This text is based on a talk with the title 'The Holy Trinity: Reaching Out to Help Us'.
Let's start with a passage from the letter to the Hebrews, Chapter 12, verse 1:
“With so many witnesses in a great cloud on every side of us, we too, then, should throw off everything that hinders us, especially the sin that clings so easily, and keep running steadily in the race we have started. Let us not lose sight of Jesus, who leads us in our faith and brings it to perfection: for the sake of the joy which was still in the future, he endured the cross, disregarding the shamefulness of it, and from now on has taken his place at the right of God’s throne. Think of the way he stood such opposition from sinners and then you will not give up for want of courage. In the fight against sin, you have not yet had to keep fighting to the point of death.” (Hebrews 12:1-4)
I’m going to speak about Jesus, and the Father, and the Holy Spirit, because I want us all to end up ‘close to God’s throne’, and because on the way to Heaven our spiritual life is vastly more fulfilling and interesting if we really believe that Three Divine Persons are at work in our souls and our lives.
I’m sure lots of you will already know some of the things I’ll say about God, and the spiritual life; so please just absorb what’s helpful, and overlook the rest.
- THREE DIVINE PERSONS.
THE HOLY TRIANGLE.
I was at Heathrow Airport, stranded on a bus in the middle of the night, a few years ago. With one other person, a stranger to me, I was waiting to go across the tarmac after a tiring flight back from Israel. The stranger began to talk, asking whether I’d liked the country, and what it was I’d gone to see; and when I told him how pleased I’d been to visit the places where Jesus had lived, he said: “Oh - so you’re a Christian - You must believe in the Holy Triangle!” … It was a nice way, for me, of seeing how our religion looks to someone who doesn’t share it!
But if I can draw your attention to the picture here (- see frontispiece -) of three faces within a circle, this represents in a simple way what has been revealed to us by God, about Himself: revealed through Christ, the Son of God, and His Apostles: one of the truths handed on in the Church from generation to generation: that God is Three-in-One.
Christians believe that there is only one God: All-mighty and glorious; and yet we believe that there are Three Divine Persons Who all share the one Divine nature. We don’t fully understand this mode of being: this holy mystery: this revelation about the inner life of God. Yet we can believe that Christ, the Son of God, was speaking the truth about Himself, and about His Father - with Whom He claimed to be one - and about His Spirit, Whom He promised to send to the hearts of all Who would believe in Him; and we can believe what good Christians of all ages have said: that the greater our love, the greater is our understanding.
We cannot penetrate the Godhead by thought, but by love; so if we do what St. Augustine did - he said: ‘I believe so that I’ll understand” - our relationship with God, and our knowledge of Him, can deepen year by year.
We must never imagine that there are three Gods!
The picture shows out, in a graphic way, the unity of the Godhead, in this sense: that whenever we pray to the Father, we are also praying to the Son and to the Holy Spirit; when we pray to Christ the Son, we are also praying to His Father - now our Father, because of our Baptism - and to the Holy Spirit; and whenever we call to the Holy Spirit in prayer, we are at that same time calling to the Father and the Son. The Three Persons are distinct but not separate.
In the Godhead, there is but one Divine Intelligence and Will; and if we remind ourselves now and then that the doctrine of the Trinity is not only revealed, but is privileged information, we’ll keep our eyes and ears open to the language the Church uses about the Godhead, in the words of the Liturgy; and we’ll begin to be amazed that we are invited to share God’s life.
Perhaps that the work and unity of the three Divine Persons in the one God is best described by a symbol; and an apt symbol by which to express the Mystery which is God’s Trinity-in-Unity, is what is called a “Russian wedding ring”. We can picture a wedding ring which consists of three shining bands of metal, each of which is a circle, but a circle which cannot be separated from the others.
We can say that each circle is distinct, but not separate. Each is a single ring, yet together they make a single ring:- and how simple it is, and how beautiful! No band is larger than another. None has a beginning or an end. Each is perfect in its own shape and its own beauty. The three together are a ring just as a single band is a ring; this symbolises, for me, God’s Trinity-in-Unity: God’s inner life. It is a life in which three Divine Persons, one God, exist as beautiful and changeless, and yet are ‘at work’ unceasingly, ‘flowing’ in the heart of eternity; - and we can have a share in this life.
What marvellous news it is, that God’s own Son has told us that He can show us the way to Heaven: that in fact He is the way. He says, in St. John’s Gospel:-
I want those you have given me
to be with me where I am,
so that they may always see the glory
you have given me
because you loved me
before the foundation of the world.” Jn 17:24
A SPECIAL TASK
SPEAKING FROM EXPERIENCE.
Part of the job I’ve been given, by Christ, is to speak from experience about sharing God’s life: to say that, through prayer, we can develop an awesome relationship with the Three Divine Persons: to say: we have access to the Father: All-mighty God and Creator: in a way made plain through Christ and His Church: a way familiar to Christian people in every century: a way still open, for intimacy with God. By His Holy Spirit, we can share, eventually, a life which is richer and fuller than can be imagined; and I’m telling you nothing new.
