The Eucharist and Man's Hunger for Freedom

Author: Cardinal Karol Wojtyla


Cardinal Karol Wojtyla

We are reprinting the text of the homily delivered by Cardinal Karol Wojtyla, Archbishop of Krakow, during the International Eucharistic Congress in Philadelphia, on 3 August 1976. The text appeared originally in the 18 November 1976 issue of this paper.

"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me; he has sent me to announce good news to the poor, to proclaim release for prisoners, and recovery of sight for the blind; to let the broken victims go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favour." (Lk 4:18-19).

Such were the words of Jesus on the day when, according to Saint Luke, at the age of thirty he arose in the synagogue of Nazareth, facing his fellow countrymen officially for the first time. By these words he reveals his messianic mission. "Messiah" means "the Anointed One". And thus Israel, the People of the Old Covenant, is faced by the Messiah, by him whom the Father had "anointed with the Holy Spirit" (Acts 10:38) and "sent into the world" (Jn 3:17).

This same Jesus Christ today faces us all, the People of the New Covenant, here on American soil, in Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love, where the Eucharistic Congress is taking place. And again Jesus defines himself and his mission in the same way, for he had said to his disciples: "I am with you always, to the end of time." (Mt 28:20). He has instituted the Sacrament of his Body and Blood precisely in order to be, to be really and sacramentally (Trid. sess. XIII 1) with us. When we are gathered here in such numbers from all the parts of the world, it is therefore right to be with him (cf. Mk 3:14 Greek text), with the Eucharistic Jesus, in a special way. It is right to return to the words with which he described himself and his mission at the beginning of his work in Galilee: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he. has anointed me; he has sent me to announce good news to the poor, to proclaim release for all who are deprived of freedom" (cf. Lk 4:18-19).

The Eucharist is the food which satisfies man's deepest hunger. Created in the image and likeness of God himself (Gen 1:26), man can find the final appeasement of his hunger and fulfilment of his desires in God alone. "Our heart is not quiet until it rests in Thee" (St Augustine, Confessions I, 1). At the same time created from "the dust of the earth" (Gen 3:7) and placed among the creatures of the visible world, subjected to the laws of creation and even to some degree to the laws of nature (cf. Gen 8:20), man hungers in many ways. He hungers according to the demands of this earth whose master he was made (cf. Gen 1:26), owing to his freedom (cf. Gen 8:20).

We have a true vision of the man of our times and we speak truthfully of him, when, while remembering the physical hunger of millions of brothers, men of all continents, we intend to speak now of the hunger of the human soul, which is no less than the hunger for real freedom.

What this freedom is each of us knows to some extent, according to his own experience. It is the principal trait of humanity and the source of human dignity. We read in the Pastoral Constitution of the Second Vatican Council: "Our contemporaries make much of this freedom and pursue it eagerly, and rightly so... For its part, authentic freedom is an exceptional sign of the divine image within man. For God has willed that man be left 'in the hand of his own counsel' (Sir 15:14), so that he can seek his Creator spontaneously... Hence man's dignity demands that he act according to a conscious and free choice. Such a choice is personally motivated and promoted from within. It does not result from blind internal impulse nor from mere external pressure" (Gaudium et Spes, 17).

Freedom is at the same time offered to man and imposed upon him as a task. It is in the first place an attribute of the human person and in this sense it is a gift of the Creator and an endowment of human nature. For this reason it is also the lawful right of man; man has a right to freedom, to self-determination, to the choice of his life career, to acting according to his own convictions. Freedom has been given to man by his Creator in order to be used, and to be used well (cf. Gen 4:7). But man may not abuse his freedom (cf. Gal 4, 31-5, 1), for, as we know perfectly well from sad experience, he can abuse his liberty. He can do wrong because he is free (cf. 1 Pet 2:16).

But freedom has been given to him by his Creator not in order to commit what is evil (cf. Gal 5:13), but to do good. God also bestowed upon man understanding and conscience to show him what is good and what ought to be done, what is wrong and what ought to be avoided. God's commandments help our understanding and our conscience on their way. The greatest commandment — that of love — leads the way to the fullest use of liberty (cf. 1 Cor 9:19-22; 13:1-13). Freedom has been given to man in order to love, to love true good: to love God above all, to love man as his neighbour and brother (cf. Deut 6, 5; Lev 19, 18; Mk 12: 30-33 par). Those who obey this truth, this Gospel, the real disciples of Eternal Wisdom, achieve thus, as the Council puts it, a state of "royal freedom", for they follow "that King whom to serve is to reign" (Lumen Gentium 36).

Freedom is therefore offered to man and given to him as a task. He must not only possess it, but also conquer it. He must recognize the work of his life in a good use, in an increasingly good use of his liberty. This is the truly essential, the fundamental work on which the value and the sense of his whole life depend.

Jesus Christ who stands before us, as he did in the synagogue of Nazareth, to proclaim freedom to those who do not possess it, fulfils now what he has declared. In reality he teaches us and helps us to make a good use, the best possible use of our freedom (cf. Jn 8, 31; 36). He warns men while they are free and protects them from becoming slaves of their sins (cf. Rom 6:16), weaknesses and passions (cf. 2 Pet 19). He protects them from becoming slaves of the flesh, of self-indulgence, of money; he entreats them to be internally free, to remain themselves; and to allow neither their career nor riches and the applause of the world to enslave them (cf. Rom 6:12-14; also Mk 13:22 par).

Jesus Christ reveals in the deepest way that there exists in man's soul a real hunger for freedom and teaches him what that freedom consists in and how this hunger may be truly satisfied. Christ has been teaching this by his whole life; that was the continual lesson given by his person. He does not cease to give us this lesson, not only for the obvious reason that his deeds and words have been recorded in the Gospel, but above all because he remains with us in the Eucharist. "The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve" (Mk 10, 45 par.).

