Mystical Word | A Weekly Reflection

Mystical Word is a weekly reflection based on the Sunday Gospel reading, written by L.J. Milone, Director of Faith Formation at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle.

The presence of the Trinity within us relieves our inner loneliness

The presence of the Trinity within us relieves our inner loneliness.

Religion has played the fear card all-too-often.  It seems that is how clerics of the past motivated the people in the pews to do anything.  The fear of hell drove people to church.  Fear of eternal damnation got people on their knees.  Perhaps there is a good side to this, a healthy fear?  Perhaps not.  The problem with this strategy is, first, Jesus tells us frequently, “Do not be afraid.”  Second, the image of God behind putting fear of hell into the average believer’s heart is that it can make God out to be a highly critical and sternly judgmental spectator of our lives.  This image of God is not found in Scripture or Tradition.  It is a perception we get if we are afraid.  That is not who God is.  God doesn’t sit in the bleachers and either cheer us on if we are doing good deeds or booing us if we are doing bad ones.  This woefully misunderstands the God whom Jesus reveals.

St. Paul gets it right when in the second reading he says to us, “you received a Spirit of adoption, through whom we cry, ‘Abba, Father!’ The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ.”  His message is the Trinity means God is in close relationship with us.  Paul shows us how God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Spirit are intimately connected to us.  We have received the Holy Spirit.  This same Spirit enables us to call upon God as “Abba.”  So, each one of us is God’s child.  As a child of God, every one of us is a brother or sister of Christ, or “joint heirs.”  This is not a judgmental spectator God.  Rather, we have a God intimately involved in our lives.  God is with us.  God is within us.  God is at home in us.  This is a series of sentences we need to repeat in our spirits as a prayer.  Instead of a deity parked on the bleachers, the Holy Mystery rolls up his sleeves and gets his proverbial hands dirty.

The spectator and stern judge belies a fear-based relationship with God.  The Trinity means our relationship with God is based on unrestricted and merciful acceptance of us as we are.  Paul notes that we did not receive a spirit of slavery and fear, but God’s Holy Spirit.  God frees us because God loves us, and we experience this love from within, not only from beyond.  Because of the fear-based image of God, we intuit a great distance between us and God.  Again, this is not the Gospel.  Our Abba is incredibly close, so close, in fact. That God is “closer than breathing, closer than thinking, closer than choosing—closer than consciousness itself,” according to Thomas Keating.

The Benedictine monk Sebastian Moore unpacks how much of a blessing it is that God is within us.  He says oneness with God is the cure for our ineluctable inner loneliness.  In The Inner Loneliness, Moore asks a question, “Who can receive me, know me, as I feel myself?”  He says that the only one who could know me in such a way would have to be 1) within me to know me from within—as my very self, 2) limitless because it is their very limitedness that makes others unable to know me as I know me, and 3) other than me in such a way that this One is wholly mystery.  For Moore, it can be only God who can know us from within.  Only the Trinity can know me in an even more intimate way than I know myself.  Only God can be the partner who ends my otherwise totally un-relievable inner loneliness.  “God is the ground of being within each person that ends an otherwise ineluctable inner loneliness.”

The doctrine of the Trinity, then, is a call to be a mystic.  A mystic is not some ethereal, out-of-touch idealist who is too caught up in spiritual ecstasies to care about the world.  A Christian mystic is simply one who experiences God’s love, loves God freely, and is changed by this relationship of love.  Thomas Keating writes, “Christianity is not so much a series of propositions about God as it is the communication of the intimate knowledge that Jesus had of God.  The Christian religion is the transmission of that experience of Ultimate Reality as Abba.”  The Trinity is not a rarefied doctrine wholly unrelated to our lives.  Rather, it is a summons to personal relationship with God because God is relationship.  Since God is love, God, it can be said, is relationship, too.  This is the inheritance we share with Christ: his own personal relationship with God our Abba in the Holy Spirit.  This relationship frees us, changes us, and gives us pure happiness.  Such is the gift of the God who is not a judgmental spectator but incomprehensible love.  Keating waxes poetic, “This compassionate, non-judgmental, selfless love is the Source of all that is; the ultimate beatitude is to disappear into it.”