The Joy of Self-Expansion
Solemnity of the Holy Trinity

Doug McManaman
Reproduced with Permission

The Holy Trinity is the central mystery of our faith. It was Christ who revealed God as a Trinity of Persons, and He was able to do so because He is the Second Person of the Trinity. No mere human being could possibly reveal the nature of God as a Trinity of Persons, because the mystery of the Trinity is beyond the grasp of human reason. All human reason can do is demonstrate the existence of a First Uncaused Cause of all that exists. Many philosophers, including Aristotle did so without the benefit of divine revelation. Human reason can show that there can only be one God, whose nature is to exist, that this one God is eternal, unchanging and all knowing. And reason can do so much

That God is one but mysteriously three distinct Persons, however, exceeds the grasp of human reason to know or explain, fully understand, or prove. Christ revealed God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; One God, but three distinct Persons.

Although St. Augustine and many other great doctors of the Church wrote long treatises on the Trinity, they’d be the first to admit that the Trinity is simply an unutterable mystery. We can come to some understanding of it, but we’ll never comprehend it, not even in heaven.

St. Augustine puts it this way: God the Father knows Himself in and through His Word, which is the Son. But the Word is God. And because God is Supremely Good, the Father loves what He knows, namely His image, which is in His Word, or His Son. And so the Father loves the Son with an infinite, eternal, and omnipotent love, and the Son in turn loves the Father with a love that is infinite, eternal, and omnipotent. That mutual love between them is a distinct Person of the Trinity: the Holy Spirit.

And so the inner life of the Trinity is an eternal life of knowledge and love. Heaven is nothing but an eternal life within the very heart of the life of the Trinity, within the heart of this knowledge of God and this mutual love between the Father and the Son.

This inner life will be a life of inconceivable joy. And that’s what I’d like to focus on today: the joy that is the life of heaven; because everyone is looking for joy. But the world cannot give us joy. All this world can give is a certain degree of happiness, but not a piece of the joy of heaven. Joy is very different than happiness.

The difference is that happiness is in us. We contain it, like a glass contains water. But joy is not in us. Rather, we are in joy. Joy contains us, it possess us, has a hold on us. Joy is larger than us. God is Joy, and God is larger than us.

The difference between happiness and joy is also seen in the etymology of the word. Happiness is derived from the old English word hap, from which we get the word haphazard. Hap means “chance, fortune.” Happiness depends upon factors outside of our control; happiness depends on “what is happening”. That’s why people who are happy are often not entirely at ease, because they sense deep within them that fortune can turn against them. Something could happen suddenly that brings everything crashing down, which is why the more wealth we possess, the more possessive we seem to become, not less.

But we were not created for happiness, we were created for joy, and joy does not depend upon external circumstances. Joy can take possession of us in the midst of poverty, in the midst of physical suffering, even mental suffering. I have a patient who suffers from terrible paranoia who often has moments of very intense joy in prayer.

Heaven is joy. But most people see it as a state of happiness, like an eternal Club Med vacation, where they will never have to work again; they can lie on the beech in the warmth of the sun, and never go hungry. That’s not heaven, because scripture says that heaven is what eye has not seen, what hear has not heard. Heaven exceeds our ability to perceive.

But the joy of heaven can begin here, in this life. We are meant to live in joy, that is, we are meant to be possessed by joy. And if we are on the road to heaven, we will taste this supernatural joy, which is a fruit of the Holy Spirit. If we are not on the road to heaven, our life may be happy and comfortable, but it will be joyless.

In order to really begin to taste that joy, in order to begin to really live in that joy, there is one thing we must do. And that is, we must relinquish the pursuit of our happiness. We must stop seeking our happiness. That basic right that is enshrined in the Declaration of Independence, the right to the pursuit of happiness, we must give that up. That’s the secret to joy.

The only way to live in joy is to allow something larger to take possession of you and carry you along. But that can’t happen if we insist on being in the driver’s seat. We have to allow ourselves to be carried along, like a baby in a car seat, or like the apod bird who has no feet, and so cannot pursue flight, but has only to lift its wings and wait for the wind to carry it forth into flight. It’s a matter of surrendering our life to God, to His providence, to His control. But it is hard to trust that God has our best interest in mind. That’s the weakness of our faith. But the way to joy is total obedience to God’s will, allowing that will to direct our lives, to commit to that entirely, not partially, and to learn to forget about our own personal happiness.

It is not selfish to pursue happiness, it is not unjust to pursue happiness, it is a basic human right, which is why it is in the Declaration of Independence. But we were created for something higher. When we pursue happiness, we are pursuing a state that exists in us. But joy is not in us, it is larger than us, it is outside of us, but has a hold on us. The key to joy is to live outside of ourselves. The word ecstasy means precisely that: ex-stace: outside the self.

The only way to joy is to give yourself entirely to loving God with all your mind and all your heart and all your strength, and loving your neighbor as yourself.

What does it mean to love one’s neighbor as oneself? It means to live outside of oneself. I’m sure I’ve said this before, that we naturally will the best for ourselves. If we are buying something and have a choice before us, we naturally pick the best for ourselves, because we will the best for ourselves. To love another as I love myself is to will the best for that person as I naturally will the best for myself.

But this is much harder to do; for I have to exit myself and love that person as if he were another me. If I allow him in line ahead of me, he will get served first, and I’ll have to wait longer, and I’m tired, and it is painful to have to wait longer. The fact that he’s getting served first does not take away my fatigue. And so to love him as I love myself, I have to love him more than I love my own comfort. That’s hard to do. I have to want his well-being more than I want my own happiness.

But Christ commands us to do just that, and the more we love like that, we soon begin to experience the radical difference between joy and happiness. Because although we are so busy with God’s will in serving this person and that person and have very little time to pursue our own happiness, we’re joyful, and we don’t know why or where it comes from. It comes to us from the outside, not from within our control.

The more we love others as we love ourselves, the larger we become. If I love another person as I love myself, I am no longer one, but two. I am here, but over there, outside of myself. And if I love a third person as I love myself, then I love her as another me, another self. I have become three, and four, and five, and so on. The more people I love with this kind of selfless love, the more I exist outside of myself--and that means, the more I live in a kind of ecstasy, a joy that is larger than my individual self.

That is why those who are only committed to pursuing their own happiness in this life will not have the capacity to find joy in heaven. It’s not that they will be excluded from enjoying an eternal Club Med vacation. Rather, they don’t have the capacity to share in the joy of heaven any more than a brute animal can share in the good news of your promotion at work. They don’t understand. The more a person can find joy in the joy of another, the greater will be his capacity for heaven. And so the key is to pray for more charity, for a greater share in the supernatural love of God and neighbor.

It is the Holy Spirit that empowers us to love others more than we love ourselves. Just look what happened on Pentecost, the Apostles were empowered to do what they couldn’t do before, namely, to face the Roman Empire, proclaim the good news of the Kingdom of God, the good news of the forgiveness of sins and the resurrection of the body and life everlasting, even in the face of death and the threat of torture. They were completely indifferent to the pains that the emperors of this world could inflict upon them. They were possessed by the Joy of God Himself. So too are we called to this life of joy.