Bob Dorough did was not just create a song for a new series; he illustrated the importance of this number in human history.

The number three has its connections to the world around us. There are three kinds of matter:  animal, vegetable and mineral.  All matter has three dimensions: height, length and width. There are three states of water:  solid, liquid and gas.   We also see signs of the number three in the spiritual world. The third day of the creation story in Genesis tells of the water receding, land appearing, and the first signs of vegetation appears.  There were three Patriarchs:  Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. When the Hebrews carried the Ark, it contained the stone tablets that God had written the Ten Commandments upon, a jar of the manna that sustained them in the desert, and the staff of Aaron, the one who would bring them into the Promised Land. And when we look at the life of Jesus it begins with him being presented with three gifts:  Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh. When he was transfigured he was with three of his apostles:  Peter, James and John.  And when Christ died on the cross, his resurrection was done on the third day. So it is no secret that the number three becomes a part of our lives. Its magic has been with us since the beginning of time.  The number three becomes the symbol of completeness that is present in an incomplete world.

When Christ speaks to the world, it is done in that spirit of completeness.  When we hear Jesus speak in the gospel proclaimed today from St. Matthew, he showed his disciples how that completeness is to be continued after he has ascended into heaven. Before he ascended into Heaven, Christ gave the apostles the power that he was given to continue his mission on earth.  To do that, he instructed them to baptize “In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”  It is in the power of three-The Holy Trinity- that will bring God’s children to his father. It is with the strength of God as the Holy Trinity that will bring love from hate, trust from doubt and wisdom from ignorance.

It has been the source of some debate regarding the nature of the Trinity. Most of the time it is the question of how can we worship one God while we say God is three persons.  In trying to come up with some help with this homily, I came across an article by Fr. Michael Simone, a Jesuit Priest and professor of scripture at Boston College.  He said that in ancient times, the pagan gods were considered to be fluid, meaning that they could appear in many places and in many forms without ever losing their potency.[1] This idea was highlighted in the Book of Daniel that showed God giving a complete portion of his power and glory to someone as they were “a son of man.”  The passage goes “I saw one coming like a human being coming with the clouds of heaven…  To him was given dominion and glory and kingship…  His dominion is an everlasting dominion… and his Kingship is one that shall never be destroyed.”[2]

According to Fr. Simone, this was the passage that the early Christians used as proof that Jesus was the Son of God.  In other words, when Jesus told his disciples to baptize “In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” he was doing so because of his authority as God on Earth, so that the faithful can continue this mission that comes from the Father, through the Son with the guidance of the Holy Spirit. [3]

Bob Dorough was right.  Three is a magic number.  It is the number of our faith, our hope and our love. And it is the number that we know, believe and share with the world as the identity of God’s nature in Heaven, on earth and in the netherworld:  The Holy Trinity.





[1] Simone, Michael, S.J. “Ever Ancient, Ever New” in America” Vol. 218, No. 11 (May 14, 2018) p. 60.  (www.americamagazine.org).

[2] Dn. 7:13-14.

[3] Simone, Michael, S.J.


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