Saturday, July 05, 2008

The Eucharist -- the Drug of Immortality and Life in Abundance

Homily of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI
Church of San Lorzenzo in Piscibus

March 9, 2008

We now come to today's Gospel, which is dedicated to an important, fundamental theme: What is life? What is death? How should one live? How should one die?

To enable us to understand better this mystery of life and Jesus' answer, St. John uses two different terms for this unique reality to suggest the different dimensions in this reality we call "life"; the word bíos and the word zoé.

Bíos, as can easily be understood, means this great biocosmos, this biosphere that extends from primitive single cells to the most organized and most developed organisms; this great tree of life where all the possibilities of this reality, bios, are developed. Man belongs to this tree of life; he is part of this cosmos of life that begins with a miracle: in inert matter a vital center develops, the reality of a living organism.

But although man is part of this great biocosmos, he transcends it, for he is also part of that reality which St. John calls zoé. It is a new level of life, in which the being is open to consciousness and knowledge. Of course, man is always man with all his dignity, even if he is in a comatose state, even if he is at the stage of an embryo, but if he lives only biologically, then all the potentialities of man's being cannot be realized and developed.

Man is called to open himself to new dimensions. He is a conscious being who knows. Certainly, animals have consciousness and knowledge too, but only of things that concern their biological life. Human consciousness goes further; the human being desires to know everything, all of reality, reality in its totality; he wants to know what his being is and what the world is. He thirsts for knowledge of the infinite, he desires to arrive at the source and font of life, he desires to drink at this fountain, to find life itself.

Thus, we have touched on a second dimension: man is not only a conscious being who knows; he also lives in a relationship of friendship and of love. In addition to the dimension of the knowledge of truth and being, and inseparable from it, exists the dimension of relationship, of love. And here, the human being comes closer to the source of life from which he wants to drink in order to have life in abundance, to have life itself.

We could say that science, and medicine in particular, is one great struggle for life. Ultimately, medicine is a search for an antidote to death, a quest for immortality.

But can we find the medicine that will assure us immortality? That is the question posed by the Gospel today.

Let us try to imagine what would happen if medicine did find this prescription against death, the prescription for immortality. Even in such a case, it would still have to do with medical means within the biosphere, medicine that is useful for our spiritual and human life, but by itself, still confined to the biosphere.

It is easy to imagine what would happen if man's biological life were without end, if man were immortal. We would find ourselves in an "old world," a world full of aged people, a world that would leave little room for the young, for the renewal of life. So we understand that this is not the immortality that we aspire to. This is not the possibility of drinking at the fountain of life that we all desire.

Precisely at this point, where on the one hand, we understand that we cannot hope for an infinite prolongation of biological life, and on the other hand, we desire to drink at the fountain of life to enjoy life without end, it is precisely at this point that the Lord intervenes. He speaks to us in the Gospel, saying: "I am the Resurrection and the Life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die."

"I am the Resurrection": To drink from the source of life is to enter into communion with this infinite love which is the source of life. In encountering Christ, we enter into contact -- better, into communion -- with life itself, and we have already crossed the threshold of death because, beyond biological life, we are in touch with true life.

The Church Fathers have called the Eucharist the drug of immortality. And so it is, for in the Eucharist we come into contact and communion with the Risen Body of Christ, we enter the space of life already raised, eternal life. Let us enter into communion with this Body which is enlivened by immortal life and thus, from this moment and forever, we will dwell in the space of life itself.

In this way, this Gospel is also a profound interpretation of what the Eucharist is and invites us to live truly on the Eucharist, to be able thus to be transformed into the communion of love. This is true life.

In John's Gospel, the Lord says: "I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly." Life in abundance is not as some think: to consume everything, to have all, to be able to do all that one wants. In that case we would live for inanimate things, we would live for death.

Life in abundance means being in communion with true life, with infinite love
. It is in this way that we truly enter into the abundance of life and also become bearers of life even for others.

Prisoners of war who had been in Russia for ten years or more, exposed to cold and hunger, would say upon returning: "I could survive because I knew I was being awaited. I knew there were persons who waited to see me back, that I was needed and awaited." This love that awaited them was the effective medicine of life against all ills.

In truth, we are all awaited. The Lord awaits us but more than that, He is present and holds His hand out to us. Let us take the Lord's hand and pray to him to grant that we may truly live, to live the abundance of life and thus also be able to communicate to our contemporaries this true life, this life in abundance. Amen.

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