These 3 Are 1 — The One


The Path to the Abundant Christian Life

by Father Raniero Cantalamessa

The Word Among Us, 2007

124 pages, $13.95

To order: (800) 775-9673

f you were to be sent to a desert island with only three books — this is an old exercise, I know, but it’s still a good one — which three would you pick? If it were inspiration, contemplation, comfort and beauty you’d be looking for to pull you through the experience, you could do a lot worse than the Bible, the Catechism, and this little gem from the longtime preacher of the papal household. Especially if your departure date were the Sunday after Pentecost, feast of the Most Holy Trinity. (This year the feast falls on June 3.) 

Capuchin Father Cantalamessa wrote Contemplating the Trinity as a response to Pope John Paul II’s invitation to “launch out into the deep,” per Luke 5:4, in striving to evangelize by achieving personal holiness.

“I am convinced of the need for a breath of fresh air, a new perspective on Christian life, that is more clearly Trinitarian,” he writes. “The Trinity is the ‘bottomless sea without shores’ in which Christ invites us to immerse ourselves in everything he continually says about the Father and the Spirit in the Gospel.”

Based on meditations Father Cantalamessa offered to John Paul and company during Advent of 2000 and in Lent of 2001, Contemplating the Trinity takes up seven distinguishing characteristics of the Trinity: unity, joy, communication, simplicity, beauty, communion and truth. Contemplating these aspects of the Godhead, the author believes, can lead to the overcoming of division, dissatisfaction, difficulties with prayer, hypocrisy and the allure of false beauty. Trinitarian reflection, he says, can also help build communion in the Church and keep us on the path to eternal life in Christ.

Those who come to the book expecting lofty, delicate ruminations will find themselves surprised — and challenged. Father Cantalamessa poses some pointed questions. “Can we dispense with the Trinity? … Will we be authentic persons or fictive characters? … How do we live the beatitude about purity of heart that the Gospel presents to all believers in an environment so saturated with sensuality?”

His tone is always gentle and patient, yet his answers are down to earth and practical. His insights reflect a hard-won understanding of human nature in light of history and Church teaching.

To augment his ideas and encourage contemplation of the Trinitarian mystery, the book includes color reproductions of four great 15th-century works of art that he discusses in the text: Andrei Rublëv’s Icon of the Old Testament Trinity, Masaccio’s The Trinity fresco, The Holy Trinity of the Novogorad School, and Andrea della Robbia’s terracotta Nativity.

Father Cantalamessa shows himself a master at the fine art of thinking with the Church, and many of the sources he cites will be familiar to every reader. But a few, such as Howard Thurman’s Deep River: Reflections on the Religious Insight of Certain of the Negro Spirituals, will introduce many readers to new fonts of wisdom.

The English-speaking world owes gratitude to the publisher for this English edition of Contemplating the Trinity and to Marsha Daigle-Williamson, professor of English at Spring Arbor University, whose graceful translation surely approaches the beauty of the original Italian.

Yet readers mustn’t expect to whip through Contemplating the Trinity’s 124 pages during a lunch break. While Father Cantalamessa’s language is simple, clear and easy to read, the substance of his meditations is so profound and so beautiful that a few passages can occupy an attentive reader’s mind for several days.

“I want to speak about the Trinity as the ‘ocean of peace’ toward which we flow, the ‘promised land’ toward which we are journeying, the maternal womb that we reenter,” he writes. “We do not return unconsciously the way we left, but freely, joyfully, singing along the way the ‘psalms of ascent’ that the pilgrims sang as they went up to Jerusalem.”

It’s not hard to see why, when this humble Capuchin talks, popes listen.

Ann Applegarth writes from
Roswell, New Mexico.