Sunday, June 11, 2017
Most Holy Trinity (2017.A)
Ever since we started talking so much about the Alpha course, people are coming up to me asking what it means to have a “personal relationship” with God.
It’s a good question, since the language of relationship is somewhat new to many Catholics. And for some, even the concept seems new—though of course it isn’t.
Today’s feast of the Most Holy Trinity and the readings we’ve just heard can help us figure out what it means to have a personal relationship with God.
In fact, the first reading gives us a simple summary. First, we must do what God asks us to do, just as Moses did by climbing up Mount Sinai. And of course we must know what God expects of us. Notice that Moses has the Ten Commandments in his hands as he heads up the mountain to meet God. It’s pretty hard to be in a relationship with a parent if we don’t know what the relationship requires and never do what we’re told.
Second, we must know God by name. God tells Moses his name, Yahweh, the Lord. It’s unlikely God will reveal himself to us in a personal conversation, but throughout the Bible he tells us who he is and what he’s called.
Because knowing God by name is shorthand for knowing him. Again, this is revealed in the Scriptures. Even in this short reading from the Old Testament we learn a great deal about the Lord—he is “merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.”
In the New Testament, Jesus calls the Father “Abba” and refers to the Holy Spirit as the Paraclete—the comforter, counselor or advocate.
The second reading points to something crucial for those who want a personal relationship. The Trinity itself is a relationship of persons. Those who want a relationship with God are called also to a relationship with one another—“agree with one another, live in peace,” St. Paul says. We need to put our other relationships in order if we’re to live intimately with the God of love and peace.
One of St. John Paul’s favourite teachings from Vatican II is where the Council says that we are called to live in community precisely because we’re created in the image and likeness of the Trinity. The Council speaks of “a certain similarity between the union of the divine persons and the union of God’s children in truth and love.”
This similarity indicates that human beings… “can only fully find themselves through a sincere gift of themselves.” In other words, we are only ourselves in as much as we give ourselves to others, made as we are in the image of our Trinitarian God. (Gaudium et spes, 24)
That sounds a bit complicated, but it comes down to one thing: you won’t find a relationship with Father, Son and Spirit by living with me, myself and I.
Finally, today’s Gospel tells us that the open door to a personal relationship with God is by faith in Jesus, the Son of God. While our relationship with God is a relationship with all three persons of the Trinity, we find the relationship most readily by knowing Jesus, who has told us that he is the gate for the Father’s sheep. As Jesus tells Philip, “To have seen me is to have seen the Father.”
This personal relationship we’re hearing so much about is not the fruit of years of effort or some special grace. It’s God’s desire for us: “God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son.” He sent the Son on a mission, with a purpose, “that everyone who believes in him… may have eternal life.”
Now what does “eternal life” mean? Later in John’s Gospel we find it defined as a relationship, when Jesus prays these words to his Father: “And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”
A personal relationship with Jesus is neither scary nor difficult. It’s what God wills for all those who take the trouble to know him through prayer and the reading of Scripture, who work at obeying his commands and responding to his direction, and live lives of peace and order within his Body, the Church.