“O God, our refuge and our strength…,” begins a traditional prayer for the needs of the Church. “Look down upon me, good and gentle Jesus..,” introduces the prayer before a Crucifix. “Almighty and eternal God…” were the first words Pope Pius XII wrote for a prayer for social justice. “Great and omnipotent judge…,” starts a prayer for a happy death. “Shepherd and Ruler…Creator and Redeemer…Lord and Savior,” these are among the innumerable titles by which the faithful approach the Divine persons in prayer. And the Godhead is certainly worthy of these tributes. Yet all of these titles, and many, many more besides, are chiefly of human origin and certainly are not limited to believing Christians.
In Islamic writings, Muhammad is referenced as The Genuine, The Trustworthy, The Faithful, The Honest, The Righteous and The Truthful. The Hindu names — Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva — are derived from their roles as creator, preserver and destroyer. So believing mankind universally proposes names, titles, and designations for their heavenly and heaven-sent beings. The Christian world, however, has a definite advantage over the other world religions. The Almighty has himself revealed to the Christian believing world his own respective and eternal names: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
The many popular names of God chiefly reveal what God does: he is a shepherd, a ruler, a sanctifier, a creator and a redeemer. But the Divinely revealed Trinitarian names for God rather reveal who God is: God is Father; God is Son; God is Spirit. God is three, eternal, interpersonal relationships. God is Father, perpetually reaching out toward his Son in love. God is Son, continually open to his Father’s loving overtures. And God is Spirit, that very bond of love that the Father and Son unendingly share, a bond so perfect it actually has a Divine personality of its own. So in revealing himself as Father, Son and Spirit, God has shown to mankind that he actually is three enduring relationships (Father, Son, Spirit) who are rooted in one common nature (God).
Acceptance of a belief in the Holy Trinity clearly ran counter to the traditional Jewish belief in the oneness of God. The Scribes and Pharisees of Christ’s generation were not entirely off base when they questioned Jesus’ Divine pretentions. “You being a man are making yourself out to be God (Jn.10:33)!” Yet happily the early Christian community accepted this profound revelation so that within a generation the formula for sacramental baptism was clearly Trinitarian: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (Mt.28:19).” St. Paul employs a clearly Trinitarian formula in today’s second reading to the Church at Corinth: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with all of you (1Cor.13:13).”
God as a heavenly association of persons clearly has repercussions for earthly followers who honor his name. Since God is three distinct persons fixed in one Divine nature, then those many who share in his Divine life through grace are also called to a life of oneness, unity and accord. The “E pluribus Unum” motto found on American currency has even more profound significance for the Christian community. “Ut unum sint” (that they may be one, Jn.17:21), were among Jesus’ final words and surely represent an ambition near to his heart and certainly cite an enduring goal for the present day Church, as Pope St. John Paul II taught in an encyclical by that name.
And of course all these considerations lead to one conclusion. At the heart of the matter, there is love. Long before faith in God became necessary for God’s creatures and long before hope in his promises was required of all believers, there was the eternal, heavenly love exchanged within the Divine Trinity. “God is love (1Jn.4:8),” the epistle writer declares, and this love was functioning well in advance of any creative act on God’s part. God’s love is eternal — always was and always will be. Love is in his very nature. In fact, love is his very nature. Yes, God is indeed love.
Quite happily, through Christ and through his Church, this loving Divine life is made available to every believing creature. The loving bonds that are at the heart of God are shared with humanity through the sacraments, through Scripture, through grace in all its saving forms. The Christian life well-lived is a foretaste of heaven itself: an enduring life of love between and among all persons, Divine and human.
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