Some years ago I had lunch with friends in London. On my way out they introduced me to their father who was busy working in the garden. Without thinking I asked him what he was doing and he replied –“I do be digging the garden.” Some months later I met a nun who taught Irish in Dublin and I asked her about this expression that I’d never come across before. She explained that it was an English translation of what in Irish is called the present continuing tense. “Well what does it mean?” I asked, “What was he trying to say to me?” “Oh, what he was saying was this.” she said. “I have been digging the garden, I am digging the garden, and when you stop asking the obvious, I will continue digging the garden!” We haven’t such a tense in English, but the present continuing tense perfectly embodies the meaning of what St John had learned from studying the Old Testament, and from his own personal experience, of being personally loved by Jesus, both before and after the resurrection. When he said – God is love – he meant that ‘God has been loving us, is loving us now, and will continue to love us.’ In short God is loving. This is the essential message that Jesus came to teach us. However, he takes us further, for he uncovers the inner nature of God’s loving and shows how it can completely change us and prepare us to come to know and experience the infinite love of God that is our ultimate destiny.
God is both a father and a Mother and even more!
Let me explain this, beginning with the example of Jesus himself, for it is the sublime mystery upon which our present and future happiness depends. The love that conceived Jesus and enabled him ‘to grow in wisdom and understanding with the years’ (Luke 2:52) was the parental love of God, that is neither male nor female love, but both. The perfection of the masculine and feminine love that we see as two on earth, are as one in God, where they have their ultimate origin. Even in the Old Testament God is called both a father and a mother, and the Fathers of the Church referred to what they called the anima and the animus in God. It was this perfect fatherly and motherly love that Jesus received continually from God that enabled him to become the most completely secure and mature human being who has ever walked on this earth. The very nature of parental love, enables a person to grow into a fully mature human beings. But further to this, it enables them to become unique, individual and independent human beings. Then they are able to follow their own personal vocations in the world, where they freely choose to go their own way, to fulfil their own personal destinies, just as Jesus did. When this happens, parental love has achieved it objective. In fact one can say that a father only really becomes a father, and a mother only completes her motherhood, when their offspring leaves the nest to fulfill their own freely chosen destinies. However in God there is another form of love – it is the height and depth and length and breadth of love that St Paul said surpasses our understanding, because it is the love that impels God to unite himself with us and us, with him. It is the love that we find mirrored in human love ‘though it infinitely surpasses it. For in God is to be found the perfection of the human loving that enables two people to give themselves to each other in love for life, and to become two in one flesh. In Wuthering Heights Catharine Linton actually says, she not only loves Heathcliff, but that she is Heathcliff and he says the same, for he has no separate existence outside the love that has made them one. There seemed to be no other way, nor any other words that can express the profound love that draws two persons into one. In Wagner’s Opera Tristan and Isolde, Tristan actually calls himself Isolde, and she calls herself Tristan, in a desperate attempt to express the new identity that love has made of them.
The Purifying Power of Parental love
In God you find the perfection of the parental love that we have all experienced here on earth, as well as the perfection of the passionate love that enables two people to become as one in mind, in heart and in body. The Gospel is the story of how the parental love of God enables Jesus to grow to full human maturity, enabling him to receive the full ‘passionate’ love of God that eventually raised him from the dead to be reunited with his Father. Although his divine nature was reunited with his Father to resume the love that he had experienced before, his human nature experienced this union for the first time. This is how the human nature of Jesus became the means of transmitting the same parental and ‘passionate’ love of God to other human beings that Jesus himself had received while he was on earth. It is the parental love that we first experience, as it prepares and purifies us to become spiritually secure and mature enough to receive the ‘passionate’ and all- consuming love of God that we all ultimately desire and yearn for, for it was this love for which we were created. That’s why St Augustine insists, that our hearts are always restless until they finally rest in God.
