In the light of what we have said about human childhood—and the growth to human maturity, which reaches its consummation only in eternal life, beyond the boundary of death—we would now like to approach the mystery of Jesus Christ. It cannot be emphasized enough that every human person who has ever lived, lives now, or ever will live, finds the full blossoming of their humanity only in union with the Son of God incarnate. This is the case, first of all, because we were created in the image of the Son from the very beginning. The “image and likeness of God” in which God made us is the Image of his Son, his eternal Word, who is the very Expression of his own Being. The Letter to the Hebrews says, “He is the very resplendence of the glory of God and the very image of his nature, upholding the universe by his word of power” (cf. Heb 1:3). Our very nature therefore bears the impress, not only of God the Father’s creating hand, but of the divine Word whose truth is inscribed into our being. He is the One in whom “all things were created, in heaven and one earth” (Col 1:16). From all eternity the Son has “rejoiced in the Father’s presence as a little child, playing before him always, playing on the surface of his earth. And his delight has been in the children of men” (cf. Prov 8:30-31). This divine playfulness has become manifest in the creation of the world, such that the eternal delight of the Father and the Son in their one Holy Spirit becomes also a delight in the children of men. In other words, we have been created from the heart of the divine playfulness of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—and in order to share in this playfulness, in the joy and happiness of this love. We have been made, each one of us, to abide as a little child in the Father’s presence, playing before him always, in the confidence and security of his all-enveloping embrace. The whole of our life unfolds within this mystery, and within this mystery finds its meaning.
The second reason we find our full personal and human blossoming only in Jesus Christ is because the eternal Son has become the Perfect Man, the New Adam, by taking a human nature entirely to himself as his own in the Incarnation. He has taken into himself the humanity of every one of us, and indeed the unique personal mystery of every person—carrying us as his own in his very flesh, living as one of us, becoming truly our Brother. And he has lived and loved within this with the very love of the Trinity, with the very love that is his as the Son of the Father. The eternal intimacy of the Father and the Son, their shared playfulness and delight, is “transposed” into human existence through the Incarnation of Christ. And now the only-begotten Son does in time, as a man, what he has done for all eternity: he rejoices to be the Father’s Son, welcoming completely the gift of the Father and surrendering himself wholly to the Father in return. By living this life of love in our human flesh, he heals the wounds of our fallen nature and sanctifies our existence from the inside. By doing so, he enables us, united to him who has united himself to us, to share in the life of the Trinity for which we have been created.
In the depth of the Trinity’s life, the three divine Persons share a single life of love and communion. Their unity is so perfect that they share all things with one another. There is no “private” sphere of any Person that is closed off from the others. Because their love is absolute, their openness and vulnerability before one another is total and their self-giving complete, therefore their relationship is eternally consummated in perfect intimacy. We see in the Trinity, thus, the Source and Consummation of the original experiences that we discerned in Adam and Eve, and in human life itself: solitude, nakedness, and unity. For the Trinity, these are one unified and indivisible experience of love: of openness in acceptance and self-giving, which blossoms unceasingly in intimacy. Even better, it is the intimacy which is all-enveloping and permanently sealed in the Kiss of the Spirit, which safeguards, protects, and shelters the mutual openness of the Father and the Son before one another in complete self-disclosure.
Because of this total mutual self-giving, the Persons of the Trinity possess among themselves a single divine consciousness. And yet each Person of the Trinity lives the indivisible Being of God in his own unique way, that is, according to his own unrepeatable Personhood. The Father is God in the unique reality of Fatherhood, of being Father; the Son is God in the unique reality of being Son; and the Spirit is God in the unique reality of being the shared Gift of the Father and the Son, as being the Bond of their intimacy. What does this mean? It means that, in their complete openness before one another, the Persons of the Trinity are defined by their relationships with one another. They are not defined by some supposed closed-off sphere from the others, but rather from their very relatedness to the others, and their communion with each other.
Perhaps this can be made clearer if we cast our glance back to what we said about the self-consciousness of the child, who awakens to full awareness in the arms (or indeed already in the womb) of her mother. By looking at this “icon” of the Trinity in human love and relationship, we can gain a small glimpse of the Reality toward which we wish to draw near. The little child comes to the awareness of her “I,” of her own unique personal being, through the encounter with the “You” of another who loves her. And this “I-You” relationship is filled with the consciousness of the love that passes between “You” and “I” and binds them together. Thus “I” and “You” ultimately become “We” in the joy of togetherness. In this “We” of communion, the “I” and “You” are not abolished or absorbed in one another, but rather are confirmed in their uniqueness while existing wholly in relationship with one another. Indeed, they come, as it were, to live in one another by sharing a single life and experiencing together the consciousness of their love and their relationship.
