Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY
Br. Robert James Magliula, OHC
Trinity Sunday- Year A - Sunday June 11,2017
|Robert James Magliula|
God’s mystery in the Trinity rests in mutuality: three perfectly handing over, emptying themselves out, and then fully receiving what has been handed over. In the Trinity, God models relationship for us as Christians and monastics. The first reading from Genesis sets the tone for how we encounter God. God is one, yet God creates, sustains, orders, preserves, provides, and loves. God blesses all creation. God engages with all that exists. We’re tempted to analyze and explain the Trinity by our intellect, but mystery can only be encountered by the heart. Trinity is a paradigm of what it means to be human and to relate humanely to others.
To say that God is Triune is to mean that God is social in nature. It is also to say that those made in God’s image are likewise intrinsically social.Consider the visual depiction of the Trinity in the icon Peter has written at the entrance to the Church. A vast silence surrounds the three figures. They are looking into each other with an unqualified dignity, respect, and loving gaze. The fourth side of the table is open signaling an invitation for us to enter. As members of Christ’s body, we participate in the divine nature and dance of the Trinity. We are not merely invited to watch the dance, but to dance the dance. In our Gospel Jesus tells his followers to re-enact his story in the baptism of new disciples, enfolding them in the life of the Trinitarian God.
Henri Nouwen called the Trinity a “House of Love”. He wrote that in that household “there is no fear, no greed, no anger, no violence, no anxieties, no pain, even no words, only enduring love and deepening trust.” The template for this sacred alchemy is imprinted on our soul. Cynthia Bourgeault ties the dynamic outpouring of Trinity to Jesus’ path of self-emptying. As a wisdom teacher, he was concerned with the transformation of human consciousness. This is the path that he walked, taught, and calls us to follow.
In his book, Putting on the Mind of Christ, Jim Marion suggests that the Kingdom of Heaven is Jesus’ way of describing that state of transformed consciousness. It’s a metaphor and not a place you go to, but a place you come from. It’s a new way of looking at the world, a transformed awareness that turns this world into a different place. The hallmark of this awareness is that it sees no separation—not between God and humans, not between humans and other humans. Jesus’ teaching to “Love your neighbor as yourself” is an admonition to love the other as a continuation of our very own being. It’s seeing that your neighbor is you. There are not two individuals, one seeking to better oneself at the expense of the other, or to extend charity to the other. Each is equally precious and necessary.
True union does not absorb distinctions, but actually intensifies them. The more one gives one’s self in creative union with another, the more one becomes one’s self. This is reflected in the Trinity, perfect giving and perfect receiving. The more one becomes one’s true Self, the more capable one is of not overprotecting the boundaries of one’s false self. You have nothing to protect and that’s the freedom and happiness we see in converted people.
Our Epistle reminds us that Paul was no stranger to the joys and challenges of community life. He had lived with the community in Corinth for a couple of years and corresponded with them by letter on at least five occasions. He ends this painful letter with an appeal to order, mutual agreement, and peace. Like a good mother he demonstrated a protective instinct to ensure the survival of the community that he had birthed. He offers them and us a Christological perspective regarding community life. Believers do not belong to themselves, but to Christ, and relations among believers must reflect the One to whom they belong. He reminds them and us that when we cease to belong to Christ we give ourselves to inappropriate anger, destructive hatred, and perhaps worst of all, for us as monastics, the poison of self-absorption. He also voices his assurance that we do not face this challenge alone, but with the love and grace of God, and the Holy Spirit’s power to create communion.
By observing ourselves, we become aware of what blocks us from entering the divine dance. We especially feel it in our body, when we are tight, constricted, and withholding. When closed we live from a place of scarcity, invariably protecting and defending what little we think we have or are. When we are petty, blaming, angry, playing the victim, we’re tempted to project our problem on someone or something else, rather than dealing with it in ourselves.
Having someone to hate or blame is a relief, because it takes away our inner shame and anxiety and provides a false sense of innocence. As long as the evil is outside of us we can keep our focus on changing someone else. In playing the victim our pain becomes our personal ticket to power because it gives us a false sense of moral superiority and outrage. We don’t have to grow up, let go, forgive, or surrender—we just have to accuse someone else of being worse than we are. We refuse to live in the real world of shadow and paradox.
When open, we move away from any need to protect our own power, we mirror the Trinity where all power is shared, where there is no domination, threat, or coercion. Jesus took this difficult path to know the depths of suffering and sin and yet to forgive reality for being what it is. Only the Spirit can teach us the paradox of growth, conversion, and transformation. Great love, great suffering, and some form of contemplative practice are the usual paths that keep us alert and receptive so we can get our small, false self out of the way, and become an open conduit for the abundant life that God is and that the believer becomes.
Resurrection for us is not an isolated miracle as much as an enduring relationship. Death is not just the death of the physical body, but all the times we hit bottom and must let go of how we thought life should be and surrender. We go through many deaths in our lifetime. These deaths to the small self are tipping points, opportunities to choose conversion. Death is death only for those who close down to growth and new life.
Benedictine spirituality is demanding. It ‘s about caring for the people you live with, and loving the people you don’t, and loving God more than yourself. It depends on listening for the voice of God everywhere in life, especially in one another. Benedict insisted that we must learn to listen to what God is saying in our simple, sometimes crazy, and always uncertain daily lives. The good zeal, the monastic zeal, commits us to human community, immerses us in Christ, and surrenders us to God, minute by minute, person by person, day after day. Benedict reminds us that sanctity is the stuff of community in Christ and that any other zeal is false.
As we move forward from this Chapter, we need to not be afraid of darkness, of the things that look like they’re going in the wrong direction. So often the difficulty we face is exactly the thing that needed to happen in order for there to be clarity. Jesus’ life and ministry reveals that God uses tragedy, suffering, pain, betrayal, and death itself, not to wound us, but to bring us to God. There are no dead ends. Everything can be transformed and everything can be used. Trust that even when it seems our world is moving backward—away from justice and peace—this friction too can serve, to move us in a brand new direction. +Amen.