Tuesday, October 18, 2011

How Do We Get There From Here?

True, the Eucharistic body of the Lord is meant to bring us together, so that we become his ‘true Body’. But the gift of the Eucharist can do this only because in it the Lord gives us his true Body. Only the true Body in the Sacrament can build up the true body of the new City of God.

Spirit of the Liturgy, 88

Reflection –  One of the painful and at times infuriating aspects of life in the Catholic Church in the past 50 years or so has been the frequent occurrence of and reliance on the 'fallacy of false opposites' in theological and pastoral discussions.
You know what I mean by that – we’ve all encountered it. God is either transcendent (beyond us) or immanent (with us). Moral theology is either legalistic (absolute prohibitions) or pastoral (concerned with the needs of people). You must be either a liberal (concerned with freedom) or conservative (valuing tradition). And so on and so on.
Of course all of this is sheer and utter nonsense. God can be intimately present in every corner of his universe only because He is Utterly Transcendent. Nothing is more pastoral, more responding to the real needs of real people than the Ten Commandments. People need absolute moral laws. And it is only by rooting ourselves in the deep truth that has come to us through 2000 years of Catholic faith and holiness that we become truly free, especially free of that most degrading slavery of conformity to the spirit of the age.
A similar false opposition has ruled sacramental discussions, and that is what Ratzinger is addressing here. We have been told that either the Eucharist is a mystical, sacral, priestly sacrificial reality, or it is a community-building event. Either it’s all ‘sacramental magic’ at the altar, or it’s a fellowship meal, building the ‘true body of Christ’ which is our own wonderful selves.
Ratzinger does a fine job here showing that these two realities, far from being opposed to each other, are intimately related. The question is: what is the source of our unity? What are we united around? What makes the Body of Christ, the Church? How does this become, not a theoretical idea, but a living reality?
Of course it is the fact, the sheer physical fact that Christ is truly present in the Church, on the altar, in the tabernacle, and in us as we receive his gift, that alone makes it possible for us to speak of this depth of unity, of identity with each other.
It seems so obvious that I admit I’ve never quite understood how we got so confused on this point. Clearly, though, the broader issue at stake here is the basic question: how are we to become what we are to become? How do we get there from here? Our own efforts, or divine grace? Getting everything just right, or a gift coming down from heaven?
Do we become one with each other by having the right music, maximum participation by as many people in the sanctuary as possible, holding hands at the Our Father, big smiles all around… or do we become one when this One comes into our midst, this mysterious, hidden yet Real Presence who comes to each of us personally and all of us together, and lays down his life for us. Where is our oneness from?
The question is specifically about the Mass and the sacraments, but it applies to everything, doesn’t it? Do we create the kingdom, or receive the kingdom? Do we make the Church, or are we given the Church? Do we love one another out of our own resources and talents and energies, or do we receive love as a gift, out of which we can then work very hard and spend ourselves in loving? Key questions, but a good theology of the Eucharist grounds us in the answers.
Do we achieve happiness, goodness, joy, peace, or do we fundamentally receive them as gifts of God? "Take... eat... this is my body... this is my blood..."

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