Friday, August 16, 2013

The Homecoming

The sheep caught up in the thorn bush and unable to get out is a metaphor for man in general. He cannot get out of the thicket and find his way back to God. The shepherd who rescues him and takes him home is the Logos himself, the eternal Word, the eternal Meaning of the universe dwelling in the Son. He it is who makes his way to us and takes the sheep onto his shoulders, that is, he assumes human nature, and as the God-Man he carries man the creature home to God.

And so the reditus becomes possible. Man is given a homecoming. But now sacrifice takes the form of the Cross of Christ, of the love that in dying makes a gift of itself. Such sacrifice has nothing to do with destruction. It is an act of new creation, the restoration of creation to its true identity. All worship is now a participation in this Pasch of Christ , in his passing over from divine to human, from death to life, to the unity of God and man.

Joseph Ratzinger, Spirit of the Liturgy, 33-34

Reflection – OK, time for some vintage Benedict-blogging – the good old German Shepherd still has some ‘woofs’ to share with us. Don’t be thrown off by the Latin word reditus  here – it simply means return. Medieval theology, influenced by neo-Platonism saw all the drama of creation and redemption as an exitus-reditus movement, a going forth and a returning to God.

But as that part of creation called ‘man’ went forth, it got caught up on a thorn bush and couldn’t get back to the sheepfold which is the superabundant merciful heart of God. And hence, Jesus, and the Cross, and redemption. Now all of this is being written by Ratzinger in the context of liturgy and worship. Specifically, he is talking here about the notion of sacrifice, and how the very act of making sacrifice to God is a symbolic realization of the reditus movement of creation. God gives us produce of the earth, and we return it to Him by offering it in sacrifice, a sacrifice that entails the destruction of the lamb, or calf, or sheaf of wheat, or libation of wine.

Of course in our fallen folly, sacrifice was corrupted, and we come to think that God is a blood-thirsty tyrant demanding the death of his creatures, or somehow in need of our gifts. ‘Do you think I drink the blood of goats?’ God asks incredulously in one of the psalms. Sadly, in our days of religious ignorance and profound confusion, this is still the image many have of the Christian God – an angry God demanding blood for punishment for sin, an abusive father-god taking out his rage against rebellious humanity on his son, a grim distorted parody of the Christian story.

And so the sacrifice of Jesus, properly understood, clarifies precisely what these mysteries are all about. It’s all about the love of God reaching down, in Jesus the Son, to the suffering one, the lost one, the dying one, the dead one—humanity, that is—to be with us where we are and to bring us along from there to where He is, which is heaven. It is all about going home, in other words.

This is the whole form and content of Christian worship, of Christian faith, and of Christian life. Lex orendi, lex credendi, we say—the law of prayer is the law of faith. I would add to that one more ‘lex’ – lex vivendi. The law of prayer and faith is the law of life. In other words, it is all about mercy, mercy, mercy. The Eucharist is about mercy. The Cross is about mercy. The Trinity is about mercy (or rather, mercy is the form of love coming forth from the Trinity towards creation). And so you and I are to be about mercy, today.

We all need it, and we all need to extend it, show it, bring it, go out with it, make it visible, make it believable, make it real in the world today. That’s what Pope Francis has been saying in various ways, and it’s what we all need to reflect on and act on, as the world today needs mercy more and more urgently with each passing year.

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