Emmitsburg Council of Churches

Love and Sacramental Mysticism

Father John J. Lombardi

Drugs, Crime, Punishment and Addictions: Chemical catastrophe catapults our culture and families to near-cataclysms. We once hired a "drug czar" as a national "watch-dog" and thought, perhaps, we would stem the tide if not lick the problem. Now? : The drug problem is growing worse and will only worsen. As a matter of fact there is a new book out entitled "Generation RX" detailing the mainstreaming of drugs en masse upon much of American culture.

I recently read (New York Times Magazine: 10/30/06) about how an "Anti-Debt Crusader" is helping, in evangelical fashion, Christians to get out of debt and live, well, normal, debt-free lives. Homo consumeris/Man as consumer is what we may now call many Americans.

What do these stories have in common? Eros. This is the Greek word usually meaning inherent drive or desire, and associated often with sexuality and intimacy (though our culture has largely confused these for many) We all have drives and needs, it is part of our DNA, neither right nor wrong-and we will fill these desires in some way-thru drugs or religion, shopping (described by one critic as "retail therapy") or spirituality, or by hobbies or…How do you fulfill the Eros within you?

In a new book called "Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon," Daniel Dennett, skeptically and prejudicially describes how humans try to fulfill an inner need toward something beyond human and thereby "fashion a God" and, eventually religion. It all comes from a nature drive or desire within, Dennett suggests, and not from a supernatural revelation above. This is yet another onslaught against Christianity and, in this case, eros explained away and therefore awry.

In this Sunday's Gospel (Mk 2:18-22) Jesus calls us to offer "new wineskins" for something and SomeOne totally New. Some scholars believe that this particular story is part of a complex of "conflict narratives" between Jesus and the Jewish leaders, to replace the old Law with the New Spirit and Way of Life; therefore, conflict. The Synagogue gives way to the ekklesia-Church and therefore revolutionized the Jewish way of life.

Pope Benedict XVI in his new Encyclical (Letter), entitled "God is Love"-- is offering us new ways and "wineskins"-in classic, timeless wisdom-on how to re-approach Jesus, His Church and Way of Life, and, specifically, how to sublimate and redirect eros (inherent desires for union) into holy ways of living and discipleship. The "old Eros" won't do, won't work-we cannot continue to consume or objectivize persons and expect to be happy or follow the Lord faithfully. We need agape-love, too, which is sacrificial and selfless, other-directed. Thru discipline and passion we need to harmonize agape and eros love to be full human beings imitating Jesus Christ Our Lord.

In the passages below, selections of highlights of the Encyclical, the Pope's words are in quotes and italics, and this Chaplin's comments follow the ellipsis…

"First, eros is somehow rooted in man's very nature; Adam is a seeker, who "abandons his mother and father" in order to find woman; only together do the two represent complete humanity and become "one flesh." The second aspect is equally important. From the standpoint of creation, eros directs man towards marriage, to a bond which is unique and definitive; thus, and only thus, does it fulfill its deepest purpose. Marriage based on exclusive and definitive love becomes the icon of the relationship between God and his people and vice versa. God's way of loving becomes the measure of human love."…In other words, imitate God-tap into His Wisdom and Plan for human beings-- and love! Look: God became Man to make mankind into God-likeness. Jesus Christ had a beloved disciple and also loved the poor and all others, showing us the way of harmonizing eros and agape love. From Heaven we didn't just get a directive or commandment, but we received an example-in-action, the God-Man Jesus Christ showing us mortals how to become God-like. Like the saints, imitate, don't just speculate; don't gawk but walk the walk; don't adulate but participate in God's Loving Design for us to be passionate and sacrificial lovers! Remember: Love is Divine, and Love excels.

