In the Heart of the Church
THE EUCHARIST, THE LIFE OF
CHRIST IN OUR LIVES: SPIRITUAL WORSHIP AND AUTHENTIC ADORATION
Bishop Louis Tagle of Imus, Philippines
Address at the 49th International Eucharistic Congress
Quebec City, Canada
June 19, 2008
We have come to the part of the Congress devoted to a reflection on
the Eucharist, the Life of Christ in our Lives. These past days we
have been affirming that the Church lives by the gift of the life of
Christ. This essential part of our faith is experienced in a unique
and special way in the Eucharist where the Church receives again and
again the life of Christ to become its very own life.
What a wonderful mystery it is to live by the life of Christ. Jesus'
mission is to give his life so that others may live. In John 6:51 he
says, "I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever
eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give
for the life of the world is my flesh." Jesus the Bread of Life is a
gift from the Father. Those who eat this Bread, who receive Jesus
into their persons, will have life. He will lay down his life, so
that others "may have life and have it abundantly" (Jn.10:10).
Every Eucharist proclaims, "God so loved the world that He gave His
only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him may not perish but
may have eternal life" (Jn 3:16). Because the life of Christ is
oriented towards others, the Church must share this life with the
world. The Life of Christ is his gift to the Church that is meant to
be the Church's gift to the world. In the Eucharist we don't only
receive the life of Christ. Beholding this most precious gift, we
are moved as well to worship and adore the Triune God.
The Eucharist does not fail to evoke from grateful hearts the
worship and adoration that God deserves. But as we worship and adore
we realize that it is Jesus who guides us on the way of true worship
and adoration. We will dwell on these two elements of living the
Eucharist: spiritual worship and authentic adoration. But first let
us describe the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
The Sacrifice of Jesus Christ
The Catholic Tradition refers to the Eucharist as the sacrament of
Jesus' sacrifice. In the Judaic Tradition, the offering of ritual
sacrifices occupied a central place in the worship of God's people.
Was the sacrifice of Jesus no different from other Temple sacrifices
like the pouring of the blood of animals and the burning of
offerings? What made up the sacrificial worship of Jesus? It is time
to consider the unique worship of Jesus contained in His unique
For this we turn to the letter to the Hebrews. In Hebrews 7:27 it is
stated, "Unlike the other high priests, he has no need to offer
sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for those
of the people; this he did once for all when he offered himself." He
offered himself! "He entered once for all into the Holy Place, not
with the blood of goats and calves, but with his own blood, thus
obtaining eternal redemption" (Heb 9:12). Jesus offered his blood,
his very life and not any animal substitute.
The letter further says, "It is by God's will that we have been
sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for
all" (Heb 10:10). The sacrificial worship of Jesus Christ,
therefore, consists in the offering of his body, his blood, and his
life. The apex of this sacrifice of selfoblation occurs on the Cross
and reaches it completion in the Heavenly Sanctuary or in Jesus'
glorification. We have gone beyond mere ritual sacrifice to the
living sacrifice of self-giving.
Jesus' worship culminates in the surrender of his humanity and its
entry into God's presence for the sake of the world. At this point
we draw our attention to the question of how the self-offering of
Jesus becomes true sacrifice and worship. We know many people who
offer themselves to something or someone, such as parents, teachers,
public servants, or even hardened criminals. Does every
self-offering qualify as a sacrificial worship? So we ask, how does
Jesus' offering of his body and blood acquire the quality of genuine
The letter to the Hebrews gives two elements of Jesus' self
oblation. First, we hear in Hebrews 5:7-8, "In the days of his
flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries
and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he
was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he was a Son,
he learned obedience through what he suffered." This is the first
aspect that makes his self offering an act of worship, namely his
obedience or reverent submission to the Father who willed that
people be saved and brought to glory (Heb 2:10). Self-offering
motivated by the desire to prove oneself, to achieve success or to
promote self-interest falls short of being a moment of worship.
Jesus' sacrifice of his life was not focused on himself or his
agenda but rather was a response to the Father who had sent him. The
fulfillment of His saving will pleases the Father more than any
burnt sacrifices (Heb 8:9). Thus obedience to God makes the gift of
self an act of worship. Secondly, his worship includes his
solidarity with feeble sinners. In Hebrews 4:15-16 it is stated,
"For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with
our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested
as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of
grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace in
time of need."
His oneness with weak humanity was essential to his priestly service
or worship on behalf of the people. Hebrews 2:17-18 states
eloquently, "Therefore he had to become like his brothers and
sisters in every respect, so that he might be a merciful and
faithful high priest in the service of God, to make a sacrifice of
atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself was tested
by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested."