Friends of Christ, in every era, have known the truth at the heart of the Christian Life: that intimacy with God is achieved not by thought and determination - though these are essential for progress towards union. Intimate union is achieved through our transformation, by God’s power, when we have come to love His Will more than our own, and have surrendered our own lives and dreams, in total trust.
The title of this talk, as you might remember, is: “The Holy Trinity, reaching out to help us -” and I might have added, if there’d been enough space - “and how we can reach out to ACCEPT God’s help.”
The Lord wants to help us; and He does so in all sorts of ways; but His respect for our freedom and dignity is so great that He asks our consent before He changes our lives, just as He asked the consent of Mary, before she conceived Jesus in her womb.
“I DON’T WANT IT”.
Perhaps we’ve all said ‘no’ to God at one moment or another.
Have you ever seen a three or four-year-old child getting over excited before a birthday party? Her mother won’t let her have a second meringue. Her hands are all sticky; and first she shrieks with anger and then she sulks, bottom lip stuck out. And when an auntie appears, with a birthday gift, and bends down to say: “Hello darling, I’ve got a little present for you” - the child stands with her arms firmly crossed on her chest, and her face like thunder, as she says: “I don’t want it!”
And that’s what some of us have been like - perhaps not just once, but dozens of times, when God has offered us gifts, opportunities or reminders, or has opened doors to a new adventure, or unveiled a new, unexpected responsibility; and we’ve said: “I don’t want it” - thereby saying no, perhaps, to His friendship as well as to His plans.
AS A WITNESS.
But while I’m talking about God’s plans, and about friendship with Him, some of you might be wondering if I’ve thought: “Why me?” Why should I speak about God when there are many more people who are better qualified? Yet I’ve never asked that question, because the Lord, long ago, told me the reasons.
Christ has explained why He wanted me, a tired housewife, to go out and about on a special mission. We know that all Christians are supposed to share their faith in ways which are appropriate to their gifts and circumstances; but Christ has explained that in an age of doubt and disbelief, like ours, He needs witnesses. He needs people to speak up not just to say “I believe in God” - though that’s a wonderful act of faith. He wants some of us to say: “I know Christ. He really exists. He’s wonderful! He’s full of love for us. It’s worth every sacrifice to grow close to Him.” - Yet there are some other reasons.
He specially wanted to use a married lay-person for this work: someone who can say just what many priests and religious say about the Faith; but, sad to say, this is an age when many people show little respect for people specially dedicated to God.
AS AN ARTIST.
He wanted someone who could paint, so that He could show out many of the truths of our Faith in pictures.
I once heard that Saints Cyril and Methodius converted very many people in Europe because they spoke to them in their own language; and Christ has shown me that pictures are the language of our age. Many people today never read a book. They absorb information all year round through television, pop-videos, photo-magazines, adverts and cartoons; and so, since the Lord is kind, He’s decided to meet people where they are, and provide important religious truths in ways which can be understood more easily.
Another reason why He chose me is that I’m weak, in more ways than one. He wanted someone weak, so that other weak people could see that what counts in the Christian life is hanging on to Christ through thick and thin, whatever our stature, or our circumstances. We don’t have to be leaders in the choir, or have a theology degree, to be a faithful Christian.
If we have to lead quiet lives, God can use that quietness. He has thousands of people helping refugees and feeding the hungry; and though He needs more people to do such things, we can’t all do the same work. He also needs people whose prime task is prayer, perhaps, or writing, or composing bus timetables, or doing the school accounts.
So, it wasn’t my idea to write and paint and speak about God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It’s a job He’s given me, to my astonishment: but one that has arisen in my ordinary, everyday life as a housewife and artist.
LEARNING THE TRUTH.
PAINTING AT HOME.
I know that some people are more interested in paintings than in prayer; and that’s why I’ll digress for a few moments to speak about my work as an artist.
I’ve painted all my adult life, branching out from portraits to flower paintings - and then to still lifes; and when the children were small, or we had sick relations to stay at home, I stopped painting altogether, or sometimes stopped for the school holidays; but when it was possible, I’d exhibit in local exhibitions - and eventually in London galleries. I was a founder member of the Society of Botanical Art and so exhibited at the Mall Galleries, and the Westminster Gallery, and also the Royal Academy, amongst others - as well as provincial galleries in Helmsley, Guildford and other places; but all my work has been representational. I can’t do fantasy work. I’ve usually painted whatever has been there in front of me: things beautiful or intriguing, and close-at-hand.
A CHANGE OF SUBJECT MATTER.
There came a time however, when my highly detailed watercolours became impossible to produce to the same standard of clarity. Some took seventeen hours to complete; and when ill-health made such work very difficult I decided not to become despondent and to abandon painting, but to pick up a big brush, and take up oil painting again; and I decided to move away from still life: perhaps to paint a subject closer to my heart: perhaps something to do with prayer.
THE MASS PAINTINGS.
