June 18, 2011

The Three in One and One in Three

I arise today by the mighty name of the Trinity -- the Three in One and One in Three.
These words from St. Patrick's Breastplate speak to a dimension of prayer which is regularly neglected.  Most people think that prayer is for pansies.  On the contrary, prayer is not about emoting or appearing pious or simply achieving a state of enlightenment.  Prayer takes supernatural courage. It is about the victory of good over evil in our lives, our role in a primordial conflict the apocalyptic consummation of which will usher in new heavens and a new earth. In this vein, the ancient Lorica attributed to St. Patrick presents prayer as a call to battle and the Name of God as the banner of the Christian cause.

We stand when we recite the creed and profess the Trinity - as if we were preparing for battle, as if bracing against an onslaught, as if preparing to charge.  When we do this, we are declaring that at the center of the world is uncreated Love - and that everything comes from and goes to this Love.  Our profession is to fight for this love, to defend it, to promote it come what come may.

To rise up, to stand, to take a stand, to stand firm - this gesture speaks to what might be considered a violent dimension of Christian faith. Yes, there are things for which to put our lives on the line -- and our living our faith to the full is just such a thing.  Here, standing is a gesture of Christian prayer because the prayer given by Christ in the Holy Spirit is prayer in a time of war.  The whole cosmos, visible and invisible, is in mortal combat over God's love and in many ways we are standing behind enemy lines.

Whatever the peace Christ has left us -- it is not the kind of peace in which all conflict has ceased.  Instead, it seems to be a peace that we possess even in our darkest moment, in the very face of our enemies.  And so we stand.  We choose to be faithful to our baptismal promises - promises to renounce evil, to not waiver in our faith in the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and this even to the shedding of our blood. We accept the challenge of our faith in the Three in One and One in Three. We make ready for the contest under the mighty Name of the Trinity.

The battles we must fight do not involve shadow-boxing.  If we are to realize the victory of good over evil in our hearts, we must fight the good fight.  If we are to taste the triumph of the children of God, we must run the race so as to win.  To finally be the free men and women God has destined us to be, we must step into the arena of prayer and daily life to take up battle.  Love itself requires such a battle - through all kinds of difficulties and trials -- because one cannot love except at one's own expense.

Our battle is not merely against human forces.  We do wrestle with ourselves: the self-indulgence, insobriety and anxiety which would threaten our hope if we do not keep our eyes fixed on the Lord.  We also wrestle with the world: its standards, its hostility to the truth, its fear of holiness.  But most of all, we fight against the malice of super-intelligent beings bent on our eternal destruction - these foes, stronger and wiser than we, know just what to suggest to rob us of all courage, and their demoralizing lies cut to the heart.  Indeed, they are impossible to overcome without divine assistance - and yet God makes them the instruments of our growth into spiritual maturity, using their malice to make His love invincible in our hearts.

We fight also with God -- sometimes seemingly against Him, like Israel in his desire to receive a blessing. We fight to surrender our will to His Will, our minds to His Mind, our life to His Life.  How is it that we who are so frail are challenged by God into such a contest?  God has created us in his own image and He knows that the courage He has given in the hearts of men and women reflect the greatness of his own heart.  And so, in his Name and for his sake, we arise and stand fast!  We make our case before the Living God, acknowledging our guilt and pleading for his mercy - but in his mercy daring to ask, daring to trust that he will look on our boldness with loving kindness, because He himself put that boldness in us.

To fight for life, for truth, for love: these are things instilled in us -- especially by our fathers.  If our natural fathers were not able to teach this -- then we need spiritual fathers who will.  Such fatherhood requires dedication, courage and generosity.  And I am so grateful to the men I have known who have made this dedication, this courage, this generosity their own.  It is the greatness I see in the eyes of faithful priests and good dads.

That men should often fall short of so high a calling should not be surprising even if it is always heartbreaking and disappointing.  The big fat ego dies hard and only after a lot of suffering.  Yet those who allow the Lord to chastise them, that is - who choose to be sons who are loved - such pillars are the strength of our families and our Church.  They witness to a love which is stronger than death.  It is the love of the Father that radiates in such fatherhood - because such fatherhood, rooted in Christ and filled with the Spirit, gives God the Father the space He needs to shine forth in this world.  It is this same eternal love by which we each arise in the name of the Trinity.


  1. Dr. Lilles,

    this is beautiful and so thought provoking! You have flawlessly combined fatherhood and the Trinity. Fabulous! Thank you for this!

  2. Anne -- thank you for your beautiful poem about your Dad: http://annebender.blogspot.com/2011/06/silent-man.html

  3. I am enjoying reading and re-reading this article, particularly the analogy with the battle. It is helpful for me to picture that, to imagine it, it gives me inner strength. Thank you.