This is an imperfect created image of the perfect Reality of Love as it exists in the Trinity. Each of the divine Persons is distinct from the others through his own unrepeatable Self, which exists wholly in relationship with the other Persons in knowledge, love, and self-giving. Yet their sharing is so absolute and total, their self-giving so perfect, that no Person has a “private” sphere closed off from the others; rather, they are perfectly one, such that they share in a single consciousness, a single will, a single mind, a single delight. Each of them, in other words, lives in the others, as they all interpenetrate in a single divine essence and love. And yet this radical relatedness does not dissolve the uniqueness of each Person, but rather confirms it in its fullness.
Let us summarize what we have said about the Trinity so far. The Father is ceaselessly in relationship to his Son, begetting him eternally and welcoming him lovingly back into himself. The Son is ceaselessly in relationship to the Father, whose gift he is and whose gift he receives, and to whom he surrenders himself totally in return. And the Spirit relates to them both as the gift and bond of union that passes between the Father and the Son and binds them together, like an eternal kiss or embrace. The Father and the Son, for their part, are wholly related to the Spirit in love as well, as he is the expression of their self-giving and indeed the “space” of their meeting and union with one another.
Theologically speaking, the divine Persons are so actualized in their relationships that they are identical with their relationships with one another. In other words, there is nothing in the Son that is not “Son,” that is, that is not utterly related to the Father in the Spirit. He is, in his inmost personal mystery, the One who is related to the Father as his Son. The same goes for each of the other Persons, in his own unique relatedness to the others. This is why the Persons are named as they are: the Father is Father precisely because he is the One who is ceaselessly and lovingly in communion with his beloved Son and the Spirit of their shared love. The Son is the Son precisely because he is the One begotten of and in relation to the Father: he is the Beloved One who is ceaselessly cradled in the arms of the Father’s Love. And the Spirit is the Spirit because he is the breath of love that passes between the Father and the Son and unites them to one another in an eternity of perfect intimacy and bliss.
These stuttering words through which we have tried to glimpse the unspeakable mystery of the Holy Trinity may perhaps appear abstract and irrelevant to our everyday life. Or at the very least they can be difficult to understand. (To understand is not the same as to “comprehend,” for comprehension, in the sense of total understanding, is impossible. Rather, we seek only to apprehend, that is, to open our minds and hearts to be struck by the immense Beauty that ever shines from the bosom of the Trinity, and thus awakens our love and our longing to share in this same life of love and intimacy.) The truth, however, is that the Trinity is intimately close to each one of us, and the nature of his divine life is of utter importance for every person. This is because we have been created in his image and likeness: we are persons precisely because we have been created in the image of the divine Persons and to share in their perfect love and communion.
They are Persons perfectly and completely, in other words, their subjective consciousness is completely “actualized” in loving relationship with one another. We, however, are imperfect persons. We too exist in and through relationship, and yet these relationships have not yet deepened to the point of utterly penetrating and illuminating the very depths of our being and our consciousness. Often we suppose that we can exist and flourish closed in upon ourselves in isolation from others. But this is simply not possible. At the core of our being we are sustained by relationship: by the knowledge and love of the Father for us, by his cradling embrace which holds us in existence. This ceaseless relationship with the Father is the very foundation of our identity. In a lesser and secondary way, we also exist in relationship to other human beings and to the whole of creation. We are indebted, infinitely indebted, to the gratuitous gift of existence, for which we should ever render thanks and express our awe and wonder.
Is not our indebtedness to relationship beautifully clear in the image of the child who owes her very existence and her awakening consciousness to another, to her parents? She is utterly from another, and yet she has also received herself so totally that she is now, freely, in and for herself. But this in and for herself is but a manifestation of God’s love for her, that is, of his absolute and unconditional affirmation of her beauty and dignity. For God, she is not a “means” to some other end, but an absolute end in herself, created to be loved and to love, and to enter, forever, into the joy of lasting intimacy with him. This is the whole purpose of her existence, and nothing in her life finds its meaning outside of or apart from this.
Her personal existence, her subjective consciousness, is therefore a gift entrusted into her hands—a gift which will never be taken away, but which only needs to be received, opened to the Giver, and surrendered to him, so as to be united to him in conscious and loving relationship. It is therefore not a gift to be grasped and possessed in isolation, but rather to be welcomed consciously and fully from the Other and in ceaseless dependence upon him. It is a gift—her own self!—which cries out to be returned, through loving surrender, to the One from whom it has come. Yes, she is entrusted wholly into her own hands; she is, in herself, a unique, precious, and unrepeatable mystery—and yet this very mystery is so great that it is beyond her grasp, and can only come to its full blossoming through being given away to Another. In a word, she can only be fully herself when she consents to live in relationship with the One who loves her.
