June 20, 2011

The Book of Life and Corpus Christi

16th Century Camaldolese Hermit, Paul Giustiniani, in his reflections on the role of study in the discipline of the Christian life, insists that for those who want to grow in prayer Christ Jesus must remain at the center of any study of the Sacred Page.  He does not say that all other study is without any merit whatsoever, and his words are mainly aimed at keeping hermits engaged in prayer.  He believes, however, in the primacy of contemplation in the life of the Church.  Thus, there is an important reminder here for all those who study theology:

Christ is the only master and the only book, the book that contains all divine wisdom.  My book should be Jesus Christ on the Cross: a book entirely written with His precious Blood that is the price of my soul and the redemption of the world.  The five chapters of this book are the five sacred wounds.  I want to study that one book alone, and other books only insofar as they comment on it... Jesus Christ is a book in which is summed up, for those who know how to read the writing, all doctrine, all discipline, all controversy, all treatises, all exhortations, which have been or will be done in conformity with God from the beginning to the end of the World.  Dom Jean Leclercq, Alone with God, Bloomingdale, OH: Ercam Editions (1961, 1989, rev. 2008) 73-74.

This passage speaks specifically to the contemplative intellectuality characteristic of our Christian faith, an intellectuality growing from an encounter with the Living God.  It is oriented to a kind of knowing that does not stop at the level of concept or even intuition.  It is a kind of knowing that is deeper than all feeling.  It is more like the kind of knowing that is shared between friends that love one another.  It is the wisdom of a heart to heart with the Living God.  This kind of knowing is essential for the Christian life.  Our faith is relational or it is dead. It is for union with God or it is nothing. We could interpret Giustiniani's words to apply to the exercise of our love informed faith in any study of sacred doctrine: this study is life giving to the degree that it deepens and extends our relationship with Christ.

As we approach the celebration of Corpus Christi -- I can think of no better way to study the Book of Life than through our participation at Mass, our communion with his Body and Blood and our adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.  The Word, who was in the beginning, waits to disclose his wisdom to us in the Eucharist.  When we participate in the liturgy with our hearts attentive to our Crucified God, when we receive in communion this Living Bread, when we adore the Risen Lord who promised to be with us until the end of time: we are studying the mystery of Christ not only with our intellects but with our hearts.