Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
June 7, 2010
Jesus Christ: Revelation of the Trinity
Following is an excerpt from Cardinal Marc Ouellet's talk on Jesus Christ: Revelation of the Trinity presented at the May 27 session of Nothing More Beautiful:
What a wonderful idea to place a series of Christian meditations under the theme, "Nothing more beautiful"!
Even if people can have different ideas about what is most beautiful, we are all stirred by beauty. I remember how I admired the beauty of the Rocky Mountains when I was assigned here to Edmonton. What an incredible journey from Jasper to Banff - it rivals Switzerland! Those who visited the area during the Winter Olympics must have delighted in it.
There is natural beauty, the beauty of a landscape and there is also the beauty of a feat of sports, the beauty of a countenance or of a personal relation that is dear to us. An event can be beautiful, as can a love, or even a sacrifice that we admire. In my diocese, an unmarried woman adopted 30 severely handicapped children, quite a unique family, for which she cares with a love and a respect that elicits everyone's admiration.
Our world easily doubts truth, it is tempted, too, to despair in the goodness of being, but it is still sensitive to beauty. How many artists suffer in ways that can at times lead them to the verge of personal shipwreck, but the beauty that fascinates them also saves them from drowning. The beautiful opens the heart to another dimension, like a window onto the infinite.
Christian faith has been taught with passion because its mysteries are true and good for the human being, but have we explored the path of the Beautiful so as to propose it to our contemporaries?
You invite us to take up this challenge once again in this series of conferences inspired by Pope Benedict's inaugural homily: "There is nothing more beautiful than to be surprised by the Gospel, by the encounter with Christ. There is nothing more beautiful than to know him and to speak to others of our friendship with him."
As I listen to Pope Benedict preach and read his writings, I often catch myself saying, "How beautiful it is! For he knows how to show the beauty of Christ, who is the human face of God, a God who is love and who calls us to love. . . . Is there anything more beautiful?"
Without being pretentious, I would like to speak to you of God's beauty, as this appears in the face of Jesus Christ. God is the Creator, he is the author of all the infinitely variegated forms of beauty. What must be the beauty of the one who, like an inexhaustible poet, scatters so much beauty through the universe: "How great is your name, O Lord our God, through all the earth" (Psalm 8.2).
This cathedral of St. Joseph in Edmonton, like many other Christian places of worship through the centuries, speaks in its way of God's beauty to those who cross its threshold to penetrate through the nave to the sanctuary, where the nuptial mystery of Christ and his Church is reverently celebrated. We will take these different parts of the church building as our guide to discovering the beauty of God in Jesus Christ.
Allow me to begin with a detail from the life of Christ that will place us on the trail of God's beauty. Jesus is walking with his disciples in the portico of the Temple in Jerusalem, watching the people deposit their offerings in the treasury.
Suddenly, he sees a poor widow put in two coins. He calls his disciples and says to them, "Truly, I tell you, this poor widow put in more than all the others. For they contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all the living she had" (Luke 21.3-4).
Jesus marvelled at the widow's gesture, which was total gift, just as Elijah once asked the widow at Zarephath to prepare for him a small cake with the last of her oil and flour and obtained this from her, even though she had nothing else and was preparing to die after she and her son had eaten this last bit of food.
She, too, gave everything, in obedience to the word of the prophet.
Abraham made an even more beautiful and dramatic gesture when God asked him to go up to Mount Moriah and offer his son Isaac in sacrifice.
Torn between the call of God and his love for his son, Abraham obeyed God, hoping against hope that God would reward his faith. And he was heard. The angel of the Lord stopped Abraham when he was about to slay the boy and promised him that all generations would be blessed because of his faith.
The faith of Abraham, of Isaac and of Jacob has traversed the centuries, challenging the people of Israel, its kings and prophets, to obey the Word of God and to live a covenant of love and fidelity with him.
The covenant God offered was rarely met with fidelity, which is a form of beauty. The bride often prostituted herself with the idols of Canaan, stirring up the wrath of the divine Bridegroom she had betrayed.
The altar of sacrifice
But one day, beauty met this offer of the covenant once and for all. A young woman of Israel promised in marriage to Joseph received the visitation of the angel Gabriel, the great messenger of the Lord of the New Covenant.
The angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God. You will conceive and bear a son, and you will call his name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High" (Luke 1.31-2).
Without being able to see all the dimensions of this announcement, but in the fullness of her immaculate faith, the Virgin assented and cast herself headlong into this adventure. She did not doubt at that moment that she was opening the door of the human race to the most beautiful of the sons of men, so beautiful that he would overwhelm all hearts, the hearts of his friends as well as the hearts of his enemies.
As entirely beautiful, true and good as he was, he would be very badly received, for wasn't his message too beautiful to be true?
He was treated as a false prophet, an agitator of the people, a blasphemer, one who profaned the Sabbath, in brief, an evildoer who ended his days hanging between two criminals on a cross. He expired with a great cry, abandoned by all but his mother who stood at the foot of the cross, suffering unspeakably with him.
The most beautiful of the children of men, the most innocent and the most holy - could he have met with a worse fate? Wasn't the beautiful kingdom he preached a mirage, an illusion, a deception?
The dark night that followed his death could have left this doubt. Everything seemed to be compromised. His mission had failed in the eyes of men, but God kept watch over his destiny.
Once he had sent his own Son to earth to reconcile the world to himself, God could not abandon him to death. God could not allow his chosen one to see the corruption of the grave.
Because his only Son bore Love to the depths of Sheol, God could not but speak once again the original Word: Fiat lux! Let there be light! And the light was. The body of Christ that lay in the tomb was suddenly pierced with a heavenly light, the traces of which we find on the Holy Shroud of Turin.
The gates of death burst open and the crucified finds himself beyond death, glorified, reunited with his Father in glory and closer than ever to all of humanity through his powerful intercession at God's right hand. He who brought Love's answer to all the world's need for love, achieves the victory of Love.
There is nothing more beautiful than this destiny of the Son of Man, become the Son of God with power by his resurrection from among the dead (Romans 1.4). There is nothing more beautiful than the resurrection of Christ and his ascension to the Father's right hand, where he intercedes for us as the high priest of the New Covenant.
Jesus Christ is the sole mediator of the New Covenant, which was sealed in his blood. There is nothing more beautiful than the Holy Eucharist, which plunges the assembly into the heart of the Holy Trinity through Christ's priesthood, exercised conjointly by priests and the baptized faithful.
In the sacred Scriptures, at the profound depths of revelation, St. John affirms with great solemnity, "God is love" (1 John 4.8). He is love not only because he loves us; he is Love itself. He is Father, Son, and Spirit of Love - one God in three persons, as the creed will say later. One God thrice holy, that is to say, one God who is thrice Love.
During his voyage to the United States in April 2008, Pope Benedict noted that the stained glass windows of a cathedral can seem dull if we look at them from outside, but from the inside of the building, their beauty captivates us. The luminous beauty of Christ is accessible if we encounter it personally inside the Church, in spite of all its limits and failings.
Today, the Church's sins are displayed openly and are accompanied by a great deal of publicity. This is hard to bear, but such trials can help to purify and deepen our faith.
Throughout the centuries, the Church's faith in a God who is One and Three underwent development and progressive clarification. The passage from Jewish monotheism to Christian, trinitarian monotheism was far from easy.
It took hundreds of years to establish the formulae of faith. The great councils of the first centuries were decisive for determining exactly how the divine and human identity of Jesus is to be understood: a single divine Person in two natures.
The Church had to resist the Arian heresy, which denied Christ's divinity, as well as the Nestorian heresy, which, in denying that Mary was the Mother of God, did not acknowledge the divine identity of the person of the Son.
In the fourth century, St. Basil defended the divinity of the Holy Spirit by arguing that if the Holy Spirit had the power to divinize us by grace, he had to be divine. This argument was adopted by the Council of Constantinople in 381.
There was a long process riddled with obstacles and difficulties, which led to a clear dogmatic affirmation of God's triunity, beginning from the identity of the incarnate Word of God, Jesus Christ. It is only on the basis of the biblical revelation that culminates in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, that the Church confesses that God is triune, that he is Father, Son and Spirit, three divine persons in the unity of the same nature.
