|“The New Jerusalem” by Gustave Dore|
On this Feast of the Most Holy Trinity I am reminded of a principle that I learned during my studies in seminary. The principle is that the term “mystery” in the Christian sense does not mean a puzzle to be figured out nor a problem to be solved but rather a reality to be lived and it is in the living that we are brought to a greater and more sublime understanding.
The Trinity is indeed the greatest of all mysteries. A mystery that we could never arrive at on our own. It is impossible for us to grasp. The Trinity is a mystery that could only be unveiled by God himself. It is the mystery that God is a communion of persons united in an eternal exchange of love. It is only through the Spirit of adoption that we are brought to this truth.
How, then, is this mystery to be lived? Is it found in fleeing the world; in esoteric and ascetic experience and elevated philosophical thought? There are some branches of Christian spirituality that promote this view and there certainly is a valid path to be found there but I think there is a much more concrete way laid out for us. It is a way rooted in the incarnation. Nikos Kazantzakis puts it this way; “Wherever you find husband and wife, that’s where you find God; wherever children and petty cares and cooking and arguments and reconciliation are, that is where God is too.”
Scripture tells us that God is love and whoever abides in love abides in God. For love to be authentic it must be concrete. It must be lived. It does no one any good for one to say, “I love you.” but then not live according to that love which primarily means sacrificing for the good of the other. Ronald Rolheiser in his book The Holy Longing writes that the love which is the Trinity, which is God “is not ‘falling in love,’ but (rather) family, shared existence.” Anyone can “fall in love” (it happens all the time) but it is only the mature person who can live shared existence and, paradoxically, it is living shared existence which matures us.
Here, I want to emphasize that yes, “family” refers to biological family but it even more so refers to the spiritual family of the Church into which we are born through our baptisms. Paul writes in his letter to the Romans, The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if only we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him. To try to achieve an authentic Christian life without the shared existence which is church is a cheap grace that only leads to shallow belief.
Church is not a gathering of like-minded individuals nor a philosophical debate club nor a place where “everyone gets along” nor a wing of any particular political party. Church is the disparity of peoples, nations, dispositions and temperaments, economic class and languages that are gathered into unity by the Holy Spirit. What unites us most fundamentally is the Lord in our midst and our being gathered by the Spirit. This is “catholic” in the truest sense and it is most often and immediately witnessed in that gathering with people that in all honesty we would probably not associate with were it not for our worship in the Sunday Mass.
Yes, the Church is flawed (as is every other institution or government known to humankind) but Christ loves the Church so much so that he has poured out his Spirit upon her. To reject the Church is to reject that which Christ himself loves. As he sent those first eleven disciples into the world to baptize in the name of the Trinity our risen Lord said, I am with you always, until the end of the age. Do we hold this to be true?
It is not from the ground up that the Church is established and grows. The Church is not the creation of our own effort. Again, if this were so, Church would be at best just a gathering of like-minded people or a people formed through a common mission or goal. Rather, the Church comes from on high, from heaven. The Church is born from the community of the Trinity which is God. In the second verse of the twenty-first chapter of the Book of Revelation we are given this vision, And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven, from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband… Why does the holy city come down out of heaven? Because the Church is born from God rather than being made by us.
Church, therefore, is also mystery and it also is only understood when it is lived. Church is the family, the graced shared existence that leads us into the very mystery of God. God is love and therefore to know God means to love authentically – not just in word but in deed.
So, if we want to know what it means when we say that God is a trinity of persons and if we want to even experience that deepest of realities in our own lives then the best place to start is in loving one another and in embracing the mystery which is Church.