Thursday, August 28, 2008

The Demands of Faith and the Duties of Citizenship

Book Review: Render Unto Caesar: Serving the Nation By Living Our Catholic Beliefs in Political Life by Charles J. Chaput (Doubleday, 2008)

Charles Chaput, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Denver, has written a timely and well thought reflection on the tension between the demands of Christian faith and the duties of American citizenship. While Chaput is addressing Roman Catholics, the book can be read profitably by any Christian--an really should be read by all Christians. If you pick up this book to discover whether God is a Democrat or a Republican or which of the two candidates is God's nominee you will be disappointed. But if you are looking for reasoned reflection on Christian citizenship then you certainly want to read this book.
To those unfamiliar with Roman Catholic social thought a word of explanation might be helpful. The Catholic Church, since the latter part of the nineteenth century, has had a developing body of what is called social doctrine which is considered the authoritative teaching of the Church. This body of social doctrine is a set of principles which Catholics are to apply to their specific situations. In other words, the Church teaches fundamental norms which are to be applied through prudential judgments. One thing this means, and Chaput is concerned to emphasize, is that no political party can ever be identified as "the Catholic party" since the positions of any political party will coincide with Catholic social doctrine only a various points. Thus, Catholic social doctrine is very critical of the excesses of unrestrained capitalism (connecting with traditional Democratic Party positions) but also holds that such things as stem cell research, abortion and same gender unions are inherently immoral (connection with traditional Republican Party positions). One can not say, fairly, that Catholic social doctrine is either "liberal" or "conservative;" one can only say that it is the teaching of the Catholic Church.
Chaput devotes considerable attention to the most pressing issue facing Christians in post-Christian America: The difficulty of bringing Christian convictions into political life at a time when it is asserted that such convictions should be kept private. The notion that Christian convictions should be kept private is advanced not simply by secularists but even by some churches. Chaput thinks that we need to reflect deeply on what religious convictions are and how they should connect with political life.
One way to get at this issue is ask about the nature of the state. Is the state merely an administrative apparatus for the provision of certain services and the balancing of interests? If it is, what kind of claim could it make upon us? Upon what principles does it decide issues and how its power is to be exercised? For Chaput, we can not get away from the fact that political life inherently involves moral principles and moral decisions because it involves people who are inherently moral creatures. This means that Christians are not the only people who bring moral commitments into public life; some will bring in such commitments disguised as "what most Americans really want," "the assured results of scientific research" or "what America is all about". Chaput reminds us that the Christian faith is not simply a set of doctrines which we cherish in the privacy of our own lives but, rather, has profound implications for how we understand human life, the nature and purpose of politics and proper function of law.
Attempts to exclude Christian convictions from the public square generally begin with the argument that because we live in a democratic and pluralistic society we must filter out religious convictions because they are "divisive" and only lead to "religious extremism". Some hard shell atheists openly worry about an American theocracy. Chaput's reply to this is twofold. First, he notes that as a matter of historical fact, no significant Christian body in this country has shown the least interest in turning America into a theocracy: "The specter of an American theocracy is a tool designed to bully serious religious believers into silence" (p. 29). (He notes that according to Catholic social doctrine the establishment of a theocracy would be an immoral act on the Church's part.). Second, Chaput notes that as America has become more secular it has become more fragmented at the level of first principles. The debates over the issues of abortion and same gender marriage make this very clear. The secularist drive to expunge any religious influence from the public square has a "religious" zeal about it; it appears to be a kind of secular Inquisition. What would a fully secularized America look like?: "A truly secularized United States would be a country without a soul; a nation with a hole in its chest. Such a state could not stand above tribalism in public affairs. It would become a tool of the strongest tribe" (p. 30).