That’s why I began a series of Mass Paintings which some of you have seen. Very hesitantly, and for two years, I worked to produce a set of paintings which would show, from beginning to end, what happens during the Mass. So I was still painting what was ‘in front’ of me: just the sanctuary bathed in a beautiful light, or a procession of people offering baskets to the priest, but what I didn’t yet tell anyone - because it wasn’t the right time - was that some pictures consisted of what Christ had shown me was also ‘in front’ of me during the Mass: either Himself, visible in glory, or the Saints watching on high as we receive Holy Communion - or the grace of God, pouring out like a torrent of living water from Heaven, high above.
All of these things He had shown me in prayer, though not to my bodily eyes; but now I put down what I’d seen, incorporating these God-given images into the whole set, until, when I had twenty ‘Mass Paintings’, I decided to call a halt.
One picture which might be familiar to you, from the poster, is called: ‘Per Ipsum,’ or shows Christ drawing us closer to Heaven, through His Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. By our reverent participation, we allow Christ to lead us closer to the Father.
None of the pictures was for sale, by the way. We circulated photographs of them, to encourage people in their faith; and I was asked to exhibit them in Westminster Cathedral, in 1993. But that was the beginning of my religious painting - which I’ve been producing in a steady stream ever since. I gave up all my commercial work, a little later, to concentrate on the images I’d received in prayer.
CHRIST AND THE MASS.
And now for the reasons why the Mass is so important to me: I came into the Catholic Church when I was twenty-five, overwhelmed at the discovery that Jesus Christ is Really Present - sacramentally present - in the tabernacle, in every single Catholic Church in the whole world. And we can approach Him, and be near to Him - and speak to Him. Yet I treasured the other truths of the Catholic Faith, as well, because they’d been revealed by God, and also because they all fitted together so marvellously.
Faith was the key - which included faith in the teaching authority of the Church; so I slowly tried to behave and think as a true Catholic Christian should; and after all sorts of joys and failures I understood at last what Christ meant when He said: “My grace is enough for you. My power is at its best in weakness.” (2 Co. 12:9). I still wanted to love and serve God with my whole heart, but I knew that I didn’t have to earn His love. He’s really trustworthy, and He’s not put off by our sins and failings.
And so, it was on that ‘rock’ of truth, and on the faith I’d received from the Church, that I found - to my amazement in the 1980s - that Christ was regularly teaching me, not for the first time but more lavishly than ever. In the silence of prayer He taught me about the Father’s Glory, about prayer and the soul, about Our Lady and the Church - and about the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, and the Communion of Saints, and lots of other things.
A NEW VOCATION.
And so I found, in the end, that I had a new vocation, which is to write, paint and speak, to encourage people to persevere in their faith.
I have nothing new to say; but I provide reminders that Christ is the ‘Radiant Light’ for all who want to know the truth about God, and human life, and the way to holiness and joy.
“He is the radiant light of God’s glory and the perfect copy of his nature, sustaining the universe by his powerful command;” that’s what we hear in the letter to the Hebrews (Hb 1:3): and that’s the name Christ Himself has given to me for the movement which He has brought into being through me: ‘Radiant Light.’
I didn’t begin to write until I’d explained all about the ‘teachings’ to my Parish Priest - then Canon O’Leary; but he assured me that the teachings I receive in prayer are a gift from God; and ever since, my writings have been checked by a kind Jesuit theologian; so that might reassure some of you. Meanwhile, the more Christ taught me, the more clearly I saw that the Father doesn’t love mankind - and me - as a remote headmaster might love the children in his care: loving the whole school-full, but not each individual.
GOD IS LOVE.
I discovered what we were told by Paul Schofield in “A man for all seasons” - when he played the part of St. Thomas More. At one point, St Thomas was explaining to his son-in-law why it was worth risking his health, and livelihood and happiness - and even his life - in order to do God’s Will. He said: “God is the only one who is good all through” - meaning: utterly kind and trustworthy. Or God is like the doctor I used to see during a time of great trouble, when I always felt he’d think me a nuisance; but he used to lean over his desk each time, saying: “I’m on your side, you know!” - just letting me know, as the Lord does, that his whole desire was to see me happy: that I didn’t have to prove I deserved help.
This is why I’m glad to say nowadays - everywhere and anywhere - and with rock solid certainty: I know that God has reached down to mankind, in and through Christ; and He has even reached down to me!
LEAPING OUT TO SAVE US.
In one of my paintings, Christ the Son is shown leaping out from the centre of the Godhead, as if from the white-hot, loving heart of the Father, to enter our world, to rescue us from sin and misery; and the Holy Spirit, close by, within the Godhead, is pictured as drawing up to Heaven all who welcome Christ, believe in Him, and follow His Way.
