June 3, 2010

Why We Need the Cross

Only by grace does God's love become the basis of all genuine communion in the world. There is no substitute for his love because out of his love alone were we created and endowed with sacred purpose. Only His love can help us realize the sacred purpose entrusted to us.

Every day, the enormity of this eternal reality crashes against the absence of love in our hearts, and we spend most of our time distracting ourselves from a deep ache for something that we know ought to be there and is not. Without the gravity of Divine Love to anchor us, the wild undercurrents of our hearts in the stormy swells of the untamed ocean of this life pull at us. Without His love we are completely subject to the irrational forces of the world of human affairs. God does not want us to be desacrated by our own urges and driviness any more than he wants us to be subject to the irrationality of others. Yet we fear the love He has for us.

If we are content with our fragile existence, we can try to ignore the manifestations of this love breaking in all around us at our own peril. Or, we can surrender our lack of love and seek out the Triune love that pulls us and promises a fullness of life. Hans Urs von Balthasar explains, once you choose to surrender to the overwhelming love of God, be advised: you are entering a vast wilderness – it is at once the unfamiliar but enchanting garden of your very self in whom the unfathomable mystery of the Trinity dwells, and at the same time it is the vast horizons of God in whom alone your true personal freedom to love is realized.

The Cross of Christ opens up this space for each of us. It is on the Cross where the reality of sin is revealed - we see the pain in God's own heart over our rejection of Him. We also see that deeper than this pain is his hope in us, his desire to give us a second chance. He so wants us to know him personally that He would suffer anything for us, including the full consequences of our rejection. We are invited to believe in this love and by prayer to experience it, to be immersed in it, to live in it.

When by baptism into his death we become members of his Body, the Body which the great sacrament of Christ in the World. Whenever we renew our baptismal promises by choosing to act in this love by faith, the spiritual space this love engenders becomes realized in our hearts. Theologians love to debate how this choice can be truly ours and at the same time truly a gift from God – but it is possible to live in this choice, because this is what God most wants for us. When we do, the personal freedom that God deigned us to have in Him through Christ Jesus grows and allows us to become, like God himself - the praise of His glorious grace.

Unity with the Trinity and the Cross of Christ

God has called us to participate by grace in his divine life of love. We know this and can experience by faith the communion of love that is God. Each Divine Person perfectly possesses the other divine persons as gift and at the same time perfectly gives the gift of his divine self to be possessed by the others. Such a circumcession of love is at once, in the words of St. Augustine, ever ancient and ever new: Father, Son and Holy Spirit are Giver and Gift to one another according to the inexhaustible freedom of their distinct relations in the One Divine Nature. Similarly as creatures, God wants us to know his love forever and to be loved by us.

To achieve this, He does not wish to absorb us into his being so that our own humanity is annihilated. He loves our humanity and out of love He created it. Rather, He wants us to thrive - and He knows because of the way we were created, we can only thrive in his particular love for the unique humanity each of us enjoys. He wants to destroy everything that compromises the integrity of our humanity and at the same time, He yearns to give all that is good, holy and true in humanity an eternal quality so that it will never again be subject to death or corruption. He wants us to thrive forever with Him.

He is able to do this because of who He is and how He made us. It is out of the inner-life of Divine Love that all creation flows and that creation is restored to its original purpose. Originally, God created the cosmos and the human person to enter into a perfect Communion of Love with Him and in doing so to reveal the glory of the Trinity. Christ Jesus entered into our history to restore this original purpose when we under the influence of evil rejected God. Embracing this rejection, Jesus offered us a second chance by re-establishing access to the Father through his death and resurrection. Thus, when we turn to Jesus in faith, the loving plan of God begins to be realized in us. St. Paul in Ephesians identifies this as our predestination in Christ to be "the praise of God's glorious grace."

