Tuesday, August 09, 2005

This is My Body: Part III

Eventually, I will cover everything that has been written here so far. I want to. There just isn't enough time in the day to do it all at once.

In the last post, I reflected on Ryan's question as to whether Protestants long for a sacrament like the Catholic Eucharist. In this part, the question is:
Or, do most Protestants believe that even if Christ was really present in the Eucharist, that this wouldn't make any difference in their lives?

Now, this question I find fascinating, but probably for the wrong reasons. It does speak to a cynical skepticism on the part of many Protestants about the Eucharist. However, I think addressing such a thing is ultimately not useful. I think a better question would be:

Does it make any difference in the lives of Catholics if Christ is really present in the Eucharist?

This question I find much more meaningful on the subject.

Catholics should be the test subject as far as this goes. Around the world, every day, Catholics believe that they are partaking in a miracle that allows them to physically consume the re-presented sacrifice of the body and blood of Christ. Does it make any difference in their lives?

I suppose the question would first have to be answered, "What would we expect to see from those who partake in this?" On the one hand, there's the idea that a miraculous 'food' is being consumed. Shouldn't that have a miraculous effect? On the other hand, many people ate miraculous food, even from the hand of Jesus; four and five thousand at a time, as the Gospels record. Yet few of those people exhibited 'miraculous' effects. But then again, very few of them had any faith in Jesus.

Therein lies the crux.

Physical interaction with Jesus is a relatively meaningless thing. Take two examples of his healings: The bleeding woman who grabbed him in the crowd, and the centurion whose son was sick and dying. In one case, Jesus physically interacted with the person. In the other, Jesus didn't even see the sick person. Yet, both were healed. What was the common thread? The faith of those seeking the healing. Touching Jesus meant nothing without faith.

I suppose this is reflected in all teachings regarding Communion as well. To those without faith, it is just a light snack, transformed or no.

And now, to the point of the matter.

Previously, I wrote about Jesus saying, "If you do not eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. (Paraphrase)" If taken in connection with Catholic teaching on the subject it has often been interpretted "If you don't take part in a transformed Eucharist, you cannot obtain eternal life."

But does such an interpretation make sense in light of the requirement of faith? Not really. So then, is Jesus saying that one must partake in transformed Eucharist with faith, or is Jesus saying that one must have faith in him? My vote goes to the latter, particularly because to believe the former is to read much into the verse.

At some point in this series, I'm just going to have to break out the scripture verses and get into some nitty-gritty exegesis. Today is not the day.

5 comments:

Ryan Herr said...

III-A
Hal wrote, “At some point in this series, I'm just going to have to break out the scripture verses and get into some nitty-gritty exegesis. Today is not the day.”

This may be a bit pedantic, but Catholics believe that all Scripture as an integrated whole is Eucharistic, because the Eucharist is Jesus Christ, the Word made Flesh.

I’m not just trying to be sassy. Of course, some passages address the Eucharist more directly than others, and those passages deserve a close look. However, I don’t think that we’re going to get anywhere by doing things like redissecting John 6. We’re both familiar with the arguments and counterarguments. If something new (to us) pops up, we both have google and our bookshelves at arms length to help us dig through the minutia. It’s not that I’m opposed to referring to the words of others. (Very obviously.) I just don’t think we’re going to hear anything we haven’t heard before.

Of course, I don’t propose agnosticism on the Eucharist. I believe that God has revealed truth to us, and I believe that we can know truth.

At the core of this discussion, I see the uniqueness of the Christian claim. Our religion is the only that says God became a man. In the account of the birth of Jesus in the first chapter of the first Gospel, we hear that “This all happened so that what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet would be fulfilled: ‘Look! The virgin will conceive and bear a son, and they will call him Emmanuel,’ which means ‘God with us.’” In the final verse of this Gospel, Jesus tells us, “I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

God is with us. What does this mean?

I’m trying to explore the desire for and the reality of God’s real presence in our lives.

… Let me play devil’s advocate for a moment. Perhaps the Catholic Church’s Eucharistic teaching is like an infomercial for a pill promising weight loss without any exercise or dieting. The pill certainly corresponds to our desire. The trouble is, the pill doesn’t actually do anything - or at least, it doesn't do what it promises. The pill corresponds to our desire, but not to reality.

At some point, we'll have to do our best to figure out if the pill works. ... But, if we can’t agree about what we desire, we will have a hard time discussing whether or not reality matches our desire.

Ryan Herr said...