As the Catechism says: God’s plan is for us to enter “into the perfect unity of the Blessed Trinity”. But even now, we are called to be “a dwelling for the Most Holy Trinity” (CCC 260). Jesus said: “If a man loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him.” (Jn 14:23)
It is through and in Christ that we can grow in the knowledge and love of the Three Divine Persons. We can know God our awesome Creator, Whom, as His adopted children, we can call ‘Father’. We can know Christ His All-powerful Word, “the image of the unseen God” (Col 1:15) and now our Saviour; and we can know the All-wise, All-holy Spirit, Who can bring us the joy of Divine friendship, the sweetness of Divine love, with the fire of holiness in our souls and minds, as He prepares us for Heaven.
SHARING HIS NATURE.
CHRIST’S HOLINESS, IN US.
Whenever I speak about our life ‘in Christ,’ I always try to show that our transformation, as children of God who have ‘come out into the Light ( ) and have left behind a life of self-love, is not brought about by will power. St. Paul says ( ) that “I cannot understand my own behaviour” - and he tells how he keeps doing things he doesn’t want to do, and fails to do the good he does want to do. Like St. Paul, we need God’s power and holiness, since we’re powerless, left to ourselves.
How many of us have imagined that if we pull our socks up, and behave well, God will reward us by giving us holiness and Heaven, when the opposite is true? I mean that when know we need His help and holiness and grace and power, we approach Him in trust and humility; and then we allow Him to give us help. We become holy with His holiness: and therefore ready for Heaven in the end, if only we persevere.
One of the pictures I’ve painted (see opposite) is of a bright cloud in the sky from which emerges an ‘arm’ of cloud, with a Christ-figure visible at the end of it. The bright cloud represents the Divine nature which Christ shares with the Father; and Christ has come out from the Godhead, and has taken flesh from Mary. He is truly God and man; and the Christian message is that whoever freely welcomes Christ and is united with Him by faith and baptism shares His Divine nature - though by adoption.
It’s as if all the people are in close contact with Him are lit up by Divine grace, just as when electricity surges through a set of fairy lights at Christmas. The source of that light and beauty is the electricity from the mains, though each little bulb appears unique, and beautiful; and the source of all power and light and transformation in the lives of Christians is Christ-the-Son-of-God, Who gives us a share in His Divine life. That’s why we need the sacraments which give us that life, or, as the Catechism explains: which Christ “instituted to communicate his grace” (CCC 1084).
REQUIREMENTS FOR UNION.
Now, if we’re going to love God the Father with our whole “heart, soul and mind” - as Christ said in St. Matthew’s Gospel (Mt. 22:34) and if we’re going to achieve known union with God even in this life, we should be united with Him in loving what He loves.
I mean that we’ll develop a sincere love not only for the Father but also for His Son, and for the Holy Spirit. We’ll love His Commandments, and His Will for us in everyday life. We’ll love the Church Christ founded - and Christ’s holy Mother Mary, and all the other Saints, and the holy Angels too. We’ll love the whole human race - especially the poor, the lonely and the needy - because each person is precious: given life by God; yet love requires knowledge; and so we’ll want to keep on learning about God, and about human beings. We’ll try to find out God’s Will for us in everyday life, and we’ll hope to learn more about God Himself through the teaching of the Church, and through prayer.
If we want to become intimate friends of God through the prayer of union, however, preparation is necessary.
Which of us has lived in Baptismal charity and innocence at every second of our lives - or spent every moment of life yearning to know and serve God better? We need a real conversion, if we want to know God well, and pray well - whether that conversion is something we’ve never yet undergone, or something we know we should undergo every year, or even every day.
If I summarise the requirements for union, I must say:
- We need faith in God: not forever saying that ‘perhaps’ He exists. It’s not unreasonable to believe in the united witness of the Church through the ages, that God has revealed Himself to Mankind, through Christ, and also guides and teaches us today, through His Holy Church.
- We need to see how unlike God we are, so that we’ll want to change. Repentance shouldn’t make us miserable. On the contrary, it opens a ‘doorway’ to a life of grace.
- We need to give up sin: that is, deliberate sin: all those thoughts, habits, grudges, immoral practises or future plans which aren’t holy.
- We need to decide to obey God’s wishes - plainly shown out through His Church - and through our everyday duties.
- We need to pray sincerely, and regularly, with reverence and love: in praise of God, thanksgiving, sorrow for sin - and in trusting requests for help for ourselves (petitions) and for other people (intercessions).
- We need to stop complaining: I mean, serious grumbling, which just cannot co-exist with the thanksgiving we should cultivate if we want to be like Jesus.
- We need to show love for God and our neighbour, in the way plainly shown us by God. That is God’s Will for us. That’s the ‘one necessary thing’ which Jesus spoke about to Martha ( ) who was rushing about trying to do six things at once. God has a plan, a way of life for each one of us, which can be fruitful and joyful. But we shan’t follow it if we insist on following a self-chosen path.
- So we need to avoid personal, proud ambitions, needless tasks, things done through fear or to curry favour. We should only do what God wants - with the simplicity of a child.
If anyone thinks: this is complicated! - I’d say that I’ve only spelled out, in a way, something about friendship. We say we want to be close friends of God. If we’ve begun a good friendship with someone in earthly life in our community or workplace, we spend time with that person, offer invitations, and find out their interests. We can do things to make their life easier, listen to them, treasure their friends and relations - and take special care over birthdays, perhaps, or other celebrations.
