Saturday, December 22, 2012

Christ calls us to fellowship

Prompted by a question that was posed to me last evening inquiring about what someone might read to explain the Roman Catholic position on Salvation, that is, to use technical theological language, "soteriology," I directed my inquirer to Christoph Cardinal Schönborn's recently translated (2009) God Sent His Son: A Contemporary Christology, particularly chapter 2 of Part IV.

Having given this answer, I felt a bit compelled to go back and peruse it in order to refresh my memory. My effort was rewarded by a great reminder of what an invaluable and indispensable (words cannot describe) gift the Eucharist is and how important it is to remain focused on the Eucharist both during these remaining few days of Advent and on into in Christmas. Why?

His Eminence begins by citing St. Augustine from De civitate Dei, noting that the great bishop of Hippo Regius' insight is very biblical, arising as it does "wholly from the ancient world": "A true sacrifice is every work that is done in order that we may cling to God in holy fellowship, that is to say, that has a reference to that goal of the good, through which we may be truly blessed." He then notes, "Sacrifice builds up fellowship."

Cardinal Schönborn points out that even in the Hebrew Scriptures sacrifice builds up fellowship, creating "fellowship with God among men," which "is why they almost always end with a meal, the sign of restored fellowship." He singles out Exodus 24:11, which tells us that "the sacrifice to seal the covenant ends with the elders eating a meal in view of God"- "Yet he did not lay a hand on these chosen Israelites. They saw God, and they ate and drank." He concludes this brief section by stating, "This connection between sacrifice and meal is seen in the Eucharist. There, too, the sacrifice creates fellowship."

It is still Advent. So, in light of this reflection and on this day when we pray the penultimate (I love finding occasions to use that word!) O Antiphon, "O King of the nations," it seems necessary to point out that it was to establish this "fellowship," to restore the harmony between God and humankind ("Peace on earth and mercy mild/God and sinners reconciled"), between people(s), and between human beings and the rest of creation, He was born, lived and taught, died, was resurrected, ascended, sent His Holy Spirit to establish His Church (giving all who believe in Him a new geneaology as God's children), and for this He will return to fully and finally establish God's kingdom, over which He will reign forever and ever. Amen. Precisely because our Lord desires fellowship with us (why else would He become incarnate?), He will not reign as earthly kings do, by force and coercion. This kingdom is often described, using an image from Revelation, as the wedding feast of Lamb. All of this and more, the beginning and the end, is present and happens in each and every Eucharist.

The Eucharist, which is nothing other than Christ Himself, does not exist in a vacuum, is not closed in on itself, but is given in order to be intimately connected with the lives of those who participate. "Sacrifice builds up fellowship" is a succinct summary of Christ's two great commandments, is it not? This, too, puts me in mind of Pope Benedict's speech to the Curia last Thursday, the part where he talked about the sacrifice required in being married and raising a family: "only in self-giving does man find himself, and only by opening himself to the other, to others, to children, to the family, only by letting himself be changed through suffering, does he discover the breadth of his humanity."

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