|Not this Trinity...|
As we come this weekend to celebrate Trinity Sunday, we rejoice in the great mystery of the self-revelation of God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Through the Scriptures we hear of these three Persons who are One God and as I was reflecting on them throughout the past week the question continued to come to mind: where is my focus? For all of us, where is our focus? Is our focus truly on the Lord our God, or is it rather on us?
In the past century a great change has happened that moved the focus from God to men. The Church, representative of God in our midst, was the center of community life. It was the place where we gathered, found encouragement, guidance, and direction in daily life. Now the Lord has been set aside and man has become the center and focus. ‘Man is the measure of all things’ is a phrase we’ve all heard before and it simply affirms that desire of many to have us be the determining factor of what we should do. Sadly this over-emphasis on the human person and humanity as a whole has even seeped into our faith. When I first began my theology studies in New Orleans, our Spiritual Theology professor asked us at the beginning of the course what the most important thing for each of us was. “Getting to heaven,” rang from our lips and he asked if we all agreed and we said yes. To this he responded, “You’re all wrong. The most important thing for each of us is glorifying God. Getting to heaven is just the means to doing that.” It’s not about us at all. It’s about Him.
We can also see this turn towards ourselves in the everyday life of the Church in the celebration of the Liturgy. Music in the past century has taken a dramatic turn from being mainly God-oriented to people-oriented. Listen for a while at the music that we sing regularly in Mass and look through the hymnals and note how often we sing about ‘me, I, mine, us, we, and our’ instead of actually singing in praise of God. It’s more about what we get from the deal than what God does. Architecture and Sacred Art, too, are places where we see that world around us turning our gaze from the Lord to ourselves. Rare is the newly built church a structure that lifts our minds, hearts, and eyes to Heaven. Instead, we oversimplify everything to the point of it being all-too-human. Most lamentable of all is the orientation of the liturgy. The ancient practice of the Church was the have the priest and people facing the same direction in the liturgy. Often it is termed as ‘the priest had his back to the people’ but truly it was simply the priest and people together awaiting the coming of the Lord Jesus, who was traditionally believed to return in glory from the East. And so the whole community focused on the East, symbolized by the Crucifix in the sanctuary, in worship. And yet now most often the Mass is celebrated with the priest facing the people rather than joining the people looking toward God. As Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI so powerfully pointed out in his book The Spirit of the Liturgy, we have turned in on ourselves, focusing on what we do and making humanity the center of the celebration. Interestingly, the Roman Missal still assumes that the priest is facing the same direction as the people. But since that cannot be done just yet I and other priests –following Benedict’s example - have begun to have a cross on the altar to remember the focus is not on the community, nor on ourselves, but on the Lord God Himself. He is the center, the focus.
Those are just a few of the many ways that the world has attempted to take our focus away from God. So how do we refocus? How do we ensure that the Lord truly is the center, not only of our worship, but of our entire lives? I would suggest three practical things that I myself am still trying to strengthen in my own life.
The first is prayer. When we come to pray before God we realize immediately that God is God and we are not. He has the power. With Him we can do all things; without Him we can do nothing that is good. To pray is to recognize our rightful place before the Lord, that His majesty is so great that in comparison we are nothing and that helps us to remove the focus from me and turn it towards Him.
The second thing is a daily examen. And examen is a practice wherein at the end of each day we pause to ask God where He was that day. We pray that the Spirit would show us how He was active in our lives – where did He give us some special grace, where did we see Him active in another person’s life, and where did we see Him but struggle or fail to respond. To be able to stop and see what God is acting and what gifts He is bestowing forces us to realize that many gifts that come to us each day through God’s gracious providence. He cares for us immensely and blesses us accordingly. If we turn back to give thanks, we recall the reality that it is He who acts first to bless us and we simply respond.
The third thing is simply to have visual reminders of God’s presence with us. Having a religious image in a prominent place at home, a crucifix over the bed, a holy card on our work desk or a rosary in our car. These and many other things throughout the day are visible reminders of the Triune God who walks with us throughout every moment of our day. Never are we alone and never shall we be abandoned. The God who created the universe created us out of love and wants nothing other than for us to turn to Him in love and respond with the same love.