Editor’s note: This article is part 14 of a series, “The Kingdom of Grace.” Part 13 can be found here.
The primary activity of the Christian heart is the loving contemplation of the Holy Trinity. All the works of God in this fallen and broken world, including all the works of the apostolate, aim to recover the human heart from the deleterious effects of the fall so that we might come to know and love, enjoy and adore, the Triune God dwelling in our hearts by grace. Yet, how many Catholic Christians have even heard of the indwelling Trinity?
The theme of the indwelling is a most ancient one. It comes down to us from the Lord himself. At the Last Supper, Jesus promised to send the Spirit of Truth, so that the Spirit would be “in you” (Jn. 14:17). The fulfillment of the promise began at Pentecost, and the promise is fulfilled anew in every baptism. At that sacred moment in our lives, the Spirit comes to dwell in our souls in a new way. “Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and the Spirit of God dwells in you?” (1 Cor. 3:16). However, it is not only the Spirit who comes to dwell in us.
For whenever God works anything in the world beyond the inner life of the Trinity, all three divine persons are involved. In our baptism, therefore, all three persons of the Trinity are given to us. The Lord Jesus said as much when he said, “my Father will love him, and we will come to him, and make our home in him” (Jn. 14:23). So, the Spirit dwells in us, but the eternal Son dwells in us too. “It is no longer I who live, but Jesus Christ who lives in me” (Gal. 2:20). The Father, too, lives in our hearts by grace. “For God who said, ‘let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts…” (2 Cor. 4:6). Thanks to the gift of sanctifying grace, the entire Holy Trinity dwells in our hearts, and transforms our hearts increasingly more into the house of God.
It is an amazing thing to consider that the entire Holy Trinity – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – lives and dwells in our hearts by grace. It is an amazing thing to consider that our hearts are the house of God, his sanctuary, his shrine, and it pleases him to make his home in us. God is ever at work in our lives by his grace, and his grace works to form our hearts for his indwelling more and more. All the days of our years here below are but a formation process for our hearts to receive the indwelling more and more, and in the end every heart belonging to the one Church shall be the temple of God for eternity.
The grace of baptism is the grace to become God-bearers, and the call for us now is to awaken to the grace and live it freely. But how? A stunning example of someone who was fully aware of the indwelling, and taught us how to live consciously and freely according to that grace, is Saint Ignatius of Antioch.
Ignatius was the Bishop of Antioch in the very early Church, perhaps even appointed the Bishop there by Saint Peter himself, and his Church was under persecution. He was captured by Roman soldiers and force marched to Rome during the reign of the emperor Trajan sometime between the years 98-117. We are familiar with the story from the letters he wrote to the seven Churches along the way – letters which scholars concur are authentic. His captors, whom he called wild beasts, tormented him every step of the way, but with every step his desire to die for Christ and go to God only grew stronger. His letters contain many exhortations to unity with the local Bishop and to participation in the Eucharist. The letters also display his incredible desire to become food for the lions, to be ground down like wheat, to be transformed into the Eucharist, and to become another Christ. He knew that no one goes through the gates of heaven or passes into the paradise of Light except the one who loves. And like all the first Christians, he was convinced that love proves itself in martyrdom.
How did this outstanding man conceive of himself? All seven of his letters begin the same way. “Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch, who is also called Theophorus…” Theophorus is Greek for God-bearer. Now that is a bold introduction. It is like saying, “Hi, I’m Ignatius. They call me God-bearer.” It is doubtful he gave the title to himself. Perhaps his people called him by the name. Surely the soldiers read the letters, and perhaps he wanted to let the Romans know exactly who they were killing. He knew it was not an arrogant boast. He knew that to be a God-bearer is a grace. It is a gift of God’s gratuitous love, and he just accepted it.
His letters go on with many instructions and exhortations, and they are like the code of a God-bearing Bishop. Yet, the letters reveal something more. He considered his people to be God-bearers too. In the letter to the Ephesians, he says: “you are all fellow pilgrims, carrying your God and your shrine, your Christ and your holy things.” The letters are like the code of a God-bearing Bishop on how to be a God-bearing Church. What is the way for you and I, and the whole Church on earth, to become fully aware of the indwelling and to live daily according to such grace? Let us listen to the instructions of Saint Ignatius in his letter to the Ephesians:
“It is better to be silent and to be real than to talk and not be real. It is good to teach if one does what one says. Now there is one such teacher who spoke and it happened. Indeed, even the things he has done in silence are worthy of the Father. The one who truly possesses the word of Jesus is also able to hear his silence, that he may be perfect, that he may act through what he says and be known through his silence. Nothing is hidden from the Lord; even our secrets are close to him. Therefore, let us do everything with the knowledge that he dwells in us, in order that we may be his temples, and he may be in us as our God, as in fact he really is, as will be made clear in our sight by the love which we justly have for him.”
Saint Ignatius remained true to the end. He was eventually martyred in Rome. We know that in our own baptism God has given us the grace of his indwelling. We know God wants us to accept the grace consciously, and live according to it freely. In order to do so, it is essential to listen in all simplicity and trust to this most ancient of fathers:
Let us do everything with the knowledge that he dwells in us in order that we may be his temples.
Image courtesy Depositphotos.