Monthly Archives: July 2011

Eucharist and Priesthood

[Another Holy Thursday homily, this time from 2008.]

We begin now to enter fully into the mystery of the Lord’s Passion, the beginning of the Sacrifice of Jesus at the Mystical Supper in the upper room.  Of this evening Jesus said to his disciples: “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.”  For He was about to bestow upon them and upon the world a unique and infinitely precious Gift: his own Body and Blood, which would be sacrificed for the forgiveness of our sins and for a perpetual memorial of his everlasting love.

But the Supper began on a sorrowful note.  “One of you,” Jesus said, “will betray me.”  One thing I noticed in this reading that I never noticed before is that it seems that once Judas made his deal with the chief priests, Jesus was no longer his Lord.  In Matthew’s account, when Jesus announced the betrayal, all the disciples asked in turn, “Is it I, Lord?”  When Judas’ turn came, he asked, “Is it I, rabbi [or, teacher]?” He had already fallen away.

But let us return to the other disciples, for I think we can identify with them, if we are honest.  They probably believed, in general, that they were faithful disciples of the Lord.  Yet there was in them a salutary self-distrust.  A kind of dread entered their hearts, which comes from the fear of God.  They wouldn’t have thought that any of this select group would betray their Master, yet Jesus said one of them would, and so, horrified and trembling, they approached Him: Am I the one?

They must have known, as we ought to know for ourselves, that human beings, on this side of Paradise, are capable of evil, even the worst kinds; we are all potential betrayers of our Lord.  That is one reason why the Church always urges us to embrace humility and reject pride.  This keeps our souls in a sober self-awareness.  Peter lost sight of that for a while, and boldly protested that he would go even to prison and death for Jesus’ sake, even saying that if all the others fell away, he alone would not. But a few hours later he was swearing with oaths that he didn’t even know the Man.

Is it I, Lord?

But the Lord continued with this Passover that would forever change the world, despite his weak and wavering disciples.  He loved them, after all, even with all their faults, and He knew that when his Spirit would come they would become holy and fearless preachers of his death and resurrection, and would give much glory to God.  So “Jesus took bread, and blessed and broke it, and gave it to his disciples and said: ‘Take eat; this is my body.’ And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink of it, all of you; for this is my blood of the new covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.’” There, He did it, the miracle of miracles, yet I wonder if the disciples could understand the magnitude of it at that moment, which was so charged with emotion, with fear and confusion and the threat of betrayal and the prediction of death.  Even so, He commanded them: “Do this in memory of Me.”  Do this, do what I just did.  Make My sacrificed Body and Blood present every time you gather in My name: that you may eat and drink the price of your redemption, that you may have life and have it to the full, that you may abide in Me and I in you, that I may raise you up on the last day.

Jesus’ command—Do this in memory of Me, six words—was the first ordination rite of the priesthood of the New Covenant.  Jesus would complete it after his resurrection when He gave them power to forgive sins (Jn. 20:22-23).  But here at the table in the upper room, He gave them the grace and authority to perpetuate his sacrifice, to ritually proclaim his death and resurrection until He comes in glory. None of this would be fully realized by them until the day of Pentecost and the unfolding life of the Church of Christ, but at this moment Jesus declared it.  He sacrificially offered his own Body and Blood at the Last Supper in anticipation of its completion on Calvary, and He gave a share in his own high priesthood to his disciples in anticipation of its exercise after Pentecost.

We may rightly wonder if today’s priests are aware of the surpassing gift that Christ has given them by communicating the same command to them: “Do this in memory of Me.”  It is through the priesthood alone that the sacrifice of Christ is perpetuated in the Church, for the life and salvation of its members and of the whole world.  The priesthood is not a “service profession,” even though the post-Vatican II Church has tended to recast it that way.  It is a consecration, an inner configuration of a man to the person of Christ, specifically in the Lord’s priestly function of offering the sacrifice that saves the world.  In one of the prayers of the priest in the Divine Liturgy, the priest refers to himself as one “whom You have placed in this, your ministry, through the power of your Holy Spirit…”  So priests are more than followers of Christ; they have been inserted into his ministry; they do what He did, by the power of the Holy Spirit.  So the Eucharist is at the heart of the priesthood, and the priesthood is ultimately meaningless without it—or perhaps it becomes just another service profession dealing with people’s temporal needs.  But in fact, the Eucharist is so important—and the priest’s faith in the Eucharist so essential to his ministry—that in the ordination rite of the priest in the Byzantine tradition the priest must swear that he believes that bread and wine are changed into the Body and Blood of Christ at every Divine Liturgy.

