Friday, November 16, 2012

The Lord: Chapter 73, “The Eternal High Priest”

Dear friend, *

Sacrifice. The blood of a lamb smeared on a lintel. The remains of a sacrificial victim carried into the holy of holies. Killing a living being to give its blood to God? The modern mind—vegan or not—rebels at the idea.

I understand sacrifice as giving up to get better. Avoid sweets for a better body. Play fewer video games to have more study time, for better grades. But give up life for God? Not me, not today.

And yet sacrifice is at the foundation of Christianity! It is all but the theme of the Old Testament. Cain and Abel, Noah, Abraham, Moses—they were all involved in sacrifice. And not just the Old Testament. Jesus is “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” The defining moment of Christianity, honored over altars everywhere, is a human sacrifice, the Crucifixion.

“The whole sense of sacrifice,” writes Romano Guardini, “has become blurred and remote. Both religious-philosophical thought and our own personal feelings tend to regard it as something belonging to a primitive, still imperfect stage of religious development long since replaced by a purer attitude towards our Creator. We are inclined to consider sacrifice unspiritual, if not downright questionable.”

What is the place of sacrifice in our faith? And how is Jesus “the eternal high priest,” offering holy sacrifice for all humanity for all time?

Here are some of Guardini’s points:
  • Sacrifice is “man’s offering of something which belongs to him, something precious and without flaw. This he gives away; gives to God, to keep.”
  • Why would God, who has everything, want this? “The act of sacrfice is a concrete expression of man’s recognized insignificance and his will to renunciation before the all-creative, omnipotent God who is the beginning and end of all things. It is a statement of who God is.”
  • But sacrifice is more: “In its deepest sense, to sacrifice means to enter into the life of God by renouncing the life of the world.”
  • “The sacrifices of the Old Testament prepare for the one infinite sacrifice of ultimate validity for the whole world—that of the Savior.”
I go to Mass this morning with this chapter in mind. While the “sacrifice of the Mass” is still obscure to me—the meaning, the reality of bread and wine, offered to God, becoming the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ—this reading helps. Like so much else in Guardini’s great book, it inches me toward a closer understanding of and deeper love for Jesus.

That has made it worth reading, and these personal, amateur commentaries worth writing.

Best always,
WB

* This post continues a series of commentaries on The Lord by Romano Guardini, framed as open letters to a very real and living friend from schoolboy days.

This series of posts continues here with chapter 74

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