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    The Mystery of Sacrifice

    Even in the dark night of personal distance from God and abandonment, the one who is allied with God will stick it out.

    By Edith Stein

    December 26, 2000
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    The following is taken from a talk Edith Stein gave on January 1931 in Ludwigshafen on the Rhine to a local Catholic group.

    Thy will be done,” in its full extent, must be the guideline for the Christian life. It must regulate the day from morning to evening, the course of the year and the entire life. Only then will it be the sole concern of the Christian. All other concerns the Lord takes over. This one alone, however, remains ours as long as we live. Actually, it is a fact that we are not absolutely assured that we will always remain on the pathways of God. Just as the first human beings could fall from being children of God to strangers of God, so each of us hovers constantly on the cutting rim between the void and the fullness of divine life. And, sooner or later, we begin to realize this. In the childhood of the spiritual life, when we have just begun to allow ourselves to be directed by God, we feel his guiding hand quite firmly and surely. But it doesn’t always stay that way. Whoever belongs to Christ must go the whole way with him. We must mature to adulthood; we must one day or other walk the way of the cross to Gethsemane and Golgotha. And all external sufferings are as nothing in comparison with the dark night of the soul, when the divine Light no longer shines and the voice of the Lord no longer speaks. God is there, but he is hidden and silent. Why is that? Those are the divine secrets about which we are speaking, and these cannot be completely penetrated. Nevertheless, we can get a little insight. God became man so that we would once more share in his life. With that it begins, and that is its final goal.

    But in between there is yet something else. Christ is God and man and whoever wants to share his life must participate in his divine and human life. The human nature which he accepted gave him the possibility to suffer and to die. The divine nature that he possessed from all eternity gave value and redemptive power to his sufferings and death, which are continued in his mystical Body and in each one of his members. To suffer and to die is the lot of every human being. But if we are living members of the Body of Christ, then our own suffering and death receive redemptive power through the divinity of the Head. That is the objective reason why all the saints asked for suffering. It was not a morbid desire for suffering. From the viewpoint of human understanding it may even appear to be perversion. Yet in the light of the redemptive mystery it turns out to make the most common sense. Thus, even in the dark night of personal distance from God and abandonment, the one who is allied with God will stick it out firm as a rock. Perhaps divine foresight will take up his torment in order to free him from his personal enslavement. Therefore – “Thy will be done!” – also and even in the darkest night.

    But can we still say “Thy will be done” when we are no longer certain what God’s will would have of us? Do we still have the means to hold to his ways when the inner light dies out? There are such means, indeed such strong means, that it really becomes virtually impossible to deviate on any matter of principle. God came to redeem us, to unite us with himself, with one another, and to conform our will to his. He knows our nature; he takes it into consideration and therefore he has given us everything which can help us to reach our goal.

    The divine Child has become Teacher and has told us what we should do. In order to allow an entire human existence to be pervaded with divine life, it is not enough to kneel down once a year in front of the manger and allow oneself to be taken in by the spell of the Holy Night. One must be actively engaged with God one’s entire life long, listen to the words which he spoke, which have been handed down to us, and then comply with these words. Above all, one must pray as the Savior himself has taught and so insistently emphasized again and again. “Ask and you shall receive.” That is the sure promise of a hearing. And whoever prays from his heart his daily “Lord, thy will be done” may certainly be confident that he has not failed to meet the divine will, even where he is no longer even sure of himself.

    Furthermore, Christ has not left us orphans. He sent his Spirit to teach us all truth; he founded his Church which is led by his Spirit, and has incorporated in her his representatives through whom his Spirit speaks to us in human language. In her he has united the faithful into a community and desires each one to be responsible for the other. Thus we are not alone, and wherever one cannot rely upon one’s own judgment and even upon one’s own prayer, it is there that the power of obedience and the power of intercession helps.