Yet we see today that the priesthood of Christ is in disarray.  A very small (though numerically significant) percentage of priests have sexually abused children and adolescents.  An alarmingly large minority are actively homosexual.  A greater percentage still are disobedient to the Magisterium and do not preach or live according to the Gospel and the teachings of the Church.  Some no longer believe in the Holy Eucharist either, grieving the Heart of Jesus, who bequeathed this Gift to his Church at the price of his own blood.

Starting with myself, I entreat all priests to sit in the upper room with Jesus, allow his eyes to penetrate the depths of our souls, and then ask: Is it I, Lord?

After they had finished the Supper, Jesus said to them: “You will all fall away because of me this night; for it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’” The long Gospel reading for this day does not end with the Last Supper but continues into the beginning of his Passion: the agony in the garden and the arrest and trial before the chief priests.  Perhaps the Church thus intends to link the Supper with the Passion, for they are inseparable.  The Passion doesn’t begin in the garden; it begins at the table.  In John’s Gospel, while Jesus is still sitting at table with the disciples, He declares: “Now is the Son of Man glorified.”  According to John, Jesus’ glorification is the whole of his Passion, Death, Resurrection, and Ascension.  The Mystical Supper inaugurates the Sacrifice; it is the fountainhead of our salvation.

Let us, as disciples of Christ, gather around our Lord who is present in our midst and who will renew the mystery of his Sacrifice in a very short time on our own altar.  Let us bring Him the love that others deny Him, let us offer ourselves to Him while others betray Him—yet let us not become overconfident or complacent or proud of our own righteousness.  Even as we sit with Him at table we must realize how far we fall short of his glory, how unfaithful we often prove to be, and let us ask Him: Is it I, Lord?  Having humbled ourselves before Him, let us approach, as the deacon says, “with fear of God and with faith,” and receive the Divine Mysteries with a heart ready to go with Him to his Passion.

Bound with a Cord of Blue

[This is an edited version of an article I wrote a number of years ago, which has also found its way into my book, A Place Prepared by God.]

A rich harvest of spiritual analogies between the Mother of God and the multi-faceted, mysterious concept “Wisdom” (often personified), can be reaped in those books of the Old Testament appropriately called “The Wisdom Books.”  The analogies are made more obvious and accurate since the word “wisdom” (Hebrew hokmat, Greek sophia) is feminine in gender and therefore always referred to with the pronoun “she.”  It would take an enormous volume to explore the relationship between Our Lady and wisdom in the numerous places where this is possible in the sapiential literature of the Bible.  Here I would just like to take a brief look at a few striking passages from the Book of Sirach (Ecclesiasticus).

“My son, from your youth up choose instruction, and until you are old you will keep finding wisdom… For in her service you will toil a little while, and soon you will eat of her produce… Put your feet into her fetters and your neck into her collar… Come to her with all your soul, and keep her ways with all your might.  Search out and seek, and she will become known to you; and when you get hold of her do not let her go… Then her fetters will become for you a strong protection, and her collar a glorious robe.  Her yoke is a golden ornament, and her bonds are a cord of blue” (Sir. 6:18-30).

There is an important biblical theme expressed here, one that was dear to Jesus Himself.  It is also applied by St. Paul, and later by St. Louis de Montfort (among others).  Accept the discipline that God’s wisdom places upon you, the inspired word explains, and you will find that it is not harsh at all, but rather joy-giving and vivifying.  “Take my yoke upon you and learn from Me,” said Jesus, the Incarnate Wisdom of God, “and you will find rest for your souls…” (Mt. 11:29).  Become slaves of God, slaves of righteousness, St. Paul challenges us.  Be free from sin and bind yourself to God!  The reward is sanctification and eternal life (see Rom. 6:16-23).

