The profound recognition of the purpose of our existence as intimacy with the Trinity, and with other persons in the Trinity, casts light into all the contours of history and of the daily life of each one of us. There are many things, in fact, which can be said. But let me speak of one insight here. What I have said above in these reflections helps makes intelligible the statement of John Paul that in “the life of an authentically Christian community, the attitudes and the values proper to one and the other state,” that is, both marriage and virginity, “in some sense interpenetrate” (TOB 78:4). In other words, marriage and virginity, as incarnations of our call to love and intimacy in the likeness of the Trinity, converge together as one in a single mystery. And they interpenetrate precisely in this single unitive mystery of the body, in the living of interpersonal communion through the reciprocal gift of self. Marriage manifests this mystery on the basis of the primordial sacrament written into the flesh of man and woman to unite and become “one flesh” in conjugal (sexual) union, establishing in this way a communion of life oriented also towards the conceiving and rearing of children. Virginity lives this mystery on the basis of the eternal consummation that awaits us in the new creation—which is embraced and lived already “in anticipation” in the contours of this temporal life—in which the spousal meaning of the body is incarnated precisely in the primal virginal gift of one’s whole being to the Trinity through Christ, and also in the profound communion of intersubjectivity with other human persons that this belonging to God makes possible.
And if this convergence of the vocations in the single mystery of love and intimacy is true, then we can affirm that, in a way, both marriage and virginity find their fulfillment in mysticism. In other words, they find their full flowering precisely in the conscious, experiential participation of the human person in the life and love of the Trinity, as well as in the lived experience of human persons relating to one another on the basis of, and in the likeness of, the communion of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. These two facets are both expressed in Christ’s prayer at the Last Supper—the communion of the human person with God, and the communion of human persons with one another in the likeness of God: “As you, Father, are in me, and I am in you, may they also be in us” (Jn 17:21). It is not the communal nor the personal alone that matters, but both. This is because, for God, each singular individual has an absolute dignity and value for their own sake—created and called into gratuitous intimacy simply because it is beautiful, good, and true; and yet also that the communion of human persons in the likeness of God has an absolute value itself, as a reflection and participation (in the embrace of human hearts) of the life of the Trinity. And yet the communio personarum, the communal dimension, is founded upon the personal dimension, as without a prior acknowledgment of the dignity of the individual person (of their innate solitude), a true flowering of intimacy (unity) is not possible. It is only on the basis of an affirmation of the solitude of each incomparable person before God, received and reverenced in the manifestation of nakedness that opens their person in the gesture of gift, that true communion can be established between persons.
This is the very fabric of which human existence is composed, and in precisely this way it manifests and participates—as the “image and likeness of God”—in the innermost life of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The path of human life and maturation, and the full flowering of our happiness, therefore, follows the trajectory of the movement from solitude, through nakedness, to communion. And yet this communion, to the degree that it is authentic, is not a cancellation of solitude, but rather its deepening, confirmation, and super-affirmation. The same applies for nakedness: whenever communion is authentic, nakedness (of every kind) is experienced not as a defenseless vulnerability in the negative sense, nor is it touched by the feeling of shame. Rather, nakedness is permeated by the security of the gift, and is but a manifestation of the freedom of the gift welling up from the inmost heart of each person as a gift to the other, and making persons one in the peace of the gaze of chaste and tender love.
