“A Eucharist which does not pass over into the concrete practice of love is intrinsically fragmented” (Deus Caritas Est n. 14). This sentence is arguably the most striking and curious statement found in Pope Benedict’s first three encyclicals. How can the Eucharist be “intrinsically fragmented”?
Though initially startling, Pope Benedict’s words express a profound insight into the impact that the celebration and reception of the Eucharist should have upon our daily life. Further, for the thousands of Catholics engaged in pro-life and pro-family work, we are reminded through Pope Benedict’s words that the Eucharist is the source and summit of our public witness to the value of life and family.
Pope Benedict emphasizes in Deus Caritas Est (God is Love) that through worship and reception of the Eucharist we become united with Christ. However, this union with Christ is not merely a private and individualistic union. “Worship pleasing to God,” Pope Benedict notes in Sacramentum Caritatis (The Sacrament of Charity), “can never be a purely private matter…it demands public witness to our faith” (83).
The union with Jesus through reception of His Body and Blood necessarily unites us to “the many” who belong to Him. “Communion,” Pope Benedict writes, “draws me out of myself towards Him, and thus also towards unity with all Christians…in order to continue his work in us and through us” (DCE n. 14). In other words, the God who is Love gives us the Sacrament of Love through which He calls us to love as He has loved through generous gift of self. A fully efficacious Eucharist compels us to live our lives for the sake of others.
Far from a call to some abstract meaningless notion of love, the Eucharist beckons us to a firm and practical commitment here and now to love our neighbor as ourselves. This firm and practical commitment can take many beautiful forms, but as Scripture reminds us, the love of neighbor is especially a call to love the weakest and the most vulnerable in our midst. “As you did it to the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.”
The Eucharistic call to public witness on behalf of neighbor includes, above all else, the protection of innocent human life, the natural family, and the freedom to educate one’s children (SC 83). A public witness to the love and truth of Christ will protect the dignity of every human being. And is there no greater necessity for love than that needed by mothers and babies at risk of abortion, the family being ripped asunder for a politically correct “new normal,” and those who are stripped of their right to live in accord with their faith? Witness to life, family, and religious liberty should, therefore, always be a work rooted in the Sacrament of Love even when we do not see or know the one we serve and protect (SC 88).
Pope Benedict has emphasized that an authentic Catholic witness, rooted in the Eucharist, will boldly and publicly lead the faithful to acts of love that uphold the dignity of the person. “Precisely because of the mystery we celebrate, we must denounce situations contrary to human dignity, since Christ shed his blood for all, and at the same time affirm the inestimable value of each individual person” (SC 89).
The Sacrament of Love that we celebrate and receive requires that we go out to the world as a sacrament of love to the vulnerable and innocent. One is reminded, here, of Saint Augustine’s maxim, “Become what you receive, and receive what you are.” We must be a Eucharistic people, willing to give witness to God’s own love for his little ones. The Eucharist is the central guiding mystery in our lives – the source and summit of life with Christ and for others. Recognizing that the Eucharist is the source and summit of our lives “will encourage each member of the faithful to make his or her life a true act of spiritual worship” (SC 93).
How is it that the Eucharist can be intrinsically fragmented? When it remains “private” and does not lead to public witness to the God who loves the weak and vulnerable. The Eucharist is to be lived, and must instill and motivate within us a ready witness to life, faith, and family as we seek to build a civilization of love.