St. Louis de Montfort, by encouraging us to bind ourselves to Mary, through whom we bind ourselves forever to Christ, brings this biblical theme to a new level of expression and fruition.  It is all right, he says, just “put your feet into her fetters and your neck into her collar.  Come to her with all your soul…”  This may sound restricting at first, but behold what happens next: “her fetters will become for you a strong protection, and her collar a glorious robe.”  The fruit of steadfast commitment and self-discipline in the service of God is always ultimately sweet, as the whole Bible and the history of Christianity testify.

There is more.  It is not merely that it is prudent or beneficial to serve the Seat of Wisdom (one of the many titles of Our Lady)—it is a royal privilege, an honor of the highest order, to be bonded to her perpetual service.  “Her yoke is a golden ornament, and her bonds are a cord of blue.”  What first struck my fancy in reading this entire passage is that last phrase: her bonds are a cord of blue.  Now what this “blue” refers to is the “royal purple,” which only the king and queen and their family could wear as a sign of their sovereignty.  But I found it altogether appropriate for the analogy to Mary (with whom the color blue is often associated) that the translation I use, the Revised Standard Version, reads “cord of blue.”  [I recently discovered also that a different sort of “cord of blue” was prescribed for the tassels of the Israelites’ garments, so that when they saw it they would “remember all the commandments of the Lord”; see Numbers 15:37-40.]

The whole point is that, in the realm of the Spirit, “to serve is to reign.”  Pope John Paul II wrote that himself, echoing Lumen Gentium in his encyclical Redemptoris Mater.  The author of Sirach purposely sets side by side the images of slavery and of royalty.  In this mystery of divine wisdom, as in the revelation of the mystery of consecration to Mary, notice that we are not meant to throw off the symbols of slavery—they are transformed so that they simply become the symbols of royalty!  Look again at the text: her fetters themselves become our protection; her yoke is a golden ornament, her bonds are a cord of blue.  God has worked a transformation that only He could accomplish.  And like everything else He does, it is done “for us and for our salvation.”

Has not the barbarous instrument for the execution of slaves—the cross—become the symbol of the liberation of the children of God?  Jesus did not discard his Cross as odious when He rose from the dead, but rather invested it with an entirely new meaning, and so the Cross is exalted through all ages.  Likewise, the language, concept, and symbols of slavery have been, in several places in the New Testament, transformed in meaning to express a profound dimension of the “holy, living sacrifice” of ourselves to God.  Thus in a particular mind-set in continuity with divine revelation, St. Louis de Montfort cast an important aspect of our relationship to Our Lady into similar language and concepts.  Therefore our submission to and dependence upon our heavenly Mother as she guides us in wisdom through this life, is our joyful freedom, as is our becoming “slaves of God” in St. Paul’s terminology.  [In terms of the prayer I mentioned above, we are liberated by being bound to her love, which is not mere sentiment but commitment and sacrifice.]

We are not our own, but have been “bought” at a high price.  The language of ownership is the language of belonging, and how great a grace it is to belong entirely to Jesus and his Mother!  “Freedom” from this servitude is tantamount to alienation from Paradise! [In The World’s First Love, Archbishop Sheen describes love as “the sweet servitude of affection and devotion to another.”]  Why did Jesus say that his yoke (symbol of slavery) is easy and light?  Because his yoke is our liberation; his Cross carries us!  It is in accepting the disciplines which express our discipleship that we are set free (see Jn. 8:31-32).

