Wednesday, September 25, 2013

“Only when this question [of death] is answered can men truly celebrate and be free”

The Eucharist: Heart of the Church

The Wellspring of Life from the Side of the Lord, Opened in Loving Sacrifice

by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI

In all ages, and among all peoples, the ultimate aim of men in their festivals has been to open the door of death. For as long as it does not touch on this question, a festival remains superficial, mere entertainment to anesthetize oneself. Death is the ultimate question, and wherever it is bracketed out there can be no real answer. Only when this question is answered can men truly celebrate and be free. The Christian feast, the Eucharist, plumbs the very depths of death. It is not just a matter of pious discourse and entertainment, of some kind of religious beautification, spreading a pious gloss on the world; it plumbs the very depths of existence, which it calls death, and strikes out an upward path to life, the life that overcomes death. And in this way the meaning of what we are trying to reflect on, in this meditation, becomes clear, what the tradition sums up in this sentence: The Eucharist is a sacrifice, the presentation of Jesus Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross.
Whenever we hear these words, inhibitions arise within us, and in all ages it has always been so. The question arises: When we talk about sacrifice, do we not do so on the basis of an unworthy picture of God, or at least a naive one? Does this not assume that we men should and could give something to God? Does this not show that we think of ourselves as equal partners with God, so to speak, who could barter one thing for another with Him: we give Him something so that He will give us something? Is this not to misapprehend the greatness of God, who has no need of our gifts, because He Himself is the giver of all gifts?
But, on the other hand, the question certainly does remain: Are we not all of us in debt to God, indeed, not merely debtors to Him but offenders against Him, since we are no longer simply in the position of owing Him our life and our existence but have now become guilty of offenses against Him? We cannot give Him anything, and in spite of that we cannot even simply assume that He will regard our guilt as being of no weight, that He will not take it seriously, that He will look on man as just a game, a toy.
It is to this very question that the Eucharist offers us an answer.
First of all, it says this to us: God Himself gives to us, that we may give in turn. The initiative in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ comes from God. In the first place it is He Himself who comes down to us: “God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son” (Jn 3:16). Christ is not in the first instance a gift we men bring to an angry God; rather, the fact that He is there at all, living, suffering, loving, is the work of God’s love. He is the condescension of merciful love, who bows down to us; for us the Lord becomes a slave, as we saw in the previous meditation.
It is in this sense that, in the Second Letter to the Corinthians, we find the words in which grace calls out to us: “Be reconciled to God” (II Cor 5:20). Although we started the quarrel, although it is not God who owes us anything, but we Him, He comes to meet us, and in Christ He begs, as it were, for reconciliation. He brings to be in reality what the Lord is talking about in the story of the gifts in the Temple, where He says: “If you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift” (Mt 5:23f). God, in Christ, has trodden this path before us; He has set out to meet us, His unreconciled children — He has left the temple of His glory and has gone out to reconcile us.
Yet we can already see the same thing if we look back to the beginning of the history of faith. Abraham, in the end, does not sacrifice anything he has prepared himself but offers the ram (the lamb) that has been offered to him by God. Thus, through this original sacrifice of Abraham a perspective opens up down the millennia; this lamb in the brambles that God gives him, so that he may offer it, is the first herald of that Lamb, Jesus Christ, who carries the crown of thorns of our guilt, who has come into the thorn bush of world history in order to give us something that we may give.
Anyone who correctly comprehends the story of Abraham cannot come to the same conclusion as Tilman Moser in his strange and dreadful book Poisoned by God; Moser reads here the evidence for a God who is as dreadful as poison, making our whole life bitter.3
Even when Abraham was still on his way, and as yet knew nothing of the mystery of the ram, he was able to say to Isaac, with trust in his heart: Deus providebit — God will take care of us. Because he knew this God, therefore, even in the dark night of his incomprehension he knew that He is a loving God; therefore, even then, when he found he could understand nothing, he could put his trust in Him and could know that the very one who seemed to be oppressing him truly loved him even then.
Only in thus going onward, so that his heart was opened up, so that he entered the abyss of trust and, in the dark night of the uncomprehended God, dared keep company with him, did he thereby become capable of accepting the ram, of understanding the God who gives to us that we may give. This Abraham, in any case, has something to say to all of us.
If we are only looking on from outside, if we only let God’s action wash over us from without and only insofar as it is directed toward us, then we will soon come to see God as a tyrant who plays about with the world. But the more we keep Him company, the more we trust in Him in the dark night of the uncomprehended God, the more we will become aware that that very God who seems to be tormenting us is the one who truly loves us, the one we can trust without reserve. The deeper we go down into the dark night of the uncomprehended God and trust in Him, the more we will discover Him and will find the love and the freedom that will carry us through any and every night.

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