VI. Sacramental signs and the celebration of rest [233 – 237]

I have begun to publish sections and segments of the Popes letter on OUR network of blogs as well as on Linkedin & Quora & Newsvine and will add my comments over time. Pappa francescos 180 page letter is much less about religion than it is about nature and the planet earth. He proposes some fairly radical yet simple and understandable solutions for humankind. It is way past time to start paying attention to what we are all doing or allowing others to do.

233. The universe unfolds in God, who fills it
completely. Hence, there is a mystical meaning
to be found in a leaf, in a mountain trail, in a
dewdrop, in a poor person’s face.159 The ideal is

159 The spiritual writer Ali al-Khawas stresses from his
own experience the need not to put too much distance between
the creatures of the world and the interior experience of God.
As he puts it: “Prejudice should not have us criticize those who
seek ecstasy in music or poetry. There is a subtle mystery in

not only to pass from the exterior to the interior
to discover the action of God in the soul, but
also to discover God in all things. Saint Bonaventure
teaches us that “contemplation deepens the
more we feel the working of God’s grace within
our hearts, and the better we learn to encounter
God in creatures outside ourselves”.160

234. Saint John of the Cross taught that all the
goodness present in the realities and experiences
of this world “is present in God eminently
and infinitely, or more properly, in each of these
sublime realities is God”.161 This is not because
the finite things of this world are really divine,
but because the mystic experiences the intimate
connection between God and all beings, and thus
feels that “all things are God”.162 Standing awestruck
before a mountain, he or she cannot separate
this experience from God, and perceives that
the interior awe being lived has to be entrusted
to the Lord: “Mountains have heights and they
are plentiful, vast, beautiful, graceful, bright and
fragrant. These mountains are what my Beloved
is to me. Lonely valleys are quiet, pleasant, cool,
each of the movements and sounds of this world. The initiate
will capture what is being said when the wind blows, the trees
sway, water flows, flies buzz, doors creak, birds sing, or in the
sound of strings or flutes, the sighs of the sick, the groans of
the afflicted...” (Eva De Vitray-Meyerovitch [ed.], Anthologie
du soufisme, Paris 1978, 200).

160 In II Sent., 23, 2, 3.

161 Cántico Espiritual, XIV, 5.

162 Ibid.
shady and flowing with fresh water; in the variety
of their groves and in the sweet song of
the birds, they afford abundant recreation and
delight to the senses, and in their solitude and silence,
they refresh us and give rest. These valleys
are what my Beloved is to me”.163

235. The Sacraments are a privileged way in
which nature is taken up by God to become a
means of mediating supernatural life. Through
our worship of God, we are invited to embrace
the world on a different plane. Water, oil, fire and
colours are taken up in all their symbolic power
and incorporated in our act of praise. The hand
that blesses is an instrument of God’s love and a
reflection of the closeness of Jesus Christ, who
came to accompany us on the journey of life.
Water poured over the body of a child in Baptism
is a sign of new life. Encountering God does not
mean fleeing from this world or turning our back
on nature. This is especially clear in the spirituality
of the Christian East. “Beauty, which in
the East is one of the best loved names expressing
the divine harmony and the model of humanity
transfigured, appears everywhere: in the
shape of a church, in the sounds, in the colours,
in the lights, in the scents”.164 For Christians, all
the creatures of the material universe find their

163 Ibid., XIV, 6-7.

164 John Paul II, Apostolic Letter Orientale Lumen (2 May
1995), 11: AAS 87 (1995), 757.

true meaning in the incarnate Word, for the Son
of God has incorporated in his person part of
the material world, planting in it a seed of definitive
transformation. “Christianity does not reject
matter. Rather, bodiliness is considered in all its
value in the liturgical act, whereby the human
body is disclosed in its inner nature as a temple
of the Holy Spirit and is united with the Lord
Jesus, who himself took a body for the world’s
salvation”.165

236. It is in the Eucharist that all that has been
created finds its greatest exaltation. Grace, which
tends to manifest itself tangibly, found unsurpassable
expression when God himself became
man and gave himself as food for his creatures.
The Lord, in the culmination of the mystery
of the Incarnation, chose to reach our intimate
depths through a fragment of matter. He comes
not from above, but from within, he comes that
we might find him in this world of ours. In the
Eucharist, fullness is already achieved; it is the
living centre of the universe, the overflowing
core of love and of inexhaustible life. Joined to
the incarnate Son, present in the Eucharist, the
whole cosmos gives thanks to God. Indeed the
Eucharist is itself an act of cosmic love: “Yes,
cosmic! Because even when it is celebrated on
the humble altar of a country church, the Eucharist
is always in some way celebrated on the altar

165 Ibid.

of the world”.166 The Eucharist joins heaven
and earth; it embraces and penetrates all creation.
The world which came forth from God’s hands
returns to him in blessed and undivided adoration:
in the bread of the Eucharist, “creation is
projected towards divinization, towards the holy
wedding feast, towards unification with the Creator
himself”.167 Thus, the Eucharist is also a
source of light and motivation for our concerns
for the environment, directing us to be stewards
of all creation.

237. On Sunday, our participation in the
Eucharist has special importance. Sunday, like
the Jewish Sabbath, is meant to be a day which
heals our relationships with God, with ourselves,
with others and with the world. Sunday is the day
of the Resurrection, the “first day” of the new
creation, whose first fruits are the Lord’s risen
humanity, the pledge of the final transfiguration
of all created reality. It also proclaims “man’s
eternal rest in God”.168 In this way, Christian
spirituality incorporates the value of relaxation
and festivity. We tend to demean contemplative
rest as something unproductive and unnecessary,
but this is to do away with the very thing which
is most important about work: its meaning. We

166 Id., Encyclical Letter Ecclesia de Eucharistia (17 April
2003), 8: AAS 95 (2003), 438.

167 Benedict XVI, Homily for the Mass of Corpus Domini
(15 June 2006): AAS 98 (2006), 513.

168 Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2175.

are called to include in our work a dimension of
receptivity and gratuity, which is quite different
from mere inactivity. Rather, it is another way of
working, which forms part of our very essence.
It protects human action from becoming empty
activism; it also prevents that unfettered greed
and sense of isolation which make us seek personal
gain to the detriment of all else. The law of
weekly rest forbade work on the seventh day, “so
that your ox and your donkey may have rest, and
the son of your maidservant, and the stranger,
may be refreshed” (Ex 23:12). Rest opens our
eyes to the larger picture and gives us renewed
sensitivity to the rights of others. And so the day
of rest, centred on the Eucharist, sheds it light
on the whole week, and motivates us to greater
concern for nature and the poor.

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