Monday, May 31, 2010

Trinity Sunday: God For Us, God With Us, and God In Us

Last week I had the opportunity to attend a symposium at the University of Notre Dame entitled, "Stewards of the Treasures of Our Faith." The focus of the event was how to minister to young adults (aged 18-24) in ways that are compelling and relevant. One of the keynote talks dealt with trying to make the doctrine of the Trinity more accessible to young adults. This is a challenge that the Christian and Catholic faith has been addressing more directly for the past sixty years or so. More precisely, the task is to translate the doctrine of the Trinity which, for the most part, is cast in a terminology that was used during the first several centuries of the Church and during the medieval period into a language that will resonate with contemporary minds and hearts. Failing to do this implies that the most fundamental and important aspect of the Christian faith, namely that God exists as a communion of persons united in essence and mission, is akin to a book that rests on the top shelf in a library, just out of reach, destined for the most part to only collect dust.

One way to begin the process of translating the classical doctrine of the Trinity is to focus less on how God can be simultaneously three-in-one or one-in-three and to emphasize who God is in relation to creation and humanity. The Eastern Christian tradition and the Franciscan Tradition gives us some resources for developing an understanding of Trinity that can resonate with people of the 21st century. To begin with, both Western and Eastern Christianity emphasize that "God is For Us." What this means is that God's goodness is continually poured out upon creation without reserve. St. Bonaventure, a great Franciscan scholar of the 13th Century, remarked that one of the defining characteristics of God the Father is that of being a "fountain fullness" of grace and solicitude which is constantly poured out for others while never being exhausted. In reference to God the Word/Son, the Eastern Church emphasizes that God does not exist in isolation but dwells in God's Word so much so that this Word from all eternity is also a divine person (Son), sharing completely in the Father's glory and majesty.

God is therefore fully with the Word/Son and the Word/Son is fully with God. An important implication of this relationship is that when God extends God's self to creation, God does so fully and personally in the Word/Son. Hence, God is not only "God For Us", God is "God With Us." St. Bonaventure referred to God's Word/Son as "exemplar" (meaning, "model"). What Jesus "exemplifies" for us is how to relate to God and others in such a way that our hearts and minds are one in communion and purpose. Last, but by no means least, "God is In Us" through the Holy Spirit which is poured out upon all creation and offered to all persons. When a person's life is opened to the Spirit and by the Spirit, God's entire self, Father, Son, and Spirit make a home within the person and begin a dynamic process that the Eastern Church refers to as "divinization." This means that the person becomes more and more like God by being united to God and others. St. Francis gave expression to this dynamic process best when he exclaimed, "My God and my All!" Far from being an esoteric, abstract doctrine, the Trinity is meant to become a practical way of life in which we allow God to be for us as fountain fullness, with us as partner and exemplar, and in us as the Spirit which makes God "all in all". Pat, TOR