What St Paul called God’s Secret Plan, or in the Greek language in which he wrote –‘The Mysterion’, can only finally be implemented after the Ascension when on returning to his Father his transformed human nature was used to transmit God’s infinite love, his Holy Spirit, to other human beings. This was the very purpose of the incarnation – to provide God with a son who had humbled himself in such a way they he could enter into our human nature. This human nature would then be transformed in Jesus in such a way that it could become the means of converting the ‘electric life and loving’ that reside in the infinite God into other finite human beings. That is why it was only after being fully united with his Father after the Ascension, that God’s own inner life and Love – The Holy Spirit – could be sent out to all other human beings to the end of time, on the first Pentecost Day.
The Mystical Meaning of the Marriage Feast
Trinity Sunday that follows Pentecost gives us the opportunity to realize and reflect upon the completion of the ‘Secret Plan of God’ – the ‘Mysterion’ that is brought to completion when, thanks to Jesus, we fulfill our ultimate destiny when we share in the life and the loving of the Three in One and share in it endlessly, in ever deepening ecstatic bliss to all eternity. This, our ultimate destiny, only becomes possible, because the same parental love that enabled Jesus to grow into such a perfect human being, will do likewise in us. It is this love that can and will prepare us, as Jesus was prepared, to receive the fullness of love that raised him from the dead, to experience to eternity the ultimate mystical marriage from where all love ultimately comes, and where all love finds its completion in the All who is in all. This is why this ultimate union is likened to a marriage feast by Jesus to which we are all invited. However we are not invited as friends and relations to enjoy all the fun and feasting, and to take part in all the family festivities, as we might have thought, the truth is far more profound. We are invited to the marriage, because it is we who are to be wed to the One from whom all love comes and finds it completion.
This is why the Fathers of the Church continually use the analogy of the ‘Song of Songs’, one of the most beautiful and graphic love poems ever written, to describe the perfection of the Christian life. It was this song that was sung when the bride was carried in procession from her own home to the home of the bridegroom. Later Spiritual writers use this analogy for the perfection of the mystical life which they called ‘The Mystical Marriage’ which is for a chosen few, usually dedicated to God in religious life. However for the Fathers of the Church this destination is for all, for according to Jesus himself this is the ultimate destination for all of us, beginning in this life, but finding its completion in the next. Long before they were married the early Christians were told of the spiritual marriage to which they were all called, and they were taught that the preparation and the purification for this marriage would help them develop the selflessness without which the marriage to another human being would never last.
Two Marriages are better than one
There are therefore two marriages for a Christian, the Sacrament of Marriage that mirrors here on earth the ultimate marriage to which we are called hereafter, and the spiritual marriage to which they had previously been called in the Sacrament of Baptism. When the new Christian came out of the baptismal pool as one with Christ, they were led in procession into the Christian community where, after offering themselves in love to the Father through the son, their marriage with God was consummated for the first time in Holy Communion. Marriage however is not the end of, but the beginning of love that is demonstrated time and time again every day of the new Christian’s life.
The five times a day that they prayed, as Jesus had done with his disciples, was not a daily drudgery, but a daily delight, because it enabled the newly married mystics to ‘touch’ repeatedly and ‘be touched’ by the one to whom they had committed themselves in a mystical marriage that begins in this life, but which is completed in the next. Every Sunday this mystical marriage was repeatedly consummated in the Holy Communion reinforcing their love and surcharging it with the power to continue expressing their love for God through the two new commandments that Jesus had given them. When both these marriages are lived to the full they simultaneously enhance each other. For then the loving selfless sacrifices made in each, enable the participants to join Christ at every moment of their day, in participating in the ‘new worship in spirit and in truth’ that Jesus had promised to the Samaritan woman.
When a person marries they marry into their lover’s family too, to experience the family that made him or her what they are. This is sadly not always a pleasant experience, but in the mystical marriage into which the Christian enters through baptism, they come to know and experience something of the ultimate mystical marriage for which they yearn. This is the life of the Three in One whence Jesus came and where he will return with all the newly wed Christians when love has prepared and transformed them sufficiently for this their ultimate destiny.