What should be the goal of Christian political involvement? The goal is not, obviously, the forced Christianization of America or the mere acquisition of power. As Chaput makes clear, Catholic social doctrine maintains that Christians need to be involved politically not to blur the lines between government and Church but to serve the common good. The common good is not determined by mere opinion poll but by reflecting on what makes for the protection of human dignity and what promotes human flourishing. This means that political action is an inherently moral enterprise and can never be reduced to pragmatic considerations. The motive for all Christian political activity is love and this is a direct consequence of being related to the Triune God: "Christian faith is not just vertical. It's also horizontal. Since God created all human persons and guarantees their dignity by his Fatherhood, we have family duties to one another. That applies especially within the ekklesia--the community of believers we call the church--but it extends to the whole world" (p. 38). The Christian life is not based on the maximization of self-interest (indeed, this is what we call sin) but on the love of neighbor. But love--as some Christians need to be reminded--is not a sentiment but a pattern of action. Rightly ordered love is governed by the norms of justice and this is why the taking the of an innocent life (abortion, euthanasia), an economy based upon consumption, same gender marriage and freedom as liberty without responsibility can never be considered moral--each represents a disordered form of love.
For Chaput, one of the most important contributions that the Church can make to society is the formation of virtuous people. As he notes, virtuous is not a synonym for "nice". The most powerful political act that a Christian can perform is not to step into a voting booth or to put on a political button but to live out his or her faith in society. Christian virtue begins with the recognition that life is not about us--our comfort, our desires and our self-esteem. Life is about living with other people who also bear the image of God and who therefore exert claims upon us--we do not take our faith seriously until we take these claims seriously.
Christan faith makes a second important contribution to politics. Because Christians believe that only God can fully redeem us, we are disinclined to utopian promises that the right candidate or the right political system will deliver utopia. Politics, while important, will always be of penultimate value and this means that the powers of the state must always be limited: "We will never build God's kingdom here on earth. When people have messianic expectations of the state, when they ask politics to deliver more than it can, the story ends badly. But neither will we ever be released from the duty to sanctify, humanize, and bring Jesus Christ to the public square in which we live" (p. 76).
While it can never be the mission of Christians to usurp political authority, so Christians fail in their mission if they remain silent when political authority needs to be challenged. In this sense, while the Church can never have or be a political party, she can never stay out of politics because to do so would be to mute her witness and so fail in her mandate. We can not allow working for the common good to be smeared as "imposing religious dogma": "...the well-being and destiny of the human person is very much the concern, and the special competence, of the Christian community. It's no use arguing that we live in a 'post-Christian' age. There is no such thing. God became man in the person of Jesus Christ. He died for our redemption. Then he rose again. The changes this brought to humanity and history are permanent and irreversible. Therefore, for those of us who describe ourselves as Catholic, we can be disciples and missionaries, or we can be apostates; but there's no room for anything else" (p. 218). Indeed. One only wishes that more Anglican bishops could think and write like this.