Here the image of priestly service or worship is applied to the
redemptive mission of Jesus.
His embrace of the trials and sufferings of human beings has made
him a brother who can now truly intercede for them before the
Father's mercy rather than judge them harshly. He worships through
supplications to God welling up from his compassion for erring
sinners. In other words, Jesus' prayer to the Father gives voice to
humankind's laments and hopes that he has made his own. In summary,
we can say that the worship of Jesus is the sacrifice of his own
life offered to fulfill the Father's will to save sinners, whose
weaknesses he shares in order to lift them to the mercy of God as a
compassionate High Priest and Brother. Obedience to God and
compassionate action on behalf of sinners form one unitary act of
They cannot be separated from each other. Jesus' intercessory life
for weak humanity before God is his priestly worship that fulfills
God's will. Ultimately, we see in Jesus' worship the embodiment of
loving God with one's whole being and loving one's neighbors as
oneself. Every time we come to the Eucharist, Jesus renews his
unique sacrifice and invites us to share in his worship of
The Spiritual Worship of the Baptized
In baptism, we begin sharing in Jesus' sacrifice of obedience to the
Father in solidarity with sinners. Baptism unites us to Jesus'
sacrificial death and newness of life. Saint Paul tells us in Romans
6:3-4, "Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into
Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?
Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so
that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the
Father, so we too might walk in newness of life." In union with
Christ and in the power of the Holy Spirit, we are enabled to offer
our life for God that involves dying to sin. Renunciation of sin and
faith in God form the fundamental worship and sacrifice of the
baptized, made possible by our sharing in the sacrifice of Jesus. In
this light we can understand Saint Paul's words in Romans 12:1, "I
appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of
God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and
acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship."
Like Jesus we are to offer a living sacrifice not made up of calves,
goats and grain but of lives dedicated to God. This living sacrifice
united with Christ's sacrifice builds up the Christian community as
well. 1 Peter 2:4 rightly states, "Come to him, a living stone,
though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God's sight,
and like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual
house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices
acceptable to God though Jesus Christ." It is evident that the
living sacrifice of the baptized includes ethical demands.
Saint Paul tells us that offering our bodies as a living sacrifice
will happen only if we are not conformed to this world but are
transformed by the renewing of our minds, so that we may discern
what is the will of God-what is good and acceptable and perfect (Rm
12:2). Conformity to the will of God is a key to the sacrifice of
life. It also involves living in genuine love, contributing to the
needs of others, rejoicing with those who rejoice, weeping with
those who weep (Rm 12:9-21). We are back where we started.
Jesus' sacrifice of obedience to the Father and communion with weak
sinners is the same sacrifice that the baptized are asked to offer
as a gift to the world. This is so because we have received his life
in baptism. And in every Eucharistic memorial of Christ's sacrifice,
we are taken up into its life-giving power so that we can share it
for the life of the world. It is ironic that during the public
ministry of Jesus, he was not always perceived as someone who
offered a sacrifice pleasing to God. Instead of being praised for
being obedient, he was frequently accused of transgressing the law
of God. No wonder, some people attributed his miracles to the power
of the prince of demons rather than to Divine intervention. His
critics even took his repeated claims of oneness with God as
blasphemy rather than as revelation of God's truth.
They concluded that God was as displeased with him as they were. He
was dangerous for the nation and the Temple. For indeed Jesus'
sacrifice of obedience took on a seemingly disobedient or irreverent
expression. It is interesting to note that quite often, Jesus was
denounced as a violator of God's law when he showed compassion for
the weak, the poor, the sick, the women, and public sinners. He
offered new life to those considered impure by eating and mingling
with them. He assured them that God was not distant and there was
hope in God's loving mercy.
But he himself got no mercy from his adversaries, only ridicule for
disobeying laws that were supposed to embody God's will. Jesus
suffered on account of his self-offering for those loved by God. But
he never wavered in his sacrifice. In the process he exposed the
false gods that people worshipped, erroneous notions of holiness and
the blindness of righteous people to the visitations of God. Jesus'
sacrifice uncovered the link between the worship of false gods and
insensitivity to the needy.
An idolater easily loses compassion for the weak. Though he was
judged, Jesus was the one actually judging the untrue worship that
kept people blind and deaf to the true God and the poor. The Church
that lives the life of Christ and offers his living sacrifice cannot
run away from its mission to unearth the false gods worshipped by
the world. How many people have exchanged the true God for idols
like profit, prestige, pleasure and control? Those who worship false
gods also dedicate their lives to them. In reality these false gods
To keep these false gods, their worshippers sacrifice other people's
lives and the earth. It is sad that those who worship dols sacrifice
other people while preserving themselves and their interests. How
many actory workers are being denied the right wages for the god of
profit? How many women are being sacrificed to the god of
domination? How many children are being sacrificed to the god of
lust? How many trees, rivers, hills are being sacrificed to the god
of "progress"? How many poor people are being sacrificed to the god
of greed? How many defenseless people are being sacrificed to the
god of national security?
