The Lord Is Near Us
in Our Conscience, in His Word,
in His Personal Presence in the Eucharist
A Homily on Deuteronomy 4:7
In today's reading there is a marvelous saying,
in which we can sense all the joy of Israel at its redemption: "What
great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the LORD our God
is to us, whenever we call upon him?" (Deut 4:7).
Saint Thomas Aquinas took up this saying in his reflections for the Feast
of Corpus Christi. In doing so, he showed how we Christians in the
Church of the New Covenant can pronounce these words with yet more reason
and more joy and with thankfulness than Israel could; in doing so, he
showed how this saying, in the Church of Jesus Christ, has acquired a
depth of meaning hitherto unsuspected: God has truly come to dwell among
us in the Eucharist, He became flesh so that he might become bread. He
gave himself to enter into the "fruit of the earth and the work of
human hands"; thus he puts himself in our hands and into our hearts.
God is not the great unknown, whom we can but dimly conceive. We need
not fear, as heathen do, that he might be capricious and bloodthirsty
or too far away and too great to hear men. He is there, and we always
know where we can find him, where he allows himself to be found and is
waiting for us. Today this should once more sink into our hearts: God
is near. God knows us. God is waiting for us in Jesus Christ in the Blessed
Sacrament. Let us not leave him waiting in vain! Let us not, through distraction
and lethargy, pass by the greatest and most important thing life offers
us. We should let ourselves be reminded, by today's reading, of the wonderful
mystery kept close within the walls of our churches. Let us not pass it
heedlessly by. Let us take time, in the course of the week, in passing,
to go in and spend a moment with the Lord who is so near. During the day
our churches should not be allowed to be dead houses, standing empty and
seemingly useless. Jesus Christ's invitation is always being proffered
from them. This sacred proximity to us is always alive in them. It is
always calling us and inviting us in. This is what is lovely about Catholic
churches, that within them there is, as it were, always worship, because
the eucharistic presence of the Lord dwells always within them.
And a second thing: let us never forget that Sunday is the Lord's day.
It is not an arbitrary decision of the Church, requiring us to attend
Mass on Sunday. This is never a duty laid upon us from without; it is
the royal privilege of the Christian to share in paschal fellowship with
the Lord, in the Paschal Mystery. The Lord has made the first day of the
week his own day, on which he comes to us, on which he spreads the table
for us and invites us to share with him. We can see, in the Old Testament
passage at which we are looking, that the Israelites saw in the presence
of God, not a burden, but the basis of their pride and their joy. And
indeed the Sunday fellowship with the Lord is not a burden, but a grace,
a gift, which lights up the whole week, and we would be cheating ourselves
if we withdrew from it.
"What great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the LORD
our God is to us, whenever we call upon him?" This passage from the
Old Testament has found its ultimate depth of meaning in the eucharistic
presence of the Lord. But its earlier meaning is not thereby abolished,
but merely purified and exalted. We must now investigate that, in order
to understand what the Lord is saying to us here. In the chapter of the
book of Deuteronomy from which this passage is taken, the marvelous closeness
of God is seen above all in the law he has given to Israel through Moses.
Through the law he makes himself permanently available, as it were, for
the questions of his people. Through the law he can always be spoken with
by Israel; she can call on him, and he answers. Through the law he offers
Israel the opportunity to build a social and political order that breaks
new ground. Through the law he makes Israel wise and shows her the way
a man should live, so as to live aright. In the law Israel experiences
the close presence of God; he has, as it were, drawn back the veil from
the riddles of human life and replied to the obscure questionings of men
of all ages: Where do we come from? Where are we going? What must we do?
