In the early days of his pilgrim journey, Ignatius spent almost a year at Manresa in northern Spain, not far from Barcelona. It was both a time of spiritual enlightenment and also of great struggle. He was discerning his life direction. At such times, the best and the worst of spirits and voices are at work in the human soul and psyche.
During those days, he records in his biography that he received five profound spiritual insights or visions. The first of these mystical experiences occurred while he was praying on the steps of the monastery there. Ignatius always had a great devotion to the Trinity and it was his practice to pray to each of the Persons, Father, Son and Spirit, and then to them collectively as the Trinity. He recalled this particular experience:
His understanding began to be elevated so that he saw the Most Holy Trinity in the form of three musical keys. This brought on so many tears and so much sobbing that he could not control himself.
These were tears of consolation – what Ignatius would often refer to as “the gift of tears”. The insight, of course, was that the three musical keys of each Person together made a chord, a harmony. One in Three and Three in One. Our knowledge of God, as Aquinas would say, is always analogical. That is, we can only know God in a piecemeal way, by analogy, by similes and models. The reality remains always beyond our imaginings and understanding. But for Ignatius, this experience, this insight, remained throughout his life.
This Sunday in the universal Church we celebrate Trinity Sunday. We take some time to sit with this mystery and explore the implications for us. We might begin by reminding ourselves that, according to the Book of Genesis, we are made in the image and likeness of God and, therefore, in the image and likeness of the Trinity. That Trinity, we know, is relational, it is loving, and it is generative — qualities we ourselves can know, experience and emulate.
I like to think that Ignatian spirituality is very incarnational. That is, God is enfleshed in Jesus who came and “pitched his tent among us”, as John’s Gospel puts it so well. Yes, God is transcendent, totally other. But God is also Emmanuel, “God with us”. This latter reality allows us to explore what Trinity might mean for us. How the Trinity might be reflected in our lives, in the here and now. How in the ordinariness of our days we might co-operate with the life and work of that Trinity. Perhaps like this:
The Father is credited with all that we understand by generation, creation and maintenance. So much of our human activity can be seen as co-operation in that work. Everything that we do to awaken and cherish new life, to fashion, to mould and to develop our physical environment, shares in that work of the Father. Mothering and fathering, designing and building, growing crops and breeding animals, shaping and tending the landscape, manufacturing, organising, fashioning all kinds of things for our use and our delight, all crafts, arts and technologies — in short, every kind of making — falls under this heading. The boys in Primary Industry studies or Agriculture or the Environment Group know this so well on our campus. The Regis boys in their STEM studies tackle it more technically. Boys on the land so often spend their holidays at it. Students of Industrial Technology, working in wood, craft pieces of beauty and function. St Ignatius calls it “labouring with God” in the ongoing work of creation. This is how we are all drawn into and share the life of the first Person of the Trinity.
Likewise, all human works of care, compassion and sacrifice, of healing, of reconciliation and forgiveness, of making amends and making good again, every life of service, every act of restoring the fullness of humanity lost to another, all reflect the work of redemption and salvation that is identified most closely with the Son. When we begin liturgies, Assemblies and gatherings, acknowledging the traditional owners of the land and offering respect, we are part of this reconciliation and healing. The paths of restorative justice when there has been hurt between boys, or trust has been broken, are signs of Jesus’ ongoing redemptive work. Reflections on the experience of Ignatian service or of immersions remind us that “when I was hungry you fed Me, sick or imprisoned and you visited Me, naked and you clothed Me …” When we suffer loss and find support from our close friends and from the community, we know this deeply. This is how each of us share the life of Jesus, whom we so often call here “the man for others”, our brother, the second Person of the Trinity.
And finally, the special role of the Holy Spirit is reflected in every positive idea and inspiration, however slight and humble. It is revealed in every advance of knowledge and wisdom, in every flash of imagination, in every movement of the heart. The artist, the musician, the philosopher and the inventor may embody and express this area of human experience most richly, but there is none to whom it is foreign, because it embraces the simplest ideas and feelings alongside the most elaborate. The core work of teaching and learning in this school is, of course, a strong manifestation of this divine dimension, but does not limit it. This Spirit is tangibly at work in the Visual Arts Room, in The Woods, in the savouring of a poem in extension English, and is in the “Aha!” as a calculus problem is solved. The “Riverview Spirit”, so often spoken of and felt here, that affection for the school, is ultimately God’s Spirit, channeled through the school and through its patron. All this, and much more, is sharing the life-giving Spirit of the third Person of the Trinity.
So let us not overlook or forget those qualities, those gifts and experiences which reveal the life of the Trinity to us. Not a Godhead being solely “out there”, but a God with and within us. Not a faraway impersonal God, but a God who, as we say in the Ignatian tradition, and discover in the Examen, is to be “found in all things”. Here and now. A community of Persons, relational, loving and generative. Just as we are when at our best.