If, as Aristotle says, the family is the basic unit of society and the primary association of human beings, the Trinity is the basic relationship underlying all of creation. It is the relationship between the human family and the Trinity that Scott Hahn explores in this important work, First Comes Love. Hahn uses relationships we know well–those of parents and children, brothers and sisters, extended family relationships–to explore the nature of the Trinity in a way that makes this very enigmatic doctrine accessible to everyone. At its heart, Hahn’s book explores John Paul II’s statement: “God in His deepest mystery is not a solitude, but a family, since He has in Himself fatherhood, sonship, and the essence of the family, which is love.”
Roughly the first half of Hahn’s book discusses family relationships and how those relationships mirror the perfect relationship of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Beginning with Genesis and moving through the Old Testament covenants, Hahn first describes the divine sonship bestowed upon Adam during creation. Then, tracking a cycle of disobedience, rejection, reconciliation, and covenant, Hahn outlines the many covenants God has offered to man. Each covenant, though different in its manifestation, is a manifestation of God’s total, self-giving love. That is the nature of a covenant: a giving of one’s person to another. These covenants are the signposts of creation, directing man to more intimate union with his creator. In Adam, “[t]he price for securing divine glory was set ‘in the beginning,’ and it was no less than total, life-giving love.” In the last covenant, where God offers His own Son, “Man, in Jesus Christ, would offer himself completely to God in life-giving love, in sacrifice.”
For us, the self-giving love of the covenant is exemplified in our quotidian tasks and responsibilities in family life. These are the opportunities we’ve been given to live out our vocations in service to one another. They are both the most obvious opportunities–coming to us each day in our own homes–but they are the most important as well–solidifying and deepening our most important human relationships. Using these opportunities to sanctify ourselves and our family life is to embrace our vocation of service to our families more fully. As one saint recently said:
For a Christian marriage is not just a social institution, much less a mere remedy for human weakness. It is a real supernatural calling. A great sacrament, in Christ and in the Church, says St Paul. At the same time, it is a permanent contract between a man and a woman. Whether we like it or not, the sacrament of matrimony, instituted by Christ, cannot be dissolved. It is a permanent contract that sanctifies in cooperation with Jesus Christ. He fills the souls of husband and wife and invites them to follow him. He transforms their whole married life into an occasion for God’s presence on earth.
Husband and wife are called to sanctify their married life and to sanctify themselves in it. It would be a serious mistake if they were to exclude family life from their spiritual development. The marriage union, the care and education of children, the effort to provide for the needs of the family as well as for its security and development, the relationships with other persons who make up the community, all these are among the ordinary human situations that christian couples are called upon to sanctify.
St. Josemaria Escriva, Christ is Passing By, 23.
Hahn discusses various forms of families that have existed throughout human history, and how we can make our own family lives reflect the Trinity and the love between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. But what I found more compelling is Hahn’s discussion of our individual responses to God’s call to divine filiation and entering the very life of God.
Hahn describes the process of vocation, probation, and oblation, corresponding to God’s call, our response, and our offering of ourselves. In other words, Hahn describes the need for self-identification first, to understand who we are in the midst of God’s creation. Then, further knowledge and development in virtue leads to self-mastery in imitation of Christ (“we cannot offer to God what we have not first conquered. We cannot give away what we do not first possess.”). Once we can control ourselves, we are then able to give ourselves away in acts of self-sacrifice (“This is when we become what we were made to become, when we fulfill our created purpose, when we shine forth the divine image.”). It is there that we become who we truly are. Just as Christ’s mission and very being were caught up in self-sacrifice, so too are we called to sacrificial love for the sake of another. Once we reach that point–after knowing ourselves and conquering our passions–we can truly enter the life of God by acting as He acts.
As Hahn notes, we could not have a better model for this than Mary, whose sacrificial love made the Incarnation possible. Mary’s response to God’s call, and her constant giving of herself throughout her life, made her not only the preeminent disciple, but an enduring model of faithfulness to God’s call. May we, like Mary, enter into the very life of the Trinity by saying “Yes,” by giving of ourselves in service to others and in the hope of God’s Kingdom.