III-B

Hal wrote:
Previously, I wrote about Jesus saying, "If you do not eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. (Paraphrase)" If taken in connection with Catholic teaching on the subject it has often been interpretted "If you don't take part in a transformed Eucharist, you cannot obtain eternal life."

Okay, that is not Catholic teaching.

Assuming that the Eucharist is wholly, really, and substantially the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ ...

The Eucharist is not merely a means to an end.

The Eucharist is not a ticket to something more.

Nothing is more than God. God is the Alpha and the Omega. Catholics describe the Eucharist as the "source and summit", the "sum and summary". Catholics believe that "God's presence is all I need" (Psalm 73).

Eternal life is not a commodity to be obtained. Jesus Christ IS the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

I feel like I am explaining myself quite poorly.

The remainder of this comment is a long excerpt from a lecture of Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI) in Prague in 1992. Despite its length, I believe that it will be much more helpful that my own attempts at explanation.

Cardinal Ratzinger

Human existence, of its nature, streches out into something greater. But what do we actually expect? The primitive expectation within man, which cannot be taken away from him, finds expression in many and various ways. One of its most important manifestations is that we expect justice. We simply cannot come to terms with the idea of stronger people always winning the argument and being able to oppress the weaker ones; we cannot come to terms with the way that innocent people suffer, often in appalling fashion, and that all the luck in the world seems to drop into the laps of those who are guilty. The longing for justice, which has been so forcefully expressed in the struggles of those who have thought and suffered in every age, cannot be taken from us. We long for justice; and that is why we also long for truth. We see how lies spread out, impose themselves and that it becomes quite impossible to oppose them. We look for it not to continue that way, for the truth to be accorded its due. We long for sensless gossip, for cruelty and misery to come to an end; we long for the darkness of misunderstanding that divides us, our incapacity to love, to have an end and for true love to be really possible, freeing our life from its dungeon of loneliness, opening the door to others, opening the door to infinity without destroying us. We could even say: We long for true happiness. All of us.

But that is exactly what is meant when we say “eternal life”, which is not a matter of lasting a long time; rather, this expresses a certain quality of existence, in which duration, as an endless sequence of moments, disappears. ... Eternal life is not an endless sequence of moments, in which we would have to try to overcome boredom and anxiety in the face of what cannot be ended. Eternal life is a new quality of existence, in which everything flows together into the “now” of love, into that new quality of being that is freed from the fragmentation of existence in the accelerating flight of moments. In this, our mortal life, on one hand, every moment is too short, because life itself seems to pass away with the moment before we can catch hold if it; at the same time, each moment is too long for us, because the great number of moments, each always the same as the others, becomes too laborious for us. Thus it becomes clear that eternal life is not simply what comes afterward, something about which we can form no notion at all. Because it is a new quality of existence, it can be already present in the midst of this earthly life and its fleeting temporality as something new and different and greater, albeit in an imperfect and fragmentary fashion. But the dividing line between eternal and temporal life is by no means simply a chronological order: so that the years before death would be temporal life; the endless time afterward would be eternal life – as we generally think. But because eternity is not just endless time but another level of being, such a merely chronological distinction cannot be right.

Eternal life is there, in the midst of time, wherever we come face to face with God; through the contemplation of the living God, it cannot become something like the firm base of our soul. Like a great love, it can no longer be taken from us by any change or chance; rather, it is an indestructible heart from which spring the courage and the joy to go on, even when exterior things are painful and hard. In Psalm 73, we can see vividly how we should picture this, where, in the midst of the struggling and suffering of a believing man, that kind of experience breaks through in a flash and with quite stunning power. This psalm is the prayer of a man “who carries in his body anguish and illness” – the prayer of a believer who has always made an attempt to live on the basis of the word of God but whose whole existence has now become pair and sheer contradiction.