This joy in the law astounds us. We have become used to regarding it as
a burden that oppresses man. At its best periods, Israel saw in the law
in fact something that set them free for the truth, free from the burden
of uncertainty, the gracious gift of the way. And, indeed, we do know
today that man collapses if he has constantly to reinvent himself, if
he has to create anew human existence. For man, the will of God is not
a foreign force of exterior origin, but the actual orientation of his
own being. Thus the revelation of God's will is the revelation of what
our own being truly wishes-it is a gift. So we should learn anew to be
grateful that in the word of God the will of God and the meaning of our
own existence have been communicated to us. God's presence in the word
and his presence in the Eucharist belong together, inseparably. The eucharistic
Lord is himself the living Word. Only if we are living in the sphere of
God's Word can we properly comprehend and properly receive the gift of
Today's Gospel reading  makes us aware, besides this, of a third aspect.
The law became a burden the moment it was no longer being lived out from
within but was broken down into a series of obligations external in their
origin and their nature. Thus the Lord tells us emphatically: The true
law of God is not an external matter. It dwells within us. It is the inner
direction of our lives, which is brought into being and established by
the will of God. It speaks to us in our conscience. The conscience is
the inner aspect of the Lord's presence, which alone can render us capable
of receiving the eucharistic presence. That is why that same book of Deuteronomy,
from which our reading today was taken, says elsewhere: "The word
is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can
do it" (Deut 30:14; cf. Rom io:8). Faith in Christ simply renders
the inmost part of our being, our conscience, once more articulate. The
Holy Father, John Paul II, says on this point: "In a person's obedience
to his conscience hes both the key to his moral stature and the basis
of his 'royal dignity'. . . . Obedience to one's conscience is ... the
Christian's participation in the 'royal priesthood' of Christ. Obedience
to the conscience ... makes 'to serve ... Christ' actually mean 'to reign'."
The Lord is near us in our conscience, in his word, in his personal presence
in the Eucharist: this constitutes the dignity of the Christian and is
the reason for his joy. We rejoice therefore, and this joy is expressed
in praising God. Today we can see how the closeness of the Lord also brings
people together and brings them close to each other: it is because we
have the same Lord Jesus Christ in Munich and in Rome that we form one
single people of God, across all frontiers, united in the call of conscience,
united by the word of God, united through communion with Jesus Christ,
united in the praise of God, who is our joy and our redemption.
 Thomas Aquinas, Officium de festo Corporis Christi, in Sanctae
Thomae Aquinatis, ed. R. Busa, S.J. (Stuttgart and Bad Canstatt,
1980), 6:581 = DSG ps. 3, n. 3; ps. 5, n. 3.
 Gospel for the 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B: Mark 7:1-8, 14-15,
 John Paul II, Zeichen des Widerspruchs: Besinnung auf Christus
(Zurich, 1979), pp. 162f.
Is Near Us: The Eucharist, the Heart of Life
Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger
160 pages. Paperback.
The Second Vatican Council says, We ought to try to discover a new
reverence for the Eucharistic mystery. Something is happening that is
greater than anything we can do. The liturgy is the summit toward which
the activity of the Church is directed; it is the font from which all
her power flows.
This profound statement about the Eucharist stands at the center of this
book by Cardinal Ratzinger. He compellingly shows us the biblical, historical,
and theological dimensions of the Eucharist. The Cardinal draws far-reaching
conclusions, focusing on the importance of one's personal devotion to
and adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, for the personal reception of
Communion by the individual Christian, as well as for the life of the
Church. For Ratzinger, any transformation of the world on the social plane
grows out of the celebration of the Eucharist. He beautifully illustrates
how the omnipotent God comes intimately close to us in the Holy Eucharist,
the Heart of Life.
Not only does the Cardinal shed his
customary theological light on many subjects, but as he does in other
books, he applies his insights very directly to Catholic life and devotion.
Coming at this time, this book is part of the effort of many to see the
Eucharist restored to the center of Catholic piety and devotion.
Fr. Benedict Groeschel, C.F.R., Author, The Rosary: Chain of
Cardinal Ratzinger, the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine
of the Faith, is one of the most renowned Catholic theological and spiritual
writers of our times. His numerous books include God and the World, Salt
of the Earth, and The Spirit of the Liturgy.