By Robin Gomes
The greatest and most inaccessible mystery for the human mind is not that God is one and triune, but that God is love, who loves and gives Himself up for me, a miserable and ungrateful creature. Jesus cannot be known as a person, unless one enters into a personal relationship from an ‘I’ to a ‘you’ with Him. This was the heart of this week’s Lenten sermon, which the Preacher of the Papal Household, Cardinal Raniero Cantalamessa, delivered on Friday to Pope Francis and his close collaborators.
Christ – a living Person, not an idea or a character
Through the past two millennia, the cardinal pointed out, theologians, Church Councils and Fathers have come to establish that Jesus, ‘true man’ and ‘true God’, is a single Person. “This entails discovering and proclaiming that Jesus Christ is not an idea, a historical issue or just a character, but that He is a Person, and a living one for that matter”! “This”, the cardinal said, “is what is lacking and what we need most to prevent Christianity from being reduced to ideology or simply to theology”.
The Capuchin cardinal humbly admitted that this had also been his case. He realized he knew books on Jesus, doctrines and heresies on Jesus, concepts on Jesus, but “did not know Him as a living Person present here and now”. “At least I did not know Him that way when I approached Him through my history and theology studies. Until then I had had an impersonal knowledge of the Person of Christ.” What he lacked was the experience of St. Paul with the Person of Jesus on the road to Damascus.
A personal relationship God who is love
Speaking about the notion of 'person' within the Trinity, Cardinal Cantalamessa said that in God it means relationship. Being a person is ‘being-in-relationship’. This applies eminently to the three divine persons of the Trinity, who are ‘pure relationships’. “That is why”, he said, “Jesus cannot be known as a Person, unless one enters into a personal relationship from an ‘I’ to a ‘you’, with Him”.
“Unfortunately”, the 86-year-old Capuchin cardinal pointed out, “for the great majority of Christians, Jesus is a character, not a person”. “He is the subject of a set of dogmatic statements, doctrines and heresies; one whose memory we celebrate in the liturgy, we believe is truly present in the Eucharist, and so on”. However, without developing an existential relationship with Him, He remains outside us, He touches our minds without warming our hearts.
This is why Pope Francis, in his apostolic exhortation Evangelii gaudium, invited all Christians to a “renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ”. And this life-changing experience after this personal encounter with Christ is the action of the Holy Spirit.
The Church’s dogma on the Trinity, the cardinal said, is based on St. John’s statement: “God is love”. God has been in love for eternity, even before tens of billions of years ago, before the creation of the universe and man. “Before there was anything to be loved outside Him, God had the Word within Himself, the Son He loved with infinite love, that is ‘in the Holy Spirit’.” “In God, multiplicity does not contradict unity because ‘God is love’!”
Human dignity and tribulations
The modern notion of the respect for and dignity of the human person is derived from man bearing in him the image of God. Yet, the origins of this concept can be understood in the essence of the Trinity, which is love. We acquire our identity as a human person by being in communion with others through a love that is willing to sacrifice its own being to enable the other to be and to be other. It is exactly the way of being that is found on Christ’s Cross, where divine love fully reveals itself in our own human existence. Therefore, Christ, God, has loved me, a miserable ungrateful creature, giving Himself up singularly for me.
Hence, our ‘personal relationship’ with Christ, is basically a loving relationship. It consists in both being loved by Christ and loving Christ. And when this relationship is in place, tribulations such as anguish, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril, or the sword - as mentioned by St. Paul - will not separate us from the love of Christ. As an inner healing method based on love, the Apostle of the Gentiles invites us to look at all these dangers and tribulations, including the current Covid-19 pandemic, in the light of the thought that God loves me, for “if God is for us, who can be against us?"