June 2, 2006

Seeking the Face of the Lord

The institution of the Eucharist: A rich facet
of New Testament love

In his encyclical “God is Love,” Pope Benedict XVI wrote: “Marriage based on exclusive and definitive love becomes the icon of the relationship between God and his people and vice versa. God’s way of loving becomes the measure of human love. This close connection between eros and marriage in the Bible has practically no equivalent in extra-biblical literature.”

When we contemplate the novelty of the New Testament concept of love, it lays not so much in new ideas as in Christ, who gives flesh and blood to the concept of love. In Jesus, God himself goes in search of the “stray sheep,” a suffering and lost humanity. Christ’s death on the cross is the culmination in which he gives himself in order to save us. The Holy Father explained that by contemplating the pierced side of Christ, we Christians discover the path along which our life and love must move.

There is an even richer facet of New Testament love: Jesus gave the offering of himself an enduring presence through his institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper. Pope Benedict wrote: “He anticipated his death and resurrection by giving his disciples, in the bread and wine, his very self, his body and blood. The imagery of marriage between God and Israel is now realized in a way previously inconceivable: [in the Old Testament] It had meant standing in God’s presence, but now it becomes union with God, through sharing in Jesus’ self-gift, sharing in his body and blood.”

The Holy Father referred to this reality as sacramental “mysticism.” And he said something else is connoted in this mysticism. He reminded us that it is social in character; it is sacramental communion in which we become one with the Lord, like all the other communicants.

He said, “Union with Christ is also union with all those to whom he gives himself. I cannot possess Christ just for myself; I can belong to him only in union with all who have become or will become his own. Communion draws me out of myself towards him, and thus also towards unity with all Christians. We become ‘one body,’ completely joined in a single existence. Love of God and love of neighbor are now truly united.” The gift of the Eucharist, the mystical sacrament, makes this communion possible.

The pope said that a Eucharist which does not pass over into the concrete practice of love is intrinsically fragmented. Love of God and love of neighbor have become one: In the least of the brethren we find Jesus himself, and in Jesus, we find God. There is a profound implication here: Closing our eyes to our neighbor also blinds us to God.

How can we love God without seeing him? No one has ever seen God as he is. Yet God is not totally invisible. God first loved us, says the Letter of John (cf. Jn 4:10) and this love has appeared in our midst. He sent his only Son so that we might live through him. God has made himself visible through Jesus. The Lord has been present through subsequent Church history in the men and women who reflect his presence, in his word, in the sacraments and especially in the Eucharist.

As we consider the truly awesome reality of the exchange of love between God and us, the pope says it is clear that love is not merely sentiment. “Sentiments come and go. A sentiment can be a marvelous first spark, but it is not the fullness of love … . Acknowledgement of the living God is one path towards love, and the ‘yes’ of our will to his will unites our intellect, will and sentiments in the all-embracing act of love. But this process is always open-ended: love is never ‘finished’ and complete; throughout life it changes and matures and thus remains faithful to itself.

“The love-story between God and man consists in the very fact that this communion of will increases in a communion of thought and sentiment, and thus our will and God’s will increasingly coincide: God’s will is no longer for me an alien will, something imposed on me from without by the commandments, but is now my own will, based on the realization that God is in fact more deeply present to me than I am to myself.”

With God I can love even the person whom I do not like or even know. The pope said, “I learn to look on this other human person not simply with my eyes and my feeling, but from the perspective of Jesus Christ. His friend is my friend. ... Seeing with the eyes of Christ I can give to others much more than their outward necessities, I can give them the look of love which they crave.” †


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