So do we love God if we’re bored by His company, or never find out more about Him, or throw a quick remark in His direction now and again, or never bother to show any reverence or respect?
Truly God exists; and He loves us with a love so great and tender it’s beyond anything we can imagine.
THE FATHER’S LOVE.
The Lord once gave me an image of a child on her father’s lap. I saw how tenderly God looks upon each one of us: just as a father gazes upon His precious infant, wholly desirous of seeing her happy and at peace.
But the love between God and ourselves is something freely given; and we are free: We can leap off God’s lap, so to speak, or even spit in His face, like a horrid infant; but if we’ve ever had the opportunity to learn a little about God’s love, we’ll remember that He isn’t flustered by our sins and tantrums. He tries to draw us back to happiness. Until we die, we’re offered the opportunity, by repenting, to hold out our hand and to take the hand which He is always holding out towards us.
And all the time, we should never forget: “God is love” (Jn ). He is never moody. He can’t act on a whim - or take a sudden dislike to us. And He is very close to us, all the time; but if you would like an illustration, of real love - God’s love - here’s a little ‘love story’ to help you.
VERY CLOSE TO US.
I once saw a blind, deaf man in Lourdes, who couldn’t even hear, therefore, the words of comfort that people yearned to offer him. But his mother was there. And when he was near despair with pain, or a sense of isolation, he used to cry out; and I was moved to tears by her action. She’d always seize his hand - and then she’d lean over and press the side of her face over his face; and though he couldn’t hear a word she said, he’d feel her warm cheek upon his nose and mouth; and he’d smell her familiar motherly smell; and he was comforted, every time, and would eventually go to sleep.
TRUST IN GOD.
So if we believe that the Lord is very close to us, we’ll believe that when we pray, it’s as if we put out a hand to touch His face, though we’re blind and deaf to Him, most of the time. This is not because He wants us to stay that way. He invites us to do the things I’ve mentioned: to have faith, to repent, to give up sin, to pray sincere prayers, and to live a life of love, - to put Him first in our lives - so that, at exactly the right time, whether before our death or after, He can take off some of the veils, so to speak, which hide Him from our sight; and He can show us how deeply He loves us.
That’s what happens in the prayer of union, which of course is why people through the ages have devoted themselves to contemplative prayer.
If people really knew what God is like - how devastatingly tender and loving, how beautiful, awesome and holy - they’d be rushing like salmon upstream to fill monasteries, or hammering on seminary doors, begging to be let in, or on their knees in church, in gratitude to God that they have a husband or wife to cherish, and children to love; and, whether single or married, they’d be aching to know how to glorify God through good work, or through bearing sickness in patience.
So if we want to know God, and want to be very close friends of His, prayer is essential. We can’t draw down upon ourselves the joys of Divine union; but if we prepare our hearts and souls and lives, and persevere in loving sincere, in darkness or light, year by year, we can be sure that the Lord will make Himself known.
Of course, God is the All-holy Creator - powerful and majestic, as well as very tender like a mother; and so the worship of God by people who love Him moves between two ‘poles’: between flat-out adoration, and trusting, whispered conversations; and that’s in fact how it should be, until we reach Heaven where we shan’t have to keep our balance any more, so to speak. We’ll just be wholly immersed in, and thrilled by, God’s unending, blissful love.
GRATITUDE AND WONDER.
FOR OUR SAKES.
I’ve only one main subject to dwell on next. I’ve been speaking about the possibility of achieving union with God, and about my paintings, and the reason why I speak and write about the Faith. I’ve said a few words about God’s tenderness towards us, and about our need to pray, if we want to get to know Him. Yet this could still leave some people asking: “Why should we sacrifice ourselves to God’s wishes? What’s He really done for us.”
We’re perhaps not very grateful that He’s made us and our world from nothing - or that He holds us in existence all the time, out of love. But if we really grasp something of the truth of the staggering event which was the appearance on earth, in bodily form, of God Himself - God the Son - and appreciate what He’s done for us by enduring pain and death amongst sinful people like ourselves, we’ll be wide-eyed in gratitude and wonder. So I’d like to share a story about Christ’s earthly life, and why it’s only through Him that we have any hope of peace in this life, or happiness in Eternity.
THE WORK OF SALVATION.
I was once praying to the Holy Trinity during the Mass, first to Jesus to thank Him, and then to the Holy Spirit to praise Him; then I turned to the Father to praise and thank Him for giving us Jesus, to save us; and the priest at the altar was saying: “Accept this offering from your whole family. Count us among those you have chosen;” and the Father suddenly taught me why He had sent His Son to earth - and why we should be immensely grateful.
He explained why the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is the means by which Christ’s work of salvation is made effective in our own lives - yours and mine. But on this occasion He taught me by telling me a story - just as Jesus used to do in His earthly life. And I was given a picture at the same time, which I’ve put down as best I could, in my oil painting. (See centre fold).
SETTING THE SCENE.