In our everyday life, this is the cause of all of our suffering and anxiety, our fear and restlessness: we were created for an intimate and unbreakable union with God, and, in him, with other persons, but we find ourselves very far from experiencing this as we desire. Nonetheless, already now, in every moment and at the core of our own being where we pronounce our unrepeatable “I,” we are ceaselessly in relation with God. He sustains us in existence through his love and his grace, and his very love for us (which nothing can hinder) is the foundation of our personhood and the source of our beauty and lovableness. As he gazes upon us and loves us, he creates unique beauty within us; and yet this very gaze then sees the beauty that he has given us and is moved by it to love us anew.
As with the eternal Son, who is eternally begotten of the Father, so we are created by the Father through the Son and are held in existence by the Father and the Son at every moment. This means that, in my deepest personal truth, I am not merely an “I” closed in upon itself and dependent upon no one else; rather, I am one who is in relationship with the Father who cradles me ceaselessly in his arms and sustains me in being. In other words, I am one who is beloved, a child of the Father created in the image of his own eternal Son. Thus I cannot know myself as I truly am by turning away from this place, but only by entering into it and willingly accepting my being and existence from the hands of the Father. I can know myself as I am, not by looking at myself in isolation, but by opening myself to the Father and looking into his gaze upon me. In his eyes, I will see reflected the truth of who I am. And my freedom and happiness simply consists in living according to this truth of who I am in his eyes, who I am as his beloved and precious child.
We have spoken about a “promise” symbolized and contained in the mystery of human childhood. The experience of the infant is a kind of icon of what we were created for—an invitation and an assurance of the end of our life (in which we become as children again), and especially of our full blossoming in eternity. In other words, we were born to be children—and our mother’s womb is an image of this very world, of creation, which is itself a “womb” in which we are still in gestation until we are born into eternal life. As in the woman’s womb the little child is sheltered, nestled, and nourished, living off the very life of her mother—so in this life we are nestled within the very Love of God on whom every moment of our life depends. His Love is all around us; his Love sustains us; his Love is our nourishment and our very life. This is the “already” about which we have spoken: we already belong to God; we are already in a vital relationship with him at the core of our being. He already enfolds and cradles us unceasingly within his embrace—and nothing can separate us from this embrace.
We saw also, however, that this “already” bears in itself an impetus toward a “not yet”, a yet greater fullness. It impels us toward the conscious blossoming of relationship with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—until we are totally transformed in their likeness and irradiated with their light. But it cannot be overemphasized that what truly gives us the strength and confidence to progress toward the “not yet” that awaits us is the “already” that unceasingly enfolds us. God is eternal, and therefore he is present with the fullness of his divine Being to each instant of time. It is only we, in our temporal existence, who progress from moment to moment toward the consummation of our life in him. But this means that, in every moment of time, we are in real and profound contact with the fullness of God and his love, utterly sheltered within his tender embrace. To remain in contact with this embrace, to receive it and rely upon it totally, to let ourselves be held and carried by the Love that always cradles us—this is the most foundational and most important reality of our life.
Within this “already” of the divine embrace, our life unfolds in a dynamic movement from the “already-given” truth of our identity before God and our union with him now, and to the “not-yet” of our ultimate destiny in the consummation of eternal intimacy with him and with our brethren in the new creation. This identity is nothing but the truth of our belovedness before God, just as the Son’s identity is nothing but his belovedness before the Father. So too, our destiny is in the last analysis nothing but the full blossoming of this identity, of this gift that we have already received—the gift of personal existence which becomes totally open and is perfectly realized in a ceaseless relationship with God and, in him, with every person.
This movement of healing and transformation, we said, is only possible through union with the incarnate Son of God, Jesus Christ. We mentioned the reasons for this—because we are created in the Son’s very image and likeness, and because the Son has himself taken our humanity as his own and perfected it in himself. We exist unceasingly in a profound relationship with the Son of God at the very core of our being. But because of sin this relationship has been fractured, and his image in us obscured. This is why he came among us and wedded himself to our humanity—to restore the union that was broken through sin. Now we are united to him anew through the mystery of the Incarnation, his identification with us in the fullness of our human existence. And he has reconciled us fully to God within the sinews of his own Sacred Heart; he has, indeed, carried us, in himself, up to heaven. It is a matter, now, simply of letting this mystery that has already been accomplished in Christ reach its full blossoming in us and in our concrete existence.
Through Baptism we are immersed into the death and Resurrection of Christ. The fullness of participation in the life of the Trinity is restored to us, and we are adopted into the family of God, the Church. And the essence of the Church is nothing but communion. The Church is our sharing in the communion of the Trinity, and our communion with one another through the Trinity. She is the Bride and Body of Christ, in whom, through sharing in the very sonship of Jesus, we become truly “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Pet 1:4), entering into a living relationship with the Father and into a profound unity with one another—with all of those who have been grafted into Christ through his Incarnation and the gift of grace.