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Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Abolition of Man (Again)

Book Review: Embryo: A Defense of Human Life by Robert George and Christopher Tollefsen (Doubleday, 2008)

One of C.S. Lewis' most important books is the slender but prophetic The Abolition of Man. It is a book which should be required reading for all Christians. Briefly stated, Lewis' argument is something like this: Once the notion of human nature has been abandoned and once moral absolutes have been dissolved by skepticism, far from resulting in a new era of "progress" and "liberation" what will happen is that human life will be open to total manipulation by those who claim to act "for the good of the human race" and who have power. Human life will come to mean whatever government (those in power) determines it to be. Lewis was not worried about mere scientific progress; he was worried about scientific progress that operated beyond moral constraints. And his worry was based on actual experience: Lewis wrote the book at the end of the World War II, a war caused by a political regime which had a demonic plan to "improve the human race" and to do so "scientifically".
The flow of historical events has only proven the truth of Lewis' thesis. In our morally unbalanced culture, we invest great effort in preserving the environment and saving endangered species (worthy ends, to be sure) and yet the practice of taking human life at both its beginning and at its end is becoming commonly accepted.
This is the issue which Robert George (professor of jurisprudence at Princeton University) and Christopher Tollefsen (professor of philosophy at the University of South Carolina) address in their book. While all that they say has great relevance to the issue of abortion, their focus is on the next great moral issue regarding the dignity of human life: the destruction of human embryos to harvest stem cells.
As George and Tollefsen know all too well, those who raise moral questions about the harvesting of embryonic stem cells for the purpose of research are more than likely to be called "unscientific" and "motivated by religious dogma". Embryo makes the case that neither of these charges has the slightest foundation. What they present is a biological and philosophical argument for the fact that human embryos are human beings and should therefore be accorded the dignity and respect that we accord to all people.
To my mind, the most significant chapter in this book is the one entitled "Moral Philosophy and the Early Human Being". Under the influence of naturalism, the dominant form of moral reasoning in our time is some form of consequentialism, the philosophical position which holds that we do not make moral judgments on the basis of whether an act is inherently good or bad but we make judgments on the basis of the consequences of acts. For consquentialism, the moral theory of secular rationalism, one can not claim that taking human life is always wrong and one will define human life not in terms of the possession of a human nature but in terms of the possession of certain qualities (self-consciousness, for example) or in terms of common recognition (society attributes the status of human being to certain persons). The standard argument for the destruction of human embryos to harvest stem cells is that this is justifiable because (1) the embryos are not human persons and (2) because enormous good will result from the research this makes possible. This book vigorously disputes both of these claims. Because consequentialism has no capacity to recognize human nature, it can always justify the termination of the lives of some people for the attainment of some "greater good". The question is that of how this good is determined. The dignity and worth proper to human persons is overlooked (and one may say even suppressed) so as to justify using human embryos as mere biological material. Consequentialism can have a morally blinding effect, leading us to terminate human life for the sake of some promised "scientific breakthrough" which is probably much further off than those who receive huge research grants would like to admit. It is more than suspicious that those who hold the human embryo to be only potentially human are very interested in using embryos as biological material and those who hold that human fetuses are only potentially persons are very interested in promoting "reproductive choice".
The argument of this book, while complex, is not difficult to trace in outline. It proceeds in three steps: (1) Human embryos are human beings in that what come into being at fertilization is a human life genetically distinct from both parents and capable of self-guided growth and maturation. Human beings are temporal creatures and so come into being over time but it is undeniable that the embryo and the fully mature adult human are the same kind of life. (2) Human beings are psychophysical unities; we are not minds or a consciousness trapped in or remotely attached to a body. It can not be argued that embryos are simply "masses of cells" because not only are they fully integrated individuals but also because they contain in root all the capacities that the later adult will possess: "As humans, they [embryos] are members of a natural kind, the human species, whose embryonic, fetal, and infant members, if not prevented by some extrinsic cause, develop in due course and by intrinsic self-direction the immediately exercisable capacities for characteristically human functions...But because the life of an organism is a life in time, those properties are rooted in capacities of the organism that must develop through time--no tiger or human being springs into being fully formed...The persons that we are, are not entities separated from our animal bodies; we are neither independent minds, spirits, nor brains. Rather [we] are...persons, have always been persons, and will cease being persons only when we cease to be, by dying" (pp. 79-81). (3) Since all embryos are persons, they are all the subjects of human rights and have an inherent moral value which can not be compromised.
The attempt to deny moral dignity to embryos and fetuses is not the result of some "scientific" analysis but is the result of an inadequate moral philosophy which has become so ingrained in secular thinking that it now appears to many people to be simply "the way things are".
Ultimately, as George and Tollefsen make clear, this moral question raises questions of political philosophy. If we have a state which is unwilling to protect the most vulnerable of people and is willing to sacrifice them to the desires of those with power, what kind of state do we live in? If we abandon the concept of human nature, possessed by all human beings from conception until death, we surrender ourselves to those whose will it is to mold and shape us into something "better" (for our own good, of course) and whose only guideline is what furthers the success of their program. The results are exactly what Lewis said they would be: the abolition of man. The authors of this book never cite Lewis's though it is clear that they operate in the same intellectual tradition.

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Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Great (C.S. Lewis) Story Never Ends

Book Review: Conversations With C.S. Lewis: Imaginative Discussions About Life, Christianity and God by Robert Valarde (InterVarsity Press, 2008)

