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Remember me, O Lord, when You Shall come into Your Kingdom (Conclusion)

June 24, 2009

Part 1

Like the thief I confess to You:
Remember me, O Lord, when You shall come into Your kingdom.
Remember me, O Master, when You shall come into Your kingdom.
Remember me, O Holy One, when You shall come into Your kingdom.

After rejecting the way of the bad thief (Judas), we turn to the one who, by Christ’s side, proclaimed Christ and asked to be remembered by him in his eternal kingdom: St Dismas, the good thief.[1] Through Adam, we have all taken that which was not ours by right (the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil).[2] By nature, we are good; by our common sin, we are thieves. Through Dismas, we are all placed by Christ’s side, and petition Christ to remember us. That is, we are asking Christ, who we now recognize as the Son of the Living God, to keep us and preserve us in eternity, for that is what being remembered in his kingdom entails.[3]

In this way we turn once again and petition Christ, so that we do not unworthily take of his many gifts. May the partaking of Your holy mysteries, O Lord, be not for my judgment or condemnation, but for the healing of soul and body. We move from one mystery at the beginning of our prayer to the many Jesus offers us. What are we to make of this? That “one mystery,” the eucharist, serves as the foundation and building block of the Church, and so, in this way is said to be the source of all the mysteries, all the sacraments. Through the eucharist, we have Christ and all that Christ would like us to have.[4] In the eucharist we mysteriously find the potential of all the sacraments, in the eucharist, they find their fulfillment, but we must activate them in their proper sacramental celebration to receive what we possess in potentiality. This means that the eucharist is the sacrament of sacraments (or, as we said above, the mystery of mysteries). If we neglect it, the rest of the sacraments will be affected, for without Christ, the rest of the sacraments will be ineffective.[5] And it is in this way we partake of Christ’s mysteries for the healing of soul and body. If we have already acknowledged our sins, our deficiencies before Christ, our need for him for our salvation, we now partake of him for our salvation – for the integral restoration of our whole person in eternity. Through Christ, we can be made whole. But if we have not truly opened ourselves to Christ, if we have not confessed our sins, if we have not shown our need for salvation, how can we be healed? We need Christ. Sin destroys the soul, and a wounded soul destroys the body – the tyranny of death is, after all, the consequence of sin. In the eschaton, the saved are healed, their bodies are restored, now transformed in the resurrection of the dead, so that they no longer will be able to suffer or be destroyed.[6] But, this transformation is based upon Christ, based upon our communion with Christ, which saves us completely, soul and body.[7] If we receive Christ worthily, it is for our salvation, but if we receive with an egotistical spirit, seeking to preserve the individualistic self, it will be for our condemnation and destruction. “And I tell you, Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For every one who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened” (Luke 11:9 – 10). In the judgment of Christ, he will give that which we have asked for – hell is but the granting of the ego the power to be what it would like in all eternity, to its detriment.

O Lord, I also believe and profess that this, which I am about to receive, is truly Your most precious body, and Your life-giving blood, which, I pray make me worthy to receive for the remission of all my sins and for life everlasting. We proclaim our faith in what we are about to receive; despite the fact that it appears to be mere bread and wine, we are about to receive Christ himself. There is some value to this. We see Christ as food. We take him in as we take in food. We receive him as we receive food. That is, he becomes a part of us, just like food.[8] And if he becomes a part of us, then we find ourselves becoming a part of the body of Christ. He has given his body to us so that we can become one with it. We are cleansed from all sin by the blood of Christ, because the blood of Christ comes into us. The signs of bread and wine reveal how normative Christ is for us – there is nothing more natural or simpler than bread. There is nothing which is so universally known as giving us joy as wine.[9] But of course, the mystery of faith relies upon the fact that Christ comes to us in a form which appears to be mere bread and wine, which is why we must declare, in full faith, what we know to be true, thanks to the work of the Spirit of God (the Holy Spirit). Conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit, Christ now comes to us with his precious body and life-giving blood of Christ by the continuing activity of that same Spirit.[10]