In my own experience, the “cord of blue” has another significance as well.  In various messages given by Our Lady in her reported apparitions, she says in different ways that the Rosary is a cord or chain that binds us to her Immaculate Heart.  I used to have a rosary made of blue cord, with knots for beads.  Someone once gave me as well a blue chotki (a prayer rope used by Eastern Christians to pray the Jesus Prayer).  These “cords of blue” are fitting reminders to persevere in that prayer from the heart which should be the loving expression of our acceptance of the fetters and bonds that Wisdom decrees will lead us to glory.  “Come to her with all your soul…”

Who would refuse to be “bound with a cord of blue,” knowing the inner transformation that the Holy Spirit works—in ways both manifest and hidden—through our humble and unremitting service to the Queen of Heaven?  A caterpillar binds itself with strands of white silk without which its astounding metamorphosis would never take place.  Similarly, without accepting the fetters fashioned by the loving hand of the Father, we would die without ever knowing the full truth and beauty of what we are, and can be, in the eyes of God.  This is a consequence of our terrible freedom to resist the grace which makes all things new.  Without the yoke of Christ by which his Mother guides us, we would surely wander from the narrow path of eternal salvation to the broad highway trodden by the “liberated” people who are often not even aware of their slavery to the most harsh and wicked of masters.

The Wisdom Books of the Bible are unrelenting in their emphasis on the rewards of seeking wisdom, of which the “fear of the Lord” is the beginning, the root, the full measure, and the crown (see Sir. 1:14-20).  They emphasize as well the punishment for sinful folly, which is always shown as the mindless and wicked counterpart of wisdom.  Unrepentant rebels and apostates are unworthy to enter the presence of the Queen, the Seat of Wisdom.  “Foolish men will not obtain her, and sinful men will not see her” (Sir. 15:7).

Our Lady is also unrelenting in her desire and efforts to instruct us in the ways of divine wisdom (which, let us remember, is the wisdom of the Cross and not the “wisdom” of the world).  How can she leave us alone for a minute, knowing the danger our souls are in until we are safely embraced, pressed to her heart, and carried to the throne of God in Heaven?  A mother cannot sleep when her children need her.  She also will not hesitate to correct and admonish out of love.  But how glorious will be the revelation of the children of God and of Mary, who have followed in faith, trusted under trial, and loved without expecting earthly rewards!  “For the moment, all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant; later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Heb. 12:11).

We might not, therefore, always experience as sweetness in this valley of tears the bonds and the yoke which remind us that we are the permanent possession of our Mother and Queen.  We don’t always sufficiently esteem the blessing of our royal servitude, our saving self-renunciation.  But setting our hearts on things of Heaven and living in the constant remembrance of God, we will see more clearly the divine dimensions of daily living, and we will give thanks for every opportunity to express our complete belonging to Another.  He who seeks wisdom and her fruits will find them.

“I sought wisdom openly in my prayer.  Before the temple I asked for her, and I will search for her to the last… I directed my soul to her… my heart was stirred to seek her.  The man who fears the Lord will… obtain wisdom.  She will come to meet him like a mother… She will feed him with the bread of understanding, and give him the water of wisdom to drink.  He will lean on her and will not fall, and he will rely on her… He will find gladness and a crown of rejoicing” (Sir. 51:13-21; 15:1-6).

Great are the sacrifices and total is the surrender necessary for a worthy response to God’s invitation to his ineffable joy, to attain to that which He has prepared for those who love Him.  But is this not simply walking the way of her who said, “Let it be done to me according to your word”?  Our heavenly Mother’s help is near at hand.  We need only humbly and gratefully accept the conditions of our consecration.  Bound with a cord of blue, we are bound for Heaven!

He Gave Himself for the Life of the World

[The following is an excerpt from my Holy Thursday homily of 2009]

…In all of the Eucharistic Liturgies I know of, the narrative of the institution of the Eucharist is always connected with the betrayal by Judas.  The context of the Last Supper is always given as: “on the night when He was betrayed,” or a similar phrase.  This is not merely an aid for our understanding of the chronology of events.  It underscores the poignancy of what Jesus was doing.  He said that the body and blood which He was giving the disciples at the Mystical Supper would be given over and poured out “for the forgiveness of sins.”  Jesus knew, and He said, that “the hand of my betrayer is at this table.”  I am reminded of Psalm 22(23) in which it is said: “You have prepared a banquet for me, in the sight of my enemies.”  This profound act of self-giving for the forgiveness of sins was performed in the presence of one who was about to commit one of the worst sins imaginable.  Yet if Judas would have repented and returned to Jesus as Peter did, that broken body and shed blood would have been for the forgiveness of his sin as well, and for his salvation.

