Catholicism, Faith, Family, Holiness, Love

In This Way The Love of God Was Revealed

This morning, I read this great reflection by Father Thomas Rosica on the nature of the Trinity as a divine community. A snippet toward the beginning sums up the author’s intent in drawing our attention to that nature: “If our faith is based in this Trinitarian mystery that is fundamentally a mystery of community, then all of our earthly efforts and activities must work toward building up the human community that is a reflection of God’s rich, Trinitarian life.”

As a lifelong Catholic, I’ve heard much talk of human dignity, of every man and woman’s unique possession of the image of God within themselves. This great dignity constitutes a call to reflect God, to be formed more perfectly into His image by the thoughts we have, the words we speak, the actions we take. This individual imaging of divinity is of inestimable importance if a person is to every grasp the meaning and purpose of life. It cannot be emphasized enough. What I cannot claim to have heard a lot about is the manner in which the human community is called and is able to image the community of Persons of the Trinity. Every family, every church community, every small group Bible study, every ministry group, every intimate community of friends; the list is unending as we are a people who functions in the setting of community. Like each person possesses the dignity of being made in God’s image and the potential of reflecting Him in the world, so every community of human persons possesses dignity and potential of reflecting the Trinity. I still remember this dawning on me as a brand new understanding of the purpose of family when it was explained to me in my Marriage & Family course at Franciscan U. This call to be an image of the Trinity has become my primary weapon against the fears that would hold me back from giving myself as a spouse and a parent someday.

The author of the article makes a significant point when he explains that the language of the Trinity, that is, the manner in which we understand this great mystery, is relational. “For God, as for us, created in God’s image, relationship and community are primary. God can no more be defined by what God does than we can. God is a Being, not a Doing, just as we are human beings, not human doings. This is a point of theology, but also, with all good theology, a practical point.” In fact, this point is not only practical but also fundamental. It is fundamental to the Christian understanding of the dignity and worth of each human life, measured not in what that life is able to do or contribute or accomplish but rather in the glorious fact of that life being another instance of God’s image and likeness existing in this world. God’s image and likeness! That is what we are. What we do and say is our means for communicating that image and likeness in the world, but it is not who we are as human beings.

What I am trying to come around to is that the individual is made in the image of a community, for God is a community of divine persons, and therefore the individual cannot live up to his or her dignity without living in relationship. As such each talent, strength and ability possessed by an individual is not possessed for their sole benefit. No, it is for the community; for the family. Whether that family is your own by blood or by marriage, or that family is your closest friends or your church community, the answer to your individual call to be God’s image in this world is played out in relationship with others. Holding yourself back from such relationships is a two edged blade, cutting into your individual strength of faith and into the community’s. You deprive yourself of experiencing the reflection of the Trinity, and you deprive others of your contributions to that reflection.

I return to the earlier quotation: “all of our earthly efforts and activities must work toward building up the human community that is a reflection of God’s rich, Trinitarian life.” Sounds like something straight from St. Paul or St. John, doesn’t it? Maybe that’s why I’m loving it so much. I read those words and the natural instinct (‘natural’ insofar as our nature is fallen) to look out for myself pushes itself to the surface. Am I simply to spend myself entirely for others? Have I not also learned the value of an intimate one on one relationship with God? Have I not felt the strain of being too involved, too busy with my faith community? Ah, yes, valid objections. Valid, but signs of immaturity. Mature faith understands how the one on one intmacy with the Lord does contribute to the building up of the family of God. Mature faith trusts that if I pour myself out for others in the name of Christ, there will be others pouring themselves out for me in the name of Christ. Mature faith causes me to love without worry over the vulnerability of loving, to serve without the aim of gaining praise, to pray never only for myself.

One of my absolute favorite movie lines is from “Diary of a Mad Black Woman”. In a convincing speech, Orlando explains to Helen how he knew he was in love with her: “Helen, if I’m away from you for more than an hour, I can’t stop thinking about you. I carry you in my spirit. I pray for you more than I pray for myself.” It is not just the romantic in me who loves that speech (and its repetition when Helen finally realizes she loves, and is free to love, Orlando), it is also the Catholic in me. Orlando’s love, when it has been purified by the tests placed upon it and the patient compassion he has had to practice toward Helen, is not about him but about her. It is the case with every person who learns to love how God loves. God exists in a constant, uninterrupted relationship of perfect love: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. The Father eternally begets the Son in an outpouring of love; the Son eternally offers Himself back to the Father in love; the Holy Spirit is eternally begotten of the Father and the Son by the communication of their love for each other. All of this is contained in that mystery of faith, the Trinity; and all of this is reflected in human love. It is reflected in both our need for relationships and communities rooted in love and our capability of loving. I refer to agape love, to be specific, but I’m not going to try to explain all that here. Check out The Four Loves by C. S. Lewis.

At the end of this lengthy, rambling collection of this morning’s thoughts, I have a Jars of Clay song in my head. It’s the first track off their “Good Monsters” album, “Work.” I got to sit in on a Q&A session with the band one time and they explained the meaning behind that song. One thing they touched on was the need for community. Dan, the lead singer, talked about the human person being dragged down by the world, especially when that person is trying to live a life of faith, hope and love. A person can end up feeling like they need help just to keep breathing. That is what community is for; relationships with those whom God has given to you is His way of carrying you through. Likewise, you are someone He gives to others to carry them through.

I often pray the Glory Be, hoping that whatever I am doing at the moment will glorify Him. I cannot live out that prayer, giving “glory to the Father, to the Son and the Holy Spirit” if community and relationship are not primary in my life. I cannot honor the community of divine love that is the Trinity if I do not give myself to and receive from the community of that divine love on this earth, the Church.

“In this way the love of God was revealed to us: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might have life through him. In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also must love one another. No one has ever seen God. Yet, if we love one another, God remains in us, and his love is brought to perfection in us. This is how we know that we remain in him and he in us, that he has given us of his Spirit.” (1 John 4:9-13)

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