Saint John records in the seventeenth chapter of his Gospel that Our Lord prayed "that all should be one." If one is fortunate enough to live in a parish in which handing over the direction of one's life to Christ, through his Mother, is dominant in the lives of many who still worship God, then one is able to experience the unity Our Lord had in mind.
The presence of such parishioners should not be surprising: surely there should be some places in which the fruits of the all-powerful prayer of God Incarnate are being experienced. Surely, too, this is the purpose of a parish, indeed the purpose of the whole Church and the reason Our Lord founded it.
The trouble is, there are not enough optimists in the Church. Optimism - believing the best can be brought about - might be a synonym for faith, real faith, that is. It is certainly of the essence of the virtue of hope. Hope is not some vague wish that a certain thing might happen. It is a certainty that what is promised will be delivered; and this hope is certain only when God is the One who promises to deliver.
There are still a few Catholics left who think at all, and fewer whose thoughts are not their own, but those of Christ. These experience a hors d'oeuvre while still on earth of the Banquet that is Heaven. Those whose minds and thinking are one with Christ believe in Divine Revelation, and they believe in it as something received from God through chosen servants: patriarchs, prophets, apostles.
They believe that Revelation ceased with the death of the last apostle, but they realise that the Light of Revelation was not turned off when Saint John died, but has kept burning - "I am with you always" - so that we do not have to go searching back for it, but continue in our own time joyfully to bask in its radiance.
The plague that has accompanied the Church founded by Christ since the day he founded it can be described as the ridiculous idea and false conviction that man can decide what God is like, who Christ is, and what his revelation, regarding truth, morals and life (grace) contains.
Perhaps the reason for this disease in man is that he takes it for granted that he should be able to understand all about God, his Nature and his deeds. The result of this obvious foolishness - for that is what pride is - is the smashing into countless smithereens of what was one on that first fiery and windy Pentecost.
Scarcely any time passed before the pride started on its insidious divisive work. He was back to wreak the same havoc on the New Man of Calvary as he wrought on the old man of Eden. He has done his work well, always knowing that there would be so many willing co-operators, namely, those who, with him, would shout their "non serviam," convinced that they could contain the heavens in their heads, which makes it impossible for them to put their heads into the heavens.
They forget the design of God, the purpose for which he designed the human mind: not just to write great literature, compose master- pieces, paint Sistine Chapel ceilings, but to be filled with a power that makes the mind a co-operator in the thinking of God: the gift of faith.
Armed thus by God (in Baptism) the mind is able to go "soaring round God's throne" in prayer. There it is taken by the Holy Spirit into the Divine Wonder to see the Ancient Unity of the Three Persons in the One Nature. There the mind realises why there have to be Three Persons, that they are boundless in their love, which is the determined and infinite bestowing of infinite goodness on each other through their shared Nature, thus eternally producing their infinite joy, and so the mind can come to know why they created, then redeemed the fallen creation, then sanctified it: it was all out of their shared Divine Joy.
No wonder the saints were so happy! No wonder Peter cried out: "You will be filled with a joy that cannot be described", and no wonder humanity without faith becomes so miserable in its vain struggle to survive without Father, Son and Holy Spirit, left without Truth and Good and Grace. Man without faith always puts himself first in his desperate scramble for happiness, and so makes an enemy of anyone who frustrates him, begetting hatred and its violence, coldness and its ultimate loneliness.
Fruit of the Spirit
Understanding the Blessed Trinity in the Revelation made by the Three Divine Persons themselves makes us understand and love the Catholic Faith, in which the appreciation of God is made as fully possible as it can be for man. For, in the Church which the Son of God founded on earth, the Truth of God can fill our minds, the Goodness of God our wills, making love real, and the Life of God fill our souls by the grace that sanctifies.
And back in the little parish where many parishioners experience all these wonders, there is that spirit of being one that none of them can express, but do simply share, in strength and in that joy which is the first fruit of the Spirit.
Catholics must never cease to believe in all that they have, knowing they did not create it, but received it; and they must never cease to pray that all Christians, indeed all mankind, may come home, not to an ephemeral man-made satisfaction, but to that which He Himself described: "If any man love me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him."
Indeed the joy of heaven truly begins on earth, where we can share already in the infinite joy of the Three Persons loving one another. That is the only true unity. "Lord, increase our faith, that your oneness in us will show all your searching children the way to their true home."
Fr John O'Neill STB is the parish priest of Doonside in the Parramatta Diocese and author of several books and numerous articles on Catholicism.