Now and forever. Amen.
Yesterday I said I might follow up my reflections on the Trinity at a later date. Well, today is that later date. What can I say, when the bit is in my mouth, I can't help but to chomp it.
So, I thought today I might offer some reflections on the spousal relationships that each Person of the Trinity has with man. There are three. Each Person, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, has a different spouse, and I think reflecting on this is a worthwhile endeavor.
Who are their spouses, you ask? Well, the Father's spouse is the nation of Israel. We see this very clearly in the Old Testament. The Son's spouse is the Church, whom He often refers to as His Bride in the New Testament. The Holy Spirit's spouse is the Blessed Virgin, Mary, through whom the Incarnation, conceived in her womb by the Spirit, was given to us.
So, let's take a closer look.
By Israel, we should not mean only the historical nation of Israel, as it arose in the Old Testament. The reason we can't mean this is because the Father didn't make a covenant with only the nation. In fact, the Father made five distinct covenants in the Old Testament.
Before we get to those, though, it is important to note what a covenant is. A covenant is a contract, but not just any kind of contract. It's not like a business contract, wherein two parties make a deal, that has responsibilities attached to it, and there is a legal obligation to fulfill these responsibilities, but at the end of the day, when the contract is fulfilled, the two parties go their separate ways and that's that. No, a covenant is the kind of contract that creates family, and lasts forever. So, whenever we talk about a covenantal relationship in the Bible, we're talking about a contract that God is making with man in order to bring man into a familial relationship with Himself, to share His inner life with us.
The first covenant God makes is with Adam and Eve, in Genesis 1-3. God places Adam in the Garden of Paradise, commands him to tend and keep it, says he may partake of any fruit therein, and he will have life, except for the fruit of the Tree of Good and Evil, by which he will die. God walks with him in the Garden.
This all allegory, of course. The Garden is representative of the naturally perfect state of man, created in Original Innocence. At the center of the Garden are the Trees of Life and Death. This ultimately represents human choice: to love and live with God, to be true to this covenantal relationship and live, or to turn your back on God, to violate the relationship, sin and die. As the story goes, man violates this relationship, and sin enters the world. God remains true to His covenant, and makes a promise to save. Before the Fall, God walks with man in the Garden, this symbolizes the familiarity God has with man, that God dwells in the midst of them.
And this is the recurring theme we see through the rest of Scripture. God renews His Covenant with man, making each covenant more expansive. And with each covenant, God makes promises, and gives warnings. Man invariably fails to live up to the covenant, but God always remains faithful.
So the first covenant is made with One Holy Couple, Adam and Eve, and the sign of the covenant is the Sabbath, the day God rested from His work. The second covenant is made with One Holy Family, Noah and his wife, his sons, and their wives, and the sign of the covenant is the rainbow. The third covenant is made with One Holy Tribe, Abraham and his people, and the sign of the covenant is circumcision. The fourth covenant is made with One Holy Nation, Moses and the Hebrews he freed from Egypt, and the sign of the covenant is the Tablets of the Law. The fifth covenant is made with One Holy Kingdom, David and his dynasty, and the sign of the covenant is the Temple.
These are the covenants the Father makes with Adam and his descendants, through whom His Covenant will find fulfillment in the worthy faithfulness of His Son.
What can we learn about being a good husband by imitating the Father in His relationship with His Chosen people, His spouse? The first and foremost thing we can learn is fidelity in the face of sin. Repeatedly, throughout the entire history of the Old Testament, thousands of years, we see the Father's spouse betray Him. Not once, not twice, but with every generation. Regardless of how the People of God behaved, God remained true to His word, to the Covenant He made. Faithfulness.
We can also learn forgiveness. Despite the unending string of sins against God, He forgave, always, in the face of their repentance. A key example of this is David, who committed terrible crimes, but in his heartfelt repentance, God forgave. Forgiveness.