But wait, here we are praying that we be made worthy for this reception of Christ, and yet it is by our communion that we find the remission of our sins so that we might have eternal life. There is something quite paradoxical to this. How can we be made worthy, if we have not yet had our sins cleansed by the partaking of communion? Obviously, the answer lies in the eschatological status of the liturgy, where we participate in the eschaton and receive a share of its eternal glory. Since we are taking something from eternity, what we experience lies outside of the temporal causality with its normal understanding of cause and effect. We are to say yes to Christ, and accept his grace, even as the Theotokos said yes to the work of God and through her yes, her whole life was graced by Christ.[11] We must always do our part, to say yes to Christ, and no to ourselves, if we want the remission of our sins, but this, it turns out, is only possible because in eternity we have received from the banquet of life and have become one with Christ. It is in and through faith, in its proper understanding, that we can be made whole by grace. In saying this, we must not confuse faith with “mere belief.” Faith must be understood under it original sense, that of fidelity, and here, fidelity to Christ. When we come to God with love, we come to God as prodigals; in humility and love we promise our devotion to him and plead for help to overcome our sins. Moved with compassion, God welcomes us and gives us the eucharistic banquet in return. It is a celebration which is open to all. The question is (and on this side of eternity must always be), who is at this feast? Only Christ knows. It is enough for us to realize we have sinned, and Christ is willing to cleanse us of that sin through his very self. By partaking of Christ, we become worthy of that which we have received, not because it is something we have done, rather, it is by what we have become: one with Christ. In Christ, through Christ, and with Christ – there, and there alone is the answer to our paradox.

And so let it be, O Lord. Amen.

Footnotes

[1] Tradition understands him to be a thief, perhaps even of a family of thieves, even if some modern scholarship suggests he might have really been something entirely different –a terrorist. That is, some suggest he was actively working against Rome, fighting its authority in ways which we would now deem to be acts of terrorism. Perhaps this is so, but we recognize his actions were wrong and his canonization has nothing to do with them. The authority of Rome was confirmed by Christ and his Apostles. Acting against Rome, trying to wrestle Israel from its grasp, was an act of theft, and so St Dismas was rightfully be looked upon as a thief.

[2]The original sin committed by Adam is the personal sin of everyone, actively committed by them – peccatum actuale,” Sergius Bulgakov, The Burning Bush. Trans. Thomas Allan Smith (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2008), 20. Sergius Bulgakov reminds us of the unique position of Adam before the fall: the individualism and individuality which see today separating people from each other did not exist. In Adam, before the fall, the whole of the human race finds itself as one; therefore in Adam all humanity has chosen to sin and equally shares in the consequences of the fall. Thus, as he further explains, “Individuality in our current sense is a fruit of the fall, something that ought not to be. It is distinct from hypostasis, which is a center of love, and intelligent ray of Sophia; her property, and the property of chastity, wisdom, wholeness, is that all these her rays are of equal worth and of equal strength, all points are equally central.  From here we arrive at the paradoxical conclusion that Adam’s own individuality has no specific significance, for it was his position as primordial that was decisive here, and in relation to this primordial purity and chastity none of the descendants of Adam, place in his position, would be distinguished from him at all, each one would be Adam. In this sense Adam was the authentic all-human, the real representative of the whole human race,” ibid., 23. Each one of us sinned in and with Adam, and took with Adam (because there was no separation of Adam from us) the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. We all became thieves taking that which had not been given to us; the first sin can therefore be that of theft, generated by greed and envy, and all other sins, in their own way, finds themselves rooted in this original theft.

[3]The memory of the righteous is a blessing, but the name of the wicked will rot” (Prov 10:7). Our memory is imperfect. While we experience the presence of others in our act of remembrance, it does not preserve them, nor does it bring them back from death. But, in Jesus, that which is imperfect is perfected; he can perfectly remember us, bestowing upon us the blessing of eternal life. We want to be recorded in the Book of Life (cf. Rev 3:5; 20:12; 21:27); but, we must be warned, that in and through sin, we might find our name forgotten and our eternal existence brought into question: “Whoever has sinned against me, him will I blot out of my book” (Ex 32:33).

[4] Zizioulas, for example, sees the ministry of priests established in the eucharist, for there is no ministry in the Church apart form the work of Jesus. “There is no ministry in the Church other than Christ’s ministry. This assertion, which seems to go back to the New Testament Church, is understood by the Fathers so realistically that not only the dilemma of choosing being an opus operantis and an ex opera operato is avoided by also any other question implying a distance between the Church’s and Christ’s ministry becomes irrelevant and misleading,” John Zisioulas, Being as Communion (Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1985; repr. 2000), 210. Everything is united to communion, and it is what establishes and builds the Church. Baptism, chrismation (confirmation), penance, orders, marriage, healing of the sick (extreme unction), all find themselves and their being as constituted by the eucharist. The East recognizes this by fact that baptism, confirmation and first communion, all three are given at once to our infants, showing how the sacraments, including those of initiation, are not to be independent of the eucharist, for they all direct us to it, and they all work to unite us to the body of Christ.

[5] It was not without reason that Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you” (John  6:53).

[6] They are, in a word, deified. This is the meaning of the often quoted phrase of St Athanasius, “God became man so that man can become God.” God is undefiled, incorruptible, and immortal; we must share in the divine life with our whole person if we want to experience this for ourselves in the joy of eternal life. What God is by nature we must become by grace.

