(This is Neil.) I will probably provide excerpts or summaries from some of the papers presented at the meeting of the Colloquium on Religion and Violence earlier this year in Amsterdam. But, for now, we can look at a short homily delivered as part of the proceedings by the Jesuit theologian Robert Daly.
Fr Daly focuses on Luke 10, particularly where Jesus says, “I have seen Satan fall like lightning from the sky.” What does the end of the dominion of Satan mean? Daly says, “Sacrifice, in its old, traditional sense, just doesn’t work any more.”
But, if that is true, what do we mean when we speak of the sacrifice of Christ, which is re-presented in what we can consequently call the sacrifice of the Eucharist?
Fr Daly suggests that there is a “special Christian meaning of sacrifice,” distinct from sacrifice in the “history-of-religions sense of the word,” and this meaning actually “practical” and “very down-to-earth.” He will even give us a “little story.”
Before I share part of his homily, I want to ask a question about his story. It is clear that Fr Daly wants to get away from the “history-of-religions” definition of sacrifice as “a gift to God in which the gift is destroyed or consumed” that would direct our attention to the cruel torture of Jesus on the Cross (see an earlier piece in America here). Instead, he claims, the “Christian meaning of sacrifice” should draw us to the free and self-giving response of the Son to the Father, a response that we ourselves can enter into through the Holy Spirit.
But it would seem that the response of the Son to the Father necessarily involves suffering because of the world to which he was sent. I think that Fr Daly’s analogy should involve “the woman” continuing to love “the man” despite his inability to recognize her love, and suffering his rejection and condemnation. But, ultimately, she enables him to return her love through coming back to show him the wounds that he himself inflicted, yet still forgiving him in spite of them.
Would this change the thrust of the “little story”? (Daly does point out that their relationship is initially “self-serving” for the man.)
Here, then, is Fr Robert Daly, SJ:
I’m struggling now to turn this lecture into a homily, so, bear with me a bit more.
Of the many meanings that sacrifice has—and almost any use of the word involves several of these meanings, all overlapping and intermingling with each other, there is one special, specifically and uniquely Christian meaning. Skipping over lots of exposition, in order to get past the lecture and into the homily, this special Christian meaning of sacrifice, unveiled to us in the Christ-event, can be summarized as follows;
Authentic Christian sacrifice begins with the self-gift/self-offering of the Father in the sending of the Son. It continues in what we can metaphorically call a second “moment” in the totally free, totally loving, self-offering “response” of the Son, in his humanity, and in the Holy Spirit, to the Father and for us. This now begins to be Christian sacrifice when we, in a kind of third “moment,” in the power of the very same Spirit that was in Jesus, begin to enter into that profoundly interpersonal relationship of Father, Son, and Spirit that is the very life of God. In other words, authentic Christian sacrifice is the ultimate, joyously fulfilling perfection of loving interpersonal being.
Put that way, it sounds forbiddingly abstruse. Forgive me! I’m a theologian. I can’t help myself.
But actually, it’s something very practical, very down-to-earth, and something that you all already know, and know by personal experience. If that were not so, you wouldn’t even be here. One little story will show what I mean.
It’s the story of a man. But it could be the story of a woman; change the sex and some insignificant details and the point is the same. This man is young, strong, and bright. He’s in confident control of his own life and of the things and of the people in his life. Everything and everyone around him is to be used, as he wills and for his own pleasure. But then one day, he notices that this woman, whom he is stringing along in a self-serving relationship, is really in love with him. She is offering herself to him totally, holding nothing back. Because he’s smart, he knows he is now faced with a decision. He can continue to string her along, maybe letting all the world think that they are in a nice, mutually self-giving relationship, enjoying it for what is there, but ready to break it off whenever it suits him. Or, he can begin to return that love, begin to give himself in return. If he does, he knows that he is making himself vulnerable, just as she is. If he does, he knows he is saying goodbye to his former gods of power, control, and me-first self-indulgence. He is putting himself in position to become a victim.
But if he does choose to begin to return love, he senses that he is entering into something that is also gloriously fulfilling. It is the something that lies behind all the love stories one encounters in novels, film and TV, even the mindless situation comedies. It is the kind of happiness and personal fulfillment that, up to now, he thought existed only in the minds of foolish, unrealistic dreamers. But precisely that is what is now, actually, being offered to him.
People across all nations, cultures, and religions are constantly being faced with this kind of choice. When they say yes to genuine, self-giving love, the Christian theologian will say that they are accepting the invitation to begin to share in the perfection of the interpersonal love of Father, Son and Spirit. The Girardian will say that they are beginning to dismantle the scapegoat mechanism. But however it is described, whenever people really say yes to love, then, indeed, Satan is falling like lightning from the sky. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.