Our Call to Columban Mission
An African saying is my reminder: "If I go alone I go faster. If I go with others I go farther." This year, I hope to go a little farther so here is a reflection on a key moment in the life of Jesus – His call to mission within the Trinity. It is our call to Columban mission too.
Jesus' Baptismal Call to Mission
We began the New Year with the celebration of the Feast of the Baptism of Jesus. John the Baptist had been preaching to his followers: "I will baptize (plunge) you in water … He will plunge you in the Holy Spirit (into the life of the Trinity)." As soon as Jesus was baptized He came up from the water; suddenly the heavens were opened to Him and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on Him and the Father's voice was heard giving His approval: "This is my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased." It was in the presence of the Father and the Holy Spirit that Jesus received His call to mission. (Mt: 3:15-17).
At His baptism Jesus was plunged into the life of the Trinity by the Holy Spirit. This continuous circulation of Trinitarian love from Father to Son, and back to the Father, from time immemorial, continues night and day and will continue throughout eternity. This is the mystery of the Trinity. The three divine persons freely share and radiate towards one another in an unceasing circulation of divine energy. This continuous current of divine love is an effort to describe the perfect communion and relatedness between the Three Persons. St. Bonaventure searching for words to describe this mystery, called God a "fountain fullness" of love. Jesus was plunged into this Trinitarian "fountain fullness," at His baptism. And so are we.
This continuous circulation of Trinitarian love from Father to Son, and back to the Father, from time immemorial, continues night and day and will continue throughout eternity.
He was then led into the wilderness by the same Spirit to discern how to respond to His call – "If you are the Son of God …?" Throughout His life Jesus continually heard that echo: "if you are the Son of God," and that echo was a constant discerning of how to live out His call to share the Trinity's outpouring of loving energy, that was His mission throughout His life. Some scripture scholars claim that the very purpose of Jesus' mission was to fill the world with the Holy Breath, the Holy Spirit in the mystery of the Trinity.
The Holy Trinity: Outpouring of Compassion and Loving Energy
The sharing between the three Divine Persons is so profound, so complete that each Person thoroughly indwells in each other Person. Each Person becomes truly the self that the Person is, by the outpouring of divine love and life to the other Persons. I am in so far as I give myself to you and unite with you. In this mutual exchange of compassionate and loving energy (perichoresis), they experience their unity in one being and it is in this continuous self-emptying that God reveals God's innermost nature. We can now attempt to answer the old catechism question: What is God? Answer: God is a "fountain fullness" of divine love, a mutual exchange of compassionate and loving energy.
The Life of the Trinity is "Boiling Over from Eternity into Time"
Because the Trinity's very nature is to share life, the life of the Trinity overflows into humanity. Archbishop Rowan Williams adds that the life of the blessed Trinity is boiling over from eternity into time. God values our humanity beyond all imagining. The Trinity's divine presence spills over to encompass the whole world, flooding the universe and making all things holy. Like a saturated sponge creation is dripping wet with divine presence. St. Augustine says we are like sponges in a boundless sea soaked in divinity. St. Columban knew the Trinity; he likened it to the depths of the sea.
Our Baptismal Identity: We are Made in the Image of Our Trinitarian God.
The Trinity describes the very heart of the nature of God, yet it has been absent from our spirituality for 1,700 years! In God, there is a radical relatedness, a perfect communion between Three Persons. This is the God in whose mission we share.
At our baptism we were plunged into this divine life through Christ and we are becoming more divine day by day as the divine energy flows through us. The early Fathers of the Church and the mystics of later centuries spoke clearly about our divinization. Origen says that in the Holy Spirit the divine Word divinizes us. Athanasius adds that the Word became human so that we humans may become divine. "Divinization is participation through grace in the nature of God." It is our participation in the life of the Trinity. Julian of Norwich says we are swimming in a river of prayer, a torrent of love, from the heart of Christ to the Father. When we contemplate the divine core of our being, we can say with Paul: I live, not I, Christ lives in me. (Gal 2:20). And with Columban we can add: Christi Simus, Non Nostri: We belong to Christ, not to ourselves.
St. Columban Likened the Trinity to the Depths of the Sea
Responding to our baptismal call to mission we ask what is the spirituality that sustains and keeps Columban women passionate about mission? If St. Columban likened the Trinity to the depths of the sea it may be good for us to remember that at our baptism, like Jesus, we were plunged into the life of the Trinity, plunged into the compassionate love of God that is extravagant, boiling over from eternity and flowing out, beyond all cultural and religious expectations. As we plan for the future we take the plunge, to be soaked in divinity!
From his baptism in the Jordan, Luke gives us a glimpse at Jesus' inner journey, his call to share the compassionate love of the Trinity with all he met, his experience of himself as the channel of the Holy Spirit: he was born of the Spirit, (Lk 1:35); brought up by the Spirit, (Lk 1:80); filled with the Spirit, (Lk 4:1); anointed by the Spirit, (Lk 4:18); led by the Spirit, (Lk 4:14); enlightened by the Spirit, (Lk 10:21). He felt the power of the Spirit in his life and he experienced himself as the selfoutpouring of the Trinity's loving and compassionate energy. Like Jesus, we too are channels of the Holy Spirit, channels of the outpouring of the Trinity's compassionate and loving energy.
Our Columban Missionary Call
Missiology goes back to the very heart of the Trinity (not the Church). An awareness of the Trinitarian origin of mission will lead us to communion with the Triune God. In a world of global terrorism in the name of religion, and where 65 million people are displaced, we have the leadership of Pope Francis who reminds us that the agenda of mission is the agenda of the whole Church. As missionaries we are called to wake up the world by our counter-cultural lifestyles. Each one contributes the gifts that God has given them to enrich others. It is by our commitment to mission, like that of Jesus, that God gathers in the hurt, the suffering, abused, isolated, starving, dying bodies of humankind. This is the call of every missionary.
The Columban Sisters who have now returned to their home countries and may have less physical energy continue to soak in divine energy and are becoming daily more divine. In the words of mystic Julian, they are swimming in a river of prayer from the heart of Christ to the Father. Our frail and sick missionaries are swept up into God!
Missionary Sister of St. Columban Sr. Kathleen Coyle was missioned for many years in the Philippines. She is a guest lecturer at Maryhill School of Theology, Manila, Philippines, and continues to give retreats in Asia.