The Church however must also constantly examine its fidelity to
Jesus' sacrifice of obedience to God and compassion for the poor.
Like those who opposed Jesus in the name of authentic religion, we
could be blind to God and neighbors because of selfrighteousness,
spiritual pride and rigidity of mind. Ecclesiastical customs and
persons, when naively and narrowly deified and glorified, might
become hindrances to true worship and compassion. I am disturbed
when some people who do not even know me personally conclude that my
being a bishop automatically makes me closer to God than they could
ever be. My words are God's words, my desires are God's, my anger is
God's, and my actions are God's. If I am not cautious, I might just
believe it and start demanding the offerings of the best food and
wine, money, car, house, adulation and submission.
After all, I am "God!" I might take so much delight in my stature
and its benefits that I might end up being callous to the needs of
the poor and the earth. I remember an experience in the market of
our town of Imus, the seat of our diocese. One Saturday morning I
went to monitor the prices of goods and the condition of the simple
market vendors. I saw a woman selling fruit and vegetables in a
corner. She was one of those who went to Sunday Mass regularly. It
was only 10 o'clock in the morning but she was already closing her
store. So I asked her the reason. She told me, "I belong to a prayer
group. We have a big assembly this afternoon.
Some tasks were assigned to me. So I want to be there early." Upon
hearing this, the pragmatic side of me surfaced. I responded, "The
Lord will understand if you extend your working hours. You have a
family to support. You can benefit from additional income. I am sure
the Lord will understand." With a smile, she said, "But Bishop, the
Lord has been faithful to me. The Lord has always been there for us.
We may not be rich but we have enough to live by. Why will I fear?"
Then looking at me tenderly, she said, "Are you not a Bishop? Are
you not supposed to be encouraging me in faith?" I was quite
embarrassed. But for me it was an experience of spiritual worship.
I, the religiously and culturally accepted presence of God was
revealed to be a faltering representation of God.
That simple woman, offering herself to God in trust for love of her
family, became for me the manifestation of the presence of God. She
had brought the Eucharistic sacrifice and Jesus' spiritual worship
from the elegant Cathedral to the noise and dirt of the market
place. God must have been well pleased.
This leads me to the final part of my conference. Let us briefly
reflect on adoration. Worship is so intimately related to adoration
that they could be considered as one.
The sacrifice or spiritual worship of Jesus on the cross is his
supreme act of adoration. In the Eucharist, the Church joins Jesus
in adoring the God of life. But the practice of Eucharistic
adoration enlivens some features of worship. We believe that the
presence of Christ in the Eucharist continues beyond the liturgy. At
any time we can adore the Blessed Sacrament and join the Lord's
self-offering to God for the life of the world.
Adoration connotes being present, resting, and beholding. In
adoration, we are present to Jesus whose sacrifice is ever present
to us. Abiding in him, we are assimilated more deeply into his
self-giving. Beholding Jesus, we receive and are transformed by the
mystery we adore. Eucharistic adoration is similar to standing at
the foot of the Cross of Jesus, being a witness to his sacrifice of
life and being renewed by it.
Aside from the Blessed Mother and the Beloved Disciple who kept
vigil with the dying Jesus, the Roman centurion who had been
watching over Jesus when he died could also be a model of adoration.
Probably the centurion guarded Jesus from his arrest to his death.
Seeing Jesus betrayed, arrested, accused, humiliated, stripped, and
brutally nailed to the cross, he surprisingly concluded, "This man
is innocent" (Lk 23:47), and "Truly, this is the Son of God" (Mt
27:54; Mk 15:39). Already hardened by many crucifixions he had
supervised, he must have seen something new in Jesus.
At the conclusion of a routine execution came a profession of faith
in Jesus.It was not just another crucifixion after all. It was the
manifestation of innocence and of the Son of God. We learn from the
centurion's "adoration" that Jesus' sacrifice of life cannot be
appreciated for what it truly is unless the horror of the cross is
confronted. Mark's gospel says the centurion stood facing Jesus.
Like any leader of guards, he kept careful watch over this criminal
Jesus. He did nothing but look at Jesus. Physical nearness was not
enough however. He had to be intent, vigilant and observant so that
he could account for every detail.