    “And the Word became flesh.” That truth became a reality in the manger at Bethlehem. But it was to be fulfilled in yet another form: “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood, has eternal life.” The Savior, who knows that we are human beings and will remain human beings who have to struggle daily with weaknesses, comes to our assistance in a truly divine manner. Just as the human body is in need of daily bread, so also does the divine life in us require constant nourishment. “This is the living bread which came down from heaven.” Whoever really takes this as daily bread experiences each day the mystery of Christmas, the Word made flesh. And that is doubtless the surest way to maintain constant union with God, to grow each day more firmly and deeply into the mystical Body of Christ. I am well aware that for many that is an all-too-radical request. In a practical sense, it will mean for most – when they first start – a complete change in their external and internal life. But that’s exactly what it is supposed to be! To make room in our life for the eucharistic Lord, so that he can change our life into his, is that asking too much? One has time for so many useless things: all sorts of stupid stuff gathered from books, newspapers, and magazines; sitting around in bars and gabbling on the street for a quarter- or half-hour; all these are diversions which waste time and energy like crumbs. As a challenge to the whole day, should it not be possible to put aside a morning hour in which one is not distracted but recollected, in which energy is not wasted but gained?

    But, of course, this requires more than just one hour. From one such hour to the next, one must so live that it may come again. It is no longer possible to “let yourself go,” even if only for a time. One cannot escape the judgment of those with whom one daily associates. Even if no word is spoken, one senses how the others feel towards you. You may try to adapt yourself to your companions, and if it is not possible, your common life becomes a torture. It’s the same in our daily encounter with the Lord. One becomes more and more sensitive to that which pleases him or not. If, on the whole, one was previously quite satisfied with oneself, it will now take a different turn. You will find much that is bad and will change it as far as you chooses. And you will discover many things you cannot consider well and good, but which are nevertheless hard to change. Then gradually, you become very small and humble: you grow patient and indulgent toward the splinter in strange eyes because the beam in your own is brought into being; and finally, you also learn to be patient with yourself in the inexorable light of the divine presence and to surrender yourself to the divine mercy which can take care of all that ridicules our energy. The road is long from the smugness of a “good Catholic” who “does his duty,” reads a “good newspaper,” “does the right thing,” etc. but on the other hand does what he pleases, to a life in God’s hand, in the simplicity of a child and the meekness of the tax collector. But whoever has once walked it, will not go back again.

     
     
     
     

    Being a child of God implies becoming little and grown-up at the same time. To live in accord with the Eucharist means to let go of one’s own body voluntarily and grow into the broad expanse of life in Christ. Those who seek the Lord within don’t always desire to have their attention upon themselves and their own affairs. They will begin to take an interest in the concerns of the Lord. Participation in the daily Sacrifice automatically draws us into the liturgical life. The prayers and sacred rites of the altar service present the history of salvation to us again and again and allow us an ever-deeper insight into its meaning. The act of Sacrifice constantly impresses upon us the central mystery of our faith, the crucial point of world history, the mystery of the Incarnation and Sacrifice. Who could be present at the Holy Sacrifice with receptive mind and heart without being caught up by the very manner of the Sacrifice, without being taken in by the request that we ourselves and our puny personal lives rise up in the great work of the Redeemer?

    The mysteries of Christianity are an inseparable whole. If one becomes absorbed in one, one is drawn to all the others. Thus the road from Bethlehem leads irresistibly to Golgotha, from the manger to the cross. When the most holy Virgin carried the Child to the temple, she heard the prophecy that a sword would pierce her soul, that this Child was destined for the rise and fall of many as a sign of contradiction. It is the announcement of the passion, of the struggle between light and darkness that was already present at the manger.

    In many years, Candlemas and Septuagesima occur almost simultaneously: the celebration of the Incarnation and the preparation for the Passion. The star of Bethlehem shines forth in the dark night of sin. Upon the radiance that goes forth from the manger, there falls the shadow of the cross. In the dark of Good Friday the light is extinguished, but it rises more brightly as the sun of grace on the morning of the Resurrection. The road of the Incarnate Son of God is through the cross and suffering to the splendor of the Resurrection. To arrive with the Son of Man through suffering and death at this splendor of the Resurrection, is the road for each one of us, for all humankind.


    Edith Stein, The Mystery of Christmas: Incarnation and Humanity (1931), trans. by Sr Josephine Rucker SSJ (1950). Used by permission.

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