It’s a special month. No, not because of Valentines, groundhogs or the Super Bowl.
It’s a month of palindromes.
A palindrome is a word, phrase or sequence that is identical forwards and backwards. A word example is “madam.” A phrase is, “A man. A plan. A canal. Panama.”
This month started with a numerical palindrome: 02-02-2020. According to timeanddate.com, this mm-dd-yyyy sequence (including the British pattern of dd-mm-yyy) only happens every millennium or so. The last time was 11-11-1111; the next will be 03-03-3030. Using only the U.S. pattern of mm-dd-yyyy or mm-dd-yy makes things a bit more frequent, such as 10-02-2001 or next week’s 02-11-20.
Palindrome comes from the Greek “palin” (“again”) and “dromos” (“to run”). So a palindrome is the same, ever-repeating, back and forth.
The Bible offers a few palindromes: The name of “Anna,” the prophetess of the Presentation on Feb. 2, is a palindrome. So is the name of Samuel’s mother — Hannah. She gave us the canticle: “My heart exults in the Lord, my horn is exalted by my God. … There is no Holy One like the Lord; … (1Sam 2:1-2). Her words foreshadowed Mary’s Magnificat.
Another Biblical palindrome comes from the language Jesus spoke, Aramaic. That palindrome is Abba (Father). Jesus taught us to pray to his Father, Abba.
Abba brings us to the relationship of the Trinity. St. Thomas Aquinas said, “For since the Father loves both himself and the Son by a single love (and vice versa), what is implied in the Holy Spirit as love is the relation that the Father bears to the Son (and vice versa) …”
Aquinas’ “vice versa” sheds the palindrome light on the dynamic of the Trinity, a back and forth, ever-flowing love.
Christopher West, an expert on St. John Paul II’s “Theology of the Body” says, “The Father, from all eternity, is making a gift of himself in love to the Son. … And the Son, eternally receiving the gift of the Father, makes a gift of himself back to him. The love between them is so real, so profound, that this love is another eternal Person — the Holy Spirit.”
The Trinity exists as an ongoing, reciprocal flow of love and life that can be thought of as a divine palindrome: the Trinity moves backwards and forwards, up and down, ever repeating and ever giving love.
We, as members of Christ’s Body, live within this palindrome of ever-flowing, ever-generating love. And we shouldn’t live in it passively, like a boat riding an ocean tide. No, we are called to be part of this backwards-forwards love. We hear this when we pray, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
We are meant to receive God’s love and mercy, and pass it on to others. They are called to receive that love and mercy and return them to us. And in doing so, we all give thanks to God. Sometimes it’s simply a smile for a stranger. Try it and see if the smile doesn’t come back to you — and fill your heart with gratitude.
February is Catholic Press Month. The Catholic Press Association of the United States and Canada (CPA) began in 1911. Today, the CPA has more than 600 member organizations, reaching 26 million readers. But we in the Catholic press don’t operate alone. You, our readers, are part of our dynamic. You share your stories with us and we share those stories with you and with others. It’s a sharing back and forth — a palindrome, if you will. Thank you for being part of it with us.
Finally, let’s remember the election year that formally kicked off in Iowa Feb. 3. We live in a divisive time in our country, not a loving or merciful time. Remembering the dynamic of the divine palindrome might help us avoid the contemporary palindrome found in this sentence: We risk a “trap apart.”
— Patricia Kasten