We also see in the Father's relationship to the Semites, Hebrews, Israelites, is a fiery protectiveness. This is one of the stronger images we see of God in the Old Testament, a warrior who fights for His spouse. Again and again, we see God fighting off the enemies of His People. It was only in the face of deep sinfulness, a profound turning away from Him, that God allowed His People to be conquered. But He never abandoned them. In His providence, He kept them, even in their Exile, and brought them together once again when they turned back to Him. Warrior.
Finally, the last I'm going to say about this, is that we learn lavish love. One of the basic beliefs of Old Testament Jews was that if you were faithful to God, He would bless you, and material wealth was a sign of faithfulness to Him. Poverty or sickness were understood to be curses. And this comes from the Law itself, and the warnings God repeatedly gives with each successive covenant, that unfaithfulness would lead to death. A loving husband, as we learn from this, lavishes good things upon his spouse, and does not hold back his providence from her. Provider.
In the New Testament, we see the creation of a New Covenant, not a renewal of the Old, but something new, and this time it comes from the Son, and it is for His Bride, the Church. Once again, in this covenant, we are promised that faithfulness to it will bring life, but unfaithfulness to it will bring death. However, while the Old Testament Covenants were largely understood to be referring to physical life and death, the New Covenant promises spiritual life and death, Eternal Beatitude or Misery.
And as with all of the previous covenants, this new covenant continues in the direction of expansion. Now, no longer limited to a couple, a family, a tribe, a nation, or a kingdom, this new covenant is for the whole world, the whole human race. This is why the True Church of Christ must be Universal (Catholic means universal), because it's breadth is all encompassing.
The sign of this new covenant is the Eucharist. In each of the previous signs of the covenants, we see an ever increasing sign of God's presence in the world. The first is the Sabbath, a sign of Rest, in which we find respite from the toil of work. The second is the Rainbow, a sign of Blessing, God's providence upon man. The third is Circumcision, a sign of Righteousness, by which we exercise our Faith. The fourth is the Law of Moses, the Tablets, a sign of Obedience, through which we enter into the moral life of God. The fifth is the Temple, a sign of Worship, wherein God's Spiritual presence resides as a focal point of Jewish life. Finally, in the new covenant, the Eucharist is a sign of Communion, where God's physical presence resides, and which draws all His Church into full communion with Himself, and each other.
So, in this New Covenant, a new familial relationship is established. No longer with the Jews, or God's historical Chosen people, but now it is with His Church. An important question must be asked here. It's important because of the implications it has for history, and for the implications it has for certain relations today. The question is this: with the New Covenant, and therefore the Wedding Feast of the Lamb with His Bride the Church, what happens to the Father's spouse, Israel? Is Israel simply subsumed into this New Covenant and become a member of the Bride of Christ, the Son's spouse?
It's an important question, and here's what I think about it. I think that the Father's spouse is still the Father's spouse. All of the established covenants with Her have not been dissolved. They are not divorced. In fact, we're told that the New Covenant is a fulfillment of the Old. What this means is that, for the Jews, they participate in a double-spousal relationship. As members of the People of the Covenants, they belong to the spouse of the Father, Israel. However, as members of the Church of Christ, they also belong to the spouse of the Son, the Church. Therefore, faithful Jews who accept the True Messiah by default have a more intimate relationship with God than, say, myself, who is not a Jew, but who is a member of the Church. I have a singular spousal relationship with God, while the Jews who are in communion with the Church have a double spousal relationship with Him. This has implications that I want to talk about in a second, but before I do, I want to talk a bit about what we can learn from the Son in how to be a good husband.
So, I think the first and foremost thing we can learn from Jesus is the importance of sacrifice. For the sake of His Bride, the Church, Jesus laid down His life to protect Her. And not just as a matter of protection from Her enemies, but He also sacrificed His well-being in order that she might have life and freedom from sin and death. Self-sacrifice is of great importance in marriage, not just as an action to save one's spouse from the harm brought about by enemies, but even in the mundane every day life. For love of Her, in order to bring about Her happiness, He sacrifices His own desires and places her needs first. Sacrifice.