What does all of this mean for our concrete human experience? All persons, whether they know it or not, have been united to Christ—for he has united himself to them. In his Incarnation, his Passion, and his Resurrection he has perfectly espoused God and humanity in himself. He has wed himself to every person. Therefore, in him we are all inseparably united as brothers and sisters, inseparably united to one another in the depths of his own reconciling Heart. But he seeks to bring this union to full realization through our conscious and free reception of the gift of relationship with him—through our acceptance of the living bond of grace. This openness to relationship with Christ, and in him with the Father, also opens us wide to a true fraternal relationship with others, children of the same Father. Through opening ourselves to the gift of Jesus, which the Spirit makes accessible to us, we can truly begin to live as beloved children of the Father, and as brothers and sisters to every person. In a word, we allow God to knit back together in our heart and our life the threads of relationship and communion that were torn asunder through sin.
We begin to live, in Jesus, the truly “filial” existence for which we were created—the existence of one who knows himself or herself to be a beloved child, and who abides unceasingly within the embrace of this Love: resting, living, and acting within the divine playfulness and the fullness of God’s eternal repose. As we will see, God’s playfulness is one with his activity, and his repose is one with his work—and for us to be immersed into his life is to act within his playfulness and to play within his activity; it is to rest within his work and to work within his rest. Simply put, it is to be, as we were created, a little child “playing always in his presence,” enveloped in his delight.
Such participation in the life of the Trinity also opens our eyes and our hearts to “delight in the children of men.” In experiencing the truth of our childhood before the Father, we can recognize every person as a beloved brother or sister—as one who is also loved infinitely and uniquely by the heavenly Father. We therefore yearn for them to know and rejoice in this truth, in the intimacy that God thirsts to have with them. Indeed, we thirst not only for this—for their eternal happiness—but also that we may be united to them intimately in the truth of who they are in the eyes of God, within the perfection of God’s embrace.
The Son became a man among us in order to re-open us to the truth of our own sonship and daughterhood before the Father. He “filialized” our existence once again by living as Son within it, and led it, in himself, to its consummation. His whole humanity, his body, his mind, his heart, became a perfect expression of his divine sonship before the Father and of his love for every person. As he reposed eternally in the bosom of his Father as God, so now he does so as man. As he abides in a ceaseless dialogue of love with his Father, in the intimacy of the Spirit whom they share, so in every moment of his human existence this dialogue and this intimacy become present.
When we draw near to Jesus, therefore, we draw near to the mystery of the Trinity that burns within his breast, which lies at the very core of his being. When we draw near to the Heart of Jesus, as did Saint John at the Last Supper, and lean against his breast—the heartbeat we hear is the heartbeat of God himself: the Father in the Son, and the Son in the Father. This is precisely why Jesus came to us, lost as we were in sin—so as to unveil for us again the mystery of the Father’s love, the mystery of the intimacy of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He has come so as to envelop us again in the divine embrace, to grant us to experience—in reposing against his breast—the enfolding love of our Father. In him we can let ourselves be held and sheltered within the divine playfulness that encompasses us and the whole creation—this playfulness that now flashes out through the eyes, the words, the actions, and the very being of Jesus. In him we can let ourselves be sheltered within the divine rest, the perfect repose of the Father, Son, and Spirit, which is a rest fully alert and fully alive, the consummate intimacy of Persons in total surrender.
Jesus teaches us again what it means to be a child, and indeed in him it becomes reality in an unheard-of way, with an unspeakable depth of reality and truth. This childhood is the all-enveloping mystery in which he enfolds us once again—the mystery in which all else blossoms freely. And he does this, he takes us up into childhood, by also becoming our Spouse, the divine Bridegroom. He espouses us to himself and takes us upon his shoulders through the Cross, into his loving arms, and carries us back from our infidelity into the joy and intimacy of the Resurrection. He carries us, in himself, into the embrace of the Father, so that Bridegroom and bride may be united together as one, sheltered in the embrace of the Father of them both.
The filial and spousal love of Jesus, therefore, is deeply fruitful and creative, bringing forth the newness of life in a world grown old in sin. His life breathes forth the fragrance of youth, the newness of childlike joy and simplicity, the playfulness of confidence and security, and the ardor of love that makes the heart so fully alive. In this way, by his very closeness to us, and by the complete gift of all that he is for us, Jesus begets and gives birth to the life of the Trinity within the heart of creation. He implants the seed of eternal joy and everlasting newness in the soil of each human heart. And on the other hand, he takes each human heart—and the whole of creation—into his arms, into his Heart, so that in intimacy with him all may experience the tenderness of the Father, and return, through him, into his paternal embrace.
We find ourselves, beloved children that we are, nestled in the heart of the embrace of the Father and the Son, the breath of the Spirit vibrating and thrilling our whole being as he passes through us, binding the Father and the Son together in an eternity of joy.