From: Come, Creator Spirit
This truth has direct impact on our life. If the Holy Spirit is the one who, so to say, makes the act of self-giving of the Three-In-One God present in our world and prolongs it in our history, it must follow that he is the only one who can help us to make a gift of our own life and live it as a “living sacrifice.” This one truth gathers together and sums up the entire scope of the Christian life and purpose; it is, for Saint Paul, the only adequate response to Christ’s Passover: “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,” (Romans 12:1).
The Old Testament laid down that no one was to appear before God “empty-handed.” However, the need to make oblation was given expression by means of the offering of things: Offerings were made to God of fruits or animals, eternal gifts and sacrifices, even though the inward disposition of the giver was considered vital (see Samuel 15:22). Jesus brought about a new kind of offering and a new kind of sacrifice: the offering and the sacrifice of self. He went to the Father “not with the blood of goats and calves, but his own blood,” (Hebrews 9:12), offering himself as “a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God,” (Ephesians 5:2). Saint Paul recommends that we should all “try to imitate God” and follow Christ’s example in this, (see Ephesians 5:1). God says to every one of us what Paul says to his disciples: “I do not want what is yours but you,” (2 Corinthians 12:14).
It is in this that the whole purpose of the existence of human beings on Earth is realized. Why would God have given us the gift of life, if not that we in our turn should have something great and beautiful to offer him as gift in return? Saint Irenaeus writes:
We make an offering to God, not as to one who needs what we are able to offer, but in order to thank him by means of his very own gifts to us and in so doing to make creation holy. It is not God who has a need for something that we can offer to him, but we ourselves who have a need to offer something to him.
When the moment of our death is upon us, all that will remain to us is what we have given, for in being given it is transformed into something eternal. One of Tagore’s poems is about a beggar telling his story:
I had gone a-begging from door to door in the village path, when thy golden chariot appeared in the distance like a gorgeous dream and I wondered who was this King of all kings!
My hope rose high and methought my evil days were at an end, and I stood waiting for alms to be given unasked and for wealth scattered on all sides in the dust.
The chariot stopped where I stood. Thy glance fell on me and thou camest down with a smile. I felt that the luck of my life had come at last. Then of a sudden thou didst hold out thy right hand and say, “What has thou to give to me?”
Ah, what a kingly jest was it to open thy palm to a beggar to beg! I was confounded and stood undecided, and them from my wallet I slowly took out the least little grain of corn and gave to thee.
But how great my surprise when at the day’s end I emptied my bag on the floor to find a least little gram of gold among the poor heap. I bitterly wept and wished that I had had the heart to give thee my all.
Whatever is not given is lost because, as we ourselves must one day die, all that we have clung to, to the very end, will die for us, but what we have given away will escape corruption for it has been sent ahead into eternity.
This holds true for every Christian. In a special way it holds true for people who live consecrated lives. What is the very soul of religious consecration, if not to offer one’s life as a gift and a living oblation to God? This is how one of the ancient Fathers explained religious vows:
The Fathers were not content simply to keep the commandments: they also offered gifts to God. Let me tell you how. Christ’s commands were given to every Christian, and every Christian is obliged to keep them. One might say that they are like the taxes that we owe to the king. If someone were to say, “I will not pay the king’s tax,” would he be able to escape punishment? But there are in the world some great and famous people who not only pay their taxes to the king, but who offer him gifts over and above, and they are accorded great honor, great reward and dignity. So too the Father: they not only kept the commandments but also offered gifts to God. Virginity and poverty are gifts given to God, freely and not out of obligation. For nowhere is it written, “Do not take a wife. Do not beget children.”
When speaking of offering one’s life as a gift and a living sacrifice, we must be careful not to forget the basic law of sacrifice. In the Christian way there are always two considerations in any gift or sacrifice: to whom is it addressed, and whom will it benefit. The addressee is always God and the beneficiary is always one’s neighbor. Christ “gave himself up for us, as a fragrant offering and a sacrifice to God.” He gave himself “to God,” but “for us.” We too ought to offer our life to God, but for the sake of the brethren, (see 1 John 3:16).
God has no need of our gifts and sacrifices. It is possible for us to offer our life to God and to renew the offering every morning, and to live all the time in the expectation that God would come and take to himself what we have offered, even perhaps in a special way, like martyrdom. All, however, to no avail: God accepts our offering as genuine, and sends a needy brother to “take delivery” of the gift we have promised, but that is what we least expect and we do not recognize the needy one at all.
We ourselves are not, however, in a position to make a gift of our life to God for our brothers and sisters unless we have the special help of the Holy Spirit. Jesus, as we have seen, offered himself to the Father “in the eternal Spirit” or “cooperante Sancto Spiritu” – with the cooperation of the Holy Spirit – as one of the ancient prayers of the Mass expresses it. Neither can his members offer themselves in any way but that. This is the reason why the liturgy insists on this very aspect, when it invokes the Holy Spirit on the assembly after the Consecration: “May he make us an everlasting gift to you.”
Christ has given us the Mass as a way that provides every believer with the opportunity to offer himself or herself to the Father in union with him. Jesus, lifted up on the cross, “draws us all to himself,” (see John 12:32), not in the sense of a general attraction of glances and drawing of hearts to him, but in the sense that he unites us most intimately with himself in his very own offering, so that we all together make one single offering with him. We are like the drops of water that become indistinguishably one with the wine in the chalice and are consecrated to become the one cup, one unique drink of salvation. That way, the humble offering that we make of ourselves is given an immense value. A very simple way to give ourselves a real sense of participation in all of this is to repeat aloud with the celebrant, or at least in our heart, the doxology at the end of the Eucharistic Prayer, savoring the full meaning of each word: “Through him, with him, in him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all glory and honor are yours, Almighty Father, forever and ever. Amen.”