Article 21: Catechism of the Catholic Church series
For Catholic Spirit (Week of September 10, 2015 edition)
Father John G. Hillier
Throughout my priestly ministry, and even before as a lay Catholic, I do not recall meeting anyone who claimed to be drawn to the Catholic faith, or wanting to live a more faithful Catholic life, because of some experience of “God” (in a generic sense). Whether interviewing people desiring to become Catholic, those seeking spiritual direction or spiritual counsel within the Sacrament of Penance, or even others considering the diaconate or priestly formation, men and women seeking to live a more faithful life always seem to have a relationship with 1 or more Persons of the Most Holy Trinity (Father, Son and Holy Spirit). Thus, their encounter with God has more to do with a personal relationship, than a cold encounter with a generic deity.
I like the way faith is described in this part of the Catechism as the “free assent to the whole truth that God has revealed” (ccc 150). This includes our belief in “one only God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit,” and not in a some nameless creator-God or Godlike-creature. Unlike our faith in a family member, a friend or any other human being, our Christian faith compels us to entrust ourselves “wholly to God and to believe absolutely what he says. It would be futile and false to place such faith in a creature” (ccc 150), even in a sinless creature like the Blessed Virgin Mary! The fact that even Mary was created by God disqualifies her from being worshiped as if she was “God”.
We are able to name “Who God is” because God revealed Himself to us as a communion of three-Persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Yet, no one could ever claim to know or understand God completely. The Catechism teaches: “only God knows God completely” (ccc 152). We know Who God is as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, not because we have reasoned our way to it, but because we have been taught this truth by God’s revelation to us in history. To say it another way, it is not through abstract argument or the speculation of theologians that we learn who or what the Trinity is. Rather, it is because we have been touched by the Trinity’s entry into history.
For example, the fourth evangelist Saint John tells us, “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). It is the Father who gives His Son, and also the Son, the suffering servant, who freely gives Himself unto death for the world’s salvation. This is what the first disciples, mostly strict Jews, witnessed.
It is from this “giving” of the Father and Son that the outpouring of the Holy Spirit comes. The Spirit’s sevenfold gifts including wisdom, understanding, counsel, knowledge, fortitude, piety, and fear of the Lord, are thus discerned. The same Holy Spirit empowers us to proclaim that Jesus, Risen from the dead, is Lord, and that through Him we have what only God can give which is the forgiveness of sins.
The Catechism also teaches the truth that we believe in God alone, only One God, not three or four or five. Various biblical passages explain that believing in God cannot be separated from believing in the One he sent, his “beloved Son,” (Matthew 17:5) in whom the Father is “well pleased” (Matthew 17:5). God (the Father) counsels that we “listen to him” (Matthew 17:5). As well, Jesus himself said to his disciples: “Believe in God, believe also in me” (John 14:1). We believe in Jesus Christ because he is himself God, “the Word made flesh” (John 1:14). “No one has ever seen God; only the Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known” (John 1:18). Since he “has seen the Father,” Jesus Christ is therefore “the only one who knows him and can reveal him” (ccc 151).
The next Catechism paragraph explains that we “cannot believe in Jesus Christ without sharing in his Spirit” (ccc 152). Why such a teaching? Because, the Church teaches, “it is the Holy Spirit who reveals … who Jesus is” (ccc 152). As Saint Paul writes, “no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:3). Earlier Saint Paul wrote: “No one comprehends the thoughts of God, except the Spirit of God” (1 Corinthians 2:11). We believe in the Holy Spirit because he is God. Like the Father and the eternal “Word made flesh” (Jesus Christ), the Holy Spirit always was and always will be.
Here and elsewhere in the Catechism, the Church talks about the Holy Trinity but never attempts to comprehend it fully. The fact is that it is never possible to do so through the use of reason. We need to accept the truth of the Holy Trinity as a mystery of the inner life of God, not something to be understood, but to be lovingly encountered.
This section of the Catechism closes by reminding us: “The Church never ceases to proclaim her faith in only one God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit” (ccc 152).