June’s Feasts of Life-Giving Love: Pentecost, Trinity Sunday, Corpus Christi
COMMENTARY: While June celebrates many different themes, they come together under the rubric of life-giving love.
June brings together many different celebrations, sacred and secular. The Church celebrates June as the month of the Sacred Heart and observes such important solemnities as Pentecost, Trinity Sunday and Corpus Christi. Secular society has long treated June as the month for weddings, and Father’s Day falls on its third Sunday.
Is there anything that binds all these celebrations together? Yes: love that is life-giving in a real and true sense.
The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of God’s love, the love of the Father for the Son and of the Son for the Father “proceeding” in the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit brings life where he goes. When Jesus gives the Holy Spirit as his first gift on Easter Sunday — “receive the Holy Spirit: whose sins you forgive are forgiven” — he extends his life that has just conquered death to every sinner who wants to follow him as the “Way, the Truth and the Life.”
When the Holy Spirit descended on the Cenacle on Pentecost morning, it wasn’t just about some men getting the nerve to go and preach. Something new was born: the Church, the continuing presence of Jesus among men until the end of time, a presence made possible by the life-giving power of the Holy Spirit. Whatever good we do is inspired and supported by the Holy Spirit, whom we confess is “Lord and Giver of Life.”
The Holy Spirit makes the work of the Trinity for our salvation present among us: He reminds us of what Jesus, who reveals to us the Father, taught. But the Trinity is not just some abstract formula about which we are supposed to say “I believe” and then go home.
We are made in God’s image and likeness. We reflect the life of God. And the Trinity shows us what the life of God is like: a life-giving, loving communion of persons. God is not a solitary, isolated idol: He is a communion of Persons who is Love itself. And that Love gives life, not just within the Trinity and all its “begettings” and “proceedings,” but outside, as well.
The Triune God, whose image we are, gives each and every one of us life. Perhaps we just accept that as a pious thought, but let’s remember: Our parents, as great as they are, could not and cannot create a soul. Only God can do that. So, in God’s plan for marriage, every conjugal act involves two human persons and God. If life is transmitted, it is transmitted by God’s gift. That gives new meaning to saying God is “Lord and Giver of Life.”
The Eucharist reminds us of how closely God wants to be to us and remain with us. He remains with us not just notionally, not just as an abstract idea, but in a real, tangible, physical sense.
It’s no accident that the loss of faith in the Real Presence goes hand in hand with the alienation of contemporary man from his human embodiment: taking seriously that even God wanted to be part of our enfleshed humanity, the central love theme that starts at Christmas, runs through his true physical suffering in the Paschal Triduum, continues in transfigured human flesh at Easter and is taken into heaven through this very moment concludes in being with us — “Body and Soul, Divinity and Humanity” — in the Eucharist, where we again join him as a communion of persons.
That is what marriage is: a loving communion of persons, which should be as permanent and lasting as the love it mirrors, i.e., the love of God. That love is also called to give life, in a real and physical and not just literal or poetic sense. That is why Christian marriage can never pretend that sexual differentiation is not an essential and indispensable part of that sacrament: Only a man and a woman can truly give themselves totally to open themselves, in cooperation with God, to giving life.
Indeed, because marital love and marital openness to life are inseparable, one cannot enter into a valid marriage if one excludes an openness to the giving of life. Such an exclusion represents both a rejection of the other spouse in the totality of who they are (“I love you except for the fact that you can be a father/mother”) and of God as Lord and Giver of Life (“I’ll decide about that myself, thank you”).
And since God himself took real human flesh and was a real human being (and not just an illusion), illusory ways of making children that pretend to substitute for the real, physical embrace of two human persons — surrogacy, artificial insemination, etc. — are actions beneath the dignity of human persons made in God’s image. The creation of a human person should occur in the physical embrace of human persons, not the technical exchange of lab techs, syringes and test tubes … with “those less likely to succeed” being dumped down the lab drain.
That’s why Father’s Day is also important. Fatherhood is more than just the supply of gametes that makes pregnancy possible, and being a human father can never reduce the human mother to just a temporary carrier or incubator that enables one’s sperm to fertilize an ovum.
The parcelization of maternity into genetic, gestational and social components is already evident, but a similar process is also afoot with regard to fatherhood. Perhaps we need to make clearer in our own minds that human fatherhood cannot be understood independently of human motherhood and vice versa. Parenthood is a communion of persons, ultimately reflecting the triple personhood of the Trinity: father, mother and child.
Parenthood exists to carry on God’s creative work, not just to fulfill the desires or expectations of the parent. That is why the psychologist Erik Erikson spoke of “generativity” as one of the advanced stages of human maturity: taking responsibility for a generation yet unborn, whose very existence in no small part one is responsible for. June, traditionally a month of weddings and graduations, is a month of new beginnings, when fathers and mothers launch their children into new stages of their advance toward adulthood and maturity, ultimately toward their own children, whether physical or spiritual. That is also a work of creating a human communion of persons.
So, while June celebrates many different themes, they come together under the rubric of life-giving love. It’s that love that’s embodied in the Sacred Heart, in the Trinity, the Eucharist, marriage and parenthood.