A week ago we celebrated the Feast of the Most Holy Trinity, a feast which involves a mystery so deep that it is beyond understanding. However, when we arrive in Heaven at the end of our lives we will be able to know how our God is One God in Three Persons. Though it requires patience to wait until that time, I actually love this mystery, for as St. Augustine wrote, “If you understood Him, then it would not be God.” I think it is good that there is some mystery about God lest we lose our sense of wonder and awe or our sense of just how much we need Him. We must never tire of reflecting upon the fact that God is infinitely greater than we are, but that He loves us as He does. In connection, this Sunday we celebrated the Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ. Once again we ponder a great mystery in how the simple elements of bread and wine become the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ. It takes place as a work of the Holy Spirit who descends upon the bread and wine when the priest invokes the Father to send Him, begging the Spirit to come down upon the gifts “like the dewfall.” Would that the Holy Spirit would continually descend upon us and our world like the dewfall!
As I said, I enjoy the mystery of these feasts. Sometimes we get so worked up about mystery that we fail to realize that mystery is actually a good thing. On a practical level it gets us off the hook a little bit: we do not have to wrack our brains trying to understand, but rather it helps us learn to trust God. In the Letter to the Hebrews the author states that “faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen.” (Heb. 11:1) Mystery involves our faith and helps us to exercise that spiritual muscle, if you will. Faith helps us to relax in the presence of mystery and simply enjoy resting within it. Mystery, therefore, is a good thing, a gift. It is not something to be feared, but rather something to be embraced. We can let it fill us and flow over us like the dewfall. This dewfall is the mystery of God’s love in the form of grace which we especially experience through the gift of Eucharist.
While the Trinity is a mystery, there are some people to whom God gives special insights, namely some of the saints.* One such person who was drawn into the mystery of the Holy Trinity is Itala Mela, (1904-1957) a mystic who was just beatified on June 10 in La Spezia, Italy. She grew up in a home in which her parents were atheists, though under the care of her grandparents she did get baptized, received first Communion and Confirmation. During her adolescence Itala lost her younger brother to illness, a tragedy which led her to atheism. But when she went off to college she found lodging in a house run by some Sisters, who eventually invited her to join them at the Mass of the Immaculate Conception, beginning a time of great confusion within her over whether or not there really is a God. After much intense inner turmoil she had an experience in which she felt a ‘great interior jolt’ while praying, leading her to feel Jesus’ presence in the Eucharist. Later, after fully returning to the faith, she decided to enter religious life. It was during this time that she experienced what she called the Inhabitation: while praying in the church, a luminous ray shot out of the tabernacle and into her heart. She said that she felt the Holy Trinity enter into her soul. Soon afterward Itala received a new name from Jesus, Sr. Maria of the Trinity, which she said came unsought. She was denied entrance into a Benedictine convent due to poor health, and so she became a Benedictine Oblate, working as a Catholic high school teacher. She took private vows, including one of dedication to the Holy Trinity, and spent her time in prayer and adoration, as well as in service, dedicated to teaching about the Holy Trinity, even writing some spiritual exercises to help others to learn more through their own prayer. **
Bl. Itala taught that we are the Temple of the Holy Spirit, drawing on the writings of St. Paul and also on her own experience. What is most remarkable about her, however, is that she was drawn to adore God “not only in Himself, but in every soul in the state of grace.” (** pg. 71) In other words, she came to reverence God not only during her private prayer, but also in other people. In fact, she would secretly greet the Three Persons of our One God in people who approached her. Also notable is that she taught that the Eucharist led her to the Father and the Spirit. She seemed to understand the link between the Holy Trinity and the Eucharist in which the Eucharist feeds our souls and leads us continually into the presence not just of the Son, but of the Father and the Spirit as well.
During Mass there is a moment during the Eucharistic prayer in which the priest begs the Father to send the Holy Spirit so that the bread and wine might become the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. This is called the epiclesis. In the second Eucharist prayer, the one we hear most often, the epiclesis sounds like this: “Make holy, therefore, these gifts, we pray, by sending down your Spirit upon them like the dewfall, so that they may become for us the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Therefore, the entire Trinity is invoked showing that the Three Persons are intimately connected as One God, just as Jesus taught. Bl. Itala seemed to understand this connection between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and she also recognized that the Eucharist is the great gift which joins God to us uniquely. While it is the Son we receive when we partake of the Eucharist, it is made possible by the action of the Father and the Spirit. In other words, we cannot separate one Person of the Trinity from the other two: they are always Three and One. Further, we are blessed by witnessing, so to speak, the Spirit descending “like the dewfall” upon the elements of bread and wine every time we are at Mass.
