This is the third in a three part series highlighting the Eucharistic Legacy of Pope Benedict XVI. Part 1 focused on “The Eucharist is a Mystery to be Believed.” Part 2 emphasized “The Eucharist Is a Mystery to Be Celebrated.” This week Dr. O’Malley concludes by illuminating “The Eucharist Is a Mystery to Live.”
In Sacramentum Caritatis, Benedict XVI regularly reminds all the faithful of the relationship between worship and the rest of our lives. The last section of the document clearly defines the relationship between worship and living, as the late Holy Father writes:
"There is nothing authentically human – our thoughts and affections, our words and deeds – that does not find in the sacrament of the Eucharist the form it needs to be lived to the full. Here we can see the full human import of the radical newness brought by Christ in the Eucharist: the worship of God in our lives cannot be relegated to something private and individual, but tends by its nature to permeate every aspect of our existence." (Sacramentum Caritatis, no. 71)
Here, Benedict XVI repeats something dear to the Second Vatican Council. The problem with the modern age isn’t disbelief in God but the gap between faith and life manifest in so many believers. They go to Mass on Sunday, yet they live the rest of their lives as if God does not exist. Or worse, I go to Mass on Sunday, yet I live the rest of my life as if God does not exist. It’s what Benedict XVI refers to elsewhere as practical atheism.
Living the Eucharistic mystery necessitates that I attune my life to this mystery of love. I must testify in public spaces that I believe in this God who is love. I must live this out through the works of mercy, feeding the hungry and giving drink to the thirsty, visiting the prisoner and welcoming the stranger. In the political sphere, I must advocate for policies that are consistent with the Eucharistic mystery, where the God-man comes to dwell among us poor mortals. I must let my reception of the Eucharist shape my life so that I am coherent witness to the very God who is love.
This is not in the least the thoughts of a stodgy theologian, uninterested in the pastoral life of the Church. The Eucharist is everything for Benedict, because it is the source of both personal and ecclesial renewal alike. And, let me suggest, that it starts with me. You don’t need to wait, according to Benedict XVI, for an official conference on the Eucharist in your diocese. You don’t need to wait for structural change in the chancery to preach the Good News to the ends of the earth. You (and I) can start the change now by becoming someone who reflects this mystery of love in your neighborhood.
All it takes is deeper appreciation of the gift of love that you receive in every Mass. All it takes is pausing for a moment before a tabernacle, giving thanks that God loves you enough to be so close to you. All it takes is letting that worship shape how you live as a Christian in the public sphere, witnessing to the gratuity of the God who is love, who loves us unto the end.
So, I’m grateful for Benedict XVI’s Eucharistic teaching. I was never able to formally thank him for shaping so much of my intellectual and spiritual life alike. But the next time that I go to Mass, I will thankfully remember what he taught me. And I’ll honor his legacy by simply learning to offer a sincere and complete return gift of self and letting my whole life be shaped by the God who made the first move to love me.
Think about your day-to-day life. Is there a way that you might better connect your daily experiences and choices to your participation in the Eucharist? If so, what might it look like?