We learn from the centurion to face Jesus, to keep watch over him,
to behold him, to contemplate him. At first the centurion spent
hours watching over Jesus out of duty but ended up contemplating him
in truth. What did the centurion see? We can assume that he saw the
horror of suffering that preceded Jesus' death. He was an eyewitness
to the torment, humiliation and loneliness inflicted on Jesus when
friends betrayed and left him. He must have been shocked to see
Judas planting a seemingly caressing kiss that was in fact an act of
treachery. He probably wondered how swiftly a band of friends could
abandon their teacher to preserve their lives.
He heard the lies fabricated in the Sanhedrin and Pilate's surrender
to the crowd, despite the lack of a case against Jesus. He beheld
people ridiculing Jesus, spitting on him, stripping him and
crucifying him. He heard the painful cry, "My God, my God, why have
you forsaken me?" (Mk 15:34). The centurion saw incredible cruelty
from friends, leaders, and even from a distant God. Betrayal,
inhumanity, and viciousness continue up to our time in the many
crucifixions of the poor and of creation. We cannot help but wonder
why friends, leaders, and God are unresponsive.
But I also believe that in Jesus the centurion saw incredible love,
love for the God who had failed to remove this cup of suffering from
him, and love for neighbors. For his enemies, he begged the Father's
forgiveness (Lk 23:34). To a bandit he promised paradise (Lk 23:43).
For his mother he secured a new family (Jn 19:26-27). And to the God
who had abandoned him, he abandoned himself, "Father, into your
hands I commend my spirit" (Lk 23:46).
The centurion saw love blooming in the aridity of inhumanity. Amidst
the noise of ridicule and lies, this man Jesus uttered words of
fidelity and truth. Everywhere people were shouting "no" to Jesus,
but the centurion heard from Jesus only "yes" to the Father, "yes"
to neighbors, "yes" to mission. In this horrible cross of hatred and
violence, the centurion found love, unwavering love, a love that
refused to die, a love that was strong as steel against evil, yet
tender before the beloved.
Jesus remained faithful to his mission. Thus his death was
transformed into life. When we adore the Triune God in praise of the
sacrifice of Jesus, we are called to cry for the victims of the
indifference of sinful humanity and the helplessness of God. But we
also cry in gratitude for the hopeful unfolding of pure love in a
broken world. The cross, where the guilt of criminals was sealed,
confirmed the innocence of Jesus, the true worshipper of God. His
sacrificial worship was his untarnished love of God and profound
compassion for sinners. Jesus, who survived such horror with hope
and conquered such evil with tenderness and love, was not only
innocent. He also showed that he came from above.
The centurion believed that Jesus could have come only from God, his
Father. I visited a poor section of a parish that opened a eeding
program for malnourished children. The parents were required to
supervise the meal of their children. As I went around the crowded
noisy hall, a teenage girl who was gently feeding a young boy caught
my attention. She must his elder sister, I thought to myself. I
approached them and asked where their mother was. She was looking
for a job that day, I was told. So she sent her teenage daughter to
feed the boy.
Thinking that she must be as hungry as her brother, I asked, "Have
you eaten?" "No," she said, "I am not part of the program. I am
already thirteen." I was surprised at her honesty. For hungry
children, this was an opportunity to cheat in order to fill one's
stomach. But she remained honest. I responded, "I will instruct a
volunteer to give you lunch, if some food is left after all the
children have eaten." Thankful but embarrassed she said, "No,
Bishop. There are many other hungry children in this village. Give
the extra food to them." I was drawn into deep silence. "My God, my
God, why are these children going hungry?" I prayed. Yet I also
exclaimed, "I did not expect to see sharing and integrity in this
place of death.
Truly these are innocent children of God. There is hope for the
world." In Eucharistic adoration, let us join the centurion in
watching over Jesus and see what he has seen. Let us cringe in
horror at the sight of destructive evil. Let us marvel at the
reality of spotless ove, of pure sacrifice and worship. I wish that
Eucharistic adoration would lead us to know Jesus more as the
compassionate companion of many crucified peoples of today. Let us
spend time too with the multitudes of innocent victims of our time.
We might be able to touch Jesus who knows their tears and pain for
he has made them his own and has changed them into hope and love.
Watching over our suffering neighbors, we could be changed like the
centurion into discerners of truth and heralds of faith. And
hopefully when people behold how we bear others' crosses in love,
they too would see the face of innocence and the Son of God in us.
Let us adore Jesus who offered his life as a gift to the Father for
us sinners. Let us adore him for ourselves, for the poor, for the
earth, for the Church and for the life of the world.
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