Monday, August 29, 2011

Confessing the Faith with Our Lives and the Mystery of the Holy Mass

Psalm 63 is one of my favorites.  In the prayer called the Liturgy of the hours, it is said on Sundays and feast days.  In that psalm, the psalmist recognizes his deepest needs are met in God and that the soul thirsts for God like a dry land without water.  The psalm sings to God, proclaiming, “Your love is better than life.”

When we come to know the meaning of these words they give comfort and hope, especially as we face the many struggles of life, our sins, our disappointments, our losses, and our tragedies.  I would dare say, as well, that there is comfort here for anyone who would listen, no matter the situation.  The Lord holds out, even in the worst of circumstances, even in our saddest moments, a promise of redemption and transformation, and renewed happiness. 

We come to understand that the reality of the mysteries of our lives
is bound up in the mystery of Christ’s sacrifice which we celebrate in each Mass.  In the letter that I wrote to you last week about the Holy Mass, citing the catechism I said,

In the Eucharist the sacrifice of Christ becomes the sacrifice of the members of his body. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that the mystical body of Christ, which is the Church, participates in the offering of Christ the Head.  (1368) The Church unites herself to his intercession. The lives of the faithful, their praise, sufferings, prayer, and work, are united with those of Christ and with his total offering, and so acquire a new value. Christ's sacrifice present on the altar makes it possible for all generations of Christians to be united with his offering.”  (1368)

Often, we think we are suffering alone.  This is not the case.  Christ has already united himself to us.  He has united us to one another into the mystery of his sacrifice. More importantly, he has united us to his suffering already, even before we know the full meaning of our lives

Indeed, as I wrote, “As one can see, brothers and sisters, in the offering of the Mass, the Church, the mystical body of Christ, truly becomes what the Church herself is meant to be for the world.  As Saint Augustine makes clear, just as Christ is offered, the Church is offered.  That means that Christ offers each one of us along with his own life and death to the Father in the sacrifice of the Eucharist.”

Blessed John Paul II wrote this:  
Incorporation into Christ, which is brought about by Baptism, is constantly renewed and consolidated by sharing in the Eucharistic Sacrifice, especially by that full sharing which takes place in sacramental communion. We can say not only that each of us receives Christ, but also that Christ receives each of us. He enters into friendship with us: “You are my friends” (Jn 15:14). Indeed, it is because of him that we have life: “He who eats me will live because of me” (Jn 6:57).

So you see, our offering of our lives, our joys and sufferings, along with Christ on the altar are already part of the Eucharistic sacrifice.  We are there with Jesus on Calvary and with the saints in heaven during the heavenly banquet because Christ Jesus makes us an offering to the Father.  This completely alters the meaning of our everyday lives, does it not?

The Church gives us the testimony of the lives of the saints, especially in those who were called to offer themselves in a sacrificial death, as an encouragement.  All of them were true confessors of the faith by the way they lived.  We can be, also, by virtue of the grace that Christ won for us.  Indeed, the Holy Spirit is at work in us to produce the virtue of holiness. The fruits of this sacrifice of the Savior are applied to us in each celebration of the Holy Mass.

There is a beautiful story of Edith Stein which helps us see and understand the high calling that each of us has.  Edith Stein was a brilliant Jewish philosopher.  In fact, John Paul II drew upon her wisdom in a number of his writings.  She could have had a very good life as a teacher.

She chose as an adult to convert to Catholicism and joined the Carmelite nuns.  She lived in the early 20th century in Germany and was thus subject to the rise of the Nazis.

Edith joined the Carmelites nuns at the Convent in Cologne Germany in 1934.  She took the name of Sr. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross.  Reflecting on the atrocities being committed by the Nazis she wrote, "I understood the cross as the destiny of God's people, which was beginning to be apparent at the time (1933). I felt that those who understood the Cross of Christ should take it upon themselves on everybody's behalf. Of course, I know better now what it means to be wedded to the Lord in the sign of the cross. However, one can never comprehend it, because it is a mystery." 

In 1938 the Carmelites transferred Sr. Teresa Benedicta and her sister Rosa, who had also converted, to the convent in Echt in Holland because of the dangers in Germany.  

However, Sr. Teresa Benedicta was arrested by the Gestapo on 2 August 1942, while the sisters were in the chapel. She was given 5 minutes before being taken into custody, together with her sister Rosa. Her last words to be heard in Echt were addressed to Rosa: "Come, we are going for our people."

Together with many other Jewish Christians, the two women were taken to a succession of transit camps. This was an act of retaliation against the letter of protest written by the Dutch Roman Catholic Bishops against the pogroms and deportations of Jews. Edith commented, "I never knew that people could be like this, neither did I know that my brothers and sisters would have to suffer like this. ... I pray for them every hour. Will God hear my prayers? He will certainly hear them in their distress."

On  August 7, 1942, in the early morning, 987 Jews were deported to Auschwitz. It was probably on  August 9 that Sister Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, her sister and many other of her people were gassed.

When Edith Stein was beatified in Cologne on 1 May 1987, the Church honoured "a daughter of Israel", as Pope John Paul II put it, who, as a Catholic during Nazi persecution, remained faithful to the crucified Lord Jesus Christ and, as a Jew, to her people in loving faithfulness." If we adopt this way of the saints we will accept Christ’s invitation to so many of them:  “Allow me to live in you, while you die to yourself.”” That is the way followed by St. Benedict, St. Dominic, St. Francis, St. Vincent de Paul, St. Theresa Benedicta, Bl. Theresa of Calcutta and so many others; they obtained the true freedom of the sons and daughters of God. 

Brothers and Sisters, the Lord is calling, again.  He is calling for saints, again.  We might not be called to martyrdom, be we are called to be true confessors of our faith. He is calling you in the course of our everyday lives to walk the way of truth. He is asking us again, as in the words of St. Paul.  Do not be conformed to the wisdom of this age, but be transformed.  Offer yourselves as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God. This is your spiritual worship.  Then you will find the true happiness of the saints of God.

No comments: