“Are you not aware that you are the temple of God?” (1 Cor 3:16)
Fr. James Dominic Brent, O.P., a good friend of our community, was born in Michigan. He fell away from the faith for a time in college, but then he returned through his study of philosophy. Now a Dominican Friar of the Province of St. Joseph, he lives and teaches at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C.. One of his favorite teachings to share is the mystery of indwelling of the Holy Trinity.
Father, you speak a lot about the “indwelling” of the Trinity. What exactly do you mean by that?
The “indwelling” means that we are the “home” of God; that the entire Trinity — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit — dwells in the hearts of all who are baptized and living in a state of grace (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church #1239). The Lord says, “If a man loves me, he will keep my words and my Father will love him and we will come to him and make our home with him ”(Jn 14:23). You are a temple of God. This is what Christianity is all about. [This is what life is all about.] Life is all about receiving the grace of the indwelling of the Holy Trinity.
Do you think people are aware of this?
I’ve traveled the country and preached to many audiences, many different people, and this comes as news to a lot of Catholics. I hate to say it. Some people have a kind of very vague awareness, but it’s not front and center in their consciousness. And the Church wants this to be front and center.
Why is this so important?
God gave us life in order to draw us into communion with Himself. We often understand this to mean that God wants a relationship with us. But that word ‘relationship’ can make it seem like God is outside of us — like He is off in the sky somewhere and yeah, He cares, and we have a relationship with Him, but that’s about it. [But] it’s not just that we have a ‘relationship’ with Him; rather, He is in the depths of our hearts. He is extremely close to us, closer than we realize. It says in the Old Testament, “His delight is to be with the sons of men” (Prov 8:31). He doesn’t want us to think of Him as far off or far away. God wants us to enjoy His presence and He wants to be in our presence. That’s basically what heaven is going to be.
How does the indwelling actually “work”?
We enter into Divine Life thanks to Christ. It’s not just that He lives in our soul like a tabernacle — although that’s a good image — but it’s rather that He occupies our whole being! This can be understood very realistically, not metaphorically. The Lord says, “I am the vine; you are the branches” (Jn 15:5). Just as the life that is in the vine surges through the branches, and the vine and branches are one organism, the very Life of Jesus Christ surges through us. We live His Divine Life. I just find that amazing! The Spirit living within us is sometimes called the Divine Artist because He is actively transforming us into Christ. And just as Jesus is always turned toward the Father, we who have been changed into Christ by the Holy Spirit are likewise turned toward the Father. So, to be a Christian is to be immersed in the Holy Trinity, to be caught up in the Life of the Trinity. The indwelling goes both ways. It’s not only the Trinity in us; it’s us in the Trinity.
When we live out of this reality, how will it change us?
The short answer is that it will heal and elevate us. Before the Fall, Adam and Eve enjoyed the indwelling of God in their hearts. But after they sinned, they lost that grace. They could know God was ‘out there’, but He became, in a sense, a felt absence. When a person is baptized, he is given the gift of the indwelling. It’s the beginning of the recovery of the interior awareness of the presence of God, and the beginning of the healing of the human heart from the loneliness and fracture of the Fall. We are given a kind of life in our Baptism that is better than Adam and Eve ever had. We don’t enjoy all of the privileges they had (immortality, for example), but in the depths of our hearts we are elevated to a higher level by life in Christ and the explicit knowledge of the Trinity.
How can we learn to respond to this mystery more fully?
Faith. Faith is actual spiritual contact with God. I always like to use the example of the hemorrhaging woman. She thinks, ‘if only I could touch the tassel of His garment, I’ll be healed’ (cf. Mk 5:28). So she goes and she touches the tassel of His garment and power goes forth from Him and she is healed. The interesting thing is that the Lord then says, “Your faith has saved you” (Mk 5:34). So, was it touching the garment that saved her or was it her faith? Every time you make an act of faith, you spiritually touch the ascended Lord Jesus Christ and power goes forth from Him into you. By believing the things that God tells you through His Word, you actually, by that very belief, make contact with these mysteries and begin to grow in them on a supernatural level.
What if I don’t feel God living within me?
As St. Paul says, “We walk by faith and not by sight” (2 Cor 5:7). This mystery is not directed towards our emotions or reason, but to our deep heart, deeper than our momentary experiences or feelings. This mystery can be true even if we are in a terrible place, emotionally, physically, or psychologically. We all have moments when it may seem like God is not there — bad days, depressing days, anxious days. The reality of the indwelling Trinity is still true and we know it by faith. Even on the bad days, we can say, “Holy Trinity, I believe You live in me.” If we do that, we actually make contact with the Holy Trinity and graces are released in our souls that will fortify us and help us with that bad day.
What happens if someone is baptized but not living in a state of grace?
Fly to Confession as soon as possible! One of the reasons why mortal sin is so horrific is that the gift of the indwelling which is given to us at our Baptism is destroyed. It is called ‘mortal’ sin because it kills that Divine Life surging within us. It’s not that God dies, but it deals a death blow to God’s Life in us. But a good Confession will restore Divine Life to the soul.
What are some practical ways to grow in this mystery?
The single most practical thing that you and I can do is make acts of faith. Say often: “Jesus I believe in You”; “Holy, Trinity I believe You dwell in my soul.” That’s where it all begins. And then we need a lot of silence in our life. We do this by first becoming aware of the indwelling, and then by taking advantage of the silence and time for prayer that we’ve been given. Any kind of prayer is good — lectio divina, the rosary, etc. — but really just believing that the Holy Trinity dwells within you is a good start!
This sounds like it could really change how we see everything and everyone.
I really do believe that the whole point of preaching the Gospel is for the human heart to receive the grace of the indwelling Trinity, and to grow into full awareness of it. When you think of Christianity in that way, it looks like something very different than just observing commandments, being a good, well-behaved person. It’s all for the sake of growing into ever deeper communion with the Holy Trinity. St. John Paul II said that what the Church of the Third Millennium needs is a spirituality of communion, which “indicates above all the heart’s contemplation of the mystery of the Trinity dwelling in us, and whose light we must also be able to see shining on the face of the brothers and sisters around us” (Novo Millenio Ineunte #43). That’s it. Christianity is all about receiving and sharing with others the grace of the indwelling Trinity!
Interview by Sr. Mary Margaret Hope, SV. Originally printed in IMPRINT Magazine Winter 2020.