Today’s second installment of the four-part series on Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger’s Eucharistic homilies comes from one given on the 22nd Sunday of Ordinary Time in 1979. For context, the first reading on that Sunday was from Deuteronomy. It recounts Moses speaking to the Israelites about the goodness of God, who provided the people with a law that allowed them to know His will. In return for their obedience to His law, God promises blessings on His people.
Ratzinger begins His homily by quoting a line from the first reading: “What great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the Lord our God is to us, whenever we call upon him?” (Deut 4:7). He says that this statement is an expression of joy and gratitude because God had made Himself so available to the Israelites and present amongst them in His law. Now, if the Israelites have this much joy and gratitude for God’s presence in the law, Ratzinger asks how much more joy and gratitude ought we to have because we have God present with us in the Eucharist. With the Eucharist comes a new depth to the presence of God as He truly and physically dwells with us and makes His flesh available to us, which we can experience with our physical senses. We can see Him, touch Him, and taste Him in a way that was not available to the people of the Old Testament.
Ratzinger tells us that God dwells so closely with us that we never have to go very far to find Him. At any and every given moment, He is waiting for us to come to Him in the Blessed Sacrament, which is nearly always available to us. A Catholic church is distinguished from all other churches by the continual presence of God in the flesh, dwelling within the tabernacle. This is where He abides and waits for our attention. A Catholic church is therefore a place of continual worship because of His presence, while other, non-Catholic, church buildings relegate worship to specific days and times for focused praise, leaving the building empty at other times. Ratzinger says that not only is Jesus always waiting for us, He is actually offering each of us a personal invitation to be with Him at all times:
Let us take time, in the course of the week, in passing to go in and spend a moment with the Lord who is so near. During the day our churches should not be allowed to be dead houses, standing empty and seemingly useless.
What if each of us took the Cardinal (and eventual Pope) up on his challenge to accept Jesus’ invitation by paying Him an extra visit during the week? It can even be for just a moment to express gratitude for the gift of His presence. If a church has an adoration chapel, it is an extraordinary gift, but even without one, Jesus is still present in the tabernacle of the Church and always available for a visit.
Ratzinger goes on to discuss the importance of keeping Sunday as the Lord’s Day. He reminds us that this is not a duty imposed upon us by outside forces, but rather, it is a privilege for us. God’s command to keep holy the Sabbath is an invitation for us to spend a day of fellowship with Him in the Paschal Mystery in a way that is not available to those who do not believe in the Eucharist. In the Old Testament, the people found joy in being in the presence of God and partaking in His special weekly day. How much more joy ought we to have to be able to be with Jesus in the flesh? Ratzinger says:
And indeed the Sunday fellowship with the Lord is not a burden, but a grace, a gift, which lights up the whole week, and we would be cheating ourselves if we withdrew from it.
If we shift our disposition to consider our Sunday Mass attendance as a gift, instead of just an obligation or even a burden, what might each of us change to better embrace this personal weekly invitation and better engage with what Sunday has to offer? Can we not improve our timeliness, our attire, our attention, our reverence, or our rest as a sign of thanksgiving for the heavenly banquet to which we are personally invited each and every week?
The third and final point in Ratzinger’s homily is that the law of the Old Testament was not abolished, but rather fulfilled by the coming of Jesus Christ. All the original ten commandments remain, but the motivation for our obedience has shifted to a more intimate disposition of the heart. The primary reason for this is that, in Jesus Christ, we experience God as a personal being — one who suffered and died for every one of us — that we might commune with Him on a personal level. In other words, the Word of God and the Law, both expressions of divine love, are now infused with an unparalleled human love. With Jesus, the New Covenant is one of love, and our obedience to the law now springs forth from our love of God and love of neighbor, instead of from obligation. The same flesh that is before us in the Eucharist is the same flesh that was tortured and crucified out of love for us and it moves us to a reciprocal love, albeit inadequate, but analogous. When carried out in love and joy, Ratzinger says, the law is not to be regarded as oppressive, but rather something that sets us free for the truth. Within the Eucharist, there exists a culmination of God’s Word, Law, Flesh, and Love — communicating to us all that He wills for us in His goodness. With the Eucharist, His law changes from an external force to something that “dwells within us.”
Again, the question to ponder is this: If the people of the Old Testament rejoiced in the presence of God through His law, how much more reason do you and I have to rejoice in the presence of God in the Eucharist? How blessed are we that God is so available to us that we can go to Him and be with Him, particularly on Sundays, but really at any given moment? This week, try to carve out some time, even if it’s brief, to stop by a Catholic church and thank God for His presence in both the Eucharist and His law. Let us also thank God for making His will known through His law, which leads to our eternal salvation.
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