Przywara, Eucharist and Work (2)

Father Erich Przywara, S.J. (1889–1972) was one of the most prolific theologians of the twentieth century whose wide-ranging contributions to theology and philosophy were esteemed by men of such stature as Ratzinger, von Balthasar, and Karl Barth. Though often appreciated for his philosophical contributions relating to the analogy of being, he also played a small part in the Liturgical Movement, both as a critic of what he perceived to be the aestheticizing tendencies of the Benedictine approach and as a contributor in a more Jesuit vein.

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  1. Eucharist and Work

In his first published volume, Eucharistie und Arbeit (1917), Przywara offers a fervent meditation on the nature of Christian work seen as a consequence of Eucharistic reception.

The Eucharist is the conduit through which Christ’s divine power seizes our mortal coil and transforms it into an instrument of his great Work of universal redemption: “For he wanders no more on Earth, as once he did in Galilee, in his visible Person. Now the Lord goes teaching and healing around the world through the work of the souls who receive him.”

a) Christ-Work

Taking his starting point in St. Paul’s litany of apostolic labors (2 Cor 11), Przywara shows how Eucharistic reception implies the thoroughgoing expression and performance of a Eucharistic logic in every aspect of our lives, the gradual transformation of our narrowly circumscribed human actions into the divine acts bearing the stamp of Christ’s universal redemptive mission in the Eucharist.

And Christ-work is a fiery work indeed. Przywara’s “downright Old-Testament” understanding of God blazes forth in his untiring condemnation of soft Christianity, with Biblical language mediated through the searing imagery of his Romantic German:

“God does not give his grace as a sweet indulgence or a bed of roses: a firebrand is he, blazing in heart and hands, until in the smithy of the human will the holy deed of work is hammered out, a sword of St. Michael, that flashed and smote in the battles of Heaven.

The work of Christ: not a dainty little chore; not work such as even the pagan in whom Christ does not live could perform; work that is worthy of a son of God who lives in you—Christ-work.

That is why the life of these souls must be a life of Christ, and their work a work of Christ.

This life and this work alone are to be the measure of your Eucharistic movement and the only authentic entrance card to the Eucharistic World Congress.

It is no sign of the true Christ to place our hands quietly in our lap and leave all the work up to God;

Boldly intervening, valiantly pressing forward, ceaselessly struggling onward—

This is the Eucharistic personality; for him there is no fear, no hesitation, no standing still, no resting satisfied; “more, always more”, this is his fiery watchword; precisely because the will of God is the foundation of the soul, its power is inexhaustible and its struggle is tireless; for as God is endless, so is his will endless, endless in width and depth and height.”

b) Holiness and Exterior Work

Work is only fruitful when it proceeds from holiness, which is the image of Christ in the soul, carefully hewn out in asceticism. Furthermore, personal holiness achieves its end in the formation of a Eucharistic culture, when man reaches out to carve Christ’s image into culture:

“Man’s soul must form its interior world according to his Image, so that it may renew the outer world in Him; all the outer work of culture must be rooted in the interior work of holiness, and all interior work toward holiness must radiate outward into the practical work of genuine culture, which in turn culminates in the sanctification of all humanity.”

c) The Universal Character of Eucharistic Work

The Eucharist configures and fires the soul toward the performance of divine acts: fashioning a “Eucharistic personality.” But inasmuch as Christ’s divine act of redemption was universal in scope, so the Christian worker working in sympathy with the Eucharist must also allow himself to be stretched into a universal, “Eucharistic personality,” a kenotic übermensch

“The universal savior of a universal work stretches the narrow individual soul into the dimensions of a world soul and its individual work into world-work. Through this widening of the individual soul and its work springs the growing Union of the one Body, which as the ‘body of Christ’ grows up into the image of Christ, but not into a frame of Christ, which is the aim of the limited individual soul’s work, but rather into a complete image of Christ: ‘to the measure of the full stature of Christ.’

The Eucharistic personality works to bring out the ideal form of Christ in every age and person, like a master craftsman who plies a block of marble. This work is universal in space, intruding itself—as Christ—into every cranny of the universe, excluding no task or circumstance in its embrace.

“So for Eucharistic exterior work there is no circumstance or field of work that could be unwonted, unholy, meaningless, or unprofitable.

Only one thing is unwonted: not to see Christ in everyone.

Only one thing is unholy: not to do everything for Christ.

Only that work that does not have Christ as its beginning, its content, and its end is meaningless and unprofitable.”

It is also universal in time. Each age has its work, and it would be a denial of the Eucharist’s universal power if one were to deem one age more apt that another:

“So Eucharistic exterior work, that is the exterior work of the Christian, knows no artificial distinction of times. It neither flees from the present into an idealized past, nor loses itself in the fantastical Fata Morgana of a “coming age,” wasting precious years of work. It is not fettered by the notions and working methods of an age narrowly circumscribed. It knows that no time is ideally good, and no time excessively bad, that no time is wholly a progress and that no time is wholly a decline. It rejoices with the hearts of its contemporaries, extending its able hands to help them, and cheerfully as a bell-stroke its chisel blow resounds, carving out a fresh image of Christ from precious marble.”

d) The Eucharist and Suffering

It is unavoidable that the Eucharistic personality, like Christ, will suffer for its work. Opposed by the complacent majority who resist this incorporation into the divine Act, he must live a life of suffering and rejection, a constant Golgotha.

“It is practically impossible for the Everyman to overcome his limitations, his distaste for what is new, his natural inclinations. The masses’ Crucifige in Pilate’s Praetorium is their resounding salute to anyone who out of sacred spiritual obligation does not follow the paths of everyone else.”

As a result, he will find himself opposed at every turn. But this opposition is the heart of the Eucharistic logic:

“This is the spirit of Christ for those elect souls, that on the heights of their spiritual vision they dig a well of endless capacity for sacrifice and death, a constant Gethsemane and Golgotha, and that they enlarge themselves to an extent of boundless love and goodness for their uncomprehending and envious persecutors.”

The Eucharistic personality–the “leader-soul”–should even expect to find himself opposed. But this opposition is mean to purify his work of any traces of self-love:

“A community in which a particular tradition of mediocrity stifled all fresh initiative would be the opposite of a “Body of Christ.” The disputes that emerge from the disagreement between the independent spirit and the mediocre majority are not meant to suppress or eliminate him, but by means of the mediocre majority’s formation, to foster his selfless understanding and humble submission.

The Eucharistic soul’s greater capacity to give must flow into a greater love for the persecuting majority:

“Christ, living in the leader soul, leads it ever deeper into the depths of a perfect self-abandonment, expands dark nights of austerity before it and demands an ever mightier love from the well-springs of its sufferings. It must smite the water of life from rocks of opposition, the blaze of its charity must be darkened by the heavenly night of its life.”

The duty of the “Everyman” is to make himself disposable to the Eucharistic soul, who is the “leader soul” of his age, the master craftsman who fleshes out Christ’s Eucharistic image in every soul, institution, time, and place, until all is led into the captivity of Christ.

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