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At what price, salvation?

September 20, 2000

Archbishop Charles Chaput's homily at the Votive Mass of the Eucharist at the Eucharistic Congress will run as a series in the Register. The Readings were:
First: Isaiah 50:4c-9a;
Psalm: Psalm 116:1-2,3-4,5-6,8-9;
Second: James 2:14-18;
Gospel: Mark 8:27-35

By Archbishop Charles Chaput

"The Lord God opens my ear that I may hear, and I have not rebelled, have not turned back . . ."

Those are the first words of our first reading from the Prophet Isaiah, and in preparing my thoughts for today, they led me to a story.

In 1936, a young Jewish boy named Aaron found a hiding place in his home where his parents kept a key. It was the key to a locked bookcase near the piano in his living room. And being an avid reader, and because he slept in the living room each night, he began to secretly read the books. His parents were Jewish by birth and proud of their heritage. But they had no particular religious beliefs. For some reason, though, they had a copy of a Christian Bible in their bookcase - and Aaron began to read it.

Many years later, Aaron wrote that:

"What particularly impressed me was that there was a continuity between what is called the `Old Testament' and the New one. From that time on, the reading of the New Testament took a place in my Jewish consciousness. For me, it dealt with the same spiritual subject, the same benediction, the same stakes - the salvation of men, the love of God, the knowledge of God . . .

"[I saw immediately that] Christianity is the fruit of Judaism . . . I believed in Christ, the Messiah of Israel . . . And I knew that Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ of God."

In 1940, against the will of his parents and without any coercion - or even an invitation - from his Christian friends, Aaron presented himself for baptism. And, like Isaiah, he never rebelled and never turned back. He persevered in his love for Jesus Christ despite the Holocaust; despite the anti-Semitism of people who called themselves "Christian" but didn't know the Gospel; and even despite the murder of his own mother at Auschwitz.

The hunger for God he found locked in that bookcase led him from the written word to the Word made flesh; from baptism to seminary to priesthood, and to the miracle of holding the body and blood of the Living God in his hands in the Eucharist - the body of Jesus Christ, which redeems the world and feeds God's people.

Today, more than 60 years after first opening that Bible and hearing the Word of God, and more than 50 years after encountering God's Word incarnate in the Eucharist, that young Jewish boy is Jean-Marie Aaron Lustiger . . . the cardinal archbishop of Paris, and one of the great witnesses of the Catholic faith in our lifetime.

Now, there are two lessons to this story.

First, God's Word has power. It "opens our ears that we may hear." It not only changed Aaron's life, but through him, tens of thousands of others. And there's a reason for that. Christian faith is not a set of ideas or moral principles. It's an encounter with a living person, Jesus Christ, whom we find both in Scripture and the Eucharist.

Jesus Christ lives. Here, today, now. He lives tangibly - flesh and blood - in the Communion we receive. That's why we call Jesus "Emmanuel" - the Hebrew word for "God with us." The Eucharist is more than just a symbol, more than just a community meal, more than just a sign of our unity. It's all of those things, but much more than those things. The Eucharist is not "like" the flesh and blood of God, or a "reminder" of the flesh and blood of God. The Eucharist is the flesh and blood of God.

 

 

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