Friday, September 18, 2015

The Lord is Near Us in Our Conscience, in His Word, and in His Personal Presence in the Eucharist

This moving homily of Joseph Ratzinger was published in his book, God Is Near Us: The Eucharist, the Heart of Life.

In today’s reading there is a marvelous saying, in which we can sense all the joy of Israel at its redemption: “What great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the LORD our God is to us, whenever we call upon him?” (Deut 4:7).

Saint Thomas Aquinas took up this saying in his reflections for the Feast of Corpus Christi.[1] In doing so, he showed how we Christians in the Church of the New Covenant can pronounce these words with yet more reason and more joy and with thankfulness than Israel could; in doing so, he showed how this saying, in the Church of Jesus Christ, has acquired a depth of meaning hitherto unsuspected: God has truly come to dwell among us in the Eucharist, He became flesh so that he might become bread. He gave himself to enter into the “fruit of the earth and the work of human hands”; thus he puts himself in our hands and into our hearts. God is not the great unknown, whom we can but dimly conceive. We need not fear, as heathen do, that he might be capricious and bloodthirsty or too far away and too great to hear men. He is there, and we always know where we can find him, where he allows himself to be found and is waiting for us. Today this should once more sink into our hearts: God is near. God knows us. God is waiting for us in Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament. Let us not leave him waiting in vain! Let us not, through distraction and lethargy, pass by the greatest and most important thing life offers us. We should let ourselves be reminded, by today’s reading, of the wonderful mystery kept close within the walls of our churches. Let us not pass it heedlessly by. Let us take time, in the course of the week, in passing, to go in and spend a moment with the Lord who is so near. During the day our churches should not be allowed to be dead houses, standing empty and seemingly useless. Jesus Christ’s invitation is always being proffered from them. This sacred proximity to us is always alive in them. It is always calling us and inviting us in. This is what is lovely about Catholic churches, that within them there is, as it were, always worship, because the eucharistic presence of the Lord dwells always within them.

And a second thing: let us never forget that Sunday is the Lord’s day. It is not an arbitrary decision of the Church, requiring us to attend Mass on Sunday. This is never a duty laid upon us from without; it is the royal privilege of the Christian to share in paschal fellowship with the Lord, in the Paschal Mystery. The Lord has made the first day of the week his own day, on which he comes to us, on which he spreads the table for us and invites us to share with him. We can see, in the Old Testament passage at which we are looking, that the Israelites saw in the presence of God, not a burden, but the basis of their pride and their joy. And indeed the Sunday fellowship with the Lord is not a burden, but a grace, a gift, which lights up the whole week, and we would be cheating ourselves if we withdrew from it.

“What great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the LORD our God is to us, whenever we call upon him?” This passage from the Old Testament has found its ultimate depth of meaning in the eucharistic presence of the Lord. But its earlier meaning is not thereby abolished, but merely purified and exalted. We must now investigate that, in order to understand what the Lord is saying to us here. In the chapter of the book of Deuteronomy from which this passage is taken, the marvelous closeness of God is seen above all in the law he has given to Israel through Moses. Through the law he makes himself permanently available, as it were, for the questions of his people. Through the law he can always be spoken with by Israel; she can call on him, and he answers. Through the law he offers Israel the opportunity to build a social and political order that breaks new ground. Through the law he makes Israel wise and shows her the way a man should live, so as to live aright. In the law Israel experiences the close presence of God; he has, as it were, drawn back the veil from the riddles of human life and replied to the obscure questionings of men of all ages: Where do we come from? Where are we going? What must we do?

This joy in the law astounds us. We have become used to regarding it as a burden that oppresses man. At its best periods, Israel saw in the law in fact something that set them free for the truth, free from the burden of uncertainty, the gracious gift of the way. And, indeed, we do know today that man collapses if he has constantly to reinvent himself, if he has to create anew human existence. For man, the will of God is not a foreign force of exterior origin, but the actual orientation of his own being. Thus the revelation of God’s will is the revelation of what our own being truly wishes-it is a gift. So we should learn anew to be grateful that in the word of God the will of God and the meaning of our own existence have been communicated to us. God’s presence in the word and his presence in the Eucharist belong together, inseparably. The eucharistic Lord is himself the living Word. Only if we are living in the sphere of God’s Word can we properly comprehend and properly receive the gift of the Eucharist.

Today’s Gospel reading [2] makes us aware, besides this, of a third aspect. The law became a burden the moment it was no longer being lived out from within but was broken down into a series of obligations external in their origin and their nature. Thus the Lord tells us emphatically: The true law of God is not an external matter. It dwells within us. It is the inner direction of our lives, which is brought into being and established by the will of God. It speaks to us in our conscience. The conscience is the inner aspect of the Lord’s presence, which alone can render us capable of receiving the eucharistic presence. That is why that same book of Deuteronomy, from which our reading today was taken, says elsewhere: “The word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it” (Deut 30:14; cf. Rom io:8). Faith in Christ simply renders the inmost part of our being, our conscience, once more articulate. The Holy Father, John Paul II, says on this point: “In a person’s obedience to his conscience hes both the key to his moral stature and the basis of his ‘royal dignity’. . . . Obedience to one’s conscience is ... the Christian’s participation in the ‘royal priesthood’ of Christ. Obedience to the conscience ... makes ‘to serve ... Christ’ actually mean ‘to reign’.” [3]

The Lord is near us in our conscience, in his word, in his personal presence in the Eucharist: this constitutes the dignity of the Christian and is the reason for his joy. We rejoice therefore, and this joy is expressed in praising God. Today we can see how the closeness of the Lord also brings people together and brings them close to each other: it is because we have the same Lord Jesus Christ in Munich and in Rome that we form one single people of God, across all frontiers, united in the call of conscience, united by the word of God, united through communion with Jesus Christ, united in the praise of God, who is our joy and our redemption.


[1] Thomas Aquinas, Officium de festo Corporis Christi, in Sanctae Thomae Aquinatis, ed. R. Busa, S.J. (Stuttgart and Bad Canstatt, 1980), 6:581 = DSG ps. 3, n. 3; ps. 5, n. 3.

[2] Gospel for the 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B: Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23.

[3] John Paul II, Zeichen des Widerspruchs: Besinnung auf Christus (Zurich, 1979), pp. 162f.


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