Our true identity, our full personhood, lies in our awareness that we are called to be other Christs, members of the Body of Christ, the image of God, a light to the world.” ~ Megan McElroy OP
I have a necklace that on one side has an angel etched on it and on the other engraved are the words “Always With You.” It was given to me by a dear friend who has been like a second mother to me. Despite our age difference, we are what John O’Donaghue, the poet and author, calls anam cara – soul friends. He described anam cara this way: “Love allows understanding to dawn… Where you are understood, you are at home. When you really feel understood, you feel free to release yourself into the trust and shelter of the other person’s soul.” This is the kind of relationship that my friend and I share. We share a common spirit that is of God, and I would dare say, we share the anam cara friendship that is the Trinity, for O’Donaghue goes on to say, “anam cara is a soul-bond that alters the meaning of identity and perception.… It transforms your way of being in the world. A friend is a loved one who awakens your life in order to free the wild possibilities within you. Once the soul awakens, the search begins, and you can never go back. From then on, you are inflamed with a special longing that will never again let you linger in the lowlands of complacency and partial fulfillment. You are loath to let compromise or the threat of danger hold you back from striving toward the summit of fulfillment.”
In today’s gospel, which is commonly referred to as the Great Commission, the disciples are on the threshold of this summit of fulfillment. Their lives have been altered by their friendship with Jesus, a friendship that has awakened something within the marrow of their bones. They are about to discover the wild possibilities that are within them, because as Jesus said, “I am with you always to the end of time.” It’s like he’s bestowing, not a necklace, but a mantle of grace upon his disciples to go and do what he has done, to go and be who he has called them to be. That mantle of grace is the gift of the Trinity, a share in the very life – the friendship – of the Father, Son, and Spirit which draws them to the fullness of their humanity.
By virtue of our baptism, we share in this same commission, this same relationship, this same mantle of the Trinity. St. Paul says in his letter to the Romans, “The Spirit herself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ.” This mantle of the Trinity is our inheritance. It is a share in the very life of the Trinity that is meant to turn the world upside down (or is it right side up?) as Jesus did. But how aware of it are we? Do we dare to believe it? Or do we “worship and yet doubt?” Are we mindful that Jesus really is with us – always and in all ways, and if Jesus is, then God and the Spirit are too? Or have we perhaps found ourselves “lingering in the lowlands of complacency and partial fulfillment”?
In many ways, being a Christian today has become easy. Here in the United States where there is freedom of religion, we don’t come face-to-face on a daily basis with the very real threat of what it means to live in the life and to do the work of the Trinity. In many ways, we have been tamed by outside influences and expectations of what it means to be authentic disciples of Jesus Christ. We have been harnessed or muzzled by society and yes, even by the church, telling us how we should act, what we should look like, how we should speak, and what we should say – as citizens, as women and men, as women religious and priests, as disciples. We’re told not to rock the boat or to poke the bear lest we cause trouble. But isn’t trouble, Good Trouble, the trouble of Jesus what we’re meant to be about? After all the generations that have passed since the Great Commission of Jesus, I have to ask, have we lost sight of our true identity?
Our true identity, our full personhood, lies in our awareness that we are called to be other Christs, members of the Body of Christ, the image of God, a light to the world. All of that is true, but I believe there is more to it – if we dare to imagine it. In his farewell address, Jesus prayed for his disciples (Jn 17:20-24). “I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me. And I have given them the glory you gave me, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may be brought to perfection as one, that the world may know that you sent me, and that you loved them even as you loved me. Father, they are your gift to me.”
There is so much to unpack in these 5 verses! I believe the Trinity is right smack dab in the middle of them. But it’s those last six words that should make us sit up straight in our chairs: We are God’s gift to Jesus. How amazing is this?! It makes sense that Jesus is God’s gift to us, but we being God’s gift to Jesus?! That should be mind-blowing, for gifts, when given, are truly more than the gift itself; they are the gift of the self. What is given is one’s heart, one’s life, one’s love, one’s essence, one’s being. In giving us to Jesus as a gift, God is giving God’s self to God’s self. In turn, Jesus gifts us with the Spirit. Though there is distinction, there is no separation. We are a part of the Three-in-One, and the Three-in-One is a part of us. The Trinity is not only a mystery beyond us (transcendent); it is a mystery within us (imminent). It is the gift of anam cara – our souls are bonded to the Trinity in such a way that our identity and perception have to be altered.
I believe today’s Solemnity of the Trinity is a reminder of who we are. When we first entered into the life, the communion, the friendship of the Trinity in and through baptism, our souls were awakened to the wild possibilities within us – the amazing gifts – that were placed there by God; God’s self within us as the Eucharist is God’s self within us. We are called to unleash them, to bestow them upon the world like a mantle that the world, in turn, might discover and know the fullness of anam cara friendship – the gift it so desperately needs.
Today’s Solemnity is a reminder that we are meant to be untamed, to turn this world upside down, right side up, and inside out and outside in. We are meant to grow into the fullness of our humanity, to allow that divine spark within us to ignite us to be who Jesus is and was and to do what Jesus did and continues to do. We are meant to be inflamed with that longing that will hold nothing back, confident and courageous in the truth that Jesus is with us always, impelling us to be more and more (as Catherine of Siena said) “who we are meant to be as we set the world on fire” with anam cara friendship.
I am with you always to the end of time.” ~ Jesus
Sr. Megan McElroy offered this reflection on the Sunday, May 30, 2021 readings.