On Trinity Sunday we recall a central and inescapable dogma of the Christian faith, that God is one in substance and three in Persons. This revealed mystery grounds the whole of the Christian faith, from the incarnation to the redemption of all creation, and it reminds us that we must be deliberate in our belief in God. What we believe matters, for it determines how we make sense of life and how we live. Moreover, this same Trinity has revealed Himself to us purposefully throughout salvation history, so we may know and love Him and one day be united to Him in unending, glorified friendship for all eternity. God desires that we respond to and seek Him first, and our response ultimately affects our lives and the lives of everyone around us. Hence, we must choose to live deliberately for God, “seek first the kingdom,” and this requires reflection, conversion, prayer, and action.
To illustrate what deliberate Christian living looks like and how to do it, consider the following analogy. Glorious mountains surround the campus of Dartmouth College, providing exciting trails to explore and beautiful vistas to admire. When you hike up these mountains and reach the summit, you can look around at the lay of the land and sometimes even see the obstacles and paths you overcame to get there. I always enjoyed the panoramic views from the tops of Cardigan, Gile, Ascutney, or the more distant Presidential mountains. There is something satisfying and humbling about seeing the vast expanse and how far you’ve come. Similarly, in the life of a Christian, it is good to pause at intervals and reflect on the past and ponder stretches of one’s life.
After the end of a term or a particular chapter of one’s life, it is worthwhile to prayerfully review what obstacles you have overcome, what self-knowledge you have gained, and what lessons you have learned about life or others or God. You can look back in gratitude or admiration for the good things: your supportive family; your good health; your loyal friends; the fact that you persevered through the term and finals week; the personal growth despite difficulties; and any other of God’s blessings. You can determine where the pitfalls were: what bad habits you need to drop; what dead branches need pruning from your life; what sins need to be abandoned and amended; and what reconciliation is needed among your friendships or other relationships. Finally, you can acknowledge from where you have come, what direction you are going, and whether you need an adjustment to your journey, given this new vantage point and the lessons learned. Perhaps you decide to simply stay the course, because it’s life-giving or because no real changes can be made at this time; perhaps there’s realization of new desires or new ideas that hadn’t arisen previously, and you can embark in a different direction; or perhaps upon reflection you recognize God’s fingerprints and voice throughout this life chapter and you feel He is now leading you to something new. Whatever the resolution, it is unlikely that any intentional change of action, growth in self-knowledge, or conversion happens without these times of deliberate pause and prayerful reflection.
While assessing one’s life and reflecting, the Christian must also ask, “How am I drawing closer to God? How am I putting God first in my life? How am I seeking to know and love God as I am known and loved? How am I loving others as Christ has loved me?” Living deliberately for God necessitates these questions, for we are all prone to backsliding in various ways through complacency, selfishness, indifference, irreverence, and even frenetic activity. It is not always a languid apathy that traps people, sometimes it is an overly active lifestyle, one that leaves no time for patience, prayer, empathy, reflection, or even relationships with God or others. As Christians, we believe that anything that replaces God in our life– material goods, other people, popular opinion, or even our ego– becomes an idol and begins to warp our soul and our choices. Thus, in all things, we must seek first the kingdom of heaven, God and God’s purposes, and be open to continual conversion in whatever ways we do not follow God in our lives. For the Christian, conversion is ongoing because we can always love God and our neighbor better, live with more integrity, and adhere more closely to Truth. If you keep God first in your life— praying daily; making decisions in light of the truth of the Gospel and commandments; frequenting and living out the sacraments, etc.— and if you give Him that permission to lead, He will leave nothing of your life wasted, nothing untouched by His grace. Christ will teach you to order your life well, and He will lead you over the mountains of life to all peace, joy, and fulfilment in Him.
It should be noted that the grace of the Holy Spirit works invisibly, but we can know that we are doing God’s will and seeking God first if we bear good spiritual fruits in our lives. If our actions, thoughts, and words bring the fruits of the Holy Spirit into our soul and the world around us, then we can confidently trust that we are moving in the right direction, that we are living as Christians for and with others. These fruits of the Spirit are love, joy, peace, goodness, patience, gentleness, purity, self-control, kindness, and faithfulness. However, if our soul is racked with rotten fruits– idolatry, immorality, impurity, pride, hatred, fury, jealousy, envy, licentiousness, selfishness, wastefulness, and any other destructive desires– then we can be certain that we are not walking with God, for He is a God of life, unity, and love [cf. Galatians 5:16-26].
Right now, unrest grips our country. What started as righteous anger at the murder of George Floyd in Minnesota has boiled over into a fiery maelstrom of riots and destruction that ravages major cities, towns, and residential areas nationwide. Many illicit gangs and groups not interested in justice are taking advantage of the turmoil to stir up undue violence and chaos, eclipsing the message of the protests. Americans of all kinds are suddenly facing danger and uncertainty. I bring up these current circumstances to point out some of the tragic results, the rotten fruits of not seeking God first and not living deliberately for God. Putting God first is not something that can be done merely on Sundays or called for at the height of a crisis. Living prayerfully, justly, prudently, selflessly, generously, etc., that is, living deliberately as a Christian, requires humble self-reflection on one’s own life in light of the Gospel and a change of heart and actions where needed to reform one’s life to the pattern of Christ’s. To prevent crises like this in the first place, we need intentionally to promote a society that values and follows God’s will; we must all live lives that consistently put God first and humbly practice His law of love and justice. Otherwise, we will continue to see such eruptions of godless rage, and we will never uproot the pernicious, underlying, and widespread weeds of vice that perpetuate injustice in homes, schools, streets, and churches.
Now as always, we are faced with uncertainties and decisions on the personal and communal planes, and we have a responsibility to God, to ourselves, and to others to live deliberately for God. As Christians, now is a good time to prayerfully review our lives with gratitude and inquiry; to consider how we have failed or in what ways our sins have betrayed God and neighbor; to note how we need conversion and amendment of life according to the Gospel; and to resolve to begin the most prudent and charitable steps forward. We cannot simply slide aimlessly through life; we must be cooperative instruments of God’s peace. We must live deliberately for God, because peace, justice, and holiness are not things that “just happen”, they require courageous and reflective action.
As St. Paul encourages us in the Scriptures today: “Brothers and sisters, rejoice! Mend your ways, encourage one another, agree with one another, live in peace, and the God of love and peace will be with you.” [2 Cor 13:11] Therefore, we need not despair. We can confidently venture forward over the beautiful and difficult mountains of life, breathing deeply the fresh air and the freedom of the children of God if we live by the Spirit! With Christ Jesus as our leader, we need not fear getting lost or wasting time, so long as we keep close to Him in prayer and the sacraments. Seek first the kingdom of God, no matter how unpopular or scary it may seem, and trust that God will be with you to guide you. For our God the Holy Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is “gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in love and fidelity,” and God will be with us no matter the uncertainty or suffering we face. [Ex 34:6]
Maria M. Miloscia, M.A.T.M. | Campus Minister at Aquinas House