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Friday, January 19, 2007

Pope Benedict XVI: For Many or For All?


Now let us turn back to look at yet a third saying in the Last Supper accounts: "This is the new covenant in my blood." We saw just now how Jesus, in accepting his death, gathers together and condenses in his person the whole of the Old Testament; first the theology of sacrifice, that is, everything that went on in the Temple and everything to do with the Temple, then the theology of the Exile, of the Suffering Servant. Now a third element is added, a passage from Jeremiah (31:31) in which the prophet predicts the New Covenant, which will no longer be limited to physical descendants of Abraham, no longer to the strict keeping of the law, but will spring from out of the new love of God that gives us a new heart. This is what Jesus takes up here. In his suffering and death this long-awaited hope becomes reality; his death seals the Covenant. It signifies something like a blood brotherhood between God and man. That was the idea underlying the way the Covenant had been depicted on Sinai. There, Moses had set up the altar to represent God and, over against it, twelve stones to represent the twelve tribes of Israel and had sprinkled them with blood, so as to associate God and man in the one communion of this sacrifice. What was there only a hesitant attempt is here achieved. He who is the Son of God, he who is man, gives himself to the Father in dying and thus shows himself to be the one who brings us all into the Father. He now institutes true blood brotherhood, a communion of Godand man; he opens the door that we could not open for ourselves. We can do no more than give a little tentative thought to God, and it is not in our power to know whether or not he responds. This remains the tragic element, the shadow hovering over so many religions, that they are simply a cry to which the response remains uncertain. Only God himself can hear the cry. Jesus Christ, both Son of God and man, who carries on his love right through death, who transforms death into an act of love and truth, he is the response; the Covenant is founded in him.

Thus we see how the Eucharist had its origin, what its true source is. The words of institution alone are not sufficient; the death alone is not sufficient; and even both together are still insufficient but have to be complemented by the Resurrection, in which God accepts this death and makes it the door into a new life. From out of this whole matrix-that he transforms his death, that irrational event, into an affirmation, into an act of love and of adoration-emerges his acceptance by God and the possibility of his being able to share himself in this way. On the Cross, Christ saw love through to the end. For all the differences there may be between the accounts in the various Gospels, there is one point in common: Jesus died praying, and in the abyss of death he upheld the First Commandment and held on to the presence of God. Out of such a death springs this sacrament, the Eucharist.

We finally have to return to the question with which we started. Did Jesus fail? Well, he certainly was not successful in the same sense as Caesar or Alexander the Great. From the worldly point of view, he did fail in the first instance: he died almost abandoned; he was condemned on account of his preaching. The response to his message was not the great Yes of his people, but the Cross. From such an end as that, we should conclude that Success is definitely not one of the names of God and that it is not Christian to have an eye to outward success or numbers. God's paths are other than that: his success comes about through the Cross and is always found under that sign. The true witnesses to his authenticity, down through the centuries, are those who have accepted this sign as their emblem. When, today, we look at past history, then we have to say that it is not the Church of the successful people that we find impressive; the Church of those popes who were universal monarchs; the Church of those leaders who knew how to get on well with the world. Rather, what strengthens our faith, what remains constant, what gives us hope, is the Church of the suffering. She stands, to the present day, as a sign that God exists and that man is not just a cesspit, but that he can be saved. This is true of the martyrs of the first three centuries, and then right up to Maximilian Kolbe and the many unnamed witnesses who gave their lives for the Lord under the dictatorships of our own day; whether they had to die for their faith or whether they had to let themselves be trampled on, day after day and year after year, for his sake. The Church of the suffering gives credibility to Christ: she is God's success in the world; the sign that gives us hope and courage; the sign from which still flows the power of life, which reaches beyond mere thoughts of success and which thereby purifies men and opens up for God a door into this world. So let us be ready to hear the call of Jesus Christ, who achieved the great success of God on the Cross; he who, as the grain of wheat that died, has become fruitful down through all the centuries; the Tree of Life, in whom even today men may put their hope.

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    O God, most glorious, most bountiful, accept, we humbly beseech thee, our praises and thanksgivings for thy holy Catholic Church, the mother of us all who bear the name of Christ; for the faith which it hath conveyed in safety to our time, and the mercies by which it hath enlarged and comforted the souls of men; for the virtues which it hath established upon earth, and the holy lives by which it glorifieth both the world and thee; to whom, O blessed Trinity (+), be ascribed all honour, might, majesty and dominion, now and for ever. Amen.
    --Bishop Lancelot Andrewes

Societas Sanctae Crucis

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