As all Narnia fanatics know, the final paragraph of The Last Battle ends with the stirring assurance that the Pevensie children entered heaven and so "were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before." The Great Story of C.S. Lewis goes on as well with books pouring off the presses.
Robert Velarde, a former atheist, has written a wonderful book which is both high on content and imaginative in format (something the Master would appreciate). This is not just another book on C.S. Lewis. As Peter Kreeft notes in a blurb, the book is a combination of The Great Divorce, It's A Wonderful Life and A Christmas Carol. It begins with a man (an atheist) in his thirties who is in the hospital with cancer and who wakes up after one treatment to find C.S. Lewis sitting in his hospital room. In each chapter, Lewis takes the young man to a formative episode of Lewis' life, each visit being a springboard to a conversation about an important Lewis spiritual/intellectual theme. In each case Lewis answers questions which cast doubt on the man's atheist position. But this is not a matter of the "good" Lewis tripping up the "bad" atheist but a matter of Lewis explaining how he became a Christian after concluding that atheism was irrational.
While the book deals with a range of issues (Doesn't science disprove Christianity? Wasn't Jesus just a man whom the Church made into a god? Isn't belief in God just a crutch for weak people?) it has an integrating theme which was the integrating theme of all of Lewis' work. This theme is the need for integrating rationality and imagination. As Allen Jacobs has made clear in his excellent biography of Lewis (The Narnian), during his atheist phase Lewis found himself in a terrible state in that all that was rationally certain was largely uninteresting to him and all that he really loved irrational and meaningless. Lewis' own conversion came when his rational side and his imaginative side were integrated. Ultimately, Lewis (and, I assume, Velarde) found that Truth could only be discerned by the united effort of both faculties. As Lewis says in one of the final conversations, intellect is incomplete without imagination. Here, it needs to be stressed, imagination does not mean (as it has come to mean in a vulgar consumer culture of entertainment) simply "making things up". When Dante wrote The Divine Comedy was he simply "making things up"? If he was his work would have become just another period piece for literary scholars to dissect. As Jacobs so conclusively shows in his book, the Narnia books are not just works of imagination because Lewis included in them pretty much everything he thought was important from ethics to religion to metaphysics. To put this in another key, for Lewis Christianity is not simply a theology but a reality and hence doctrine will always say less than liturgy; while we know about cosmology and evolution Genesis 1 still remains essential.
The first conversation is a good example of how the book works. In this conversation, Lewis and his atheist friend travel to visit William Kirkpatrick, referred to in Surprised by Joy as "The Great Knock". Kirkpatrick was Lewis' tutor for three years and prepared him to take the Oxford entrance examinations. He was a hyper-rational Scot and a devout atheist. Kirkpatrick's faith is in reason but Lewis asks what justifies such faith on materialist grounds. If human reason is simply an evolved survival mechanism the operations of which are determined by biology, why should we trust it to deliver truth? At best, one could only say that reason is what our current state of evolution and genetic determination allow us to believe to be true. As Lewis makes clear, a distinction needs to be made between evolution and evolutionism, the first indicating a theory of biological change and the latter indicating a metaphysical theory. Those who have read Lewis' book Miracles will be familiar with this argument. The point of this argument is this: Christianity offers a better account of the origin and reliability of reason than does naturalism. Lewis's atheist friend assumes that Christians shun reason when in fact it supports reason.
In another scene, we find Lewis and his friend on the front lines in France during World War I (where Lewis spent his nineteenth birthday). The senseless death, the stench and suffering raise the question of why God allows evil to exist. Lewis' question to his conversation partner is simply "How do we know this is evil?" In other words, where does our sense of evil come from? Why don't we simply accept evils as "the way things are"? On evolutionary grounds, certain threats to our existence might seem bad but why do we speak evil? For Lewis, we think this way because we have a conscience and this is a manifestation of the fact that we are creatures created in God's image. Without God, there is no evil there is only "the way things are". Lewis, of course, did not think that this response "solved" the "problem of evil" (he believed that only God could solve it). But there is something to the idea that the perception of evil implies some perception of its opposite.
Another interesting chapter is a journey to the BBC from Lewis delivered his Broadcast Talks which were eventually published in Mere Christianity. Here Lewis began with the idea that the common recognition of moral values demanded the notion that they came from outside of us. No one can remain a consistent moral relativist and expect anything but anarchy. For Lewis, the existence of trans-individual and trans-cultural moral values pointed to the existence of a moral Mind from when they came. Once again, this does not prove God's existence but Lewis thought that Christian could produce better arguments for moral laws than could naturalists.
One final conversation is worth mentioning. Lewis asks his atheist friend if his opposition to Christianity is completely rational. Lewis was, of course, speaking from personal experience in that during his atheist phase he rejected Christianity because it would mean that there was Someone who could interfere in his life. Is atheism founded more on a prideful autonomy than on rational supports? This was the conclusion to which Lewis himself eventually came.
In the end, we don't learn how the atheist friend turns out. What we do know is that his visits with Lewis have planted a seed, one which, hopefully, will bear fruit. Conversations With C.S. Lewis is both a good introduction to C.S. Lewis and good book to give to atheist or agnostic friends.

1 Comments:

Blogger Robert Velarde said...

Thanks for the kind review. I wanted to make Conversations with C.S. Lewis a fun and informative read, but leave the fate of the atheist undetermined. My take is that such a major worldview shift - from atheism to Christian theism - is generally so significant that it takes awhile to happen, assuming it ever does.

I also wanted to highlight a civil and friendly conversation between a Christian and an atheist. These days with many hostile atheists and sometimes hostile Christians as well, we need to keep in mind the call to be gentle and respectful (1 Peter 3:15) even when we disagree with others.

Thanks again for the review.

