August 31, 2007

Seeking the Face of the Lord

The Eucharist is at the root of every form of holiness

(Sixteenth and last in a series)

This week, I conclude my summary and brief commentary on Pope Benedict XVI’s apostolic exhortation “Sacramentum Caritatis” (“The Sacrament of Charity”) on the Eucharist, which was published earlier this year.

This exhortation presented the substance of the formal presentations and proposals that resulted from the 2005 International Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist.

However, the very complete teaching presented by the Holy Father unquestionably bears the marks of his own theological and spiritual acumen. I can’t imagine a more significant and timely teaching that touches so fundamentally the life of our Church.

Toward the end of the exhortation, the pope reflects on the social implications of the eucharistic mystery. He writes: “The union with Christ brought about by the Eucharist also brings a newness to our social relations: ‘this sacramental “mysticism” is social in character.’ Indeed, ‘union with Christ is also union with those to whom he gives himself. I cannot possess Christ just for myself; I can belong to him only in union with all those who have become, or who will become his own.’ … The Eucharist is the sacrament of communion between brothers and sisters who allow themselves to be reconciled in Christ, who made of Jews and pagans one people, tearing down the wall of hostility which divided them (cf. Eph 2:14). Only this constant impulse toward reconciliation enables us to partake worthily of the Body and Blood of Christ (cf. Mt 5:23-24). In the memorial of his sacrifice, the Lord strengthens our fraternal communion and, in a particular way, urges those in conflict to hasten their reconciliation by opening themselves to dialogue and a commitment to justice. The recognition of this fact leads to a determination to transform unjust structures and to restore respect for the dignity of all men and women, created in God’s image and likeness. Through the concrete fulfillment of this responsibility, the Eucharist becomes in life what it signifies in its celebration” (n. 89).

As he did in his first encyclical, “Deus Caritas Est” (“God is Love”), Pope Benedict remarks that it is not the proper task of the Church to engage in politics in bringing about the most just society possible. Nonetheless, the Church “has to play her part through rational argument and she has to reawaken the spiritual energy without which justice, which always demands sacrifice, cannot prevail and prosper” (n. 89).

Further on, he notes, “All who partake of the Eucharist must commit themselves to peacemaking in our world scarred by violence and war, and today in particular, by terrorism, economic corruption and sexual exploitation. All these problems give rise in turn to others no less troubling and disheartening. We know that there can be no superficial solutions to these issues. Precisely because of the mystery we celebrate, we must denounce situations contrary to human dignity, since Christ shed his blood for all, and at the same time affirm the inestimable value of each individual person” (n. 89).

Pope Benedict refers to the Eucharist as “the food of truth and human need.” He writes: “We cannot remain passive before certain processes of globalization which not infrequently increase the gap between the rich and poor worldwide. … it is impossible to remain silent before the distressing images of huge camps throughout the world of displaced persons and refugees, who are living in makeshift conditions in order to escape a worse fate, yet are still in dire need. Are these human beings not our brothers and sisters? Do their children not come into the world with the same legitimate expectations of happiness as other children? The Lord Jesus, the bread of eternal life, spurs us to be mindful of the situation of extreme poverty in which a great part of humanity still lives: these are situations for which human beings bear a clear and disquieting responsibility” (n. 90).

The Holy Father rightly challenges humanity’s conscience. He asserts that our common commitment to truth can and must give new hope. “The food of truth demands that we denounce inhumane situations in which people starve to death because of injustice and exploitation, and it gives us renewed strength and courage to work tirelessly in the service of the civilization of love” (n. 90). He appeals to dioceses and Christian communities to teach and promote the Church’s social doctrine. He remarks briefly that eucharistic spirituality is concerned about the “fabric of society” and respect for all of creation, including the well-being of our environment.

The Holy Father concludes his exhortation: “Dear brothers and sisters, the Eucharist is at the root of every form of holiness, and each of us is called to the fullness of life in the Holy Spirit. … This most holy mystery thus needs to be firmly believed, devoutly celebrated and intensely lived in the Church” (n. 94). †

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