August 24, 2007

Seeking the Face of the Lord

Worship of God in the Eucharist requires a public witness of faith

(Fifteenth in a series)

Pope Benedict XVI gives us a massive and thorough teaching about the holy Eucharist in all its dimensions.

His apostolic exhortation “Sacramentum Caritatis” will be a document that serves as a timely resource for teaching and studying the meaning of this sacrament for a long time to come. This week, we consider “Eucharistic consistency” and “the Eucharist and mission.”

When the pope speaks of Eucharistic consistency, he reminds us that worship pleasing God can never be a purely private matter.

There are consequences in our relations with others. True worship of God, in the Eucharist, for example, demands a public witness to our faith.

In this context, the pope raises the sensitive and complex issue of those in public office who “must make decisions regarding fundamental values, such as respect for human life, its defense from conception to natural death, the family built upon marriage between a man and a woman, the freedom to educate one’s children and the promotion of the common good in all its forms. These values are not negotiable. Consequently, Catholic politicians and legislators, conscious of their grave responsibility before society, must feel particularly bound, on the basis of a properly formed conscience, to introduce and support laws inspired by values grounded in human nature. There is an objective connection here with the Eucharist (cf. 1 Cor 11:27-29). Bishops are bound to reaffirm constantly these values as part of their responsibility to the flock entrusted to them” (n. 83).

In other words, the Holy Father is asserting that one cannot maintain allegiance to the Church’s moral teachings in private and yet oppose them or refuse to support them in the public forum. They are not negotiable in public or in private.

Eucharistic worship and receiving Communion are not private actions either. They demand a public witness of our faith. This is a matter of Eucharistic consistency, and a timely reminder at that.

Since the Eucharist is a mystery to be proclaimed, it also has a missionary dimension. “The love that we celebrate in the sacrament is not something we can keep to ourselves. … What the world needs is God’s love. … The Eucharist is thus the source and summit not only of the Church’s life, but also of her mission. … Missionary outreach is thus an essential part of the Eucharistic form of the Christian life” (n. 84).

Pope Benedict writes: “The first and fundamental mission that we receive from the sacred mysteries we celebrate is that of bearing witness by our lives. … Witness could be described as the means by which the truth of God’s love comes to men and women in history, inviting them to accept freely this radical newness” (n. 85).

He goes on to note the witness of martyrdom in our Christian history and makes a strong point of the fact that also today the “Church does not lack martyrs who offer the supreme witness of God’s love” (n. 85).

A reflection on the relationship between Eucharist and mission leads us to recognize “the goal of all mission: to bring Christ to others.” The more ardent the love for the Eucharist in the hearts of the Christian people, the more clearly they recognize this goal. “The mystery of the Eucharist, believed and celebrated, demands a constant catechesis on the need for all to engage in a missionary effort centered on the proclamation of Jesus as the one Saviour” (n. 86).

In this context, Pope Benedict makes a plea for greater religious freedom in every nation, so that Christians, as well as followers of other religions, can freely express their convictions, both as individuals and as communities (cf. n. 87).

The Eucharist is a mystery to be offered to the world. “ ‘The bread I will give is my flesh, for the life of the world’ (Jn 6:51). In these words, the Lord reveals the true meaning of the gift of his life for all people. These words reveal his deep compassion for every man and woman. … Each celebration of the Eucharist makes sacramentally present the gift that the crucified Lord made of his life, for us and the whole world. In the Eucharist, Jesus also makes us witnesses of God’s compassion toward all our brothers and sisters. The Eucharistic mystery thus gives rise to a service of charity toward neighbor, which consists in the very fact that, in God and with God, I love even the person whom I do not like or even know. This can only take place on the basis of an intimate encounter with God, an encounter which has become a communion of will, affecting even my feelings. Then I learn to look on this other person not simply with my eyes and my feelings, but from the perspective of Jesus Christ” (n. 88). †

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