THE TRINITY AS THE ANSWER TO GLOBALIZATION AND INDIVIDUALISM
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ EX 34:4-6, 8-9; 2 COR 13:11-13; JOHN 3:16-18 ]
We live in a very divided society. Mass communication and social media are supposed to help human beings to communicate better. The irony of it all is that it is one of the causes of breakdown in relationships. Instead of communicating with each other more personally, we have become impersonal with emails. Instead of spending time with our loved ones at home or at meals, we are busy with our mobile phones. Instead of using social media to transmit positive information, we use it to destroy people’s lives, shame those who make mistakes and worst of all, transmit fake news and distort information.
Indeed, society has become more individualistic and self-centered. It is about the happiness of the individual over the rest of the community. It is about me and my freedom to do what I like at the expense of the greater good of others. In the name of freedom and human rights, the freedom and rights of the greater community is compromised. When an individual claims complete autonomy from others, he becomes inward-looking. He is selfish, arrogant and cares only for himself. He puts himself before others. He cares for others only to the extent that they are of use to him in his promotion at work, business or personal needs. People are used, not loved. Relationship is for fundamentally utilitarian purposes, not about mutual love.
What is the cause? A godless society! Whether we admit it or not, we model ourselves according to our values and conception of life. A society without good role models to imitate but ourselves would be an impoverished community. Conversely, if we believe in God, we will imitate whom we believe. Our concept of God determines how we live our lives. The religion or faith we subscribe to will impact the way we relate to each other, especially in married and family life. Our values originate from our faith. How we perceive God is how we will relate to each other. There cannot be another dichotomy between faith and life. So those without God will operate from what they think life should be lived, since they have no models to live by except what they see in the lives of others, depending who they are attracted or inspired by. If we choose the wrong models of success and happiness in life, we might end up destroying ourselves. We can either imitate St Teresa of Calcutta or Hitler. The implications are colossal.
So what is our concept of God? In the first reading, we read about the attributes of God. He revealed Himself to Moses as “a God of tenderness and compassion, slow to anger, rich in kindness and faithfulness.” This concept of God is quite similar to that of Islam and Judaism. Not surprisingly, we share the same Old Testament roots. In Islam, God is known as the Compassionate One. Interestingly, although Buddhism does not speak about God, yet the distinguishing mark of Buddha is that of an Enlightened One and of compassion. This explains why Jews, Muslims and Buddhists emphasize the need for compassion for our fellowmen. Charity and almsgiving are important practical expressions of our faith. So followers of such religions at least tend to emphasize much on compassion, fraternal love for their brothers and sisters, forgiveness and helping each other. Thus, our beliefs in God determine very much how we relate to our fellowmen. If God is merciful to us and forgiving, then necessarily, we who receive His mercy and forgiveness would extend the same blessings to others as well.
However, Christian Faith goes beyond proclaiming that God is compassion. The gospel reading speaks of the being of God as love. “God loved the world so much.” When we speak of God as love, then we are claiming that God is relationship. If the being of God is love, He could not possibly love Himself, as this would be narcissism. And how could He be love from all eternity when the world, the universe and human beings were still not around for Him to love? So He would be loving Himself! Flowing from this truth that God is love, we must posit that although the substance of God is One, since God must be a unity, yet within God there must be relations. Consequently, Christian doctrine defines God as One in being but three in persons.
God is subsistent relations. This is to say that the three persons in the Trinity do not have relations like you and I. We have relations outside of us. We are related to our parents, our spouse, our children, but we are not constituted of these relations because we are also unique individuals. We can stand alone but we are also social beings. In God, however, He is pure relations; that is, the Father cannot exist without the Son and the Son without the Father and both without the Holy Spirit. This explains why the doctrine of the Holy Trinity is an advancement of monotheism. Christianity, although monotheistic, does not conceive of God as a monad, as in Judaism and Islam. In the One God, the three persons share in the same divine substance. This is what unites the three persons. But within the one divine substance, there are three persons in relations.
This doctrine of the One God in three persons is not a philosophical deduction but is rooted in the experience of God in the life of a Christian. Clearly, in the gospel, we read that God is not merely love but He is also a Father, that is, the origin of life and love. Jesus revealed to Nicodemus that “God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not be lost but may have eternal life.” God is more than love. He is our Father. Christ is the only begotten Son of the Father, the expression of the Father on earth. He is the incarnation of God, the Word made flesh. Together, the Father and the Son saved the world by bestowing their mutual love and mercy on the world. This is summed up by St Paul when he described the love of God. “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” In this Trinitarian greeting, we have the summary of the Christian experience of God’s love and mercy through our Lord Jesus Christ made present in the Holy Spirit, especially in the fellowship of the Christian community.
What is the implication of this doctrine of the Holy Trinity for us all? It means that our happiness and joy in life depends on the depth of our relationship with each other. Just as the happiness and fulfilment of God is found within the mutual relationship of the Father and the Son sharing in the same Spirit of love, our completion and fulfilment must come in our relationships with our fellowmen. Although we are individuals, yet we are called to be one with others. We are unique so that we can complement each other in love, in resources and blessings. No man is an island. He needs to relate with others to find himself. Man is therefore an individual and social being. He needs to be himself but never without the others. To love himself is to love his neighbours.
The three persons of the Holy Trinity live from each other, by each other, from each other and in each other. The unity of the three persons is complete and yet they are distinct from one another. We too are called to love in such a manner. We are called to be united in our diversity. We need each other and we are called to live for each other, with each other and from each other as well. In all that we do and act, we do it out of love. It is love that unites us in our distinctions as individuals. When we define God and human beings as love, it means that we need each other. God must be a Trinity of persons. We are social beings.
This is also our answer to a world that wavers between globalization and individualism. The recent political developments in the world exemplify this tension. Some countries are going back to protectionism in the face of globalization. They view others as a threat to their economy and their homogenous society. So instead of reaching out, they are excluding others by promoting themselves at the expense of other countries. At the other end of the spectrum are those who promote globalization, free trade and welcoming migrants. They believe in free competition and mutual promotion of each other’s interests. The first is a win-lose approach. The latter is a win-win approach. What we need to promote today is the uniqueness of the individual which cannot be denied. But we must also underscore that no individual and no country can exist for herself but also for and with others. This is the kind of communion that the doctrine of the Holy Trinity is offering to the world. Instead of alienating others, we are called to build bridges of love. In this way, through mutual love, we can truly transform this humanity into the family of God united as one in love.
Now we can appreciate why the Lord tells us that the greatest commandments are these “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mk 12:29-31) The concept of God as Trinity therefore reveals to us the key to true happiness, which is the love of God manifested in our love for others, a love that is in imitation of the Blessed Trinity, a love that is mutually giving, caring, and empowering.
Written by The Most Rev William Goh, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore © All Rights Reserved
Best Practices for Using the Daily Scripture Reflections
- Encounter God through the spirit of prayer and the scripture by reflecting and praying the Word of God daily. The purpose is to bring you to prayer and to a deeper union with the Lord on the level of the heart.
- Daily reflections when archived will lead many to accumulate all the reflections of the week and pray in one sitting. This will compromise your capacity to enter deeply into the Word of God, as the tendency is to read for knowledge rather than a prayerful reading of the Word for the purpose of developing a personal and affective relationship with the Lord.
- It is more important to pray deeply, not read widely. The current reflections of the day would be more than sufficient for anyone who wants to pray deeply and be led into an intimacy with the Lord.
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