And thus we come to the beautiful realization that the inner essence of the theological life of faith, hope, and love coincides with the very inner essence of the meaning of human existence as a whole. (How could it be any other way?) For if human fulfillment comes about in the rich interrelationship between solitude, nakedness, and unity, then what is the living disposition that allows us to live these realities to the full but that of faith, hope, and love? As I have expressed elsewhere, faith, hope, and love are the attitudes (and experiences and acts) of trust, desire, and surrender, above all before God, but also in relation to other persons on the basis of God. And precisely these attitudes are the “stuff” of which healthy relationships are made. The degree, therefore, of our intimacy with God and with others is determined by the depth to which we live according to these virtues, or rather, by the depth to which these virtues allow a true intersubjectivity of persons to flourish in the mutual gift of self.*
If faith, hope, and love are the pathway to the fulfillment of human existence—the inner activity of the Trinity within us leading to the restoration of our being in the image and likeness of God—then what are they? As a single reality with three dimensions, we can say that they are the permeation of our very subjective consciousness, in all of our faculties and experiences, by the way of living and relating proper to the Trinity, insofar as this is meant to be incarnate in the life of a created, bodily person. Thus, the life of faith, hope, and love is the life of the Trinity as it is transposed into the life of a human being, as it is operative within the human being, ultimately allowing him or her to enter into a living participation with God in the inner heart of his own divine life.*
Saint Peter writes beautifully of the dynamic of our participation in God’s life in his letters:
His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, that through these you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of passion, and become partakers of the divine nature. For this very reason make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness [which is founded in hope], and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these things are yours and abound, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these things is blind and shortsighted and has forgotten that he was cleansed from his old sins. Therefore, brethren, be the more zealous to confirm your call and election, for if you do this you will never fall; so there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. (2 Pet 1:3-11)
Deep reflection on this passage reveals how it expresses—albeit in different language coming from a different historical context with its own manner of speech and its own particular focus—the same mystery of which we have spoken throughout these reflections. The contemplation and prayer of believers throughout the centuries has unfolded passages such as this one (and many others) to distill their meaning to the essential core of our “participation in the divine nature,” which is our sharing in the very manner of being proper to the Trinity, and in the ineffable joy of the intimacy of his Trinitarian life. Let me pull out and make explicit ten central points from this text: 1) God himself initiates the gift of the life of grace within us, without any merit on our part, and he does so by supplying us with everything that pertains to life and godliness (i.e. to living like God). 2) And this gift of grace comes to us in the manner of knowledge, a knowledge which is intimately personal—between person and person—as the primal communio personarum established between God and ourselves in Christ. These two dimensions—the reception of the prior gift of God freely given to us, and the primal knowledge of God given in Christ (a knowledge akin to the nuptial mystery of “one flesh” union in its first, incipient manifestation), is precisely what constitutes faith. Thus, if faith is understood as trust, this trust is not a blind acquiescence given in the pitch-black darkness, but is rather the very beginning of sight. It is the first-fruits of the knowledge which will find its consummation in heaven, when faith will pass over into the fullness of unmediated, face-to-face vision of God in the light of glory. As John Paul himself expressed: “Faith, in its deepest essence, is the openness of the human heart to the gift: to God’s self-communication in the Holy Spirit” (Dominum et Vivificantem, 51). But now we are getting ahead of ourselves. Let’s return to the text.
3) By this knowledge of Christ, God calls us “to his own glory and excellence,” that is, to his participate in his own way of being and living as God; and our participation occurs precisely by sharing in the existence and humanity of the incarnate Christ, in whom divine and human are espoused. Here we see the true significance of the reality of “participation,” of co-operation with God according to God’s own eternal operation, even as this activity is manifested in the midst of the human faculties in the contours of time and space. But even if this mystery is inaugurated in time and space, it does not end in time and space, but is ordained to carry us into eternity. And thus this point leads into the next. 4) This gift of participation in God’s glory, while already a reality now, will find its fulfillment only in the life to come, and thus is given also in the manner of “precious and very great promises,” in other words, in the manner of hope. Hope is precisely the living desire of the human heart for the fulfillment that awaits us, and, as desire, it is expectation, steadfastness, longing, and expansion of the heart to receive what God has promised. Hope is, as the Letter to the Hebrews expresses it, “a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul” (Heb 6:19).
5) Yes, and as the expansion of the heart in the ardent desire for God beyond all things, hope—buoyed up by faith and drawing faith towards the full flowering of love—allows us to “escape from the corruption that is in the world because of passion, and become partakers of the divine nature.” In a word, faith and hope together purify the heart of any disordered, harmful attachment to created realities sought apart from God and his intentions, rooted in sin, and make us capable of tasting and living already now the reality for which we have been redeemed: partaking in the divine nature. And this divine nature is not some static reality, but the very living love and eternal intimacy of the Persons of the Trinity, communicated to us for us to participate in (cf. TOB 95b:4). Here we see precisely how the two dispositions of trust and desire allow us to recapture the purity of heart for which we were created, as they reach to the very root of the dimension of appropriation to which we are tempted due to sin, and illumine this place with the light of confidence in God’s own goodness and love. Coming to know and experience his love for us, we can trust in him completely, and thus lose the need to cling to other realities apart from him for a sense of security; and our desires are set free from their bondage, liberated to be what they were meant to be in a harmonious coordination of all desire towards the fulfillment of happiness in communion with God.