But Jesus’ great gift of his body and blood to the Church of all ages, marred, as it were, by the context of betrayal, is not an indication that Jesus’ life and mission were subject to the vicissitudes of history and of evil men.  All this was foreknown and accepted by Him as the path He was destined to follow.  In the Eucharistic anaphora in the Liturgy of St John Chrysostom, there’s a little correction of its own text which makes this point, and it is left in the text for theological emphasis.  It reads: “After He had come and fulfilled the whole divine plan for our sake, on the night He was given over—or rather, gave Himself for the life of the world—He took bread…”

This calls to mind two passages from the Gospel of John.  As Jesus was coming to the heart of his great “Bread of Life” discourse, when the people were still murmuring about his saying He had come down from Heaven and would give them bread more miraculous than the Manna of Moses, He solemnly declared: “The bread which I shall give is my flesh, for the life of the world.”  This is where the Liturgy gets its text.  In the narrative of the Last Supper, we are immediately reminded of Jesus’ teaching on the Holy Eucharist which He gave long before the Supper.  So the Church can rightly say that what He was doing at the Supper was beginning the mystery of giving Himself for the life of the world—and this gift will endure until the end of time in the holy Churches of God who are faithful to his mandate to “Do this in memory of Me.”

The other passage this text from the Liturgy calls to mind is a somewhat more general one, but no less important.  This is the basis of the contrast in the text: “on the night he was given over—or rather, gave Himself…”  And here is where it becomes clear that Jesus was not the hapless victim of the politics of Palestine or of the evil designs of men.  Jesus said: “No one takes [my life] from me, but I lay it down of my own accord.  I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again; this charge I have received from my Father” (Jn. 10:18).  I quoted this text on Palm Sunday regarding Jesus’ power over death manifested in the raising of Lazarus, as a sign of his power to rise from the dead.  But here it is the basis for the Church changing the text from passive to active in her Liturgy: from “was given over” to “gave Himself.”  And we see from the text that this power, and the command to exercise it, were given by the Father.

Perhaps we don’t sufficiently reflect on the role of the Father in all these mysteries of Christ.  Or if we do, it’s in a rather negative way.  The Father is the One who didn’t grant Jesus’ anguished prayer in the garden; the Father is the one who seemingly forsook Jesus on the Cross in his most profound agony.  Yet everything that Jesus said and did was the Father’s will.  This is because, as Jesus said, the Father’s command means eternal life, so everything Jesus said was exactly as the Father wanted it (see Jn. 12:50).  And everything that Jesus did or endured, even his most painful sufferings, were done out of love for the Father.  Shortly before going to his Passion, Jesus said explicitly that He was doing it “so that the world may know that I love the Father” (Jn. 14:31).

So we have no argument with the Father.  We can almost say that the Father loved us more than his only-begotten Son, because it was for the forgiveness of our sins—which merit eternal punishment for us—that He willed his Son to endure the agony of the Passion and to sacrifice Himself in expiation of our sins.  The Father didn’t spare his Son, and this was solely because He wanted to spare us.  Let us remember this as we meditate upon these great mysteries.

Jesus gave his flesh and blood for the life and the salvation of the world; and He did it freely, with the power the Father gave Him to lay down his life and take it up again.  We see this power, this sovereign majesty, even when it seemed that he was wholly in the power of others.  He allowed the mob to arrest Him in the garden, but He still could teach and command his disciples, probe the consciences of his assailants and declare that they were unwittingly fulfilling what the Scriptures foretold long ago…

In all these events we have read about, and in those we have yet to celebrate in this Great and Holy Week, Jesus is manifested as Lord—not as one who was given over, but as the One who gave Himself; not as one whose life was taken, but as the One who laid it down of his own accord, by the will and power of the Father, with whom He is one in love and in being.