I’ll set the scene for the story by asking you to remember that, when God first created human beings, He allowed them to share His supernatural life. They lived in close friendship with Him in a state of ‘original justice’ (CCC 376) - until they rebelled, determined to follow their own desires rather than obey God; and that was the original sin, which destroyed the inner harmony within each person, and damaged the harmony between men and women, and human beings and all creation.
Death and sin entered the world. People became afraid of God, and aware of an inclination to evil. But God didn’t allow mankind to remain hopeless in this wretched state; He had a plan by which He would gradually reveal Himself to human beings, act upon earth to conquer sin and death, and begin to gather together, in joy and purity, all the people who would participate in His plan.
A GRADUAL REVELATION.
So that’s what happened, as we know, when God gave a gradual revelation of Himself to His chosen people. Through Patriarchs, Prophets and Kings He showed that He is One and He is holy. He revealed to them that He is tender and kind as well as majestic and powerful. He gave Commandments which were to provide the foundation for a moral life - with instructions for ritual worship, and special covenants between Himself and human beings; and all this was a preparation for the arrival of God Himself on earth: God the Son: on a rescue mission to sinful people. And now the story begins: the story the Lord told me.
Here is God the Father reigning in Glory: He’s the King, seated on a sort of oriental throne; and He’s screening His face at the things His Son has just been telling Him - about the sufferings He’s going to bear if he goes ahead with His plan to save sinful creatures. The Father reaches out in love to His Son, touched to the heart by the Son’s love for Him and for earthly creatures; and that reaching-out-in-love between Father and Son, and between Son and Father, is so infinitely powerful and tender and perfect that it - He - is Divine: a Divine Person : the Holy Spirit: the Third Person of the Holy Trinity.
PROVING HIS LOVE.
Now, imagine what the Son has just proposed to His Father. It’s as if He has said:
- “Father: I want to go down to earth to help and save these beloved people from sin and darkness.
- When I’ve become flesh and blood like them, I’ll live amongst them.
- I’ll live as they live, though without sinning.
- I’ll accept the sufferings which are inevitable if I live a life of love and truthspeaking in a sinful world: a life of faithfulness to Your Will in every circumstance.
- I know I’ll be criticized, isolated and betrayed; and I’ll be tortured to death: nailed to a Cross; and as I’m dying, I’ll be an object of scorn.
- But that’s a sacrifice I’m prepared to make, if it helps helpless people - and I know it will.
Then the Son explains:
- “Just think what will happen, Father, if I become man, and then accept suffering and death amongst sinful people:
- Since I shall always act lovingly towards people, and always speak the truth, I’ll set an example of perfect love and patience.
- I’ll prove my love for You, Father, by living according to Your Will, in faithfulness and obedience.
- I’ll prove my love for sinful people because I won’t hate and retaliate or even kill, when I’m mistreated.
- I’ll re-unite sinful people with You, Father, because I shall be praying for them, even when they are crucifying Me: praying for their sins to be forgiven: and You, Father, always grant My prayers.
- When I’ve died, I know You won’t leave Me in the grave, but will lift Me out by the Holy Spirit’s power; and so they will have evidence that evil cannot overcome good.
- When I raise up from the grave on the third day these people will have evidence that I am Who I’ve said I am: God comes down from Heaven to live amongst them.
- Some of them will realise that because I’ve lived in humility amongst sinful people, and have even accepted ill-treatment and death at their hands, I’ve proved my love for them; and those who are ashamed of their sins will want to change.
- They will believe that what I’ve said about forgiveness is true: that You forgive all who turn to You in love and contrition; and they will believe that since the Holy Spirit is powerful enough to raise Me up from the grave - and up to You, Father, in Heaven - He is powerful enough to transform them.
And then the Son concluded:
- “Now You’ll understand, Father, that I shall tell these people, long before I die, that You will really bring Me up from the tomb, alive.
- I’ll also tell them that everyone who believes that I came from Heaven - from You, Father - and who is sorry for his rebellion can be restored to friendship with You, through My death and resurrection.
- He can have the power to follow My Way of love, by being washed clean of sin at Baptism and receiving our Love - the Holy Spirit - into his soul.
- He can become brave, pure and holy like Me, utterly dedicated to Your Will.
- He’ll be your adopted child. He’ll pray to You in My Name, confident that You will answer, for My sake, the prayers he prays.
- He’ll offer You perfect praise, in union with Me.
- He’ll be transformed by the Heavenly Food he receives from Me.
- And if he perseveres to the end, I shall be able to bring him up to Heaven to be with Us forever.”
A LONG PREPARATION.
The Father in the story was overwhelmed by such love.
Then He explained that a long preparation would be necessary for such an extraordinary plan to be fulfilled; but here, He outlined His plan.
He would choose one People, and prepare them as a Special People from whom His own Son would take flesh and be born on earth.
He would send His Spirit to guide His People through great leaders and prophets. They would learn about His holiness and majesty but also about His loving-kindness.
