By Cardinal Justin Rigali
We have just celebrated the Solemnity of the Most Blessed Trinity. Since this mystery is meant to be lived out in the lives of Christians each day, we contemplate it this week.
God’s great compliment to us
It has been said, in a lighthearted spirit, that if the average Christian was told one day that there is no Blessed Trinity, it would make no difference whatsoever. While the mystery of God’s innermost being is not something to be made light of, this statement does give us some food for thought.
In many studies of the mystery of the Most Holy Trinity, we are tempted to treat this reality as a science to be analyzed. We can also treat it as somewhat of a human mental exercise in order to see how much of it we can comprehend. Study has its place because it is meant to lead to understanding. However, our ability to know, to some degree, the mystery of God’s innermost being is not meant to be a mere theological exercise. On the contrary, it is meant to allow us to have a true and living relationship with the God who has revealed Himself to us.
We know that in our human relationships, there can be no true intimacy without the revelation of ourselves to another and the other’s revelation to us. Relationships must be based upon knowledge, otherwise they cannot be intimate. In revealing ourselves to another, we pay that person a great compliment because we reveal aspects of our innermost reality which could not be known if we did not freely reveal them.
As we contemplate the mystery of the Most Blessed Trinity, we realize that this is the great compliment that God has given to us; the knowledge of Him as He is, to the degree that our human understanding can grasp it.
The progression of God’s Revelation
The first revelation of God to His people took place in the Garden of Eden. According to the imagery used in the Book of Genesis, God walked in great familiarity with our first parents. When this intimacy was lost due to their sin, God promised to reveal Himself once again at some future time. After the course of ages, God began to reveal Himself again to our ancestors in the Faith, the Jewish people. To them He made a great revelation of His innermost reality.
Continuing this act of self-revelation on God’s part, the author of the Letter to the Hebrews tells us: “In times past, God spoke in partial and various ways to our ancestors through the prophets; in these last days, he spoke to us through a son” (Hebrews 1:1).
The Dogmatic Constitution on spanine Revelation of the Second Vatican Council teaches: “For he sent his Son, the eternal Word who enlightens all, to dwell among us and to tell us about the inner life of God. He did this by the total fact of his presence and self-manifestation by words and works, signs and miracles, but above all by his death and glorious resurrection from the dead, and finally by sending the Spirit of truth. He revealed that God was with us, to deliver us from the darkness of sin and death, and to raise us up to eternal life” (Dei Verbum, 4).
God has a “face”
Just as in intimate human relationships, knowledge is not revealed for its own sake but in order to work towards an intimate relationship with another, so it is with God’s revelation of Himself to us. It is for the purpose of His entering into a mutual relationship with us and us with Him. Saint Augustine reflects on this revelation and its response on our part by saying that those who experience “this saving proclamation on hearing it should believe, on believing it hope, on hoping in it love” (Catechizing of the Uninstructed, 4).
One of the basic themes of the Pontificate of Pope Benedict XVI is that God is not a faceless, unknowable being. This follows upon what we have been saying as part of this week’s topic. God has made Himself known in the love of His Son and in the life of His Spirit and He wants us to respond to this revelation freely, in love.
In his book “The God of Jesus Christ,” written shortly before he became a bishop, Pope Benedict wrote profound reflections on the theology and spirituality of the Most Blessed Trinity and the response of the Christian to it. He wrote: “Without Jesus, we do not know what ‘Father’ truly is. This becomes visible in his prayer, which is the foundation of his being. A Jesus who was not continuously absorbed in the Father, and was not in continuous intimate communication with him, would be a completely different being from the Jesus of the Bible, the real Jesus of history.
“In Jesus’ prayer, the Father becomes visible and Jesus makes himself known as the Son. The unity which this reveals is the Trinity. Accordingly, becoming a Christian means sharing in Jesus’ prayer, entering into the model provided by his life, i.e. the model of prayer. Becoming a Christian means saying ‘Father’ with Jesus, and thus becoming a child, God’s son-God-in the unity of the Spirit, who allows us to be ourselves and precisely in this way draws us into the unity of God. Being a Christian means looking at the world from this central point, which gives us freedom, hope, decisiveness, and consolation” (The God of Jesus Christ: Meditations on the Triune God, p. 33, Ignatius Press, 2008).
The notion of this “face” of God, manifested to us in Jesus and transmitted in the Holy Spirit, is imperative for our Christian life. In this week’s reflection, I am not merely making a theological commentary. In our real, daily relationship with God, it is important for us to realize that we do not “create” a notion of God, giving Him the profile we would like Him to have, nor do we merely believe in a vague notion of “spirituality,” for its own sake or merely an idea of God which we have created to bring us some human comfort. The revelation of the one God in three spanine and distinct Persons means that God has a “face,” He has a “profile.” This is the great compliment made to us, his sons and daughters, and it is with this real and loving God that we can have a relationship, not an imaginary or unknown God, nor one of our own creation or one created by the dictates of popular culture.
In our human relationships, we want to love someone who is real and we want to be loved, based on who we really are. It is the same with God’s desire to have a relationship with us. As the Father and the Son know and love one another in the intimacy of the Trinity and this love brings forth the Holy Spirit in that same intimacy, the God who created, redeemed and loves us wants us to be united in intimate union with Him.
Revelation and responsibility
Sometimes we hear of those who cannot or who do not wish to engage in a relationship with another. This can be due to an inability to reveal oneself to someone else or an unwillingness to respond to the demands of a relationship. There is no doubt that when we reveal ourselves to another, we make ourselves vulnerable. No one can hurt us as much as the person with whom we have shared the intimate knowledge of ourselves.
These images help us to understand that since God has revealed Himself to us in the intimacy of the love of Most Blessed Trinity, which has existed from all eternity, we are called to respond in freedom to His revelation. We do this through the life of prayer, through the sharing of God’s very life, received in the grace of the Sacraments, and through our desire to learn more about the life, teaching and example of Jesus, through whom the life of the Most Blessed Trinity has been revealed to us.
The freedom that God has given us means that we can reject his offer of intimacy with Him. It even means that we can betray Him through sin, which is an offense against the One who has offered us His friendship and an intimate knowledge of Himself. However, let us be filled with joy! This joy comes from the knowledge that we are loved to such a degree, that God has shared his innermost being with us in the mystery and the gift of our knowledge of the Most Blessed Trinity.
I conclude here with some words I have written before, as I say again: “It is always a joy to proclaim the mystery of God’s life: that God is a Father, that Christ is the Son of his eternal love, that the Holy Spirit is the third person, the personal love whereby the Father and the Son love each other eternally. From all eternity we know that God lives in the communion of three spanine persons. Because of his love, God wishes to share his own spanine life with us” (Show Us Your Mercy and Love, p. 200, Paulist Press, 2003).
11 June 2009