With this synthetic formula, we enter into the Holy of Holies, the tabernacle. The word "tabernacle" comes from the word "tent" and evokes the proximity of the God of the covenant, who wishes to "pitch his tent among us."
In the Word made flesh and through his side, which was opened by the lance, the Holy of Holies was opened to us and God definitively pitched his tent among us. The real presence of Christ in the holy species conserved in the tabernacle always remains a privileged point of access to the intimacy of God.
St. John speaks of eternal life, of the communion between the Father and the Son, of the unity of the God who is love and of the condition for participating in this love: "He who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him" (1 John 4.16).
Each time we approach the altar of the sacrifice and the tabernacle of the divine presence with faith, we proclaim with our actions and our attitudes the Love that has pitched his tent among us.
From the nave to the street
Just as the laity forms the greatest visible portion of the Church, the nave constitutes the largest part of the church building. It is the place of assembly before the altar, where Christ offers himself and gives himself in communion. From here, the disciples leave to proclaim the Good News to the world, the good news of the Holy Trinity.
In fact, what difference does the Trinity make in our lives? Wouldn't it have been enough to believe in one God, like the Jews and Muslims? It is easier, at least at first glance, to believe in a God who is unique and simple, that is to say, alone. Absolute.
So why complicate life with the doctrine of the Trinity, over which intellectuals stumble?
We know the story of the little child St. Augustine met at the seashore as he was laboriously pondering the mystery of the Holy Trinity. The child is filling a little hole in the sand with seawater. Augustine tells him that it is impossible to make the ocean fit into this little hole. The Child Jesus answers that it is even more difficult to fit the mystery of the Holy Trinity into our small human intelligence.
Nothing is more beautiful than the Trinity. Nothing better explains the beauty of the world, the "why" of creation and the meaning of human existence.
At the summit of creation, man and woman are created in the image and likeness of God. The union of love of the spouses, from which the child proceeds, is a splendid image of the trinitarian mystery.
The family is a living proof that God is love and that he finds in the communion of persons the place par excellence of his revelation in and dialogue with the world. Pope John Paul II ceaselessly promoted the family as the privileged path of the new evangelization.
The total gift of self that I mentioned at the beginning of this catechesis generates joy and enthusiasm, because God is in himself absolute Gift of himself. Where absolute love reigns, there is only gift, welcome, return-gift and gift again. The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son as a superabundance of love, an "ever-greater" of love that is impossible to calculate or to fathom.
Pope Benedict loves to remind us that Jesus Christ is the human face of God. In the majestic features of the Saviour that we find imprinted on the veil of Manopello and on the Shroud of Turin, we contemplate a sacred mystery that compels us to silence and adoration: "From this face a solemn majesty shines, a paradoxical lordship.
"This face, these hands and these feet, this side, this whole body speaks. It is itself a word we can hear in the silence. How does the Shroud speak? It speaks with blood, and blood is life! . . . It is like a spring that murmurs in the silence, and we can hear it, we can listen to it in the silence of Holy Saturday."
We Christians have no monopoly on adoration. Like the other religions, we prostrate ourselves as creatures in the face of the God who transcends all things.
Nonetheless, our adoration involves something unique and exclusive, which no other religion can approach. This is the adoration in Spirit and in truth, of which Jesus speaks when he converses with the Samaritan woman at the well.
This adoration is that of Jesus Christ himself, the adoration of the Son begotten of the Father before all the ages. He came to earth to draw humanity into his filial love for the Father, into his eternal adoration, which he opens to us through faith, Baptism and the Holy Eucharist.
There is nothing more beautiful than this eucharistic immersion in the mystery of the Three and in the ocean of their love, through the offering of the only-begotten Son. This offering is placed in our hands and we unite our own offering to it so as to participate, already now, in eternal life, that is, in the infinite exchange of love between the divine persons.
There is nothing more beautiful than to know and to live at that moment the marvel of Christianity, the certainty of loving and of being loved, the joy of possessing God and of being possessed by him, the gladness of belonging to the kingdom of absolute love.
The beauty of St. Joseph's Cathedral, where we are gathered, reflects the plenitude of meaning that emanates from the glory of God in Jesus Christ. May we ourselves, as persons and as Church, become more resplendent with this glory.
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