My catechism lesson for this coming Sunday is an introduction to the Person of the Holy Spirit. This necessarily includes a discussion of the Blessed Trinity and how each Person relates within the whole. Which means big, clunky words. Begetting. Begotten. Procession. Spiration. My students are eleven and twelve, and I’m fairly certain that the extent of their Trinitarian knowledge is sparse: We call God Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and they’re connected somehow. The doctrine of the Blessed Trinity is one of the most mysterious and difficult to grasp fully. It is also the single most important doctrine for understanding anything about everything else. And I have 45 minutes, maximum, to lay a solid foundation for the rest of their Catholic lives. No pressure, though.
I think the most difficult thing to understand about the relationships of the Blessed Trinity and the language used to describe it is that it’s grounded in the concept of eternity. It’s hard for sixth graders to think long term as a general rule, but our entire culture is inculcating a prepubescent fixation on the short-term. Communication technology that gives us instant access to the global community is great. Fast cars are great. Expedited shipping from Amazon is great. It’s all great, but it’s turning mankind into permanent twelve-year-olds. For the average pre-teen, reality is based on the sensual, not the intellectual. Truth comes from what you see, what you feel, what you know through touching. The intellectual reflection that follows sensory input is perfunctory, not because this state is fundamentally stupid but because there is not enough time given over to considering one thing fully before the senses are assaulted by some new stimulus.
This rapid-fire way of development is universal to this age-range in a human life, but our addictions to Twitter, 24-hour news, and Candy Crush are symptomatic of the fact that somehow, in the crush of human progress, mankind started putting petal to metal before remembering to check if the brakes worked. I think, in this era of individualism and instant-gratification, we have become so conditioned to moving so rapidly that our concept of eternity, and metaphysics in general, can only reach as high as empiricism. And frankly, the tighter man limits the concept of eternity the harder it is to justify and maintain any moral system, let alone that which comprises two-thirds of Church teaching.
Arguments against marriage equality, the incompatibility of the ethical-political system of Libertarianism with Catholicism, opposing the death penalty and assisted suicide, and many other modern ethical issues we Catholics are obligated to defend all stem from the concept of eternity that is rooted in the Blessed Trinity. How, then, do we understand and convey the concept of eternity in the Blessed Trinity to the Twitter Generation? I think I’ll start with St. Augustine…
Give love. Get love. Never stop doing either.