The wisdom of the Old Covenant had formerly taught that God rewarded righteous dealing and punished wickedness. But the world in which the supplicant, the author of the prayer, is living mocks such notions: it is the experience of Job, that of Qoheleth, the experience of so many righteous men who have suffered under the Old Covenant, that finds expression here. Life seems to reward the cynics, those arrogant people who say: God takes no notice of what goes on here on earth. He does not respond. These people, who see themselves as gods, speak as if pronouncing from heaven, from the heights. The people eagerly accept their extravagant and superior-sounding words. They do not suffer. They are healthy and plump. They are unacquainted with life’s troubles. The righteous man who is suffering is in danger of being confused. Does the world not show that the cynics are right? Maybe it really is senseless to stand by God and to live according to his justice? Perhaps he really does not respond to us? The solution occurs to the supplicant in the sanctuary, that is, when he turns in prayer to the living God and, in so doing, steps beyond the limits of purely private questioning and pondering. In entering the sanctuary he takes his place in the community of faith, among the signs of salvation, in the pilgrim company of God’s history, and from that point of view he has a sight of God himself. And that changes his perspective. The way envy looks at the world becomes just as pointless as the crowning of pride. The illusory character of such good fortune becomes apparent; it dissolves like a dream upon waking, and the true perspective of reality re-emerges. “Nevertheless I am continually with you; you hold my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing upon earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. ... For me it is good to be near God” (Ps 73:23-26,28).

When God touches his soul man learns to see aright. Even if he had all possible possessions in heaven and earth, what would that be? The happiness of mere success, of mere power, of mere wealth, is always an illusory happiness; a glance at the world of today, looking into the tragedies of those powerful and successful people who have sold their souls for wealth, will show us how true this is. For those great fits of despair, against which all the refinements of desire and of its gratification are deployed in vain, do not occur among the poor and the weak but among those people who seem unacquainted with the troubles of life. Everything on heaven and on earth would be empty were it not for God, who has made himself our portion forever. “This is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent”, says the Lord in the Gospel of John (17:3). This is exactly the discovery expressed in Psalm 73. The supplicant sees God and discovers that he needs nothing more, that in his contact with God everything has been granted him, true life. “Nothing in heaven or on earth gives me joy without you, even though my flesh should fail – my happiness is to be in your presence.” Wherever such an encounter takes place, there is eternal life. The diving line between temporal life and eternal life runs right through the midst of our temporal life. John distinguishes bios, as the passing life of this world, from zoē, as contact with the true life that wells up within us wherever we truly encounter God from within. This is what Jesus is saying in John’s Gospel: “He who hears my word and believes him who sent me, has eternal life; he ... has passed from death to life” (5:24). The saying from the story of Lazarus runs along the same lines: “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die” (Jn 11:25). The same experience is stressed in various ways in the letters of Paul, as for instance when Paul the prisoner, in chains, writes to the Philippians: “To me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” He would prefer to be released from the flesh and to be with Christ, but he recognizes that it is more important for him to remain for his congregations (Phil 1:21-24). “If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s” (Rom 14:8).

Thus we see that eternal life is that mode of living, in the midst of our present earthly life, which is untouched by death because it reaches out beyond death.

Ryan Herr said...

III-C-1
Hal wrote:
“Physical interaction with Jesus is a relatively meaningless thing. Take two examples of his healings: The bleeding woman who grabbed him in the crowd, and the centurion whose son was sick and dying. In one case, Jesus physically interacted with the person. In the other, Jesus didn't even see the sick person. Yet, both were healed. What was the common thread? The faith of those seeking the healing. Touching Jesus meant nothing without faith.”

“Physical interaction with Jesus is a relatively meaningless thing” … These words seem to make an emphatic statement about the nature of God's real presence in our lives.

Hal, I’d like to be sure that I understand what you mean and what you don’t mean by these words.

I’d like to put this statement into the context of your words, of God’s Word, and of salvation history.

First, your words. (The other two will be part III-C-2 and III-C-3, lol.) I'm asking for quite a bit of clarification here.

In your July 17 post, you wrote: “When the Bible discusses the mystical experience of the faith, communing with God, people actually communed with God; they talked verbally with him, they received dreams or visions, they were in the very presence of the Lord of Hosts. And it is modern mysticism's severe distinction from that which explains my problems with it.”

In This Is My Body part I, you wrote: “So, if I assumed the Eucharist to be true, what would my thoughts be? … Well, once I finished wrestling with doctrinal and denominational issues (for I would have to join a church that supported my newfound position), I'd be excited about the prospect of being able to have a literal, physical interaction with the living God, my very savior. But I suppose that only further deepens the mystery.”

In This Is My Body part II, you wrote: “You're not just interacting with God in some nebulous, undefinable way . . . you are experiencing God in a physical, tangible way. ... Such an idea seems attractive at first, but I almost would say that the desire for such a thing is a product of a weak faith.”

Then, in This Is My Body, part III, you write that “Physical interaction with Jesus is a relatively meaningless thing … Touching Jesus meant nothing without faith.”