Through giving them a moral code, and training them in ritual worship, He would lead them towards holiness in preparation for His Son’s descent to earth. He would prepare a special woman to be a perfect mother.
The Son could take flesh from her, by the Spirit’s power; He would receive a human soul, with a human intellect, memory and will. He would be true man and true God: a true spokesman for the human race, yet with the power to lay down His life and to take it up again.
Then, it’s as if the Father added:
- “After Your life on Earth - when You are back with Me here in Heaven, there will be generation after generation of sinners who need forgiveness but who won’t be able to meet You on earth, to be forgiven - or to stand by the Cross on which You sacrificed Yourself.
- Before You die, You can arrange that Your followers will celebrate, for ages to come, a living memorial of Your suffering and death and rising-up and homecoming to Heaven.
- We will give power to certain men amongst Your followers to change bread and wine into Your Body and Blood - though the outward appearance of bread and wine will remain; and when Your Body and Blood are present on the altar, the sacrifice of the Cross will be re-presented your friends will be present to the very sacrifice You’ll have offered on Calvary, when You were both the Priest - praying on behalf of other people - and the Victim, since You accepted death for their sake, when You hadn’t deserved to die.
- But this will be a living sacrifice, because You are now gloriously alive. You will be there ‘whole and entire’ amongst Your followers: Your Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity. You can be Present there amongst them at each celebration, praying to Me as You prayed from the Cross. None of these followers of later times will be less close to You than the Apostles who sat at your feet in Galilee.
- And, as you said, whoever participates in the Holy Sacrifice as a true follower can receive You as spiritual Food and so be made holy with Our holiness and prepared for Heaven.
- Your followers will live in unity in the world, bound together by the Holy Spirit in one Church for all people: one, holy Catholic, Apostolic Church. He will guide them century after century, through the chosen successors to the Apostles and the successors of St. Peter, the Chief Apostle.
- They will spread throughout the world the Good News about Our love for all human beings, about the forgiveness of sins, and about holiness and Heaven. They will continue to teach and to bring hope throughout the ages, until the time I’ve arranged, when You will return to earth in Glory, to bring Our plan to completion.”
AN HISTORICAL EVENT.
Now although I’ve told this like a story, the heart of it is true. God had a plan, and sent His Son to earth. It really happened. About two thousand years ago there was a man who said that He had come from Heaven to give His life for sinners, and to gather people to Himself and to the Father, by the power of the Holy Spirit.
He preached, and healed, and worked miracles, and calmed a storm. He taught people the true meaning of goodness and holiness; and He predicted that He would be killed but that He would rise to life again.
There were witnesses to the Son’s death; and hundreds of people saw Him after he had come back from the dead to a new, powerful life; and so the Good News spread like wildfire, handed on in the Church right until our own our day: that evil cannot win, in the long run; that we can find peace and forgiveness through faith and repentance, and that we can have the Son’s joy and power and friendship, if only we’ll follow His simple instructions, and persevere to the end.
This is why I’m convinced that God is Good:
I know that He’s like the Father with the child on his lap, rather than the tyrant who is lying in wait, to trip us up: and this is why I now say what Christ’s Church has always said, that we need the sacraments, especially the Mass.
When Christ is Really Present with us in the Mass - Sacramentally Present - it’s as though He is reaching up to Heaven, speaking to His Father on our behalf; and that’s why we need to associate ourselves with His perfect prayer; and that’s why we need priests, to stand in the place of Christ: priests to whom the Bishop said at Ordination: “ May God preserve you to sanctify the Christian people and to offer sacrifice to God.”
If we use all the gifts Christ offers to us, and try to “pray without ceasing” ( ) as St. Paul tells us, we can hope to be thoroughly transformed in the end: each of us a true friend of God, at home in the Communion of Saints - and with such trust in God’s goodness that we’ll be unafraid of Him, and will long to see Him in Heaven.
There, we shall taste in a perpetual and undiminishing manner, the fullness of those joys which are sometimes given in earthly life, in contemplative prayer. We can enjoy a known communion with the Three Divine Persons, the peace which is “not of this world” ( ), with unshakeable joy, sweetness suffusing the heart and soul, total fulfilment in God’s care, the felt joy and companionship of one’s spiritual brothers and sisters, the flight of the spirit into regions far above, yet, above all, the holy and beautiful Light of God’s Glory. We’ll begin to experience something of what is described in Holy Scripture as “the things that no eye has seen and no ear has heard, things beyond the mind of man, all that God has prepared for those who love him.” (1 Co 2:9)
None of this can be achieved where we resist every prompting of God, and remain determined to cling to serious sin. It cannot happen if we perpetually look for results, along the pathway to God, and grumble if He’s not quick enough to console us. It’s true that there are dark times which seem unendurable; but this is the case in every project or adventure which seems worthwhile: and to strive for union with God is to set out on the greatest adventure of all.
If we’re ever tempted to give up, there’s a question which we can ask ourselves.