We are coming now to the table of the Lord, to share in the mystery of the Mystical Supper, his flesh and blood given for the life of the world and for the forgiveness of our sins.  Let there be no hand of a betrayer at this table, but only those who love the Lord and who are willing to walk with Him into the garden of interior struggle and even to the Cross.  It is true that we are all sinners, but let us then be like Peter who wept in repentance and who henceforth followed his Lord all the days of his life.

The Lord, as He has said, desires with great desire to share with us this Passover, this bittersweet banquet of the New Covenant in his blood.  The Passion is bitter but the Resurrection sweet, and both mysteries are mingled in the Eucharistic Chalice.  Let us stay close to Him now, that we may be found worthy to drink the sweet wine of his everlasting love when He shares it new with his faithful ones in his heavenly Kingdom.

Blessed John Paul II on Mary as Mother

[The following is an excerpt from the encyclical Redemptoris Mater]

45. Of the essence of motherhood is the fact that it concerns the person. Motherhood always establishes a unique and unrepeatable relationship between two people: between mother and child and between child and mother. Even when the same woman is the mother of many children, her personal relationship with each one of them is of the very essence of motherhood. For each child is generated in a unique and unrepeatable way, and this is true both for the mother and for the child. Each child is surrounded in the same way by that maternal love on which are based the child’s development and coming to maturity as a human being.

It can be said that motherhood “in the order of grace” preserves the analogy with what “in the order of nature” characterizes the union between mother and child. In the light of this fact it becomes easier to understand why in Christ’s testament on Golgotha his Mother’s new motherhood is expressed in the singular, in reference to one man: “Behold your son.”

It can also be said that these same words fully show the reason for the Marian dimension of the life of Christ’s disciples. This is true not only of John, who at that hour stood at the foot of the Cross together with his Master’s Mother, but it is also true of every disciple of Christ, of every Christian. The Redeemer entrusts his mother to the disciple, and at the same time he gives her to him as his mother. Mary’s motherhood, which becomes man’s inheritance, is a gift: a gift which Christ himself makes personally to every individual. The Redeemer entrusts Mary to John because he entrusts John to Mary. At the foot of the Cross there begins that special entrusting of humanity to the Mother of Christ, which in the history of the Church has been practiced and expressed in different ways. The same Apostle and Evangelist, after reporting the words addressed by Jesus on the Cross to his Mother and to himself, adds: “And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home” (Jn. 19:27). This statement certainly means that the role of son was attributed to the disciple and that he assumed responsibility for the Mother of his beloved Master. And since Mary was given as a mother to him personally, the statement indicates, even though indirectly, everything expressed by the intimate relationship of a child with its mother. And all of this can be included in the word “entrusting.” Such entrusting is the response to a person’s love, and in particular to the love of a mother.

The Marian dimension of the life of a disciple of Christ is expressed in a special way precisely through this filial entrusting to the Mother of Christ, which began with the testament of the Redeemer on Golgotha. Entrusting himself to Mary in a filial manner, the Christian, like the Apostle John, “welcomes” the Mother of Christ “into his own home” and brings her into everything that makes up his inner life, that is to say into his human and Christian “I”: he “took her to his own home.” Thus the Christian seeks to be taken into that “maternal charity” with which the Redeemer’s Mother “cares for the brethren of her Son,” “in whose birth and development she cooperates” in the measure of the gift proper to each one through the power of Christ’s Spirit. Thus also is exercised that motherhood in the Spirit which became Mary’s role at the foot of the Cross and in the Upper Room.

46. This filial relationship, this self-entrusting of a child to its mother, not only has its beginning in Christ but can also be said to be definitively directed towards him. Mary can be said to continue to say to each individual the words which she spoke at Cana in Galilee: “Do whatever he tells you.” For he, Christ, is the one Mediator between God and mankind; he is “the way, and the truth, and the life” (Jn. 14:6); it is he whom the Father has given to the world, so that man “should not perish but have eternal life” (Jn. 3:16). The Virgin of Nazareth became the first “witness” of this saving love of the Father, and she also wishes to remain its humble handmaid always and everywhere. For every Christian, for every human being, Mary is the one who first “believed,” and precisely with her faith as Spouse and Mother she wishes to act upon all those who entrust themselves to her as her children. And it is well known that the more her children persevere and progress in this attitude, the nearer Mary leads them to the “unsearchable riches of Christ” (Eph. 3:8). And to the same degree they recognize more and more clearly the dignity of man in all its fullness and the definitive meaning of his vocation, for “Christ…fully reveals man to man himself.”

