Friday, February 16, 2007

Vine and Branches; Love and Eucharist

A few weeks ago I read through the Gospel of John, which I chose because of how John referred to himself as "the disciple whom Jesus loved" and, since I think part of the reason he might have done that is because all Christians are disciples loved by Jesus, I was curious how those passages might relate if I put myself in John's shoes. Naturally, as to be expected with reading the Bible, God showed me more and different things than I originally went looking for.

One passage that got I kept pondering was the "I am the vine; you are the branches" narrative. It is symbolic, is it as symbolic as I was taught during my Evangelical days? Branches are physically, organically connected to the vine, so that the same substance which makes the vine a vine and keeps it alive also makes a branch a branch and keeps it alive. The very name Christian suggest this because it comes from the Greek for "little Christ" -- not "like Christ" or "Christ follower" -- but distinct members of Christ Himself. And as members of Christ, just like the branch receives physical nourisment from the vine, we receive from our spiritual vine the physical nourishment of the Eucharist. Of course, it's no magic potion, but when we receive the sacrament of Reconiliation regularly with contrite hearts, we become more open to Him as He nourishes us through Holy Communion. Then we will bear much fruit and anything we ask will be given unto us. And as "little Christs," the only thing our hearts will ultimately desire (above all else) is to bear more fruit for our Father, storing up riches in Heaven.

Furthermore, it sounds cliche, but it wasn't too cliche to become the title of Pope Benedict XVI's first encyclical: God is Love. That's Love with a capital L, the source of all love. Love is a unifying and creative force: just look at the universe, created out of God's Trinitiarian Love, and how the constant laws of physics bind it all together. And since Jesus is God made flesh, then Jesus is, in fact, Love made flesh. What an awesome gift that this abstract idea or principle we simply call "love" was made tangible before our own eyes! How much we struggle to describe what love is, how many wrong places we search for it, and how many poor examples of it we see in the world and in pop culture, while Jesus patiently waits for us to discover that He is Love! Going one more step with this line of logic, God is Love and Jesus is Love made flesh, so that means the Eucharist, being the very substance of Christ's Body and Blood, is also Love made flesh! Just think, every Sunday at Mass we receive a physical remembrance of Love. It may not manifest itself in the lives of the people we see at Mass, but Divine Love does not withdraw itself just because it is rejected. God loves us like a a young couple experiencing a mutual first love: He doesn't hold back His affection for fear of rejection.

Going beyond all the theology and apologetics behind why we Catholics believe in Transubstantiation, I find the reason to be quite simple. Look at how couples separated by war or a job requiring lots of travelling long to be physically together. If this love is merely a reflection of Divine Love, how much more so much God long to be physically united with His beloved? He couldn't stand to give us mere symbols of His Body and Blood; He loves us too much for that!

Taking this train on down the line to the next stop, what is the the parallel to marriage? For one, God designed men and women to a love that reflects the Love of the Trinity. Marital love, in its pure essence, is a powerfully creative and unifying force. There is no room for selfishness where one spouse completely gives themselves to the other, just as there is no room for sin when we completely give ourselves to God. And just as Love is made flesh in Christ, so the love between husband and wife is made flesh in children. And that love is given a name, just like God named our earthly father, Adam, and our spiritual Father, Jesus, the Christ, the Anointed One. When we are seeking a sign of Love, we can look to the Holy Eucharist just like a married couples looks to their children.

All of creation is a reflection of Love, a reflection of its Creator. Adam and Eve were made as the highest order of creation, the ultimate manifestation of Love. This same Love, shared among Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is reflect by each and every human being. In that sense, though we are a fallen and broken race, we are all Love made flesh. Perhaps this is what struck St. Francis when he lept from his horse to embrace that leper. Christ had truly embraced the spiritual ugliness that had crippled him; in return, St. Francis embraced the physical ugliness brought into this world by the same Fall which leaves many physically crippled. That is Love manifest through action and it is why we are given the Eucharist, Love made flesh.

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