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Love and the Holy Trinity

Fr. Louis DelFra | Thursday, October 4, 2012

How many times a week do we make the Sign of the Cross, with its somewhat absurd claim that our one God is three persons? Perhaps we have made it in the dining hall before a meal, or in bed during prayer before falling asleep. What’s the significance? Does it really matter, right there in the dining hall, in your dorm room or apartment, that we affirm God as three persons, as a Trinity, rather than as, well, just “God?”

The theologian Karl Rahner thought it made a difference. He observed that in modern culture, with its huge emphasis on the individual, and the alleged “power of one,” that we are in huge danger of becoming “mere monotheists.” Rahner implies that it would be a major diminution if we worshipped God merely as one. So … what would we lose?
Meister Eckhart, a Christian mystic of the 13th and 14th centuries, explained the Trinity this way: Imagine a baby looking up at his mother, and the baby, when he recognizes her face, laughs at his mother, which causes the mother to laugh back at her baby. Eckhart said, “The laughter produces pleasure, and the pleasure produces joy and the joy produces love, which is the Holy Spirit.” The parent, the baby and the laughter between them is the Trinity, the nature of our God.

To put it another way: God is three, because God is love. If God is love, then God simply can’t be one person, because one person can’t love.  You have to love another. So you have Father and Son, lover and beloved. The love between the Father and the Son is so perfect that it is itself a third person, the Holy Spirit.
Beautiful! Still, a major question hangs before us: So what? Does it really make any difference, there in the dining hall, in your dorm room or apartment, that God is a mother, a baby and the laughter between them, that we make the three-fold sign of the Cross?

What we’re really asking: Does it make any practical difference in our lives that God is love? The answer, of course, is yes, it makes all the difference in the world.
It makes all the difference, for one simple reason, given to us in the Book of Genesis: “And God made human beings, male and female God created them, in God’s own image God made them.” That is, God is love, and we are made in the image and likeness of Love.

To underscore why this is so important, rewind in Genesis, where we are told of God’s first impression after having created Adam, a solitary human being. God’s first words about our earliest ancestor are somewhat uninspiring, especially given God’s obvious delight with the rest of Creation. When God looks down on Adam, standing there all by himself, God’s first words are: “It is not good for this one to be alone.”

Might it be fair to conclude that the same is true for us? That God (unlike some employers, admissions committees and other evaluators of our résumés) is not primarily interested in what each one of us can accomplish on our own, how far we can get in life just on our own talents?

God is dissatisfied with the creation of one, solitary human being. So, God puts the human being into a deep sleep, and takes out a rib, and God creates two of them. Then, and only then, are we told: “In God’s own image, God created them.” Only when there is more than one of us are we made in the image and likeness of God.
That’s a great mystery, and it means at least this much: We were created by Love, in the image of Love and so for the purpose of love. And this, finally, has one hugely practical effect, right there in the dining hall or in your room: We cannot, any more than God can, live alone, by ourselves or solely for ourselves.

This doesn’t mean we have to be romantically in love, and if we’re not, we’ve somehow failed. Romantic love is a great form of love, but it’s only one form. Rather, the point is none of us can live for our own sake, and expect to be happy. We have to live for the sake of other people. It’s how we were created.

This is the message of our Scriptures, literally from beginning to end. Genesis gives us this message from the first moment of our creation, that only when there was someone else to love, were we said to be made “in the image and likeness of God.”

In a well-known scene from Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus tells us what the last moment of our life will be. The Good Shepherd will stand with us at the threshold to eternal life, and ask one question. Given what we learned in Genesis, and all the times we will have made the sign of the Cross by that moment, perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised at what Jesus will ask: “Did you feed your brothers and sisters in need? Did you clothe them? Did you visit them when they were lonely? Did you love them?”
Did you love?  Did you love?  Did you love?

Because whenever you loved one of these least of mine, you became what I am, Love. So come, he will say to his disciples on that day, enter the dwelling place where we live, the three of us, where all there is … is love.

Fr. Lou DelFra is a campus minister, the director of pastoral life for the ACE Program and resident of Keenan Hall. He can be reached at delfra.2@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.