This Marian dimension of Christian life takes on special importance in relation to women and their status. In fact, femininity has a unique relationship with the Mother of the Redeemer, a subject which can be studied in greater depth elsewhere. Here I simply wish to note that the figure of Mary of Nazareth sheds light on womanhood as such by the very fact that God, in the sublime event of the Incarnation of his Son, entrusted himself to the ministry, the free and active ministry of a woman. It can thus be said that women, by looking to Mary, find in her the secret of living their femininity with dignity and of achieving their own true advancement. In the light of Mary, the Church sees in the face of women the reflection of a beauty which mirrors the loftiest sentiments of which the human heart is capable: the self-offering totality of love; the strength that is capable of bearing the greatest sorrows; limitless fidelity and tireless devotion to work; the ability to combine penetrating intuition with words of support and encouragement.

Broken for You

In the Byzantine tradition, the Gospel read at the Holy Thursday Liturgy is not only that of the institution of Eucharist—it continues on through first part of the Passion, all the way to the judgment seat of Pilate. Thus it makes a clear connection between the Eucharist and Passion of Christ.

The connection is essentially that the Eucharist is the unbloody sacramental manifestation of the bloody sacrifice of Calvary. The grace of the mystery of our redemption, effected by Jesus’ death and resurrection, is communicated to us through the Eucharist. We can’t reconstruct the actual historical circumstances of time and place and participants in the Passion, but the essence of the mystery is fully communicated to us in the Eucharist (in liturgical theology, this is called “ritual transposition”).

But I want to look at the words Jesus spoke and their meaning. The words of institution are slightly different in the Byzantine and Latin traditions, but their meaning is the same. “This is my body which is given up for you” is what I think is said in Latin tradition, following Luke, but the Byzantine tradition follows Paul and says, “This is my body which is broken for you.” This is perhaps a more striking image, for it readily brings to mind the sufferings of the Passion.

In the film “The Passion of the Christ” you can see, in full graphic detail, what it means that Jesus was broken for us: his hands and feet pierced by nails, his side pierced by a spear, his flesh torn by scourges and the crown of thorns. He was broken also in soul and spirit, humiliated by mockery and reviling, crushed by the weight of our sins, plunged into darkness in the mysterious experience of abandonment by his Father, sorrowful unto death.

There are two main reasons Jesus accepted to suffer all that. The first is love for his Father and obedience to his will. This was his reason of being and of his whole life on earth: always the primary reason for everything He did. Before his passion he said: “the world must know that I love the Father.” The second reason is given in the words of institution, and that’s what I want to focus on here: the forgiveness of sins. This is my body which is broken for you—for the forgiveness of sins. This is my blood which is poured out for you and for many—for the forgiveness of sins.

We have to hear those words and hear them deeply. Broken for you—Jesus was broken for you, so that your sins could be forgiven, and for me, so that mine could be forgiven. But, you might say, He was broken for the many, for the forgiveness of all, not just me. This is true, but He wanted to make sure you wouldn’t feel lost in the anonymous crowd, so He said, broken for you, poured out for youand for many, and for all. He made sure to say both.

He was broken and given for us, and now in the Holy Eucharist He is given to us. In the Byzantine tradition we say, as we break the Lamb, the main Host: “Broken and distributed is the Lamb of God, broken but not divided, ever eaten but never consumed, sanctifying those who partake.” He is broken and distributed, the Bread from Heaven, the flesh of Jesus Christ that gives life to the world, so that we may receive into ourselves the fruits of his death and resurrection, the most necessary of which, for this life, is the forgiveness of sins.

