A woman came to see me recently to talk about her various troubles and she ended by asking me to talk with her children saying: “please tell them to be good!” I answered, “No”. I told her that God had not entrusted me with bringing up children, so I could not tell her how to do it, but from my experience in my own family and from what I had seen in other families, I know that children are not supposed to be good, they are supposed to be loved and, then, if they are loved, they may, by God’s grace, one day, become loving and then they will become good.
By “being good”, of course, she meant “doing what they are told” and many people make the mistake of thinking that this is what Christianity is all about – listening to the rules and then doing what you are told. But, this is not true; being a Christian is about becoming a loving person; something that can only happen when we are loved and it is in in families that we find love – or are supposed to. It is only in my family that I can do something wrong and still be loved; it is only in my family I can make mistakes and be able to start again; this is because in a true family I am loved for who I am and not for what I do and so in such a healing, forgiving, enabling love, I dare to become myself and so find the vocation and destiny that God is calling me to.
The doctrine of the Trinity is intimately connected with this truth about Christianity, for it tells us that “God is Three” and “God is One” – in other words: God is “Family” and his invitation to us is to join his family. Jesus says, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my commandments, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.”(Jn 14:23). Now, “the commandments” spoken of here are not the Ten Commandments – those are the commandments of Moses – Jesus’ commandments are: “Love one another as I have loved you!” In other words, when we treat each other as family, God will come among us, for he can only dwell with us, he can only be himself in a family. The whole of Christianity is directed towards this great truth – our doctrines, prayers, ceremonies, etc. – everything we learn and practice as Christians, is aimed at teaching us this love and without it, it is empty.
It is rather like deciding to bake a cake so that people can eat and enjoy each other’s company. We learn how to mix the flour and fat and eggs etc., we learn how to bake it and then how to ice it and decorate it – but should we, at the end, become so enamoured with the cake that instead of giving it to people to eat we put it on a shelf – and let it rot – then there is no point in all the cooking. In the same way, if I say all my prayers, learn all the doctrines and follow all the customs of the Church, but in the end refuse to give myself to others in love – refuse to let myself “be eaten up”, as Mother Teresa put it, then all that I have done is frustrated and comes to nothing.
You may ask, “Why have I never heard this about the doctrine of the Trinity before?” It is because many hundreds of years ago, someone denied that there was only One God and the Church then meditated and declared, “No, there is only One God”. Then someone else came along and said that there was only one person in God and again the Church meditated and then said, “No, there are three Persons”. So, it became the practice to ensure that people learnt the truth that “there is One God, and Three persons in that One God” – but then, having insisted that this teaching is important, they forgot to tell us why it is important! They forgot to tell us that the doctrine of the Trinity sets the whole scene of what Christianity and, indeed, of what life itself is all about – it is not about being good, it is about being loved.
The trouble is that you cannot teach a person how to love. There are no rules to follow, for love is made up of all those small things that happen in a family. Nearly twenty years ago, I was in charge, for a while, of a hostel from Street Children in India and I tried to care for nearly a hundred boys of all ages. Some years later, I met one of those boys, who said to me, “Father, I want to thank you, for when I was sick you came and sat by my side and gave me a sweetie.” I have no memory of it, but that boy, who would have been only eight at the time, remembered it and treasured the memory, for small as that action was, it showed that he was loved – and in such actions God is present.
St. Paul writes again and again: “You are the children of God – then live as the children of God”. “You are brothers and sisters – then live as brothers and sisters”. He says that the whole of Creation is groaning in one great act of giving birth – God is being born upon the earth, but he can only be born if we love one another as brothers and sisters. The doctrine of the Trinity tells us this – that God can only be born in family – because that is what God is. He is Trinity – He is Family!
I have had a pleasant week. It was the last week of the seminary vacation, so I had time get my notes up to date, to take some exercise by cutting the football field – but not all at one go! – and being able to sleep a little later in the morning. However, the seminarians are now back and life begins again with the alarm ringing at 5am – something I am not very fond of!
When I was in Bali with the group from Kuching, I asked the ladies in the group if they were interested in buying jewellery, because I knew of two Catholic Balinese sisters, who made nice jewellery and at reasonable prices. They said that they were, so I asked the two sisters to come to the hotel and the ladies bought a lot of their products. I was pleased that the idea had come to me, but I thought no more about it, until I got back to Kuching and received an email from one of the two sisters thanking me for remembering them. She told me that the normal outlet for their jewellery had closed and being able to sell to our group had been a Godsend. In such gentle and small ways does the Holy Spirit lead us to care for each other and then fill those actions with so much more than we intended. As I read recently in a hymn: the Lord asks: Will you let me answer prayer in you and you in me?
I also recently read something about resentments and refusing to forgive:
“To hold on to a resentment is like drinking poison and imagining it is going to kill your enemy!”