Yesterday, we celebrated the feast of the Most Holy Trinity. Unfortunately, many of us associate this feast with something else – it is the one day of the whole liturgical year where the priest is obliged to use big words and make no discernable sense during his homily.
Perhaps the reason we get so stumped by the mystery of the Trinity is because we come at it from the wrong angle. Lost in the theological terminology, we forget that it’s not primarily about our heads getting it – it’s about our hearts getting it. In this past Friday’s blog post, Lawrence Lam prepared our intellects for Sunday’s feast. Today, let’s allow our hearts catch up.
“The revelation of the Most Holy Trinity is summarized in a simple and profound way in the short phrase from the First Letter of John: ‘God is Love.’” Perhaps one of the most misunderstood words in the English language is the word “love,” so let’s step back for a second and establish what’s really being meant by it. First of all, we know love can’t exist without at least two people. There’s our first clue – one Person can’t be Love all by Himself. Love is an act ordered towards another person, an act that longs to be reciprocated. But as for the act itself – is it primarily the expression of a feeling of attraction or affection? Pope Emeritus Benedict disagrees: “…love is not merely a sentiment. Sentiments come and go. A sentiment can be a marvelous first spark, but it is not the fullness of love.” To think that a feeling is love in itself will give us a twisted image of a love that dies with the feeling, and for that reason never really was about the other person in the first place. Real love longs for an infinite fulfillment. This is the love we truly crave. And this kind of love does not manifest in feeling-motivated actions, but as a total and unconditional gift of self.
God is love, and love is a gift of self. Here, we begin to see the life of the Trinity – the Father eternally giving Himself to the Son, and the Son eternally receiving his gift, and joyfully reciprocating it. But where’s the third Person? Traditionally, the Church has taught that the “life and love, which the Son receives from the Father and returns to the Father, is the Holy Spirit,” and for this reason, “is like the fruit of this mutual love of the Father and the Son.” Suddenly, our view of love is challenged again – because Love isn’t just between two persons. As Scott Hahn puts it, “the essence of love is life-giving.” The sheer power of this eternal love, the total reciprocal gift of self, just can’t be contained within a two-person communion. So, it shows a new dimension of itself. It becomes creative.
God is love – total, self-giving, and fruitful love. This is the heart of Christianity. And this is the love we are called to image (TOB 9:3) and enter into (2 Peter 1:4).