Reflection for the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity. Year B. 2018
– By Fr Ugo Ikwuka
In one of the telling encounters in Things Fall Apart, the classic novel that captured the conflicts of the African natives with the emergence of the colonial Christian missionaries, a young minister tried to explain the doctrine of the Trinity to a gathering of the natives – the idea that the one Christian God exists in Three Persons which we shall celebrate this Sunday. When he talked about the Person of God the Father, this was understood by the natives in the sense of a Father as the head of the God family. Then, he talked about the Person of God the Son which equally made sense to the natives as they considered it normal that a Father could have a Son in a family model.
It was now time to talk about the Holy Spirit and the natives naturally expected the minister to conclude that she is the wife of the Father and the mother of the Son. That would have made sense. But the minister hesitated and instead began to explain how the Holy Spirit proceeded from the Father and the Son. The native elders told him that the equation simply didn’t add up and that it was time to take their leave. However, the novel noted that as the dialogue between the minister and the elders lasted, the children were not interested in what they considered the “mad” logic of the Trinity. They were rather captivated by the loving atmosphere of the new religion and its message of God’s love for people as opposed to the retributive justice of the traditional religion into which they were born.
Friends, it is in the light of such “loving atmosphere” that the doctrine of the Trinity begins to make sense; the One God existing in three persons being an indication that God does not exist in isolation but in a community of love and sharing.
The implication of this is that as we are made in the image and likeness of this Trinitarian God, we are likewise made for a life of relationships; a life of love and sharing.
The crucial lesson of this doctrine therefore is that the more we conform ourselves to this communal nature of the God in whose image we are made, the more we live true to our nature hence the more we live fulfilled.
As the anthropology of religion observes, people naturally act like the god they worship; people who worship a warrior god tend to be violent, people who worship a god of pleasure tend to merry and people who worship a god of wrath tend to be vengeful.
It will therefore be a futile contradiction if we who worship a God of love and relationships live in selfish isolation. Thus, our nature, in the Trinity, challenges the disturbing culture of individualism and quest for total independence of our time. We may get away with these in our youth but as nature cannot be cheated, soon we begin to pay for it heavily, in our later years, in dehumanised isolation.
I once visited a home for the elderly and one of the residents was moaning bitterly at a cruel world of awful loneliness. But we can’t eat our cake and have it. The same old man was making excuses for his children’s unavailability; that they are working. Perhaps work made him unavailable for his own parents so he couldn’t complain. What goes around comes around.
This may also explain the statistics that 80% of lonely people in the UK over the age of 85 say that they have not told their children how they are feeling. Pope Paul VI once noted that in youth the days are short and the years long but in old age, the years are short and the days long!
People have been discovered dead for days in the isolation of their cherished private spaces. Statistics show that 2 million people over the age of 75 in Britain live alone and more than one million elderly people go more than a month without speaking to any one they know. Half a million British pensioners spend Christmas alone. But it is not only in Britain, it is spreading even to the more traditionally communitarian societies. In south-eastern Nigeria for instance, it is not uncommon today for children to leave their aged parents in the care of stranger-house helps even while living in the same premises.
The pace and technological intensity of modern life which favours speed and convenience makes isolation easier than ever. This is even as the social media gives us a false sense of keeping people more connected.
The more we decide to catch up on WhatsApp or skype, the more we compromise natural bonding. I can feel your pulse and the way your heart beats only by holding your hand. Mother Teresa declared that the most terrible poverty is loneliness, and the feeling of being unloved.