"This divine activity now takes on dramatic form when, in Jesus Christ, it is God himself who goes in search of the "stray sheep," a suffering and lost humanity. In this contemplation the Christian discovers the path along which his life and love must move."…We must always remember-it is God Who first came after us-in search of us sinners who seek, implicitly or not, sanctification. While we must do our disciplines and practice virtues, we must also remember to receive His Love-His Grace. It is not either grace or human effort but both God's initiative and personal cooperation with this grace. So: Imitate the Master Jesus Christ. He loved passionately, so should we; He loved sacrificially, so should we. One disciple recently said to this Chaplin: "I want to melt into him-totally become one with Him." Yes. St Thomas Dumb Ox and Angelic Doctors say something likewise-about accepting and receiving God's love, in the language of lover (soul) with the Beloved (God): "The ardent desire felt by the lover for an ever-greater union with the Beloved…The lover is said to be in the beloved…Love transforms the lover into the Beloved; it makes the lover enter into the interior of the beloved, and conversely, nothing of the beloved remains not united to the lover…And, according to this love, love is said to make one in ecstasy and to burn, since that which burns rises (boils over, ebullit) outside itself and exhales…it is necessary that the limit which used to contain it only among its own limits be removed from the lover. And because of this, love is said to melt (liquefacere) the heart…" So: discover the path of contemplation (deeper, God-infused prayer), and melt the hardness of your heart by Divine-cauterizing love.

"Jesus gave this act of oblation an enduring presence through his institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper. The Eucharist draws us into Jesus' act of self-oblation. More than just statically receiving the incarnate Logos, we enter into the very dynamic of his self-giving. The sacramental "mysticism," grounded in God's condescension towards us, operates at a radically different level and lifts us to far greater heights than anything that any human mystical elevation could ever accomplish…" Read this paragraph again and mediate upon it and know why you go to Mass-or, why you should go to Mass! The Mass "draws us into" Christ's act of self giving, His sacrifice. We are pulled and fused into God's Love by the very action of the Eucharist. We need Sacraments, St Thomas Aquinas says, for three reasons: 1) because we humans are made of matter and spirit and so are the Sacraments: in other words we need concrete existential things (bread and wine) to relate us to the purely Spiritual-God. The Sacraments catapult us to the Creator; 2) since we are sinners we need Grace, and God gives us this thru the sacraments-the Sacraments bestow God's Grace-Life unto us. 3) We need to transform our "insides," our mental and spiritual activities and the Sacraments, namely the Eucharist, gradually change these for us. The "Sacramental mysticism" that God initiates and consummates within us is something we cannot do so we should seek Mass and Holy Eucharist frequently, even daily as the Catechism of the Catholic Church suggests.

"If anyone says, 'I love God,' and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen" (1 Jn 4:20)…When we love God all the more we should love our neighbor. The more Mother Seton loved the invisible God the more she loved those around her, whom she could see, especially the poor, sick and dying. Do you?

"In the gradual unfolding of this encounter, it is clearly revealed that love is not merely a sentiment. Sentiments come and go. A sentiment can be a marvelous first spark, but it is not the fullness of love. Earlier we spoke of the process of purification and maturation by which eros comes fully into its own, becomes love in the full meaning of the word. It is characteristic of mature love that it calls into play all man's potentialities; it engages the whole man, so to speak. The love-story between God and man consists in the very fact that this communion of will increases in a communion of thought and sentiment, and thus our will and God's will increasingly coincide: God's will is no longer for me an alien will, something imposed on me from without by the commandments, but it is now my own will, based on the realization that God is in fact more deeply present to me than I am to myself (St Augustine). Then self-abandonment to God increases and God becomes our joy" (cf. Ps 73 [72]: 23-28)…God's Divine Will should become our will, by: reading and studying the Bible; imitating Jesus' Love and actions; emulating and imitating the saints; denying sinful self and affirming our soul's union with God; studying the Catechism for Truths which may seem or be elusive and difficult. The more we do all these the more we will conform to the Divine Will and become, well, Deiform, God-like! This is our Faith! This is the Promise of God, that, once negating the corruption of the world we will "participate in the Divine Nature" (II Pt. 1:4).

Read other reflections by Father John J. Lombardi