Fr Paolo Consonni, MCCJ
“The Spirit will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine.” (Jn 16:14-15)
In the past month, Macau residents have gladly received different kinds of subsidies aimed at relieving the financial hardships encountered during the pandemic. We are very lucky to enjoy these benefits. In many other countries, governments do not have the monetary resources (or the willingness) to give financial support to their citizens. It is difficult, however, to satisfy everyone. Some people feel that these benefits are just a drop in the ocean, while others complain that well-off people should not have received them.
It is easy to have a “quantitative” concept of love: only when we get what we want do we truly feel as if we are cared for. Conversely, we assume that the more we give to others, the more they should know we care for them. Unfortunately, this kind of love can give rise to some form or other of possessiveness and dependence, if not straightforward selfishness. See how many spoiled children, immature adults and toxic marriages are caused by this mentality.
On this Trinity Sunday, we meditate on God’s way of being. Sometimes I consider God as someone supposed to provide me with all kinds of benefits and subsidies, especially when I am in trouble.
A verse from a famous poem by Kahlil Gibran says “Love gives naught but itself and takes naught but from itself. Love possesses not nor would it be possessed; for love is sufficient unto love.” It is another vision of love which is more “qualitative” than quantitative. Love is total self-giving, the offer of one’s life through concrete choices which do not cancel one’s own identity or the identity of the beloved in the process. Nor does it take away life’s challenges, because these painful situations are exactly the occasions when true love can be experienced. This is how God is and loves.
The Church spent more than three centuries finding the right words to describe the Holy Trinity. What the first generations of Christians experienced about God was so unique and unprecedented that there was no philosophical or theological vocabulary suitable to express it. They experienced God as transcendent, but also near to our human condition, even to the point of assuming our human nature. He was the omnipotent Creator, but also the merciful Father. Eternal, yet ready to die for our salvation. He abides in the Highest Heavens, and still, He dwells in the heart of every believer. They felt that in God there was oneness, but also plurality, at every given moment. How could they express that?
Prayer enlightened their minds. During the Liturgy (especially the Eucharist), they felt that they could enter into the Father’s heart only through the Son and in the Holy Spirit. A life of charity also gave them a taste of the Father’s mercy, of Christ’s humility and of the life-giving power of the Spirit: they cared for each other, they assisted the poorest and the outcast, and they shared the Gospel with those who had different cultures and nationalities. Plurality did not scare them. Even sinners were welcomed into their midst to start a new life. They realized that this concrete way of living in the Church was indeed the reflection of the unity in plurality within God’s inner life.
After centuries of such experiences, which have endured in spite of all the conflicts and discussions, the Church was finally able to formulate with words that God is koinonia, a perfect communion of three different Persons, in which humanity was called to participate. “All that the Father has is mine,” said Jesus in today’s Gospel (Jn 16:12-15), and again: “The Spirit will take what is mine and declare it to you.”
Jesus’ manner of speaking reminds me of what the father in the parable of the prodigal son said to the elder brother who refused to join the celebration for the return of the lost brother: “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours” (Lk 15:31). This elder brother felt that the “benefits and subsidies” from his father were quantitatively insufficient (“You have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends!” he complained). His “quantitative” vision of love and his isolation made him lose sight of the fact that being son he was already heir; everything was already his.
Like the elder brother, we are reluctant to join the banquet of love within the Trinity because we get lost in recriminations and complaints. Understandably, if we have cancer, family problems or economic constraints, it is easy to feel overlooked and even disowned as God’s child. But, even with those conditions, a totality of love is offered to us. Something which can transform the way we see our life, our sufferings and our future destiny. A banquet is prepared and our place is ready. By creating us, saving us, sanctifying us, God has already given us all of who He is and has. We only have to join the feast.