September 2, 2008 at 11:23 AM  

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Monday, August 11, 2008

Celebrating a Saint and a Seminarian

Editorial Note: The following homily was preached at a Eucharist celebrating the Feast of St. Ignatius of Loyola (July 31) and the completion of Kevin Johnson's summer internship at St. Peter's

The lives of the saints are a source of constant encouragement to us. In celebrating their lives we are reminded that God works mightily even in the most difficult and confusing of times through all kinds of people. In the lives of the saints we discover the many dimensions of sanctity and the infinite beauty of God's redeeming work. There is the intellectual sanctity of a Thomas Aquinas, the gentle sanctity of a Francis of Assisi, the patient sanctity of a Francis de Sales, the mystical sanctity of a Catherine of Sienna and the zealous sanctity of an Ignatius of Loyola, whom we celebrate today.
Ignatius of Loyola was an upwardly mobile Spanish knight and courtier who was badly injured defending the city of Pamplona from French attack in 1521. During a long recovery period marked by painful operations on his legs, Ignatius read devotional literature, searched his soul and had a profound religious experience. The direction of his life was profoundly changed: he left off devoted service to the powerful Hapsburg monarchy and surrendered himself to the service of Jesus Christ.
Ignatius went on to study theology at Paris in 1528 and a circle quickly gathered around him. Eventually this circle organized itself as the Society of Jesus and in 1540 it became an official religious order. Within twenty-five years, the Society had three thousand men serving on three continents. Today, of course, we know Ignatius' society as the Jesuits. His intention was to form spiritually disciplined men capable of undertaking the work of spiritual direction, instruction and evangelizing. They would be so formed that instead of the world shaping them they would shape the world. And they did. The Jesuits have produced a long stream of theologians, teachers, parish priests and missionaries.
The encouragement offered by Ignatius' story is the knowledge that God is ever renewing his Church by calling to himself those who whom he has given a zeal for the Gospel. Kevin, tonight we pause to offer thanks to God that you have been called into this service and granted this zeal. In you we see the zeal of St. Ignatius.
As you prepare to depart St. Peter's, I have the charge of delivering some parting words, words of encouragement and advice. What I would like to focus on tonight is three dimensions of ministry.
(1) Calling: Kevin, we begin with your old friend Jeremiah, who has been one of your companions this summer. In the account of his call in Jeremiah 1:4-19 we discover the foundation of all true ministry: the Creator of heaven and earth who mysteriously and gratuitously calls human beings into his service. For me, the dramatic contrast in this scene is between God's complete knowledge of Jeremiah and Jeremiah's painful sense of inadequacy. God tells Jeremiah "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you" (1:5). Understandably, Jeremiah is overwhelmed by this calling: "Ah, Lord God! Behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth" (1:6).
Kevin, calling is the source of all proper humility in ministry. The work that lies ahead of you is not work that you have selected for yourself but work which God, who knows you completely, has selected for you. Remember, therefore, that what is at stake in all you do is not your ego, career or reputation but the honor and reputation of God. We are called to a constant humility about ourselves but we are never called to be humble about the One who has called and sent us.
Ministry involves travail and suffering. There will be times when you find yourself pressed to the limit and wondering how you got into this mess and even wondering if you are really doing any good. Sometimes you will wonder if you are going to make it with your sanity intact. These are what we might call "Jeremiah moments" and I have no doubt that you know exactly what this means because you know Jeremiah. In such moments, God's word to Jeremiah will become important to you: "Do not be dismayed...behold, I make you this day a fortified city, an iron pillar, and bronze walls, against the whole land, against the kings of Judah, its officials, its priests, and the people of the land" (1:18).
Always remember Paul's heavily theological question about his own apostolic ministry in 2 Corinthians 2:16: "Who is sufficient for these things?" The answer, of course, is "none of us". The fact that none of us is sufficient to serve God properly apparently does not bother God overly much and so it should not bother us overly much either. Moses offered a whole list of excuses for why he was inadequate and God did not listen to him; God is still not listening to people with excuses today. As a matter of theological fact, there is something significant about our weakness: "But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us" (2 Corinthians 4:7). In short, your calling, Kevin, constitutes a promise: God has called you and will sustain you in this calling.
(2) Church: It is impossible to understand what ministry is without understanding what the Church is. Unfortunately, the default position of many American Christians is a profound lack of seriousness about the Church--one which borders on contempt or cynicism. As I read the New Testament, it does not appear to me that Jesus gives us the option of choosing between himself and his Church. This certainly does not mean that the Church is without error, fault or sin; it simply means that we are not free to completely separate Christ from his people--he does not wish to be so separated.
