Rights, Duties and the Holy Trinity

This morning, at Vigils, my thoughts wandered. Usually the thunderous anathemas of the Athanasian Creed concentrate my mind, but not today. I thought of St Patrick using the shamrock to teach how ‘God is One and God is Three’ and denouncing the slave trade (he had been a slave himself) and emphasizing the importance of respect for others. In the light of the Republic of Ireland’s decision to repeal their eighth amendment, that seems almost ironic.  It cannot be said too often: if we have rights, we also have duties; and we cannot love and revere God if we do not love and revere other people. For myself, I am convinced that the result of Thursday’s referendum has as much to do with the abuse scandals that have rocked the Church in Ireland and the slowness with which Catholicism in general has embraced the idea that women are not just mothers (as men are not just fathers) as anything more sinister. The result, however, is indeed sinister. If the unborn child has no right to life, then the rights of all of us are in question.

So, back to the Trinity. Love must have a beloved, and the love between them must be fruitful; so we have this luminous circle of love within the Trinity that pours itself out in an endless embrace of our humanity. Knowing that, how can we treat the unborn child as a ‘thing’ when he/she is made ‘in the image and likeness of God’? In the years before I became a nun, I was active in the Life movement, trying to provide help and material support to those whose pregnancies were unplanned or unwanted. Most had been abandoned by the men who had made them pregnant; some had been ‘ordered’ to have an abortion by their partner or by their family who regarded the birth of a child as ‘inconvenient’ or a ‘dishonour’. Yet I don’t remember any of the women themselves thinking of their unborn child in that way. Some chose to keep their child; others offered their child for adoption. Whatever their decision, it was clear they cared, that they saw their child as a person, not just a bothersome collection of cells that they had the right to treat how they would. And never once did I hear any of them call their child ‘an embryo’ or ‘a foetus’ (which is just Latin for ‘offspring’, anyway). It was always ‘my baby’.

Call me naive, if you will, but I can’t help thinking that God must be weeping over us, his ‘babies’, today. We get so many things wrong. We think we can cherry-pick our morality, so we condemn abortion, perhaps, but are gung-ho about the death penalty. Or we want to save the environment and are passionate about clearing the oceans of plastic and other waste, but we don’t put much effort into defending unborn or elderly human beings. Or we campaign for disability rights, but then argue that we should eliminate those with Down’s or other conditions that we, from the outside, regard as intolerable.

I suggest we need to do some hard thinking about the way in which our adoration of God must, absolutely must, affect how we regard other people — how we deal with questions of rights and duties, how, in short, we live the mysteries of our faith. We are not the lords of creation, only its stewards. Today’s feast is a reminder that God’s thoughts are, as the psalmist says, ‘not your thoughts’ but ‘as high above your thoughts as the heavens are above the earth’. Or, as St Benedict tells us in the portion of the Rule appointed to be read today, ‘God is always present in our thoughts,’ always searching for that fear of God which is life-giving and life-affirming, a sign of the indwelling Trinity which is the greatest and most beautiful mystery of all. (cf RB 7.10–18)

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6 thoughts on “Rights, Duties and the Holy Trinity

  1. Today, Trinity Sunday, I have to preach at (Anglican) Evensong. I am going to talk about my voluntary work in the local prison Chaplaincy team which i cludes 2 Immams. We have 250 Muslim Prisoners. The Immams are lovely. Muslims fu dame tally believe that there is one God and Mohammed is his prophet. They also rcog ise Jesus as a prophet. They cannot understand the Trinity because it souns as if we worship three gods, and they reject the idea of Jesus being the So. Of God because it aounds as if God has physically fatjered a child. I have found it very difficult trying to explain Christian beliefs to both prisoners and Immams, who really want to understand. I have been a Christian for 70 years and I still struggle with the Trinity!

  2. As I read your blog today, a question comes to mind.First of all, let me say I firmly believe in the sanctity of life from conception to natural death. How does one reconcile this with God ordering the wiping out of every man, woman and child of enemy nations in the Old Testament?

    • I think the O.T. contains many passages that we find disturbing. Alongside the narrative of God’s love is another that speaks of a more primitive religious understanding than we find in the Gospel. For example, the sacrifice of Jepthah’s daughter, the intended sacrifice of Isaac, these show that the human sacrifices practised by the surrounding peoples affected the early Hebrew imagination. The destruction of Israel’s enemies was interpreted as a sign of God’s favour, and I think that is what we are meant to understand, God’s love of Israel, rather than seeing God as a destroyer. In terms of numbers, too, I think anyone who has ploughed through the various narratives is left thinking we have a bit of exaggeration here — again a mark of a more heroic age (using that word ‘heroic’ in the sense of ancient, warrior society). Finally, I would mention that in the Passover Seder, when each of the ten plagues is named, the leader spills wine from his cup, because God takes no pleasure in the death of any of his children. We may gloat, but he does not. Even as Isarael is spared destruction, there is sorrow at the cost to the Egyptians. Does that help at all?

  3. Yes it does. Thank you so much for taking the time to respond, I know you are busy and not feeling well. I’m praying for you and the other sisters ( not sure how many are there).

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