These words of Christ came true on Holy Thursday, while he was washing the feet of his disciples, and most of all on Calvary and in the Eucharist (cf. Lk 22:19; Gal 1:4; Eph 5:25). In this act he gave himself and continues giving himself utterly to God His Father and to men.

We all, who participate in the Eucharist, if we are to do it with the right interior attitude, must at the same time accept the messianic programme of liberation, according to which the best use of freedom is love (cf. 1 Cor 9: 19-22). And love itself is expressed in the service of God and man, in laying down one's life for one's brothers (cf. Jn 15:13).

The hunger for freedom passes through the heart of every man, and the richer the heart, the greater that hunger. The Eucharist is the chief source of the wealth contained in the human heart. For God, who in this Sacrament "gives himself wholly to us", through this spiritual Communion enriches man most magnificently and brings out from the secret of man's heart all the treasures which its Creator has enclosed in it.

In this way the Eucharist is the wealth of the poor, even of those who are poorest, and food for the hungry. The hunger for freedom passes also through the history of the human race, through the history of nations and peoples. It reveals their spiritual maturity and at the same time tests it.

This year is the bicentennial of the day when the hunger for freedom ripened in the American society and revealed itself in liberation and the Declaration of Independence of the United States. Tadeusz Kosciuszko and Kazimierz Pulaski, my compatriots, participated in this fight for independence. The heroes of the Polish nation became heroes of American independence. And all this took place at the time when the Polish Kingdom, a big state consisting of three nations, the Poles, the Lithuanians and the Ruthenians was beginning to lose its independence, and by degrees became the prey of its rapacious neighbours, Russia, Germany and Austria. At the same time while the United States of America were gaining independence, we were losing it for a period of more than a hundred years. And many heroic efforts and sacrifices, similar to those of Kosciuszko and Pulaski had been necessary to ripen anew the freedom of the nation, to test it before all the world and to express it in time by the independence of our country.

I wish to confess here, before the Eucharistic Jesus, that during those old struggles for liberty in the past twenty centuries and in the later ones of this century, he was our inspiration and our only hope. The faith in his resurrection from the dead after his Passion and death has never left us, and in spite of all kinds of distress and persecutions, it has created continually the will to live and the desire for freedom.

And thus Jesus Christ fulfilled his messianic promise, once given in Nazareth: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me: he has sent me to announce good news to the poor, to proclaim release for all who are deprived of freedom" (cf. Lk 4:18).

We believe that in the Gospel there is the full and fundamental programme of liberation of man (cf. Gal 4:31). Jesus Christ is the true prophet of men's freedom, and also of the liberty of nations and peoples, of all the oppressed who suffer from hunger for true freedom. Are we not witnesses in our times of the many-sided limitations and even of the deprivation of freedom of whole societies, nations and states? And all this is happening while colonial nations, up to now subjugated by others, have ripened to freedom and have achieved their independence, a fact which gladdens all those who really love liberty. But it is already being said that old forms of colonialism are being superseded by new ones. The Synod of Bishops spoke of it in the following terms in 1971: "Our action should be directed in the first place towards those men and nations, who owing to different forms of oppression and to the present character of our society are silent victims of injustice and are deprived of the possibility of making themselves heard" ("Injustice without Voice," in: Justice in the World).

And so the hunger for freedom continues to be unsatisfied. Individuals and societies, groups and social classes, and above all the peoples and nations of our twentieth century have acquired a more acute consciousness of the fact. The laws of human freedom have been more fully formulated, as has been the case of the law of nations; they have entered the constitutions and codes, the international declarations and conventions. But have they actually entered real life to the same extent?

In our times, on the background of the maturing social and human consciousness, the principle of the freedom of the human spirit, of the freedom of conscience, of the freedom of religion has become much more evident. The Second Vatican Council has expressed it in many places and especially in the separate Declaration on Religious Freedom. But is this principle really respected everywhere? Do we never meet with the case of those who are underprivileged because of their religious convictions? May we not even speak today of actual persecutions of those who confess their religion, especially Christians, persecuted as they were in the first centuries after Christ?

This is what the Declaration on Religious Freedom says on the subject: "Forms of government still exist under which, even though freedom of religious worship receives constitutional recognition, the powers of the government are engaged in the effort to deter citizens from professing religion and to make life difficult and dangerous for religious communities" (Dignitatis Humanae Personae, 15).

And so today we bring to this great community of confessors of the Eucharistic Christ, gathered at the Eucharistic Congress in Philadelphia, the whole hunger for freedom which permeates contemporary man and all humanity. In the name of Jesus Christ we have the right and the duty to demand true freedom for men and for peoples. We therefore bring this hunger for real freedom and deposit it on this altar. Not only a man, a priest, a bishop, but Christ himself is at this altar, he who through our ministration offers his unique and eternal sacrifice.

It is the sacrifice of all times. It is also the sacrifice of our twentieth century and of its last quarter. It contains everything of which the earthly existence of each man and of all people consists: "the joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men of this age" (Gauclium et Spes, 1). Christ, the Son of God, comes to them all and to all of us, as he had once come to the synagogue of Nazareth, and says:

— If you dwell within the revelation I have brought, you shall know the truth, and the truth will set you free (Jn 8:31).

— Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty (2 Cor 3:17).

— You were called to be free men. It was for liberty that Christ freed us (Gal 4:31).

— Live as free men; not however as though your freedom were there to provide a screen for wrongdoing, but as servants in God's service (1 Pet 2:16).

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
26 October 1978, page 8

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