Sunday, May 31, 2015


This is one of my favorite days of the liturgical year – the Feast of the Most Holy Trinity!  I couldn’t resist sharing a short excerpt from The God Who is Love: Explaining Christianity From Its Center Enjoy your Trinity Sunday!

The Triune God [1]

Throughout elementary, and then high school, everything religion teachers and ministers taught me about the Trinity could be summed up in two points: It is a mystery, impossible to completely understand; and the best image for it is the shamrock.

Tragically, a vast number of us never progress further. Why is that a tragedy? Because without the understanding of God as a Trinity of Persons, the heart of Christianity will always be elusive. Everything progresses, everything comes into sharper focus, with the realization that God is interiorly a relationship of unfathomable, reciprocal Love. To arrive at this, however, we will have to get a bit “abstract” first. 

Like Judaism and Islam, Christianity begins with the conviction that God is infinite;[2] His intellect and power are inexhaustible. Saying that such a Being “knows everything in the universe” is a given.  A person of faith can go further and say that God knows all possible worlds – even different realms of creation, such as the angelic. But again, for a Being of infinite intelligence - not that spectacular. To say something truly breath-taking about God’s intelligence, you would have to say…“He knows Himself, His infinite Self.”

Allow that statement to sink in. As persons, you and I have an idea of who we are – a picture in our mind of our appearance, a record of our past, and judgments as to strengths and weaknesses. We can flip on the television and hear what a high priority people place on “finding themselves,” discovering what they want out of life. I am sure you have found through experience, however, that our self-images are often in error.

If we acknowledge that God is perfect though, then the same has to be said for His idea of Himself. It would have to be a perfect reflection – and more: there would be nothing in the Thinker that was not also present in His thought of Himself. All of God’s attributes must be shared in by His idea: His infinite power, intelligence, will, divine life - even Personhood. Now I realize that is a lot to take in; I would recommend rereading the paragraph a few times before continuing. 

Alright, lets go one step farther now. Because God stands outside of space and time, He has no beginning. He did not develop, did not grow; He, and He alone, simply IS. There could never have been a time when He was without this knowledge of Himself. So we have God and this living Thought always dwelling within Him. I suggest taking another pause. 

Now, let me come at this from a different direction, the personalist: from eternity there is one divine Person coming forth from Another. One divine Person, a Son, being generated by Another, His Father. All that the Father is, He gives; all that the Son is He receives. The Son cannot be apart from the Father. The Son is the One Who eternally comes forth from Him. And this is what we find when we turn to the New Testament. There is a slight change in terminology though. When the Son entered the human race, He was not called the Father’s Idea, but His Word - exactly what we call an idea that has entered the world![3]
The Father’s sharing of Himself with the Son is mirrored in the Son’s return of love. As perfect Lovers, Each pours Himself out to the Other, holding nothing of Themselves back. Their love shares in Their very being; it is all that They are - infinitely powerful, filled with Their intelligence, will, life. Their Love, precisely because it is Theirs, is divinely alive, is Person – Their Holy Spirit.[4]
 “Three Persons in one God,” is the statement traditionally used by Christianity to define “Trinity.” We can see something of this three-in-one when we look at ourselves; for as Judaism first taught, humanity is made in the “image and likeness of God” (Genesis 1:27). Our existence could be said to image the Father; our thought within us, the Son; and our capacity to demonstrate love, proceeding as it does from both our existence and thought, the Spirit. I am an individual being and yet these three aspects coexist in me, flow out of one another, and complete one another. Take any one of these away and I cease to be me. I am but a pale reflection of the Triune God – infinite Existence, Knowledge, and Love intertwined, flowing to and from One Another.  

When the New Testament says, “God is Love,” (1 John 4:8) it is not describing one of His traits, but defining His very Being! The One God is an exchange of Love - The Father and Son giving themselves to Each Other in the Person of the Holy Spirit.


God the Creator

This brings us to a very interesting point: if God is so complete, then why did He create other beings? What can an angel or a human give Him that He does not already have, and to an infinite degree? Nothing, absolutely nothing; He could not have created us because of anything we could give Him. The only logical alternative is that He created to give to us, to allow us to share in the Love that He is! That kind of generosity is beyond our human power to express. No wonder we call the Trinity mystery!