Ephesians 5:25-32 seems to make this point in a dramatic way: Christ is related to his Church as a husband is related to his wife. And just so that we don't forget how a husband is related to his wife, Paul quotes Genesis 2:24 in Ephesians 5:31: husband and wife become "one flesh". There are people who don't take the Church seriously (some of these people are bishops and priests) and so turn her into a social club, a political party or a prop for their own ego. There are people who don't take the Church seriously (self-designated "seekers" and skeptics) because they consider themselves too spiritual, too good or too sophisticated to mess with her. Both kinds of people commit blasphemy against the Bride of Christ. To reject the Church is to reject her Lord. To despise the Church is, in Paul's graphic phrase, to crucify Christ all over again (cf. Hebrews 6:6).
The state of the Church is always a cause for scandal--since Good Friday the Church has always been a cause of disappointment. But we need to remember that our faith directs us not to what she is right now but to what Christ has promised she will be: "that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor...that she might be holy and without blemish" (Ephesians 5:26, 27).
People tend to love the Church generally for the wrong reasons--because of sentimental attachments, architecture, self-interest or denominational loyalty. We are called to love the Church for one reason: because Christ loves her.
Kevin, I hope that your ministry will always be sustained by a deep love of the Church because real love for the Church does not blind us to her faults but, rather, allows us to see her for what she truly is and will be when Christ perfects her.
(3) Connection: One of the things the lives of the saints remind us of is that Christ is not simply a figure from the past but is our contemporary. The Jesus who sat at table with his disciples in the Upper Room also comes to join us as we gather to celebrate the Eucharist. It is not we who discover Jesus through historical research but it is Christ who discovers us in our present--being eternal and by virtue of his ascension, all times are part of his present.
In John 15:1-17 Jesus uses an organic metaphor to describe his relationship to us: "I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing (John 15:5).
Notice that this metaphor emphasizes two things. First, the metaphor emphasizes the organic, living connection between Christ and his people. Apart from a living connection to Christ we are lifeless and fruitless branches--we are capable of nothing. Jesus must be our contemporary because we can not live without him. Second, the metaphor emphasizes the organic connection among Christ's people, the branches of the vine. The Church is truly a fruitful vine when she lives in intimate communion with Christ and when her members live in intimate communion with each other through him.
One thing that this text suggests is the centrality of eucharistic fellowship. The Eucharist is a central way in which Christ knits us together both with himself and with each other. To take this seriously, is to recognize that what holds the Church together is not friendliness, like-mindedness or even our attractive personalities. What holds the Church together, when she is really the Church, is Christ's act of granting us communion with himself and, therefore, his act of granting us communion with each other.
It is important to remember that this communion is given for the sake of mission: "If you abide in me, and my words abide in you...you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples" (John 15:7, 8).
Kevin, you will discover that the Eucharist can be two very different things in a congregation: it can be a largely fruitless routine or a life-giving connection with the risen Christ and his work. The difference between the two is largely due to the willingness of those who receive the sacrament to allow Christ to transform them. Our lives are truly "eucharisticized" when we can say with Paul "I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me" (cf. Galatians 2:20).
The Eucharist is a tremendous source of energy for ministry. Not only does Christ promise to feed us with this sacrament, he gives us this sacrament as a sign of his living presence among us. As St. Thomas Aquinas says, the whole of our salvation is shown forth in this sacrament. In this sense, the Eucharist is to the New Covenant what the Tabernacle and the manna were to the Old Covenant. As we gather at the altar, the Eucharist is our Tabernacle reminding us that the risen Christ travels with us on our journey and our manna which sustains us until we arrive at our destination. The last verse of the book of Exodus foreshadows well what the Eucharist is to the New Covenant: "For the cloud of the Lord was on the tabernacle by day, and fire was in it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel throughout all their journeys" (Exodus 40:38). Throughout all their journeys.
All this is a complex way of making a simple point: The great secret of the Church, the great secret of all faithful ministry is a hope which is wider than the world; wider because it comes from beyond the world. We are sustained by the hope that in Christ's death, resurrection and ascension God has already triumphed over the world, the flesh and devil. The tremendous burden of redeeming the world and redeeming ourselves does not fall on our shoulders. The burden of redeeming the world and of redeeming our lives has been shouldered by God himself, the God who always keeps his promises, the God who does not lie and who will indeed bring his work to a glorious conclusion: "And he who was seated on the throne said, 'Behold, I am making all things new.' And he said, "Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.' And he said to me, 'It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End'" (Revelation 21:5,6).

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