June 2007 – On Trinitarian Life

Focus on the spirituality of St. Francis

June 2007

Dear Friend of Saint Francis:

May the Lord give you Peace!

In their introduction to Francis and Clare: The Complete Works (Paulist Press, 1982), Regis Armstrong and Ignatius Brady identify three pillars of Franciscanism: It is at once a Trinitarian life, an ecclesial life and a fraternal life. The latter two are obvious to even a casual observer while the first is perhaps not so evident.

“Traditionally, Franciscan spiritual writers have identified the approach of Saint Francis as Christocentric. In this Francis was no different from other Christians. What is unique in his writings, however, is his intuition of the penetrating character of the Trinitarian life in the daily living of Christian faith.”

Trinity was the lens through which Saint Francis envisioned God but also how he perceived Creation as well as his very life.

His Canticle of Creation is replete with allusions to the Creator, to the Incarnation of divinity, and to the Spirit of awe. Sun, moon, air, fire are all expressions of the Most Beautiful Trinity. Saint Francis experiences the intimacy of the Most High through the Christ-like attitudes of all that has been lovingly made by the hands of the Creator. Beauty is the spirit of the divine. The Triune God so deeply enters the created world that anyone such as Saint Francis whose mystical vision perceives this loving reality can join in calling brothers and sisters all wonders of one creator—unity in diversity.

Similarly, the Trinitarian lens would cause him to view in a particular way those who sought to share his life. His Testament reveals that Saint Francis received brothers as gifts from God: “The Lord gave me brothers.” If God’s love were Trinitarian, then his own would have to be fraternal. Love of God would have to contain love of others. This would have significant consequences on the form of life that he would choose. Franciscan life is a fraternal life precisely because God is Trinity.

There are number of direct references to the Trinity in the brief corpus of the Saint’s own writings. These touch on creation, life, love, being human and unity. There are many more indirect references: Each time mention is made of the Father or the Son or the Holy Spirit, one senses the effective presence of the others.

Allusions to Christ in whose footsteps Saint Francis endeavoured to follow are familiar to most readers. Similarly, his well-known focus on Creation that he celebrated in the Canticle to Creation and the Incarnation that he celebrated by re-enacting the Nativity at Greccio are clear signals of his gratitude for the Father’s unfathomable love for us. For this reason, we do well to examine the intimate relationship that he developed with the Holy Spirit.

The poverello makes a telling statement about the nature of his relationship with the Holy Sprit, in union with the Trinity, in his letter to Saint Clare and her sisters regarding the form of life that they are to adopt: “Since by divine inspiration you made yourself daughters and servants of the most high King, the heavenly Father, and have taken the Holy Spirit as your spouse, choosing to live according to the perfection of the holy Gospel (i.e. in the way of Christ), I resolve and promise for myself and for my brothers always to have that same loving care and special solicitude for you as I have for them.”

By your grace alone, may we make our way to You, Most High, Who live and rule in perfect Trinity and simple Unity, and are glorified, God all-powerful, forever and ever. Amen.
– Prayer at the conclusion of Saint Francis’ Letter to the Entire Order

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Some regard Saint Bonaventure (1217-1274) as the “second founder” of the Franciscan order as well as the “chief architect of its spirituality.” Certainly, he is a towering figure of medieval scholasticism and did succeed in presenting the mystical intuitions of Saint Francis in sound theological language. For this reason, he is often referred to as the “seraphic doctor.” Saint Bonaventure integrated the Saint’s view of the Trinity but added a twist of his own. In the process, it made it the flagship doctrine of his own spirituality. “Although cosmic in its scope, it was distinctively Christian in its content, grounded on the doctrine of the Trinity,” wrote Ewert Cousins in his introduction to Bonaventure (Paulist Press, 1978)

In The Tree of Life, for instance, a work that is sometimes used as a framework in spiritual direction, Saint Bonaventure demonstrates the degree to which his Christology is situated within the context of his theology of Trinity. Trinity is also a major theme of his landmark work The Soul’s Journey Into God.

Just as the sheer goodness of God is the basis of the doctrine of Saint Francis, Trinity is the basis for Saint Bonaventure’s understanding of God as self-diffusion of the Good. Cousins declares, “Although the divine fecundity is not dependent on the world for its actualization, the world itself is an overflow and an expression of this fecundity…Seen from the eye of contemplation, creatures are vestiges, that is, the very footprint of God; they are roads leading to God, ladders on which we can climb to God; they are signs divinely given so that we can see God.”

We understand with complete certitude that all these things are in the most blessed Trinity if we lift up our eyes to the superexcellent goodness, for if there is here supreme communication and true diffusion, there is also here true origin and true distinction; and because the whole is communicated and not merely part, whatever is possessed is given, and given completely.
– Saint Bonaventure,
The Soul’s Journey Into God

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Our God is a God of loving relationships, of looking constantly outward to another. The Father loving the Son. The Son loving the Father. And by this forward action, their Spirit of Love blowing like a warm wind that fills every corner of creation. But it doesn’t end there. These loving relationships are infinitely life-giving and creative. God—Father, Son and Holy Sprit—is like a whirlwind of creative love that embracing everything that was created by their love. That includes you and me. Our God is not a selfish, irritable or vengeful God. Our God is a creating, caring and constant God. God loves you as though you were the only person in the world. But you know that you’re not the only person in the world.

Through the sacrament of Eucharist, we’re invited to join God’s caring and sharing, of giving and living fully and joyfully. What God has done for us, we must now do for one another—do this in memory of Jesus. The Holy Eucharist is a sacrament of Trinity. Through it, God shows us the true meaning of love. Through it, the Father forgives our faults and welcomes us into communion with himself. Through it, the Son offers us nourishment for the journey. Through it, the Holy Sprit fills us with courage, energy and wisdom for our mission as disciples of Jesus Christ.

The mystery of the Holy Trinity recapitulates all the other mysteries of our faith, including Jesus’ Incarnation, Resurrection and bodily presence in the Eucharist. As well, it is the mystery of life itself and the inexhaustible font of Truth and Love. In turn, the Holy Eucharist is the ultimate act of thanksgiving to God for his self-emptying love.

The eminent theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar (1905-1988) shows in his works that the mysteries of Trinity, Creation and Incarnation become real again and again for us in the Eucharist. The key to understanding this link is his interpretation of the writings of Saints John and Paul. In these, we see the Father’s self-emptying into Jesus at the time of the Incarnation, just as he has done throughout eternity. The Son’s return of self to the Father also takes place in all eternity in the Holy Sprit. The Eucharist explicitly marks the self-emptying of the Son on the cross, which would not have occurred without what preceded and followed.

Indeed, the Eucharist is the perpetual gift of the Son to the Father by the power of the Holy Sprit. And the glory for us is that we are swept up into this supreme act of unconditional and life-giving love by our faithful participation. But the grace of Eucharist does not end at the doors of the Church. It continues in our daily mission as faithful, hopeful and loving disciples of Jesus Christ.

In binding our contemplation to the humanity of his Son, God is giving us more, not less. He gives us a concrete vision of triune life by involving us in it through grace and our serious discipleship of Christ. The vision is simply the inner illumination of the obedience of faith rendered to the Father, together with Christ, in the Spirit.
– Balthasar, Prayer

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May God Father, creator of all that is seen and unseen, grant you to know how gifted you are. May his Son Jesus our Saviour grant you his peace. And may the Holy Spirit who constantly renews the face of the earth fill your heart with faith, hope, love and joy.



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