Each of us, before we die, will be close to the white-hot furnace of love at God’s heart from which comes all true joy, light and sweetness. And we would be wise to ask ourselves: Are we ready to enter, to see God face to face? Have we tried to respond, when He has reached out to us, time and time again, to lead us into a life like His own: a life of peace and holiness and joy?
My hope today is that some of you will take even more time to reflect upon the beauty and holiness of God - and the foolishness of our rushing along, living as though He’s a minor character in our busy universe. Perhaps you’ll pluck up courage to practise regular prayer. I hope that you can believe that you’re turning towards Three loving Persons - One God - Who look tenderly upon you all the time.
They don’t frown at us, wagging Their fingers, so to speak when we do silly or sinful things. Their love is constant; but if we’re determined to go our own way, we’re in danger of cutting off contact with God. By our big sins we shut the ‘door’ of our own souls, so to speak, and freely shut ourselves in darkness.
CHRIST’S REAL PRESENCE.
But as well as urging you to pray - even very brief, simple prayers - I’d also urge you to go into a Catholic Church whenever You can. We know that God is with us everywhere; but where Christ is present in the Blessed Sacrament, in the tabernacle of each of our churches, He is as close to us as He was to the Apostles when they stood together on a hillside in Galilee.
FLAT ON THE FLOOR.
If people really believed this, they’d be flocking to church, to spend every spare minute beside Him - or flat on the floor in adoration before Him, if it wouldn’t inconvenience other worshippers. Imagine: Our God, amongst us in this extraordinary, sacramental way - and we’re tempted to ignore Him, except at Mass when we receive Him in Holy Communion!
So if you ever decide you’re not really interested in God, and you’re going to think no more about Him, I’d say: don’t turn away. That would be the biggest mistake of your life. And if you’re going to decide to spend a little more time in prayer each day, in order to know Him, I would say: “Well done! Keep going! Never give up!” Never give up on Christ, or prayer, or the Church. Christ is mad about you, head over heels in love, we can say, with each of us.
A STORY-TELLER AND A POET.
I can say, from experience, that Christ is not only Almighty God - Son of God - and Saviour and Teacher. He is a true friend, a teller of stories, and a poet, and very encouraging.
A few particular things He’s said to me in past years have been very encouraging; and I’ll mention them now, to offer a reminder that Christ’s love is personal to each one of us, and very tender.
We have dark times to go through, and all sorts of difficulties and temptations; but it’s really worthwhile, for the joy we can find in knowing Christ, and the hope we can have of seeing Him face to face in the end.
I remember a day when I had done something very difficult, just for Him; and then I was astonished when He said to me: “Don’t you think I’m grateful for what You’ve done?”. He wanted me to know that He treasures every good thing we do for Him.
On another occasion when I had been uncharitable, and admitted it, He showed me that He wasn’t cross with me; on the contrary, He explained how much He admires us for the humility with which we confess our sins.
Once, when I was really tired, doing His work, He told me, simply as a way of expressing His loving concern for me, that He’d kneel and wash my feet, just as He once washed the feet of His Apostles, if it would make my journey to Heaven any easier.
Two or three years ago when I was away on retreat, writing down His teachings for hours, He kept calling me as I worked: yet each time I stopped to listen to Him, He had nothing to say. And when this had happened three times, and I told Him frankly but reverently that I was puzzled, He explained that just as a husband might stop by his beloved wife’s chair, just to be near her, if she’s busy doing her household accounts, for example, so He likes to stop by me, when I’m doing His work. He just likes to be close by.
On another day, when I’d suffered badly, just for Christ - something routine, I didn’t expect any special thanks - He said to me: “If I didn’t love you already, I’d begin to love you now”; so now perhaps you can see why I’m besotted with Him, and why I hope that perhaps you’ll let Him into your lives, or come to know Him even better.
“GIVING OUR TESTIMONY”.
I know that God loves us. I’ve always believed this, as a Catholic, but now I know it from experience, as well; and I also know that God is always reaching out to us: Father, Son and Holy Spirit; and that’s why I long to share the Good News: the news that the fulfilment which He holds out to us is so wonderful even in this life, and even in the midst of difficulties and pain, that it’s beyond my powers of description.
The true joy which God offers us is a ‘pearl of great value” ( ……………….) - and to have it, it’s worth a few sacrifices - or even great sacrifices. God the Holy Trinity is reaching out to us today; and there is nothing on earth that can compare with God’s love.
St. John once wrote the following words about Christ, and - far more eloquently than I - shared his joy in his friendship with Christ and with the Father. He said:-
“Something which has existed since the beginning,
that we have heard,
and we have seen with our own eyes;
that we have watched
and touched with our hands:
the Word, who is life -
this is our subject.
That life was made visible:
we saw it and we are giving our testimony,
telling you of the eternal life
which was with the Father and has been made visible to us.
What we have seen and heard
we are telling you
so that you may be in union with us,
as we are in union
with the Father
and with his Son Jesus Christ.
We are writing this to you to make our own joy complete.
This is what we have heard from him,
and the message that we are announcing to you:
God is light; there is no darkness in him at all.” (1 Jn 1:1-5)