Difference is a path to complete unity

Father John A. Kiley

Angelo Cardinal Scola is the archbishop of Milan and was ranked quite highly among those cardinals being considered for the papal office in the recent election. Cardinal Scola obviously remains in Milan but he has made quite a contribution to church life in a scholarly work entitled “The Nuptial Mystery.”

Incorporating much of the thought of Pope John Paul II who devoted years of his Wednesday conferences to promoting and explaining his Theology of the Body, the Milanese archbishop reflects on the human body, sexual difference, the man-woman relationship, marriage and family, especially in light of the Holy Trinity, the Divine and human natures of Christ, and the union of Christ with his church. Older philosophies often chose to describe human beings in terms of thought and freedom. Aristotle’s “rational animal” comes to mind.

The ability to think and the capability of making choices distinguished mankind from the animals whose lives are determined by instinct. Cardinal Scola’s Scriptural and papal sources rather find a fuller meaning for mankind in interpersonal communion, in social relationships.

On this Trinity Sunday it is especially appropriate to consider these profound and insightful words from the cardinal: “…a culture that does not accept the revelation of the Trinitarian God ultimately renders itself incapable of understanding sexual difference in a positive sense.”

Think back to your Catholic school days. In the Holy Trinity there are three distinct persons: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Still, in the Holy Trinity there is only one nature, God’s Divine nature. The three Divine persons remain distinct even as they operate through a common Divine nature. In the Trinity there is no confusion (the persons remain distinct) and in the Trinity there is no separation (the nature remains one). This Trinitarian communion is the pattern after which mankind is modeled. “Then God said: Let us make human beings in our image, after our likeness. Let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, the tame animals, all the wild animals, and all the creatures that crawl on the earth. God created mankind in his image; in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them (Gen.1:26-27). So the mystery of the Trinity is the foundation of authentic humanity.

In the one God there is a difference, a difference that makes possible the perfect unity of the three divine persons. The Father can love the Son because the Son remains the perfect Son. The Son can love the Father because the Father remains the perfect Father. Their love consists precisely in recognizing each other’s difference and in respecting each other’s uniqueness. Their love is simply mutual affirmation, the mutual admiration and mutual appreciation of one another’s personality, one another’s difference. This perfect mutual giving and receiving – the perfect procession of love back and forth between Father and Son — is indeed the very Holy Spirit himself. The Spirit is the love that allows the Father and the Son to be different and yet to be one.

The Trinity, an intimate and indissoluble community of distinct persons, is the model for all authentic human relationships. This is especially true of the family unit. In the marital union of one man and one woman, the husband and wife remain distinct persons, both spiritually and physically. Each spouse must respect one another’s unique, personal identity, both mentally and sexually. Only then can they be drawn together in a fully truthful and fully mutual respect, proving the observation of Cardinal Scola: “Difference is a path to more complete unity.” In the light of the Trinity, difference is something positive, something that exalts and does not hinder unity. Only persons who admit difference are genuine offspring of the Trinity, true likenesses of the inner life of God himself.

Cardinal Scola laments that nowadays human beings are considered liberated individuals, independent beings, looking more for inner fulfillment than outward actualization. Human beings should be regarded in the light of the Divine persons, whose noble task is to recognize, respect and reinforce the genuine otherness, the truthful difference, the eternal identity of the other Divine persons.

Men and women, like God, flourish only when the other is embraced in full, authentic difference.