Hebrew Scripture begins with God’s act of creation. Pregnant within those first pages is the later recognition of God’s Trinitarian nature: while “the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters,” God (the Father) spoke His Word,[5] “Let there be…” (Genesis 1:2-3). But perhaps the most pregnant words in the Old Testament are heard when God crowned His creation with man and woman:“Let us make man in our image, after our likeness”…So God created man in his own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1:26-28).
God, Who is a bond of Love, created us to live in His image as a bond of love! Man and woman reflect the very Oneness of God when they “become one flesh” (Gen.2:24). Their Oneness is so real, so complete, that oftentimes after nine months you have to give their love his or her own name![6] Man, woman, and child, living as a family, give us a glimpse of God’s inner life.

There is a second aspect of what it means to be created in God’s “image and likeness.” The phrase carries with it the revelation that we were created as God’s sons and daughters.[7] God’s act of creation is described as forming man from the clay of the earth and “breath[ing] into his nostrils the breath of life,” making man a “living being” (Gen.2:7). 

That “breath of life” is what we today call the soul, spirit, or heart. To bridge the gap between His transcendence and material creation, God created man and woman with an immaterial component. Like all animal life, we are equipped with strong instincts and drives (self-preservation, fight-or-flight, sex).  Unlike the rest of nature, however, we have been given a spiritual soul to integrate these drives and channel them so as to give ourselves in love in imitation of God’s Love. Where does the human soul receive that kind of strength? From God dwelling in it, filling it with His Own divine Life!

The first man and woman were created as God’s son and daughter, and as such bore a special likeness to God the Son. Like Him, we have received all we are from the Father and are blessed with the capacity to give ourselves back to Him. We can allow God to make a gift of Himself to us in the Person of the Spirit (Love), and then cooperate with the Spirit as He moves us in a return of love to the Father and a sharing of that love with our brothers and sisters. Man and woman shared in the Life, the Love, of the Trinity! It was that state that Scripture called Eden, Paradise – and rightly so.

[1] I owe a tremendous debt of gratitude for the thoughts shared here to Frank Sheed, Theology and Sanity (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1986); Gerald O’Collins, The Tripersonal God (New York: Paulist Press, 1984); and Scott Hahn, The Catholic Gospel (Audiocassette Series by St. Joseph Communications).
[2] To make such a claim for God is not really a matter of faith, but of reason. Appendix I illustrates how a fair-minded, scientific observer can conclude that our universe is the product of design, the work of a Creator. Logically, therefore, the Creator would have to exist both “before” and “outside” of it. His existence, intellect, and power would thus transcend the universe – be infinite.
[3] Consider the following passages: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). “In this, the final age, God has spoken to us through his Son…This Son is the reflection of the Father’s glory, the exact representation of the Father’s being” (Hebrews 1:2-3, NIV). In John’s Gospel we hear Jesus say, “He who has seen me has seen the Father…I am in the Father and the Father in me” (14:9-10). “The Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does” (John 5:19, NIV).
     This is also what we find in the Nicene Creed, professed by Christians for the past 1600 years: “We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, one in Being with the Father.
[4] In the New Testament the Spirit is spoken of as a distinct Person, but always proceeding from the Father and the Son: “exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, [Jesus] has poured out this which you see and hear” (Acts 2:33); The Apostle Paul and his companions were “forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia…they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them” (Acts 16:6-7); according to Paul it was God the Holy Spirit Who spoke in the Old Testament’s Psalm 95 , “Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says, ‘Today, when you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts’…” (Epistle to the Hebrews 3:7-8).
     This again, is what we see reflected in Christianity’s Nicene Creed: “We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son. With the Father and the Son he is worshiped and glorified. He has spoken through the prophets.”
[5]The New Testament will bear witness that Jesus, the Son, was the Word “through Whom [God] made the universe” (Heb.1:2). “In the beginning was the Word…Through him all things were made” (John 1:1,3); “He is the image of the invisible God…For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible” (Colossians 1:15-16).
[6] Hahn, Scott. First Comes Love: Finding Your Family in the Church and the Trinity (New York: Doubleday, 2000) p.46.
[7] Genesis makes this clear when, just a few chapters later it tells us, “When God created man, he made him in the likeness of God. Male and female he created them…When Adam had lived a hundred and thirty years, he became the father of a son in his likeness, after his image” (Gen.5:1,3).

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Christopher West on "BRAVEHEART"

Here's a neat post where Christopher West looks at the father-son relationships in "Braveheart." I highly recommend it!