We all know the challenge of Christ-like living in a totally secularised society. It requires supernatural strength to overcome the many temptations to let ourselves be enslaved, to let ourselves “live as if God did not exist”, as Blessed Pope John Paul II used to say.
The Holy Eucharist is the font of energy to live in freedom, to love as Christ loves, purely and selflessly. Pope Benedict XVI refers us to his encyclical letter Deus Caritas Est, in which he reminded us that participation in the Eucharistic Sacrifice necessarily issues in a daily life marked by “the concrete practice of love”. Our Holy Father goes on to comment that the moral transformation inherent in Eucharistic Communion is not a mere matter of a moral injunction imposed upon us by participation in the Eucharistic Sacrifice. “It is before all else the joy-filled discovery of love at work in the hearts of those who accept the Lord’s gift, abandon themselves to Him and thus find true freedom.” It is our intimacy with the Lord in the Holy Eucharist which, at one and the same time, makes us conscious of our own sinfulness and inflames our desire to live always in Christ and, therefore, to love as He loves.
To help us understand the moral transformation which heartfelt participation in the Holy Eucharist brings about, Pope Benedict XVI refers us to the story of Zacchaeus (Lk 19:1-10). When Zacchaeus met our Lord he was at once moved to confess his sinfulness, to make superabundant restitution for what he had stolen, and to provide from his substance for the poor. Our Holy Father concludes: “The moral urgency born of welcoming Jesus into our lives is the fruit of gratitude for having experienced the Lord’s unmerited closeness.”
Pope Benedict XVI concludes his presentation on the moral transformation worked by the Holy Eucharist by reflecting on the public nature of our Eucharistic worship, that is, its “consequences for our relationships with others”. Receiving Holy Communion is never a merely private act. Because of our public communion with Christ in the Holy Eucharist, others rightly expect Christ-like living from us. If we receive Holy Communion and then think, speak and act in a way which betrays Christ, then we give scandal to others. We lead them to think that it is all right to receive Christ into our souls and, at the same time, to ignore or contradict His teaching by the way we live. We deceive them regarding the holiness of the Most Blessed Sacrament and its involvement in every aspect of our being and life.
Participation in the Holy Eucharist demands that all of us give witness to the truth and love which Christ teaches us. The responsibility to give public witness to our faith is especially weighty for those “who, by virtue of their social or political position, must make decisions regarding fundamental goods, such as respect for human life, its defence 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”. The Holy Father addresses in particular Catholic politicians, who, in virtue of their communion with Christ in the Holy Eucharist, must promote and support laws which respect the natural law written by God on every human heart. We are witnesses to the scandal caused by Catholic politicians who present themselves to receive Holy Communion and, at the same time, consistently support legislation which violates the natural moral law – for example, legislation which permits procured abortion, human cloning, embryonic stem-cell research, euthanasia, “assisted suicide”, so-called “same-sex marriage” and other violations of fundamental human rights. Regarding such situations, the Holy Father, referring to chapter 11 of St Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, declares plainly: “There is an objective connection here with the Eucharist” (cf 1 Cor 11:27-29).
The Holy Father reminds bishops of their duty to reaffirm the relationship of the Holy Eucharist to the moral life, specially for those who have responsibility for the common good. For bishops to do less constitutes a failure to shepherd the flock entrusted into their care.
Pope Benedict XVI reminds us that the love of God, given to us in the Holy Eucharist, is not a gift for us alone but rather, by its very nature, is to be shared with others, indeed with all. Even as we recognise how much we need God’s love in our lives and how wonderfully He gives us the gift of His love in the Holy Eucharist, so also we recognise that our whole world needs most the gift of God’s love and that we are the messengers and instruments of Divine Love. “What the world needs is God’s love; it needs to encounter Christ and to believe in him.”
The Holy Eucharist is an incomprehensible gift of God’s love which fills us with gratitude and with the desire to make this most wonderful gift, our Lord Jesus Himself, known to all our brothers and sisters. If, as is true, the Holy Eucharist is the source and summit of the Church’s life, the Holy Eucharist is also the source and summit of the Church’s mission in the world.
