Share with us the joy and grace of the Year of Mercy through Emmanuel. If you are a subscriber to the Magazine of Eucharistic Spirituality, thank you. If not, consider subscribing or doing so as a gift to a friend.
When I was in the final year of studies before ordination ― more years ago than I care to admit ― the esteemed Karl Rahner came to the south side of Chicago to deliver an address on the inscrutability of God according to Duns Scotus and Thomas Aquinas. Having spent long hours laboring over his writings in A Rahner Reader, one of the staples of our seminary education, I attended Rahner’s lecture, awestruck to be in his presence.
I do not pretend to have grasped the subtleties of Rahner’s thought, but to this day I still have a great appreciation of his core teachings, deepened by books like Harvey D. Egan’s Karl Rahner: The Mystic of Everyday Life (1998) and Rahner’s last work, Prayers for a Lifetime, published in 1989, five years after his death. I return to them often.
In Prayers for a Lifetime, Rahner pens a series of brief reflections on the Seven Last Words of Christ. I found the section on the first word, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Lk 23:34), especially powerful. Speaking to the crucified Christ, Rahner says:
“A feeling of despair at the sight of such wickedness comes over you, a feeling more terrible than all the pain in your body. Are there men capable of such wickedness? Do you have anything in common with such men as this? Can one man torture another to death like this? Torture him to death with lies, wickedness, treachery, hypocrisy, and malice, and yet keep up the appearance of righteousness, the air of innocence, the pose of impartial judges? Does God let this happen in his world?” (49).
The response of the Savior is so different from what we would expect of any human being. “But you said: ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.’ You are really a mystery, O Jesus. Where in all your tortured and tormented soul did you find a place for words like these? Yes, you are a mystery. You love your enemies. You recommend them to your Father. You pray for them. And my Lord, if it is not blasphemous to say it, you pardon them with the most implausible excuse there is: they did not know what they were doing. Really they knew it all’ (49).
Rahner, man of prayer, then moves to a profoundly personal plea: “Speak these merciful words of your boundless love over my sins also. Say to the Father in my behalf: ‘Forgive him, for he did not know what he was doing.’ Really I did know it. I knew all of it. But your love I did not know” (49-50).
We who are privileged to minister the mystery of the Eucharist at the table and receive his body and blood in Communion touch the depths of Christ’s boundless love in this sacrament. It is mercy . . . and life . . . and healing for sinners, for you and me and all of us together.
In this Issue
You’ll find much for fruitful reading and meditation in this issue, which is certainly right for the final weeks of Lent, the Sacred Triduum, Easter, and the Easter Season.
We feature two lengthy reflections, both of which I suggest you read in smaller sections over several sittings. The first, on the Jewish prophet Jonah, reveals a person whose ministry and underlying attitudes represent the very antithesis of divine mercy. Owen Cummings helps us to understand Jonah’s world and the biblical story’s enduring challenge. The second is Capuchin Ed Foley’s beautiful examination of the theology and liturgy of The Friday We Call Good.
Ending where we began, Dennis Billy, CSsR, introduces us to the theology and eucharistic teaching of the late Jesuit theologian Karl Rahner.
God’s blessings on you in this paschal season!
Anthony Schueller, SSS