And I think that leads nicely into the next thing I think we can learn from Jesus, as a spouse, which is to make time to simply be with Her. Throughout His ministry, three years, Jesus spent all of His time for Her. He healed the sick, cured disease, restored sight (take care of her guys!). He gave sermons, told parables, explained the Scriptures (talk to her guys!). He fed the crowds, ate supper with his friends, participated at weddings (enjoy the good things of life with her guys!). He simply spent His time, His talents, and His pleasures on Her, His Bride. Communion.
Finally, as the last thing I'm going to say on this, I think we can learn from Jesus that a good husband is a holy man. Throughout the Gospels, we see Jesus pray, and mostly in private. But He also prayed in public, even teaching His disciples how to pray. He was a spiritual leader, a faithful man of God, who wasn't afraid to talk about His Father in heaven, who wasn't afraid of being seen as a man of prayer, who wasn't afraid of rebuking others for being unfaithful to God. Holy.
I recognize that this blog entry is already quite lengthy. I will try to keep this last section brief, but I do want to give it justice. It should be easier to keep brief because very little of this relationship is revealed to us. Nevertheless, there are things we can say about it, and things we can learn from it. Therefore, I will do my best to do honor to it, with brevity.
So the third spouse of God, belonging to the Holy Spirit, is Mary, the mother of Jesus. Do you remember when I was talking about the double spousal relationship that the Christian Jews have to God, and I said I wanted to talk about an important implication that it had? Well this is where I'm going to talk about it. Mary is the only creature in creation that has a triple spousal relationship with God. As a Faithful Jew, she is espoused to the Father. As a member of Christ's Holy Church, she is espoused to the Son. And by the particular action of the Holy Spirit, planned from Eternity by the providence of the Father, and by a willing participation of the Son, the Holy Spirit came to Mary to make her His unique and special spouse, her alone.
Jews have the particular blessing of being participates in six covenants of God. Five were theirs alone. I, as a non-Jewish Catholic Christian, participate in the New Covenant, under which the signs of the Old Covenant find rebirth in the Sacraments, but I do not have a historical tie to those made with the Jewish People. Mary is the only participant in all seven covenants with God, because the seventh covenant was made with her alone. And it is a covenant unlike all the others.
It is a private covenant, first of all. All other covenants were public, and made between people. This covenant was made with a person, for her, and her alone. The sign of the Covenant is Jesus, Himself, the Divine Life of God born within her very womb, the Son made Incarnate.
Secondly, unlike all other covenants, there is no warning given, only the promise of life. There are no expectations made of her, no pressure to abide, simply an offer made, an offer given. Her acceptance and participation is assumed, but it is not forced, she retains the freedom to choose.
Thirdly, there is no failure in this covenant on the part of man. In all other covenants, God remains true and faithful to it, but man fails. In this covenant, both members of the covenant are true to it, without fail.
So what can we learn about being a good husband from the example of the Holy Spirit? I think one of the most prominent things we can learn is gentleness. The Holy Spirit is gentle with Mary. He comes to her quietly, and when she is startled, He comforts her, telling her not to be afraid. He offers Himself to her. He does not force, or place any expectations of compliance on her. He offers Himself to her, and waits quietly for her response. He knocks on the door, and waits for it to be opened. He does not enter uninvited. Gentleness.
I think we can also learn intimacy and privacy. We know very little about this spousal relationship precisely because it is a private one. That is a very good lesson for men. What is between a man and wife should stay between them. Their intimacy is their own, and should not be revealed to anyone. What a thought that is! However intimate we are with God, there is an intimacy that Mary has with Him that exceeds all imagination, and all revelation. The interior life of their marriage is, perhaps, one that will remain hidden for all eternity. What a blessing! Intimacy.
I think I'm going to leave this reflection at that. I think this was a fruitful one.
Thank you for reading.