[7]But vain in every respect are they who despise the entire dispensation of God, and disallow the salvation of the flesh, and treat with contempt its regeneration, maintaining that it is not capable of incorruption. But if this indeed do not attain salvation, then neither did the Lord redeem us with His blood, nor is the cup of the Eucharist the communion of His blood, nor the bread which we break the communion of His body. For blood can only come from veins and flesh, and whatsoever else makes up the substance of man, such as the Word of God was actually made. By His own blood he redeemed us, as also His apostle declares, In whom we have redemption through His blood, even the remission of sins.  And as we are His members, we are also nourished by means of the creation (and He Himself grants the creation to us, for He causes His sun to rise, and sends rain when He wills). He has acknowledged the cup (which is a part of the creation) as His own blood, from which He bedews our blood; and the bread (also a part of the creation) He has established as His own body, from which He gives increase to our bodies,” St Irenaeus, Against Heresies in ANF(1), 528 (book V, c2).

[8]But the body and blood of Christ are given to us, first of all, as divine food at the Last Supper, as the bread from heaven and the cup of life. And the whole doctrine of the Eucharist must flow from this its purpose, instituted by the Lord. The Lord’s promise refers not to a revocation of the force of the Ascension by a new descent to the earth, even if a sacramental one, but to the offering of divine food, which is the body and blood of the Lord,” Sergius Bulgakov, The Holy Grail & The Eucharist. trans. Boris Jakim (Hudson, NY: Lindisfarne Books, 1997), 84.  We truly become what we eat, and so, we join in the body of Christ because we are given it as our one and true food. It accomplishes what food is meant to accomplish: it gives us life, but unlike normal food, the effect is not temporary. It is eternal. Thus, Bulgakov explains what happens with any other kind of food and why the eucharist accomplishes that which food in general only points to: “Life, as metabolism occurring in connection with eating, is a continuous transmutation of matter of the world into the human body and blood, a transmutation that has its basis in a divine institution (Genesis 1:29 -30). In itself, this food sustains mortal life, but it does not assure immortality, for which God planted the tree of life – in all its mysterious significance. In the church, food exists as ‘the bread of heaven’, to pharmakon tes athanasias, the Divine Eucharst,” ibid., 87.

[9] “Thou dost cause the grass to grow for the cattle, and plants for man to cultivate, that he may bring forth food from the earth, and wine to gladden the heart of man, oil to make his face shine, and bread to strengthen man’s heart” (Ps104:14-15).

[10]And through the invocation the overshadowing power of the Holy Ghost becomes a rainfall for this new cultivation. For, just as all things whatsoever God made He made by the operation of the Holy Ghost, so also it is by the operation of the Spirit that these things are done which surpass nature and cannot be discerned except by faith alone,” St John of Damascus, On the Orthodox Faith in Writings, trans. Frederic H. Chase, Jr. (New York: Fathers of the Church, Inc., 1958), 357 (IV-13).

[11] One way we can be made worthy is through the grace of confession; we turn to Christ and plead to him for the forgiveness of sins, and we find he is loving and merciful and grants us the forgiveness we seek. However, we can say confession finds itself fulfilled in communion, just as baptism is fulfilled in chrismation (confirmation). Communion consummates the grace given in confession, and brings it into eternity. All sacraments must, in one sense, be seen as one, each representing an aspect of the great Mystery of Salvation. See Sergius Bulgakov, The Orthodox Church. trans. Lydia Kesish (Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1988), 110 – 115.

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5 Comments
  1. Mark DeFrancisis permalink
    June 24, 2009 10:49 am

    Nice post and series, Henry.

    We need more spiritual writing of this depth on the Catholic blogosphere, as we cannot ‘politick’ anyone to a deeper life in God’s love…

    • June 24, 2009 11:34 am

      Mark

      Thanks. Yes, politics, while important (if done right), nonetheless should reside on the greater philosophical and theological principles which we Christians affirm. I fear so much is put forward in politics to the detriment of our Catholic sensibility. It becomes a fight for “what I want” instead of a discussion of “what comes from my faith.” It’s for this reason I especially thought this prayer is important: it reminds us who we are, and what the attitude we should have of ourselves and sin. If we keep this in mind (and I fail as the next person) it will help us engage others on all issues.

  2. June 24, 2009 12:19 pm

    I have enjoyed this series very much, Henry. Thank you.

  3. June 26, 2009 9:35 pm

    Nice reflections Henry. thanks!

  4. Henry Karlson permalink
    June 27, 2009 7:42 am

    AB

    Glad you enjoyed them, too.

    Liturgical reflections should, imo, be more active among Christians. So much we can get out of it.

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