Is the converse true, does faith mean everything, without touching Jesus?

Are these latest words a renunciation of what you wrote on July 17th, or are they complementary, or are they not really related at all?

Are your latest words a continuation of what you wrote in Part II, when you say that “desire for such a thing is a product of a weak faith”?

Do you still see a “severe distinction” between being “in the very presence of the Lord of Hosts” or not being in “in the very presence of the Lord of Hosts”? Do you still believe that a person must have been “in the very presence of the Lord of Hosts” in order to have “actually communed with God”?

When I tell you that you do have “the prospect of being able to have a literal, physical interaction with the living God”, am I unknowingly and despite my best intentions acting as an instrument of Satan whispering in the desert? By the grace of God have you fought my temptation?

In kicking off this discussion, I admitted that “If the Catholic Church is wrong about Christ's real presence in the Eucharist, then its liturgical practice and belief is an abomination, a crime against God and man, a horrendous form of idolatry which must be opposed.”

Ryan Herr said...

III-D
Hal wrote, “Does it make any difference in the lives of Catholics if Christ is really present in the Eucharist? … I suppose the question would first have to be answered, "What would we expect to see from those who partake in this?" On the one hand, there's the idea that a miraculous 'food' is being consumed. Shouldn't that have a miraculous effect? On the other hand, many people ate miraculous food, even from the hand of Jesus; four and five thousand at a time, as the Gospels record. Yet few of those people exhibited 'miraculous' effects. But then again, very few of them had any faith in Jesus.”

Does it make a difference? Subjective differences vary. See Peter Kreeft’s words on God’s Hiddenness in my response to Part I.

As I also mentioned in my response to Part I, objective ‘differences’ are cited in paragraphs 1391-1398 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Among other ‘effects’, “The principal fruit of receiving the Eucharist in Holy Communion is an intimate union with Christ Jesus.”

I’m not sure what could be a more ‘miraculous effect’ than an intimate union with God.

Forget about the Eucharist for a moment. Just think about what we can agree upon: At some point in the history of humanity, some people had the opportunity to be in the literal physical presence of God.

Ryan Herr said...

maybe this is III-D continued and/or III-C continued

Forget about the Eucharist for a moment. Just think about what we can agree upon: At some point in the history of humanity, some people had the opportunity to be in the literal physical presence of God.

Hal wrote: “Physical interaction with Jesus is a relatively meaningless thing … Touching Jesus meant nothing without faith.”

Hal, when you get to heaven, I'd be curious what Simeon would think about your words.

Now there was a man in Jerusalem named Simeon who was righteous and devout, looking for the restoration of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord's Christ. So Simeon, directed by the Spirit, came into the temple courts, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what was customary according to the law, Simeon took him in his arms and blessed God, saying, "Now, according to your word, Sovereign Lord, permit your servant to depart in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples: a light, for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel." (Luke 2:25-32 NET)

I'm not trying to put words in Simeon's mouth.

He wouldn't wouldn't necessarily disagree with your statements I quoted above.

You did qualify your statements in a specific way, by saying that “Physical interaction with Jesus is a relatively meaningless thing … Touching Jesus meant nothing without faith.”

Certainly Simeon had great faith, and therefore it seems that you would allow him the probability that his physical interaction with Jesus did have meaning.

But based on Simeon's speech, I don't think that he would agree with this hypothetical statement: "Faith without touching Jesus has the same meaning as touching Jesus with faith." (Of course, you never said any such thing.)

... My intent here is not to twist your words. My apologies if I have done so - please correct me.

I am sincerely asking for some clarification on your perspective.

I'd guess that we both agree that in Simeon's case, great meaning existed both in his faith and in his concrete experience that his “eyes have seen salvation.”

... Here's a question. Which has more meaning: To believe, or to be physically healed (as in your earlier examples), or to hold in your arms the infinite I Am Who Am, the Savior of the world?

It seems that answering this question may require additional clarification on what ‘meaning’ means. I think that you and I might be using the word in different ways, but I'm not sure.

For help in clarifying, take a look at this sample statement:

“The suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ are relatively meaningless things. The suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ mean nothing without faith.”

Would you agree or disagree with this?

I’d strenuously disagree. But if you do agree to some degree with the above statement, then I’d imagine that our differences on this specific point might be more semantic than creedal.

But I’d like to await your responses before discussing more at length about what ‘meaning’ means. (I’d rather not have the discussion at all if we can help it – I’d rather talk about creeds than semantics.)