«A God Who Is Threefold Love Michelle K. Borras catholic information service © Copyright 2012, Knights of Columbus. general editor All rights ...»
#4 The New Evangelization Series
A God Who Is
Michelle K. Borras
catholic information service
© Copyright 2012, Knights of Columbus.
All rights reserved.
Michelle K. Borras, Ph.D.
Director of the Catholic
Scripture citations adapted from the
Revised Standard Version, Catholic Edition
(San Francisco: Ignatius, 1994).
nihil obstat August 21, 2012 Susan M. Timoney, S.T.D.
Censor Deputatus The nihil obstat and imprimatur are official declarations that a book or pamphlet is imprimatur free of doctrinal or moral error. There is no Donald Cardinal Wuerl implication that those who have granted Archbishop of Washington the nihil obstat and the imprimatur agree with the content, opinions, or statements Archdiocese of Washington expressed therein.
cover image The Holy Trinity, as the patriarch Abraham’s three angelic visitors. In Genesis 18:1-15, the Lord appears to Abraham by the terebinth of Mamre in the form of three men, to whom he offers food and drink. The three visitors tell Abraham that he and his wife, Sara, will bear a son, Isaac, in their old age.
Christian tradition sees in this vision a foreshadowing of the revelation of the Trinity. Detail from the seminary chapel of the Fraternity of St. Charles Borromeo, Rome. The mosaic was completed by Fr. Marko Ivan Rupnik, SJ and the artists of Centro Aletti in 2010. Photo copyright Elio and Stefano Ciol. Used with permission.
A God Who Is Threefold Love Michelle K. Borras Contents “Faith starts with God, who opens his heart to us…” 1 In the Name of the Triune God 5 An Inconceivable Gift “If you see love, you see the Trinity” “In this is love…” 9 13 Sin and Love 16 Judgment 18 Beholding His Glory “Love is the heart of the universe” 23 Made in the Image of Love 26 The Church, Sacrament of the Trinity 30 Drawn into God’s Life Sources 34 About 38 Abraham offers food and drink to the Lord, who appears to him in the guise of three mysterious visitors, while Sara looks on in the background.
Chapel of the seminary of the Fraternity of St. Charles Borromeo, Rome. Photo copyright Elio and Stefano Ciol.
Used with permission.
“Faith starts with God, who opens his heart to us…” Above all guard for me this great deposit of faith for which I live and fight … I mean the profession of faith in the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. I entrust it to you today. By it I am soon going to plunge you into water and raise you out of it. I give it to you as the companion and patron of your whole life…. I have not even begun to think of unity when the Trinity bathes me in its splendor. I have
In the Name of the Triune God On the clear night of July 19, 2008, Pope Benedict XVI kept vigil with an enormous crowd of young people in Sydney, Australia. He spoke to them of the stars above them, naming the constellation of the Southern Cross. As the young people listened, candles in hand, he told them that though the world they live in may seem at times to be as dark as the night, they are children of light.
1 They may feel helpless when they see “the unity of God’s creation … weakened by wounds,” especially those wounds in which human relations break apart.2 They may feel as unprotected as the small flames of their candles before the suffering of a “divided and fragmented world.” Yet, Pope Benedict told them, they have received the gift of a unity so great that it surpasses all the divisions in the world. And although they may not know it, they carry in themselves a love that is greater than their own failures at love. Through the “great gift of baptism,” they have become “children of Christ’s light,” illumined by the “light that no darkness can overcome.” They have already entered God’s life.
Pope Benedict asked a provocative question to the young people assembled that night: “Listen! Through the dissonance and division of our world, can you hear the concordant voice of humanity?” In people far away, in others very near, and “perhaps even now from the depth of your own heart, there emerges the same human cry for recognition, for belonging, for unity.” There emerges a cry for a reconciliation that is greater than all conflict and darkness, for a love so all-encompassing that, if it were true, it would have to be the meaning not just of one life, but of everything that exists. In the hearts of all people, Pope Benedict noted, is an “essential human yearning to be one, to be immersed in communion, to be built up, to be led to truth.” There is in all of us an unquenchable thirst for a life that is shared, for the joy that is the fruit of this sharing, for love.
Underneath all the inner defenses we have built to protect ourselves from the strife in the world, we still want to 2 discover that disunity, conflict, and the suffering they cause do not have the last word. We want the world to be beautiful, even if we don’t always believe that it is. We want to discover in it life and light. At that prayer vigil in Sydney, Pope Benedict told the young people of the world something they might not have thought of before: Everything we wish for has already been given to us as a gift. God has given himself to us as a gift in his Son Jesus Christ, through the Spirit who leads us into God’s own inner life. This gift, which will always exceed our powers of comprehension, is summarized in that simplest of Christian gestures, the Sign of the Cross.
“In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit….” Pope Benedict recalled that these words had first been pronounced over him at his baptism when he was not even a day old. On that day on which the newborn Joseph Aloisius Ratzinger became a “child of Christ’s light,” others who loved him assented for him and with him to this most basic Christian profession of faith. When, as a child, Joseph grew in understanding, he gradually came to realize that these words contain an infinite mystery, to which he would never finish assenting for as long as he lived. “When I was a small boy, my parents, like yours, taught me the Sign of the Cross,” he recalled. “So, I soon came to realize that there is one God in three Persons, and that the Trinity is the center of our Christian faith and life.” Slowly, the young Joseph began to realize that the center of the Christian faith and life is not some static deity who manufactures a world unrelated to him. Rather, the 3 God revealed to us in Jesus Christ is a continual gift-giving between Persons, so unified in love and so alive that St. Paul can write, “Our God is a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:28).
This flame of Love is single but in continual motion, illumining everything that draws near to it; it is the source of all life and light. The God whom Jesus reveals to us, above all in his death and resurrection, is “a unity of lived communion” that exceeds any communion possible on earth.