In addition to reflecting upon and resting in these mysteries, it would be good to try to emulate Bl. Itala Mela by challenging ourselves to stretch, asking her intercession to help us see and reverence the Holy Trinity in each person who approaches. Truly, it is not so strange to greet Him secretly (within our heart) in the other whom we meet, but she calls us to adore the Trinity within the other. To do so I believe we would first experience a transformation within ourselves: before we can find the presence of the Trinity within the heart of the other we will have to find Him within our own heart. We cannot give away what we do not know we possess; likewise we cannot recognize within another that which we do not recognize within ourselves. Once we begin to greet Him within our own heart, it can move us to greeting God within others, transforming how we see and experience them. Then we can begin asking for the grace to move beyond simply greeting, but to reverencing God’s presence within both ourselves and the other. This is the fulfillment of our baptismal call, which is to make God known and loved through our words and deeds, and finally, it is a call to holiness.
The Holy Trinity may be filled with mystery, but love is something we can experience, especially when we are before the altar during Mass. The Eucharist is the gift of the love of Jesus, that He gave His Body and Blood for us so that we would never be separated from Him. Though we cannot call down the dewfall of the Spirit upon the gifts as those in the ordained priesthood can, we are missioned by the common priesthood of our baptism to share the presence of the Spirit we receive at the table through our word and deed that others would also experience this dewfall. Dew is gentle, so our love and our call should be gentle. But dew also penetrates, therefore if we persist no matter how small our efforts, no matter how limited we think we might be, we all can, at the very least, join in silent prayer attuned to the words of the Eucharistic prayer, asking that the Father would send the Spirit upon us like the dewfall, that our world might be transformed in some way.
May we ask the Holy Trinity to help us grow in the ability to rest in the mysteries of our faith! May we ask the intercession of Blessed Itala Mela to help us learn how to become aware of the presence of the Trinity within our own hearts that we might begin to see Him in those we meet! May we pray for vocations to the priesthood so that we can have priests who continue to pray for the Father to send the Spirit in order that we might have the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Jesus! May we receive the Holy Spirit falling upon us like the dewfall and may we be vessels of the same Spirit to others! And may we obtain the gift of being able to rest in the mystery of One God in Three Persons in an exchange of love offered outward to us! Let us continue to meet in the Body and Blood of Jesus, with the Father and the Spirit! Peace!
©Michele L. Catanese
Note: Next post on July 3.
The quote from St. Augustine comes from Sermo 52:6 and Sermo 117:3. See http://strangenotions.com/augustine-faith/
* There are a number of saints who had mystical experiences concerning the Holy Trinity. Two who come readily to mind are St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Society of Jesus, (1491-1556) and St. Elizabeth of the Trinity, a Carmelite nun (1880-1906). St. Elizabeth has a lovely prayer to the Trinity which you can find here: http://ocarm.org/en/content/ocarm/trinitarian-prayer-elizabeth-trinity
** Most of my information on Bl. Itala Mela came from a book called The Spiritual Experience of Itala Mela: A Life Incandescently Immersed in the Trinity, by Aldo Piccinelli, OSB.
1. This is the most famous icon ever written, Andrei Rublev's Trinity. I chose to use it here for many reasons, the most important of which is that not only is each of the Persons of the Holy Trinity shown, but the Son is shown blessing the cup of His Eucharistic blood.
2. This is a panel in a larger work called Viriditas - Finding God in All Things. This particular panel is called Viriditas Holy Spirit Detail. I chose to use this here because it looks like the Holy Spirit is showering graces; and it made me think of the line in the Eucharistic prayer of sending down the Spirit like the dewfall. If you interested in purchasing a copy in any variety of formats you can find this panel at https://fineartamerica.com/featured/viriditas-holy-spirit-detail-william-hart-mcnichols.html and you can find the entire piece at https://fineartamerica.com/featured/viriditas-finding-god-in-all-things-william-hart-mcnichols.html.
3. This is a photograph of Blessed Itala Mela. You can find information on her, in addition to the book listed above, at http://es.catholic.net/op/articulos/63279/itala-mela-venerable.html (You will have to use a translate feature on your computer to read it unless you are Spanish speaking.)
4. I took this photo at the Mass of Thanksgiving offered by newly ordained priest Marcus Fryer, SJ. (In my last post he was pictured as a deacon, if you remember.) He is standing with Deacon Michael Wegenka, SJ who is preparing the cup for Fr. Marcus to consecrate. I chose this because it shows the part of the Mass right before the priest calls upon the Father to send the Spirit like the dewfall so that the Son might be present. (Another congratulations to Fr. Marcus on your ordination!)
5.I took this photo in a vineyard in Vaduz, Liechtenstein while on a trip to the Alps. I chose to use it here because it shows the fruit of the vine, which, of course, is also mentioned in the Eucharistic prayer.
6. I took this photo in Ireland, just outside of Killarney, while walking on a trail. It was a rather gentle waterfall, but I chose to use it here because the flowing of the water reminded me of Baptism. As the water flows over us we are immersed in the graces of the Holy Spirit.
7. This painting is called Undergrowth with a Couple by Vincent van Gogh (1890). It was painted at Auvers-Sur-Oise toward the end of van Gogh's life. I chose it because for some reason I imagined that the couple was walking through dew-covered ground. It seems to be evening which is when dew generally forms.
Heart Speaks to Heart