Years ago, while a Franciscan novice, my fellow friars and I attended a gathering of all the Franciscan novices, men and women, who lived in the Eastern United States. During our week-long gathering, each group was responsible for leading morning or evening prayer, or animating the Eucharistic celebration. One morning, a group of Franciscan sisters was responsible for morning prayer. Just before we were to begin, the leader of prayer explained that we would not being using the traditional words associated with the sign of the Cross. Rather, we would say “In the Name of the Creator, the Redeemer, and the Sanctifier.” She explained this was a way to remove the gender bias from the opening of prayer and so to make all feel welcomed.
Later in the morning, one of the presenters for the day, a Franciscan friar, professed for many years, and a noted spiritual director, gave his reflection. The friar was not part of our morning prayer session and, in fact, had just arrived at the conference. During his reflection, he noted that there had been a trend in the United State to modify traditional liturgical language to make the words more inclusive. He understood the reasons behind the movement, but did not always agree with some of the directions the movement took.
He noted the growing instances of opening prayer with “In the Name of the Creator, the Redeemer, and the Sanctifier.” He offered that this revealed a deep lack of understanding of the nature of God and nothing could be more of a watering down of the long teaching of the Church. He paused somewhat dramatically. I wanted to sneak a peek at the sisters to gauge their reaction, but knew better.
The friar went on to say, that the actions creator, redeemer and sanctifier, while all true and were rightly associated with persons of the Trinity, their use in prayer was like the recitation of a job description. Prayer was a call to closeness in relationships. To being prayer with the traditional, “In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” was to speak the words of relationship. To speak the words, not of what God has done, but to speak of who God is. To pray as did Moses “If [we] find favor with you, O Lord, do come along in our company. [We are] indeed a stiff-necked people; yet pardon our wickedness and sins, and receive us as your own.” It is to invite ourselves into the inner life of the Trinity in hopes that best of that inner life will accompany us on our own journey. It is to pray as St. Paul reminds us in the words from his 2nd letter to the Corinthians and the opening words of our Mass: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.” It is to know that from that inner life come the grace, love, and fellowship of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as gifts to animate, sustain, and grow our relationship with our brothers and sisters in faith and in the world. It is to understand that God so loved the world he gave it life, he sent his only Son to us that we would know we are ever loved, and sent the Holy Spirit as the pledge of the grace, love and fellowship that await the one who believes.
It is to understand the life of St. John the Evangelist who wrote today’s gospel. It is told that John lived a long life, living decades after the time of Jesus. As a very old man, he was the last of the disciples. who had been an eye-witness to the life and person of Jesus of Nazareth. When his health allowed him to join the community in prayer and for Eucharist, it is not hard to imagine that he would be invited to speak to the people. It is told that on such occasion, as people waited for some new story or a new insight, some words of wisdom, John would slowly rise to his feet and after some pause finally speak: “God is love, God is love, God is love.” And then sit down. It was as though, after a lifetime of reflection, all the words of Scripture and prayer lead to this one certain and dependable truth: God is love.
It is what the writings of the Cappadocian Fathers of the East, Hugh of St. Victor, and the Franciscan St. Bonaventure came to know – that the inner life of the Trinity is one of relationship in love. They wrote that this fountain fullness of love, intrinsic to the internal life of the Trinity is a perichorisis, a divine dancing in and out of each other that whirls and swirls until it explodes into Creation – giving live. An internal love of Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, moving outward, creating the world in love, structuring all life to find its ultimate destiny in love.
Today we celebrate – not of the actions of God as Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier – but the deeper truth of a God who is love. We celebrate all that love implies. We celebrate that God has revealed to us what it means to believe in God whose most intrinsic nature is love – who created us in love, redeems us because of love, and sanctifies us because love finds its completion in the other.
It is the Word we hear proclaimed. It is the Eucharist we receive. It is our mission in the world.
It is breathtaking, it is compelling, it is the revelation of God. And that is worthy of celebration – and so the Church holds it up for our attention – to ponder, to hold dear, and to know that on this day – and all days until the end of time – you are loved – because that’s who God is.
In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.