When the day came that my niece was finally able to adopt the two children who had been placed in her foster home, they celebrated their day of becoming a “family forever” as the greatest of their lives. They continue to celebrate each “adoptive” as a wonderful reminder that they have chosen to love each other as a family forever.
It’s a simple analogy to what Jesus said to the disciples at the Last Supper in today’s selection from the Gospel of John.
As Jesus prepares to leave, he promises his disciples his “eternal presence” in the person of his own Spirit. When we read this pledge in the context of the whole talk, we realize that what it promises by the Spirit goes beyond the physical presence that they have experienced and all that He has already given them.
As Jesus talks about the Spirit he will send to his disciples, the description becomes a mini-talk about the Trinity. Jesus promises the disciples that the Spirit will keep them aware of who he is. Jesus, who had already proclaimed himself to be the truth, now promises that the Spirit will guide them to all truth. He says that everything the Father has is his and promises that the Spirit will give them what is his.
If the pronouns in this paragraph are confusing and you are not sure who “he” is, it is because all three are described as one. Jesus taught that he and the Father are one, and that all that the Father has is his. Now he says that his work will continue through the Spirit, who will share with the disciples what is his – and therefore the Father’s. As he says a little later, “I in them and you in me” (John 17:23).
Classical theology has described the Spirit as the living bond of love between the Father and the Son. In this gospel, Jesus promises the Spirit as an energy or link that will cause his disciples to share his own union with God.
It is easy to see this as the intoxicating and holy substance that belongs to the mystics in their monasteries. As soon as we begin to think this way, we must remember that Jesus said this to the band of talkers who had walked with him for three years, declared their love, and then fled his suffering. The disciples of Jesus were the most ordinary of sinful saints. The example of their life leaves no room for the rest of us to call us too simple, weak, or fearful.
This is one dimension of the message we hear today in Paul’s Letter to the Romans. Paul says that we are “justified”, by which he means that God offers us peace through Christ, that there is no need for limits to our hope.
And just to make sure we understand, he points out that it has nothing to do with our merits or our accomplishments; it is due to the love of God and nothing else. Jesus promised that the Spirit of truth would guide us. Paul explains this by saying that the love of God “has flowed into our hearts.”
For those who like down to earth examples, it’s a bit like my niece and the kids. Although they had barely reached “the age of reason” at the time of adoption, she incorporated them into the decision. To the best of their ability, they agreed and she made it legal. They know a unity and a bond of love that is all the stronger when they are chosen rather than simply being a fluke of biology.
The mystery of the Trinity that we celebrate today is a mystery of love. This feast invites us to contemplate the Triune God as a love unceasingly poured out. When Jesus speaks of the Spirit, he makes it clear that we are invited into the dynamics of this love.
From the beginning, mankind has tried to name – and therefore understand – God. Some spoke of Zeus, others of Shiva, Brahma and Vishnu. Over a billion people worship God as Allah, described by 99 names, most notably “the Merciful” and “the Compassionate”.
In February, Pope Francis and Grand Imam Ahmed el-Tayeb said in a jointly signed document on human brotherhood: “Pluralism and diversity of religions, color, gender, race and language are willed by God in his wisdom ”. It is a reminder that we cannot aspire to understand God. Nonetheless, our faith reveals God as the One who reaches out to us, coming to us in terms that are both understandable and strangely mysterious.
Christianity teaches that we are invited into the dynamic mystery symbolized by the three names, Father, Son and Spirit.
The other three word formula we can use is simply, “God is love.
[Mary M. McGlone is a Sister of St. Joseph currently writing the history of the Sisters of St. Joseph in the U.S.]
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