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The Divine Attributes Retreat
The Attributes of God
The Holy Trinity - In Our Spiritual Lives (Part 2)
by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.
This is our second conference on, the Holy Trinity and our subject is: "The Trinity in Our Spiritual Lives." First, by way of introduction: We have seen something of the meaning of the Holy Trinity as the basic mystery of Christianity. All other mysteries derive from the Trinity or lead to the Trinity. Our purpose (and I wish to see) how this mystery is INDISPENSABLE (that's the word - indispensable), for our spiritual life. There are numerous lessons that this Divine Mystery is meant to teach us. But I believe especially three; we'll first identify then elaborate.
God is a Society, God is Personal and God is Love.
We profess to believe that God is not a solitary being. We believe that God is not living in isolation. No, we believe and our purpose here is to understand more deeply what we believe: that God (we must choose the words because that's our Faith!) - God is a Society - a Society of Persons, each distinct from the others. God, in other words, God IS a Community: a Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And as the Scriptures tell us the only reason why there is any society in the world of creation - the only reason why there is a society of the state, all the society of the human family, all the society which we identify as the Mystical Body - the Church - the only reason that our Religious Communities - every society in the world - exist ONLY because God the Creator of all societies is first Himself the Eternal Society of the Infinite Godhead. Consequently, the deepest sense of the words we are using and we've got to make sure that we don't cheapen what we're saying by confusing it with anything that we know from human reason or human experience. God is a Social Being. And when applied to God, both words: social and being should be Capitalized. We go a little deeper in our subject.
What kind of a society is God? It is as we believe a society of three Divine Persons. Now we ask ourselves: "Who alone really and fully knows God?" Here's the answer-: no one but God Himself. Very well, this Self-knowledge of God knowing Himself we name God the Son. We ask: "Who and who alone loves God as God being Divine deserves to be loved?" It is Father and Son each loving the Other from all eternity. And the name our Faith tells us to give that eternal love between Father and Son is the Holy Spirit. And it is this perfect knowledge of Himself which we identify as the Second Person of the Holy Trinity - it is this perfect, selfless love of Father and Son for each other - it is this self-knowledge and self-love but notice as a plurality in the knowledge. There is a plurality in the love. We don't exactly mean (though our human language requires that we say it), we don't exactly mean that God as we would think of ourselves - Loving Himself. There is One who loves and another who is loved. And this infinite self-knowledge of God knowing Himself, this Perfect Love between Father and the Son that (what verb shall we use) - we do not say cause, we may not say produce, we may not say effect - so the Church coined the verb out of that mutual love of Father and Son proceeds the Holy Spirit. And it is this which has made God perfectly happy not from the moment of His existence because He never began to be.
In other words, it is the knowledge of God, it is the love of God that we know from the mystery of the Holy Trinity that alone gives happiness even (let's repeat it), even to God. Sure we are scratching on granite. Sure we don't comprehend what we believe. But we know enough to be able to say as the First Implication of our Faith in the Trinity: we all want to be happy. There is only one hunger the human heart finally has - to be happy. Very well, very well, what is the indispensable condition for happiness?
The knowledge and love of God. All other knowledges (to coin a word) and loves are only as conducive to happiness if they are rooted in and lead us to the knowledge and love of God. But I am not finished yet with the First Implication or lesson if you will for our spiritual life from our Faith in the Blessed Trinity.
We are told in Divine Revelation to pattern our lives on the life of God. We are told to become holy (indeed more holy). Very well, so how do you become holy? We become holy by becoming like God. A perfect theological synonym for holiness is Godlikeness.
Then we ask: "But what is God like so we may grow in Godlikeness?" And our Faith tells us God is the Being who is a Community. Consequently, in the deepest sense of the word, we grow in Godlikeness as we grow in those virtues which enable us to live in loving harmony with other people. The fact that God created others besides us is not chance or coincidence or as sometimes as we're tempted to think, a mistake. Lord, in our dark moments, we are tempted to pray: "How happy I would be if only I did not (Lord, help me), if I did not have to live with others." Each of us has his own vocation. But one vocation we all have is to live at peace with others. One vocation we all have is to share ourselves and gifts with others. One vocation we all have is to give and keep giving ourselves to others. One vocation we all have is to accept others. In a word, the primordial vocation of our existence as human beings is to live as imitators of God: He living in a Society of the Blessed Trinity; we in the society or community into which the Triune God has placed us.
Second implication of our Faith in the Holy Trinity for the spiritual life: God is Personal. Thanks to the mystery of the Holy Trinity, we know and we are praying when we are praying we are not somehow talking to a blind force. We are not speaking to an abstraction. We are not conversing with some thing. We are talking to Some One. In a word, we who are human persons, whenever we pray, we are in communication with the Divine Persons of the Holy Trinity. The word "person" means many things. But one thing it means for our present reflection - a person is someone we can talk to. And it has to be if it is conversation, it MUST be someone else besides ourselves. Consequently, given our Faith in the Holy Trinity, when we pray, consequently, when we pray, we are in conscious contact with a person. And this is real. And He, when we pray, is talking to us. Consequently, our whole relationship to God takes on a depth of intimacy that would be inconceivable unless we knew as we know on Faith that our God is a Personal Being. No wonder so many people either do not pray or pray so little. They don't realize that God no less than they and far more than they is a Community of Persons. We therefore can speak with God the Son who became flesh and suffered and died for us on the cross - it is literally, our heart and in His case, He has a human heart speaking, hence, to us and ours to His.
