Saturday, June 21, 2008

Spiritual Worship and Authentic Adoration

~an excerpt from the address given by Bishop Tagle of the Philippines from Zenit
What a wonderful mystery it is to live by the life of Christ. Jesus' mission is to give his life so that others may live. In John 6:51 he says, "I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh." Jesus the Bread of Life is a gift from the Father. Those who eat this Bread, who receive Jesus into their persons, will have life. He will lay down his life, so that others "may have life and have it abundantly" (Jn.10:10).

Every Eucharist proclaims, "God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him may not perish but may have eternal life" (Jn 3:16). Because the life of Christ is oriented towards others, the Church must share this life with the world. The Life of Christ is his gift to the Church that is meant to be the Church's gift to the world. In the Eucharist we don't only receive the life of Christ. Beholding this most precious gift, we are moved as well to worship and adore the Triune God.

The Eucharist does not fail to evoke from grateful hearts the worship and adoration that God deserves. But as we worship and adore we realize that it is Jesus who guides us on the way of true worship and adoration. We will dwell on these two elements of living the Eucharist: spiritual worship and authentic adoration. But first let us describe the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

The Sacrifice of Jesus Christ

The Catholic Tradition refers to the Eucharist as the sacrament of Jesus' sacrifice. In the Judaic Tradition, the offering of ritual sacrifices occupied a central place in the worship of God's people. Was the sacrifice of Jesus no different from other Temple sacrifices like the pouring of the blood of animals and the burning of offerings? What made up the sacrificial worship of Jesus? It is time to consider the unique worship of Jesus contained in His unique sacrifice.

For this we turn to the letter to the Hebrews. In Hebrews 7:27 it is stated, "Unlike the other high priests, he has no need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for those of the people; this he did once for all when he offered himself." He offered himself! "He entered once for all into the Holy Place, not with the blood of goats and calves, but with his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption" (Heb 9:12). Jesus offered his blood, his very life and not any animal substitute.

The letter further says, "It is by God's will that we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all" (Heb 10:10). The sacrificial worship of Jesus Christ, therefore, consists in the offering of his body, his blood, and his life. The apex of this sacrifice of selfoblation occurs on the Cross and reaches it completion in the Heavenly Sanctuary or in Jesus' glorification. We have gone beyond mere ritual sacrifice to the living sacrifice of self-giving.

Jesus' worship culminates in the surrender of his humanity and its entry into God's presence for the sake of the world. At this point we draw our attention to the question of how the self-offering of Jesus becomes true sacrifice and worship. We know many people who offer themselves to something or someone, such as parents, teachers, public servants, or even hardened criminals. Does every self-offering qualify as a sacrificial worship? So we ask, how does Jesus' offering of his body and blood acquire the quality of genuine sacrifice?

The letter to the Hebrews gives two elements of Jesus' self oblation. First, we hear in Hebrews 5:7-8, "In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered." This is the first aspect that makes his self offering an act of worship, namely his obedience or reverent submission to the Father who willed that people be saved and brought to glory (Heb 2:10). Self-offering motivated by the desire to prove oneself, to achieve success or to promote self-interest falls short of being a moment of worship.

Jesus' sacrifice of his life was not focused on himself or his agenda but rather was a response to the Father who had sent him. The fulfillment of His saving will pleases the Father more than any burnt sacrifices (Heb 8:9). Thus obedience to God makes the gift of self an act of worship. Secondly, his worship includes his solidarity with feeble sinners. In Hebrews 4:15-16 it is stated, "For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace in time of need."

His oneness with weak humanity was essential to his priestly service or worship on behalf of the people. Hebrews 2:17-18 states eloquently, "Therefore he had to become like his brothers and sisters in every respect, so that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested." Here the image of priestly service or worship is applied to the redemptive mission of Jesus.

His embrace of the trials and sufferings of human beings has made him a brother who can now truly intercede for them before the Father's mercy rather than judge them harshly. He worships through supplications to God welling up from his compassion for erring sinners. In other words, Jesus' prayer to the Father gives voice to humankind's laments and hopes that he has made his own. In summary, we can say that the worship of Jesus is the sacrifice of his own life offered to fulfill the Father's will to save sinners, whose weaknesses he shares in order to lift them to the mercy of God as a compassionate High Priest and Brother. Obedience to God and compassionate action on behalf of sinners form one unitary act of worship.

They cannot be separated from each other. Jesus' intercessory life for weak humanity before God is his priestly worship that fulfills God's will. Ultimately, we see in Jesus' worship the embodiment of loving God with one's whole being and loving one's neighbors as oneself. Every time we come to the Eucharist, Jesus renews his unique sacrifice and invites us to share in his worship of self-oblation.
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