6) The pure gift of faith and hope within us, while given by God’s own primal generosity, also sets free within us our own activity in response to grace. It does not condemn us to sheer passivity, but rather enables us to act authentically, not in a feverish way as if everything were dependent upon us, but rather in the childlike lightheartedness and simplicity of heart that knows that our every desire and act is but a response to God’s grace which goes before us, awakens our correspondence, and carries it to fulfillment. This explains the words in verses 5 through 7, in Saint Peter’s invitation to “make every effort” to walk this path of the maturation of human life in communion with divine life—this path that progresses from faith, through hope, to the full flowering of love. 7) And not only this, but whenever these dispositions “abound” within us, they are not unfruitful, but rather abundant in their efficacy, not only in our own lives, but also in sending ripples of goodness, beauty, and truth throughout humanity for the good of others. And, as is always the case, true fruitfulness is born not from action that focuses primarily on efficacy itself, on achievement; rather, it is the spontaneous and organic fruit of knowledge, of intimacy between person and person. 8) And we are reminded again that precisely this knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ is the passage from blindness into sight, from shortsightedness into the expansiveness of love’s vision. And such deepening sight, and the fidelity to this sight throughout life until the final encounter of heaven, is sustained by the spirit of gratitude. For it is precisely gratitude, more than anything else, that does not allow us to forget, it does not allow us to forget the great gift that we have received in being liberated from slavery to sin and adopted into the very life of the Trinity.
9) Faith, hope, and love, as they grow ever more alive within us, become a fire burning at the core of our being and emitting their warmth and light throughout our entire existence and all of our relationships. This is the meaning of zeal, a fire burning within us and overflowing in our thoughts, words, and actions. Yes, and this fire is not the result of our own efforts as much as it is God’s own life, in its infinite intensity and its incredible delicacy, present within us and enkindling us ever anew with the sweetness of the Holy Spirit, the embrace of Christ, and the love of the Father. 10) And as long as we allow this fire to burn within us, and acquiesce to its activity within and through us, we will “never fall,” for, as Christ says, “no one is able to snatch them out of my Father’s hand” (Jn 10:29). Rather, we will be “richly provided for” at every moment by the provident love of the Trinity, until the final gift is given to us at the end of life: “an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,” who lives eternally a life of perfect love and intimacy with the Father and the Holy Spirit.
The same breathtaking mystery is expressed, perhaps even more clearly, in Saint Peter’s first letter:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy we have been born anew to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and to an inheritance which is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while you may have to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold which though perishable is tested by fire, may redound to praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Without having seen him you love him; though you do not now see him you believe in him and rejoice with unutterable and exalted joy. As the outcome of your faith you obtain the salvation of your souls. (1 Pet 1:3-9)
I will not comment on this one as I did the previous passage, but will leave it to your own reflection. Let me only note how Saint Peter finds the root of our own hope in the Resurrection of Christ from the dead—that is, in the victory of God’s own undying Love over all the forces of evil, sin, and death. This hope is a hope for the final liberation from sin and death, and also for the everlasting fruition of the inheritance that is held in heaven for us, an inheritance that we await with faith and hope. Even in the sufferings of this temporal life, we are already rooted in this reality of God’s gift, in the mystery of the Resurrection, and so we rejoice. And the greatest source of our joy, the very foundation of our faith and our hope, is the encounter with Christ, our Bridegroom and our God. Yes, even though we do not yet see him directly, face to face, we believe in him—and this belief, this faith, is the primal knowledge that will find its complete fulfillment in heaven.
This is how Saint Peter can say, with such ardent passion and such conviction: “Without having seen him you love him.” How can we love the One whom we have not seen? Only if we see him with deeper eyes—with the eyes of faith, with the eyes of the heart illumined by the theological virtues, which are God’s own life active within us and grafting us into himself! Indeed, this living intimacy with God already in this life makes it such that we can “rejoice with unutterable and exalted joy.” We rejoice because we already participate in the mystery of the Trinity, knowing him whom we do not see, and loving him too with the very love that he pours into us from himself, confident that, at the end of time, we will participate in his inmost life for all eternity in the endless consummation of heaven.
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*For a more in depth explanation of the interrelationship of these three theological virtues, see the two reflections “Pulling Back the Veil: Faith, Hope, and Love” and “The Sweet Unveiling of Love” in the book, Loving in the Light of Eternity: Love and Intimacy as the Heart of Reality. These two reflections are also contained in my book, The Prayer of the Heart: Returning to the Place of Deepest Intimacy.
*The centrality of these three theological virtues is apparent from their frequency in Scripture, particularly in passages that seek to “summarize” the Christian life before God. For example, the following passages all come from the letters of the Apostles, expressing different facets of this single reality of faith, hope, and love as incarnate in the contours of human existence—in relation to the revelation of Christ, in relation to care for one’s brothers and sisters, in relation to the joyful endurance of suffering, in relation to the longing for heaven, etc. Rom 1:5-6; 1 Cor 13:8-13; Col 1:3-5; 1 Thes 1:2-3; 2 Thes 1:3-4; 1 Pet 1:3-9; 2 Pet 1:3-11; 1 Jn 5:1-5; 2 Jn 4-6.