November 18, 2019

Downsizing God?

The feast of the Most Holy Trinity is God-sent in more ways than one.

The statement I am about to make about it might sound outlandish and preposterous: this feast is God-sent because of an insidious tendency which is found among a good number of believers: the tendency of reducing God to a manageable size which would make our brand of religiosity productive and God somewhat “controllable.”

This attempt at downsizing God has always been there and it has prompted God’s warning:

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD. As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my ways above your ways and my thoughts above your thoughts. (Isaiah 55:8-9)

Already in the Old Testament, Moses was trying to get the Israelites to cease trying to wrap their heads around God’s greatness and infiniteness.

Did anything so great ever happen before? Did a people ever hear the voice of God speaking from the midst of fire, as you did, and live? Or did any god take venture to go and take a nation for himself from the midst of another nation? (cf. Deuteronomy 4: 32-34)

Even if the Israelites, and any of us for that matter, were to appreciate how God reveals himself in the Old Testament and could grasp his wondrous deeds, such appreciation would still be very little when compared with God’s thoughts put into action in the New Testament. The heavens are to be considered next door to us by comparison!

Come on: try to understand the Incarnation if you will. Microbiology can reveal to us a world of life’s secrets that leave scientists speechless or woefully short on honest, unbiased answers. At the other extreme we have an ever-expanding universe in which, by comparison, our tiny earth is much smaller than a grain of sand is to Mount Everest. The Incarnation means that the God, who is infinite and who has given a beginning and an ordered progression to this world teeming with life, even in seemingly impossible situations, makes himself as tiny as a human embryo in the womb of his obedient handmaid Mary.

But this would be just the beginning of the wilting of our puny minds as they try to ponder all this.

Think of God’s Word; think of Jesus “spoken” by the Father in such way that his message, although the same for a whole worshiping congregation, is personalized to the need of each listener and made relevant at the same time to a variety of unrelated situations!

Then, we move to think of the Eucharist, of our God so madly longing for intimacy that he makes himself a humble, fragile piece of bread so that all of his power, mercy, light, comfort, strength are packed in it without risking intimidating or frightening us.

Think of all the paradoxes that fill the Gospel and of how, through the gift of faith, these paradoxes are welcomed by Jesus’ disciples; accepted as a new way of life and implemented by many with incredible courage and resolve, even if to the world, they look so insane, so impossible, so totally pure pipe dreams.

Think of the infinite ways that are available to the Lord to reach the hardened hearts of his people.

Think of his mercy that has no boundaries.

Think also of how his Spirit can sustain any given disciple of Christ and enable him/her to endure considerable amounts of suffering and see value in what horrifies your average individual.

We cannot end this list without mentioning the power to forgive sins which is strictly reserved to him alone and, yet, which he has bestowed on some men.

Receive the Holy Spirit; whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained. (John 20:23)

When the crowds saw this they were struck with awe and glorified God who had given such authority to human beings. Matthew 9:8)

Perhaps the best way to end this massive list of wonders flowing from the heart of our God would be to mention the fact that, through Baptism and the Eucharist, we are inseparable from Christ Jesus, from the second Person of the Holy Trinity and thus, God has, so to speak, allowed himself to be “contaminated” by our sinfulness!

And yet such is the size of God’s mad love for us! We can call him Abba, Daddy, anytime, anywhere and he will respond not with a wrathful disposition, but with patience, compassion and his unparalleled healing touch.

How wonderful is this humble contemplation of God’s infinite love vis-à-vis our miserable condition and very limited mind! Yet, at this juncture, fear can set in; spoil everything and ruin a relationship which is totally lopsided in our favor. Many choose to forget that all power has been given to Christ and that, he, as such, sends us to preach this paradoxical Gospel to the ends of the earth with the conviction and the sincerity of people who are living it firsthand. Fear sets in because some try to reshape God, assess him, understand him, make him fit human standards and human ways that are always limited in loving even though God has revealed himself as, and proven to be, infinite Love. This is a monstrous mistake because we would then be living and operating in fear since even our best performance is surely wanting in his eyes.

Thus, if we, de facto, cannot believe in God’s infinite mercy and love, we would begin to hope, at least, and even to think that our actions must be meritorious and deserving more than those of many others.

Having reduced God’s mercy and love to a size that we can handle, we would need then to come up with our own system of assessing people’s performance and we would form our own list of those who deserve his love and mercy and another list for those who should be excluded.

Do you see how badly we need this feast of the Most Holy Trinity?

We might have created for ourselves our own fixed, immovable ideas on theology, salvation, grace, divine justice, and heaven. Whenever we instruct people in the faith (we make disciples to use his terminology) as Jesus orders us, we must refrain from putting our personal spin on the Gospel and stress instead God’s mercy and love. Rather than looking ridiculous for giving God suggestions on how to run his salvation plan, we might want to show all around our gratitude for finding us lovable even though we never come close to deserving any of his love and blessings. We should never worry that we could exaggerate the size of his love and mercy because they are truly infinite. Unless, of course, we still expect God to adopt our petty standard and stop making the sun rise on the unjust and keep his rain from falling on sinners.

Today we should have learned that it is much wiser and safer for us to desist from downsizing God and, instead, rely on his boundless love and mercy way beyond our sharpest and most profound understanding.

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Written by
Fr Dino Vanin

REVEREND DINO VANIN, PIME was born in Cendon di Silea, Province of Treviso, Italy in 1946. He entered the PIME Seminary at Treviso at the tender age of eleven. He came to the U.S. in 1968, studying Theology at Darlington Major Seminary in New Jersey. He has an MA in Secondary School Administration from Seton Hall University. Ordained in 1972, he served as an administrator, teacher, rector and principal at the PIME High School Seminary in Newark, Ohio before being sent to the missions of Thailand, where he served for six years. He is currently the Treasurer of the U.S. Region of PIME in Detroit. On December 16, 2018 he was installed as Pastor of San Francesco Catholic Church in Clinton Township, MI. Every week he takes some time off from his parish ministry to do some administrative work at PIME headquarters in Detroit. Due to his increased workload at the parish while continuing as Treasurer of the U. S. Region of PIME and as counselor and spiritual director, he spends any time left doing a little woodworking.

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Written by Fr Dino Vanin
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