Since Jesus sacrificed Himself and suffered unimaginably to take away the sins of the world, we can be sure that this is something He will always do for us. Mercy is the primary manifestation of God’s love because, unfortunately, sin is a constant presence in the world and in our lives. Out of love God may heal us of physical or mental illnesses, but any particular healing isn’t strictly required by divine love, for sometimes his love has something better in store. Out of love God may deliver us from pressing problems, difficult circumstances, or miraculously provide for urgent needs. But such deliverance isn’t strictly required by divine love, for sometimes his love and wisdom have a different and better plan which we can’t yet see. But God’s love always requires Him to forgive our sins when we sincerely repent. For Christ was broken, not for the solving of our problems, but for the forgiveness of our sins.

A moving moment in the passion accounts is Peter’s denial. This is essence of sin: I do not know the Man. We say we believe, we love, we will serve Him. But in time of stress or temptation our actions speak louder, and they cry out: I do not know the Man! To Peter’s credit, he repented. The cock crowed, Peter remembered, and the Lord looked at him, says St Luke. With that piercing look of pity and pain no words were necessary. Peter immediately wept bitterly in repentance.

Judas sinned too, and he realized it, but he fell into despair instead of repenting and turning to the Lord, who would have forgiven him. We can still learn something from his words. He said, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” For us, the words are reversed: We betray innocent blood by sinning. We betray the innocent blood of the Eucharistic chalice by our sins; the blood that was poured out for us, we betray by our sins. So we must repent with tears like Peter, repent from the heart and renew our love for Jesus and our fidelity to Him.

St Paul says that if we receive the Eucharist unworthily we sin against the body and blood of the Lord—so examine yourselves, he said, that you do not eat and drink unto judgment or condemnation. The Holy Eucharist, by which Christ said He abides in us and we in Him, is meant to stand for us on judgment day. The Lord said that on the last day He will raise up those who eat his flesh and drink his blood, but He can only mean those who do so worthily, fruitfully, with a contrite and humble heart, with love, adoration, and thanksgiving. The Eucharist should be our hope for deliverance from condemnation, not the reason for condemnation!

St Ephrem the Syrian gave us these beautiful words in one of his prayers: “Fire threatens me, O Lord, but concealed within me, O my Deliverer, is Your reconciling blood. Gehenna waits to torture me, but your life-creating body is intimately united with mine. I am clothed in the garment of the Holy Spirit, and I shall not even be singed. When the river of fire begins to rumble, threatening vengeance, then will the fire be extinguished, smitten by the scent of your flesh and blood.” We are called to repent in order to worthily receive this life-creating body, this reconciling blood, broken and poured out for us, for the forgiveness of our sins. This is something of which we need to acquire a profound understanding.

St John writes that “the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, to know Him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life” (1Jn. 5:20). That is why we are here on earth: to know the true God and to enter into eternal life. That is why Jesus was broken for us, and his blood poured out for us: to forgive our sins so we would be able to enter eternal life. That’s all that’s ultimately important to Him, and that’s why we will always find mercy when we approach Him sincerely.

You may sometimes think that you are broken, too, by sin and suffering or just the heavy weight of life in this world. It’s not easy; St John says the whole world is under the evil one. Perhaps you are struggling with some sinful habit or some insoluble problem that you just can’t seem to overcome, despite your best efforts and intentions. Well, hear the word of the Lord, for Jesus wants to tell you something: He was broken for you, precisely for that reason. He has taken your sins and sufferings into his own body and has nailed them to the Cross. He wants to you give them to Him; they can’t hurt Him any more, for He has already borne them—but they can still hurt you. He wants you to let Him absorb your pain and your shame, for this is why He was broken for you. He wants to forgive your sins and give you knowledge of the Father’s love and prepare you for eternal life.

So, make no excuses, just repent and come to Him, repent and believe in his mercy—He will always forgive—and then come to the Eucharistic chalice and eat and drink the price of your redemption. For the Lamb of God is broken and distributed, taking away the sins of the world, and sanctifying those who partake of his precious Body and life-giving Blood. He will abide in you and you in Him. And He will raise you up on the last day.