The·missionary nature of the Holy Eucharist is manifest in the celebration of the Last Supper. Our Lord Jesus, on the night before He died, instituted the Holy Eucharist so that His Sacrifice on Calvary, which would be consummated on the following day, might be celebrated in every time and place, and for all men. Reflecting upon the Lord’s Supper, Pope Benedict XVI declares: “At the Last Supper, Jesus entrusts to his disciples the sacrament which makes present his self-sacrifice for the salvation of us all, in obedience to the Father’s will. We cannot approach the Eucharistic table without being drawn into the mission which, beginning in the very heart of God, is meant to reach all people. Missionary outreach is thus an essential part of the Eucharistic form of the Christian life.”
The first and fundamental mission which we accept by our participation in the Holy Eucharist is to bear witness to the mystery of God’s love by the manner of our living. What does it mean to bear witness? Pope Benedict XVI provides the answer: “We become witnesses when, through our actions, words and way of being, Another makes himself present.”
God depends upon our witness to bring His love to all men, but the gift is His, not ours. We are His messengers and instruments. While God trusts us to be His witnesses, we pray for the grace to honour God’s trust by becoming more and more like His Divine Son Who is “the faithful and true witness (cf Rev 1:5; 3:14), the one who came to testify to the truth (cf Jn 18:37)”. We pray that we may be true witnesses, that is, that Christ may make Himself present to others through all our thoughts and words and deeds.
Pope Benedict XVI reflects upon the great desire of the early Christians to bear the ultimate witness, namely, to offer their lives in martyrdom. In martyrdom the early Christians rightly saw the most complete obedience to the command of St Paul that we should offer our bodies in pure spiritual worship (cf Rm 12:1). By martyrdom, in the words of St Ignatius of Antioch, we become “Christ’s pure bread”. In other words, the martyr unites himself perfectly with Christ in the Eucharistic Sacrifice and thus becomes, in Christ, spiritual food for the whole Church. Even as we are called to become the Eucharist we receive, to become more and more like Christ, so the martyr, in a pre-eminent way, becomes the Eucharist which he or she has received. Our Holy Father reminds us that, also in our time, the Church is blessed with martyrs who offer their lives in faithful witness to God. He also reminds us that, although we do not anticipate being put to death because of our witness to God, “we know that worship pleasing to God demands that we should be inwardly prepared for it”. If we are attentive to the call to be faithful in witness, even to the shedding of our blood, then we will offer each day “the joyful and convincing testimony of a consistent Christian life, wherever the Lord calls us to be his witnesses”.
The more we come to know and love our Eucharistic Lord, the more we understand our mission of bringing our Lord to the world. As Pope Benedict XVI reminds us, we do not offer to the world “just a theory or a way of life inspired by Christ, but the gift of his very person”.
Today, there is a strong tendency to make our witness acceptable to a world which is marked by a great diversity of peoples and beliefs. The Holy Eucharist reminds us that our testimony must be a clear witness to the person of our Lord Jesus Christ and the salvation which He alone brings to the world. In other words, our witness must be a sound and uncompromising proclamation of the truth about our Lord Jesus Christ. It must be given with the conviction that it is what the world most needs and what will serve most the common good.
In this connection, the Holy Father addresses the situation of those who carry out the Church’s mission “in areas where Christians are a minority or where they are denied religious freedom”. Pope Benedict XVI calls to mind places in the world in which fidelity to Sunday Mass is heroic, for it subjects the faithful to the danger of exclusion and violence.
He points out that “wherever religious freedom is lacking, people lack the most meaningful freedom of all, since it is through faith that men and women expresses their deepest decision about the ultimate meaning of their lives”. He invites us to pray for religious freedom throughout the world.
This is an extract from Divine Love Made Flesh by Cardinal Raymond Burke, published by Catholic Action for Faith & Family. The book is distributed by Catholic Voice. To order a copy, phone 00 353 598627268. Visit Catholicvoice.ie for more information