The Trinity and Real Love

It is a false friendship when one friend dominates another. Some think that the nature of God is so overwhelming that as we approach it, there is no space for our humanity. For them, humanity is completely consumed and absorbed by the divine. Others think that the Divine Nature is so trancendent and totally 'other', there is no way really to relate to it intimately. Relationship with God is a kind of external contractual thing - a master-slave relationship. But these attitudes are not Christian. Our faith tells us that the Lord is constantly coming to us in new ways extending the most intimate of frienships because he wants us to thrive - not in the material sense, but spiritually so that all the powers of our freedom, intellectual and emotional capacities realize their full potential -and we become most fully ourselves. This is what real friendship does and this is what God wants in our friendship with Him.

Real love leaves space for the other give oneself in love to another and at the same time to possess the other in his or her own freedom. This kind of love characterizes the inner-life of the Trinity. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit bound in one nature and one love do not absorb or dominate each other. In their one love, each Divine Person has the freedom to love within the unique subsistant relation He enjoys. We have come to understand the Divine Persons in terms of subsistent relations because their mutual relations as Father, Son and Holy Spirit eternally subsist in their One Divine Nature. In other words, Divine Nature is relational with itself. It is precisely because God enjoys eternal relations in his very being, precisely because God is Trinity, that real love is eternal.

Real love requires real relationship - and true relations require persons, a free personal center in a free relation to another. In the case of God, the Divine Persons share the same freedom, the same real eternal love, according to their true relations as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. If God were not in his very Nature relational from all eternity, love itself would not be eternal. Love would merely be a by product of creation. Yet in passionate love, there is something that looks to the eternal, that yearns to overcome the limits of time and space, to have perfect unity with another. It is with good reason that poets like Dante have seen in this human experience an opening to something Divine that preceded it. Indeed, human love is the creation of a real Divine Yearning that preceded it in power and existence. The Divine Persons yearn for and enjoy the fruition of communion with one another in their One Nature and out of this one Nature this Divine Yearning is the source for all that is.

Devotion to the Trinity

Perhaps because of the way the mystery is preached, many of those who begin to pray struggle with devotion to the Trinity. Instead of openness to an unsurpassable mystery of love, there can be a kind of frustration with mental gymnastics that make God into an inaccessible abstraction. Yet the Church proclaims the Trinity as the central dogma of our faith. In doing so, it struggles to authentically pass on the mystery revealed in Christ Jesus. Complete grasp of this mystery is beyond our natural power to attain and here the very limits of dogmatic formulae are tested. Ultimately, however, what is required is the simple acceptance that faith alone makes possible, the surrender of our will to the unfathomable love of God the mystery of the Trinity discloses.

Faith is the only way we gain access to a real contemplation of the Trinity. Anything else is simply the work of our own imagination aping what we fantasize the experience to be like. For those inclined to various methods, bear in mind that imagining that one is not imagining is not the same as the movement of faith. Faith is not even spending time choosing not to think or not to imagine or not to remember anything. Faith is a gift from the Holy Spirit, animating everything with love for Father and resting in nothing but the Lord Himself.

What makes faith in the love of the Father authentic is that it is rooted in the mind of Christ which is ours through the Gift of the Holy Spirit. Faith is looking on the world with the resurrected eyes of Christ – ever hopeful eyes that see ever new ways to love. Those who see the world this way are not afraid of being pierced by the plight of others, because they follow Someone pierced for their own sins who has overcome sin by rising from the dead. The humanity of Jesus became our access to the Father when Jesus offered himself on the cross. The Holy Spirit is the One who moves us to the Cross, makes it become alive for us by convicting us of sin while at the same time communicating the inexhaustible depths of the Father's merciful love.

How much this love costs! We want to reject such love because it seems too much and we are afraid of losing ourselves. But the Lord is not easily thwarted by our attempts to hide from Him. He has been searching for us since Adam and Eve first despised Him - and his own love prevents Him from abandoning us. How God aches whenever this love is rejected – and through the Cross He helps us to ache with Him in our weakness. Faith alone opens our hearts to the Divine Beauty of God’s Triune life.