[Originally posted on Facebook 28 March 2017.]
Our exchange of words should tend towards prayer: exuberant prayer of laughing gratitude, anguished prayer of need and co-suffering, peaceful prayer of being-with. Communication is a holy thing, a joyous, poignant, resting thing; it is Trinitarian life.
Therefore, communication between humans needs to be a way of giving our very selves over to each other. Human communication must have the weight of our embodiment, for therein is the earnestness of the human person, and so must not be airily abstract or uncommitted or ventriloquized or distracted or dissembled.
So when the Father speaks His Word into flesh through the overshadowing of Mary by the Holy Spirit, He shows us what our words must be: Eucharistic, prayer as flesh and blood.
We communicate in the Eucharist, for by the Body and the Blood, we come to have a common life in divine solidarity.
Yesterday’s matins readings centered on the great liturgical action of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. The increasing proximity of God and man and of humans to each other is what the Sinai theophany injects into history, prolonged in the Ark of the Covenant and the formation of a people around the tent of meeting.
We read in Leviticus how Aaron can only enter into the Presence above the Ark with the blood of sacrificial animals. Now, when we get blood on our clothes, we work hard to get the stain out. But in a liturgical context, blood purifies.
Why? Because blood flows from the heart, and it is interiority that must be staked if we are to communicate, that is, if earth is to have a life common enough to rise to heaven. But this only becomes clear when the sacrifice is that of the God-man.
In the second matins reading, Origen explains Leviticus in terms of its fulfillment in Jesus: “God’s word tells us: ‘…The high priest shall take some of the blood of the bull-calf and sprinkle it with his finger over the mercy-seat towards the east.’
“God taught the people of the Old Covenant how to celebrate the ritual offered to Him in atonement for the sins of men. But you have come to Christ, the true high priest. Through His blood, He has made God turn to you in mercy and has reconciled you with the Father.” [I pause here to note that Jesus’ “turning” God cannot be understood as a matter of changing His Father’s mind. It is the Father’s plan, after all, to send His Son as a sacrifice to save humanity. It’s the Father’s mercy that drives the whole story. No, the blood of Jesus “turns” God to us in mercy in the sense that God contains within Himself the whole objective order of right and wrong and, more importantly, is zealous for the vindication of the victims of sin.]
“You must not think simply of ordinary blood, but you must learn to recognize instead the blood of the Word.”
The blood of the Word.
Unless our words come from our hearts’ blood, there can be no at-one-ment: atonement is simply reconciliation, the fullness of communication, the living out of romance and solidarity—vertically, as the body of humanity is drawn into the Trinitarian life; horizontally, as from the intensity of our truest intimacies we include more and more fellow humans within our open hearts.
The problem is that, too often, our words mean too little. We don’t want to bleed in them. But without blood, there can be no at-one-ment, no communication of heart to heart.
In the chapter of Heart of the World appropriately given the title “The Putting-Off Game,” Balthasar describes how little we stake in life and how little we want to be called on by Jesus to participate in the central mystery of salvation: vicarious suffering, which is the truth of solidarity.
The bourgeoisification of Christianity is the evisceration of solidarity from the core of the Gospel. Without that core, there is no chance we will say Yes when Jesus rings the bell for us to follow Him into the night, into the dark inferno of the Cross.
We would rather be left alone in “…the habit of an innocuous life, the drudgery of ordered existence which requires as its spice a drop of resignation, or the sing-song of a quieted conscience which requires a residue of bad conscience in order to weigh down its keel in the passage through the deep.”
So we tell ourselves, twisting the truth: “God is truly forbearance, God is truly grace. God will not expect from me any more than He expects from others. I am a person who thinks ethically. I have murdered no one, broken into no bank, set no houses on fire, never been convicted before. I am a man like other men, perhaps even a little better than many. …I’ve exerted myself in providing for and rearing my family, as is only right. Day and night I’ve taken care that those I’m responsible for should lack nothing. I’ve washed, cooked, done the shopping, sewn, ironed, made savings, stored supplies, thought of the future. ...I’ve also been a person who’s fulfilled his religious obligations. I am a practicing Christian. …I’ve paid my tithes. I’ve given alms. I’ve always said my morning and evening prayers. I have often been to confession, and they’ve always been valid. I have made the nine First Fridays (which, after all, give me a kind of insurance before God, sanctioned by the Church). I’ve gone to communion every Sunday. I’ve communicated daily.”
Of course, these are all good things. But we often hide behind them because the ever-greater God is going to take any one who will let him or herself be taken and throw that person into the furnace of vicarious suffering.
“‘I have, I have.’ What I’ve done with my religion is raise up walls against God. By my practices I have stopped up my ears to God’s call. Quietly, imperceptibly, everything which could have been life has become a mechanism behind which my soul has laid itself to rest.”
To bleed is repugnant to us, of course. But if we do not bleed, nothing we say, indeed nothing we do, has the savor of prayer, all iron and light. The Word must become flesh in us so we might bleed enough to become a prayer for the healing of the world.