We can speak (watch the preposition) WITH (not just TO), with the Father who sent His Son. We can address Him as Father conscious that we are conversing with the Divine Person who is the Father of God the Son. We can speak with the Holy Spirit whom the Son sent and who we believe (how this needs saying); we believe a Divine Person dwells in our souls by His grace. That is what the Indwelling means. So much so that St. Augustine dares to say: "When we address God in heaven, the first place that we are speaking to God is in the depths of our own souls. That is heaven." Heaven is where God is living, (Ah), but where creatures are aware of His presence. No wonder then on this second level of our implications of the mystery of Faith here on the Trinity for our spiritual life, no wonder the Church begins and ends Her Liturgy with praising and invoking the Holy Trinity. How did we start Mass this morning? - With the sign of the Cross. How will we end this Mass? - With the sign of the Cross. If there is one thing I hope will get addressed - address to you and get across to you in this retreat, it is: such a deep realization (beg God to give it to You) of the meaning of the Holy Trinity. That until you make your last sign of the Cross before you die you will realize what a difference between believing and realizing that you are in communication with the Divine Persons of the All-Holy Trinity.
Our third and final reflection: God is Love. We will come to this subject more than once before the end of the retreat. But this is the foundation. This is the stone on which all our understanding and practice of love on our side finally depends: "God is Love." We commonly and correctly say that God is loving. I like the Latin: "Deus est amamos" (is loving). We also say, commonly and correctly: "God is lovable." I like the Latin: "Deos est amabiles." Right, and God is MORE than loving. He is more than lovable. God, as John tells us in his First Letter: "Deos est Amor." God is Love.
What do we mean? We mean that from all eternity, before creating the World, we believe on Faith that from all eternity, before He created the World, and even if He had not created the World, God already was and is Love. Why? Except for the Trinity, no human mind (I repeat), except for the Trinity, no human mind would understand the meaning of Love. Why not? Because that is what unites the Three Persons of the Trinity. Each shares His Divine Nature totally with the Others. Thus we see that learning from God, the essence of Love is in giving. That is not the meaning of love in the world. As one man exclaimed: "Oh Liberty, how many crimes are committed in thy Name?" Well, I will paraphrase that by saying: "Oh Love, how many crimes are committed in thy Name?" For those who lack the Faith, love means getting. People tell one another (like a couple by their marriage) - "I love you." And men being the poets, pages (here's after they're married), sometimes when he is away, "Father, let me show you some of the letters he wrote to me when we were courting." It's not Just the same man! Oh what hypocrisy the human spirit can practice in hiding its selfishness under the mantle of love.
Love means to give! Love means to share! Love means to communicate. How do we know? Because that's what God is. The Three Divine Persons, eternally giving, one to the other, sharing with each other, communicating with one another. All the Father has, He shares with the Son. All Father and Son have, they share with the Holy Spirit. That's why at the Last Supper, Christ taught us two things: First, to give ourselves to others in selfless charity and second, in practicing this selfless charity, to imitate the Holy Trinity. Reread Chapters 14, 15, 16, 17 of St. Johns' Gospel. Most of what we know about the mystery of the Holy Trinity was revealed at the Last Supper by Jesus Christ. Why? So that as we more deeply understand who the Trinity is, we might then, by imitating the Triune God, practice the kind of self-giving love that Christ told us is the hallmark of being His disciples.
As a result of all we have been saying, there is one logical conclusion we should draw. Our fulfillment of God's command to love one another with something of that selfless charity that obtains in the Holy Trinity, in other words, God wants us to pattern our selfless love of others on the selfless love achieved of the Three Persons in the Holy Trinity, one for the other: never began, and the mutual love of the Three Persons will never end.
I have one more observation to make. It is in the form of a prayer. We should cultivate the habit of speaking to the Holy Trinity not just occasionally, but frequently. My background was Byzantine. My first prayerbook was in Russian script. If there is one thing that I think I know, it is something about Oriental, what we call Eastern Christianity: how much we can learn from our fellow Christians in the East. Do you know that the distinctive feature of Eastern Christianity as compared with the Christianity of the West - what is the distinctive feature? It is that in the East, from the earliest centuries, it was the Holy Trinity that was the principal object of veneration, of adoration, and invocation among the faithful. For the Eastern Christian World, our lives are as Godlike as they are patterned on the Holy Trinity.
We pray: "Most Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, I believe you are One God in Three Divine Persons. I believe, You are the Divine Society which existed from all eternity long before we were made. Help me to love You and to show my love for You, dear God by loving and living with others in peaceful harmony here on earth so that I may desire to enter Your blessed Company in the heaven for which I was made. Amen." In the Name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
Transcription of the retreat given in December, 1988
Copyright © 1998 Inter Mirifica
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