God is a Love so powerful that, while Three, he is utterly One. And because he is absolute, self-giving and self-communicating Love, God doesn’t simply create and sustain everything that exists. This God invites us into his life.
Like all Christians, the newborn Joseph Ratzinger received the supernatural gift of faith. In this faith, we are plunged into the waters of baptism to rise up a new creation. The Sign of the Cross is traced over us by our parents when we are small and will be traced over us when we die: “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit….” Our entire life as Christians unfolds within these words, which contain the unutterable mystery of God. If we pay attention to these words, as Joseph did as he grew and became a priest, bishop, and pope, we come to understand more and more that they are words of love. The Christian is baptized and commended to God with a formula that names much more than all the small, fragile but beautiful loves in the world. It names their source: Love itself.
The words of the Sign of the Cross are words of faith, but not a faith of our making. As Pope Benedict told another great crowd of young people three years after the encounter in Sydney, “Faith is not the result of human effort, of human reasoning.” It is “a gift of God.” In its origins, faith is an act of self-giving love: “It starts with God, who opens his heart to us and invites us to share in his own divine life.”3 Nothing we imagine when we yearn “to be immersed in communion, to be built up, to be led to truth,” can come close to this invitation to step into the flame of self-giving, self-communicating Love that is God.
An Inconceivable Gift
In Jesus Christ, through the Spirit who binds Father and Son, the God who made us binds himself to us in love. He shares our fate and takes responsibility for it, in boundless fidelity to his creation. The triune God, who establishes a “new and eternal covenant”4 with mankind in Jesus Christ, gives himself completely to the millions of human beings yearning for the shared life of communion, for joy and for enduring love.
This is an unbelievable gift. In fact, it was so unbelievable to some of the contemporaries of the first Christians that they could not bear to hear it. When St. Stephen, the first martyr, exclaimed, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing at the right hand of God,” his listeners “cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears” (Acts 7:57). They did not think it possible for God to be threefold Love. Stephen was accused of blasphemy, the same accusation that was made against Christ himself, and stoned to death.
5 If we do not stop our ears, we begin dimly to comprehend that our yearning for communion is only a faint echo of God’s infinite yearning to share his life with us. Our faith is only an echo of his first act of love. If God truly yearns to share his life of communion with us – if he in fact has done so in the death and resurrection of his Son – then our faith embraces and is embraced by something infinitely greater than we will ever comprehend. God is infinitely greater than we will ever comprehend. Every time we make the Sign of the Cross, every time we take one of our children to be baptized or commend someone we love to God, we are naming Love, invoking Love, and entering, little by little, into communion with Love. We are learning what it means to believe in the living God, the God who is threefold Love.
In the face of this gift, we can only be filled with thanksgiving. Like Pope Benedict and the young people keeping vigil with him in Sydney, we attempt to enter little by little into the mystery God entrusts to us, expressing in halting words and awe-filled silence our first attempts at praise.
That night, Pope Benedict spoke on behalf of all those who wish to be “children of Christ’s light,” opening their hearts to the triune God who opened his heart to them: “Tonight, gathered under the beauty of the night sky, our hearts and minds are filled with gratitude to God for the great gift of our Trinitarian faith.” 6 7 St. John the Evangelist points to the crucified Christ, while Mary, who represents the Church, receives the blood and water flowing from his side.
Chapel of the Holy Family, Knights of Columbus Supreme Council, New Haven, Connecticut.
“If you see love, you see the Trinity” “In this is love…” God loved us first, as St. John reminds us in his first letter, and that is how we have any idea of what love is at all. John writes, “In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10). The Son of God made man stood in our place, for us, in an act of perfect self-surrender. He took upon himself the death that is the natural consequence of our sin and burned it up: death and sin could not stand in the face of the immense brightness of God’s Love. This culmination of God’s becoming man is, as John Paul II calls it, the “foundation and center of history.”5 It is also the complete revelation of God. The Paschal mystery, or the mystery of Jesus’ Passion, death and resurrection, is how we begin to have any idea of what God is in his essence: a threefold Love that consumes like fire, an unfathomably living communion.
Before they heard Pope Benedict speak, some of the young people at the vigil in Sydney might have thought that the Trinity is a complicated,
idea invented by theologians. But it clearly wasn’t an abstract idea for Pope Benedict any more than it was for Jesus’ disciple, John. John saw the mystery with his own eyes. Artists’ renderings of the crucifixion often show him standing with Mary at the foot of the cross, pointing to the crucified Christ; his eyes are wide open not just in grief, but in astonishment. The image of his crucified Lord burned itself into his memory.
He saw Jesus handing over his Spirit and, with it, himself to the Father he loved. He saw a death that was sheer prayer, and a prayer that was pure love: “‘Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.’ And having said this, he breathed his last” (Luke 23:46). In Jesus’ humble and limitless self-surrender to his Father, John saw God’s inner life opened to us. He saw the world being reconciled to God.
After the Resurrection, when John began to put words to what he had seen, he knew he had to tell others: He had seen, heard, and touched not just a man who had been good enough to die in place of another, but Love itself. He had been granted what the Israelites in the Old Testament had longed for, but known was impossible: He had seen the face of God and lived (cf. Exodus 33:20). He had witnessed the same mystery of Love that St. Stephen saw in his vision, and that dawned on the young Joseph Ratzinger as he reflected on the Sign of the Cross.
When God the Son took on flesh, becoming himself the eternal covenant between God and man, the fire of God’s charity came among us. “I have come to cast fire on the earth,” Jesus exclaimed, “and how I wish it were already blazing!” (Luke 12:49). He was crucified for our sake, died 10 and rose from the dead to free us from sin and open a path for us into God’s living communion.