Thursday, April 17, 2014

Holy Thursday 2014: The “Gift of Self” at Its Theological Root

Christ feeds us in order to do what we have to do: to put Christ at the summit of all human activities. The chicks of penguins drink the blood of the mother who wounds herself in the breast to give them growth and strength. Christ gives us His flesh and Blood so that we can make Him present at the summit of the secular by becoming Him.

                St. Josemaria Escriva gave a meditation in 1964 in which he said: “Each of us, my daughters and sons, forming part of civil society and the society of the Church, has to do Opus Dei, which is God’s work, by being Opus Dei ourselves: by identifying ourselves with Jesus Christ. And I would go so far as to say that it was partly with that work of ours in mind that our Lord chose to remain in the Eucharist: so as to strengthen us in our struggle, to nourish us (anyone who works has to eat to replace the energy they use up), to set us on fire with his Love and make us into apostles: to divinize us!” [emphasis mine].

                The energy that has to be expended is nothing less than the gift of self, and this in a cultural environment that is endemically turned back into self. Gift of self is a divine dynamic that has its source in the Trinitarian Relations that are Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and immanent in the created order only by the Incarnation of God Himself.  As such it transcends the created and fallen human condition and can be effected only with the instigation and power of the Incarnate God and the divine Life that He gives us in the sacraments of Baptism and the Eucharist.

                This self-gift is priestly and is a revolution from the mechanical Levitical priesthood of mediation of standing between divided parts. Scott Hahn explains “that the writer of Hebrews is suggesting …that [1]Jesus Christ, God’s Son, is righteous enough to restore the original pattern of the father-son family priesthood (of Melchizedek)… The writer goes on to make a big, sharp contrast between the Levitical priests who continue to offer these animals in sacrifice. They had to offer. They had to kill. They had to sacrifice millions of sheep, millions of goats and millions of cattle with millions of gallons of blood running down through the temple. Why? It was all after and because of the Golden Calf, whereas before all of that, you had a father and a son and a clean priesthood that Melchizedek represents. ‘After the manner of Melchizedek’ suggests that Melchizedek’s manner of priestly sacrifice was bread and wine…”

                That is, God removed the priesthood from the Fathers of families and their first born sons because of the sin of worshiping the Golden Calf. So for the sake of re-establishing worship of the one, true God of Revelation, the Levites were given the priestly task of killing the animals as the concretion of their non-divinity. But now with Christ as priest, He entered once for all through the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made by hands (that is, not of this creation) nor again by virtue of blood of goats and calves, but by virtue of his own blood, into the Holies, having obtained eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls and the sprinkled ashes of a heifer sanctify the unclean unto the cleansing of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the Holy Spirit offered himself unblemished unto God cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? (Heb. 9, 12-14).

                The priesthood of Christ involves the offering of His own Flesh and Blood. This is prepared by the previous text: Heb. 8, 3-4: “for every high priest is appointed to offer gifts and sacrifices; therefore it is necessary that this one also should have something to offer.”

But What is it That Christ Has to Offer?

                Comment of Hahn: “I read that a hundred times before the obvious meaning hit me like a brick in the face. He is a priest in heaven ministering now in the sanctuary and he’s got something to offer and he’s continually offering it. He’s just not bleeding and dying and suffering any more. He’s not killing any more animals, but he’s continually offering the once and for all sacrifice which is himself; but it’s a continual sacrifice. It’s a perpetual offering. He’s not dying, but he’s still offering. That’s exactly what the Catholic Church teaches about the Mass.”
            It reads so simply: “himself.” But that is the revolution of the Second Vatican Council and the inspiration of Opus Dei.  It is the “quid divinum” that Escriva spoke of in his “Passionately Loving the World,”[2] about which Blessed Alvaro del Portillo wrote: “This doctrine is so transcendental that the Church has wanted to proclaim it solemnly in the last Council and to make it into [and now quoting Paul VI] ‘the most characteristic feature and the ultimate purpose of all the conciliar teaching.’”[3]

            The “gift of self” is the new/old meaning of priesthood, transcending the Levitical priesthood, returning to the priesthood of the sons of the fathers of families, yet transcending this yet again as God Himself living out His Trinitarian Self-Transcendence in the flesh as Gift of Self in the flesh even unto death. This has become formulated in the Christian anthropology of Gaudium et Spes 24: Man, the only earthly being God has willed for itself, finds himself by the sincere gift of himself.

            So, the divine Person, living out Who He is as pure Relation and Gift to the Father, wills (with His human will) to give Himself to death in obedience to the Father. He now creates the new meaning of priesthood as mediation between Himself and the Father. Or, as St. Josemaria Escriva says it: He (and we, baptized into Him and empowered to do what He has done) has subdued His human will, contaminated with all the sin of all men of all time (2 Cor. 5, 21), turns that will, that is self-referencing, into self-gift. This priestly action of mastering and giving self is what theology understands to be the very divinization of human nature in Christ, and the divinization of every man baptized and destined to be baptized in Him.

            It is also the meaning of the theology of the common priesthood[4] together with asceticism of the “priestly soul” that every baptized person – male and female - has in virtue of Baptism.  It is one with what Escriva called “lay mentality” which is the self-mastery that is the freedom of self-determination that is the intermediate step to making the gift of becoming truly free by becoming “priest of one’s own

[1] Scott Hahn, “The Eucharist as the Meal of Melchizedek” a talk.
[2] October 8, 1967.
[3] Paul VI, Motu proprio ‘Sanctitas clarior,’ 19 March 1969, AAS 61 (1961), p. 150.
[4] Lumen Gentium #10.

No comments: