Book Review: Divine Love Made Flesh by Raymond Leo Cardinal Burke

Jun 15th, 2012 | By | Category: Blog Posts

Raymond Leo Cardinal Burke began his episcopacy as bishop of La Crosse, Wisconsin, in 1995. As part of his leadership of his flock, then Bishop Burke consecrated his diocese to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. In 2003 he was then named Archbishop of St. Louis, Missouri. Like he had done in his pastoral leadership of La Crosse, then Archbishop Burke consecrated the Archdiocese of St. Louis to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. In 2008, Cardinal Burke was called to serve the Holy Father in Rome as the Prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, which is a call to leadership of the highest court in the Catholic Church. On November 10th, 2010, Pope Benedict XVI made him a Cardinal in the Catholic Church. In the Liturgical Calendar of the Latin Church, June 15th marks the Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus. In honor of Cardinal Burke’s great devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the following book review of Cardinal Burke’s first book Divine Love Made Flesh is dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus on this Feast.

One might imagine that holding such an auspicious title in the court of canon law and ecclesiastical tribunals would lead Cardinal Burke to write his first book about some moral issue, with judgment towards a specific sin of our day that troubles the world. Or perhaps he would choose to write on some political theme, with power struggles and the like. But this is not what we find in Raymond Cardinal Burke’s Divine Love Made Flesh. Instead, we have a glimpse into the heart of a pastor speaking to his flock, reaching out with a heart to open the faithful to key writings on the Eucharist by the two most recent Popes of Rome. Cardinal Burke uses two apostolic letters from Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI to reflect upon the holy mystery of God becoming flesh both through the Incarnation over two thousand years ago, and through the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist.

The first major section of Divine Love Made Flesh is based upon the last papal encyclical of Blessed Pope John Paul II, Ecclesia de Eucharistia, “On the Eucharist in its Relationship to the Church,” which was published in 2003 and can be read at the Vatican website here. The second major section of Divine Love Made Flesh is based upon Sacramentum Caritatis, Pope Benedict XVI’s Apostolic Exhortation released in 2007 and available at the Vatican website here.

Divine Love Made Flesh is a series of meditations on these two papal letters, as they both resonate with each other concerning one key message: the reality of the Eucharist speaks to all of life. That Love Himself would become flesh in the Person of Jesus Christ at the Incarnation and through the mystery of the Eucharist is not a message of a mere forgiveness of sins. Instead, we see the Eucharistic Presence of God Himself as the path to life, love and unity. Cardinal Burke takes what can be heavy reading at times, coming from the pens of these two great Popes and scholars, and he clarifies and expands upon the two to make these letters something from which everyone can benefit. This work of love shows us something of Cardinal Burke’s heart for all of us.

In Divine Love Made Flesh, we hear the words of a spiritual father speaking to his children, pointing them to the one thing which is most needful. The words of the papal letters used as the basis for Cardinal Burke’s own writing are beautiful on their own, but one might find reading them on their own challenging. Even if this is not the case, Cardinal Burke’s comments expand on the apostolic letters on the Eucharist to help us see their relevance today. In explaining the one message of these two letters, Divine Love Made Flesh emphasizes again and again that the Eucharist is far more than something which Catholics hold to as a “means of grace.” Instead, as the book title states, as Catholics we believe that divine love is made flesh when Christ our God returns to His faithful in the form of bread and wine, to abide in those who partake of Him.

In meditating upon Ecclesia de Eucharistia and Sacramentum Caritatis, Cardinal Burke demonstrates again and again the Holy Eucharist is the solution for all of life. Pope John Paul II’s reflections are focused on the way the Church is built up by the Eucharist, and as such he offers many mystical and liturgical reflections on the way even architecture ought to reflect the majesty of God made present through the Eucharist. All of our attitudes towards prayer and devotion have a focus on the Blessed Sacrament, which is so often termed “the source and summit of our salvation.” The chapters on Ecclesia de Eucharistia end with a Marian reflection, as she who gave birth to God the Word received Christ bodily in a way that presages all of us in our own reception of Christ through the Eucharist. Thinking upon this provides an unbreakable unity to us as we consider God becoming Man so that Man might become Divinized. As partakers of the Eucharist, we share in the One Body of Christ and become one with Christ Himself, which unifies us in Him who is the Truth.

The depth of this unifying power is spelled out so clearly in Cardinal Burke’s reflection on Ecclesia de Eucharistia, when he states:

The Holy Eucharist binds brothers and sisters in Christ in the deepest possible unity, far beyond any merely human bond. Participation in the Eucharistic Sacrifice and Banquet is not merely sharing a meal together. Rather, it is sharing in the divine communion which alone can bring mankind to unity and peace.

There is in us, at one and the same time, the deepest desire of communion with one another and the tendency to division, what Blessed Pope John Paul calls the “seeds of disunity,” due to original sin and our actual sins. The Holy Eucharist fulfills our desire for unity with one another in a way beyond all our imagining; it makes us one with each other in the divine Son of God. Our unity with one another has its origin in God. It cannot be destroyed by any human force and has its eternal fulfillment in the life which is to come.

Cardinal Burke

Similar reflections on Pope Benedict XVI’s Sacramentum Caritatis continue to emphasize the way in which our faith is in a real sense centered upon the Eucharist. All of the holy sacramental mysteries can be related to the Eucharist. No marriage, no consecrated celibacy, no penance, no anointing of the sick, no baptism or confirmation can be understood without the Eucharistic presence, for all of the ways in which we grow close to Christ have this parallel to the Eucharist. We are washed in baptism so that we may put on Christ and receive Him. We are sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit so that God the Son may be worthily received. We ask God for mercy and healing that Christ may come to us. In holy matrimony, we unite ourselves to God to reflect the love of God and to form a domestic Church, which is fruitful and loving, like God Himself. The Eucharist also serves to unify the husband and wife, as Christ is their common Bond, and their Life. In the case of holy orders, we see a reflection of Christ in the consecration of the ordained person to God, and via the priesthood and episcopacy, we experience the Eucharist made present in our world today through the ministry of priests and bishops. In consecrated celibacy, the Eucharist brings a nuptial link between the celibate and Christ their true Spouse, who loves and is present to them. The Eucharist is in so many ways the centerpiece of the Christian faith, as Cardinal Burke’s reflections help us to see.

Sacramentum Caritatis also reflects on the fact that for us wholly to receive the Eucharist, we must understand the importance of liturgical practices, both with regard to our understanding and participation. Cardinal Burke writes:

What is required for my own “fruitful participation” in the Sacred Liturgy? First of all, there must be conversion of life to Christ. “Active participation in the Eucharistic Liturgy can hardly be expected if one approaches it superficially, without an examination of his or her life.” The Holy Father mentions three specific means by which the conversion of life necessary for participation in the Holy Mass is cultivated: “Recollection and silence for at least a few moments before the beginning of the liturgy,” the Eucharistic fast, and sacramental Confession. Active participation in the Eucharistic Sacrifice necessarily means active participation “in the life of the Church as a whole, including a missionary commitment to bring Christ’s love into the life of society.”

We participate most fully in the Holy Mass when we personally receive our Lord in Holy Communion. Presence at the Holy Mass, however, does not confer “a right or even an obligation to approach the table of the Eucharist.” If a person cannot receive Holy Communion, for whatever reason, he is still required to participate in the Holy Mass. His participation “remains necessary, important, meaningful and fruitful.” Pope Benedict XVI urges the faithful, who find themselves in a situation in which they cannot receive Holy Communion, “to cultivate a desire for full union with Christ through the practice of spiritual communion, praised by Pope John Paul II and recommended by saints who were masters of the spiritual life.”

These reflections and others in Divine Love Made Flesh dispel the notion that communion should be open, as it is not even open to all Catholics, let alone non-Catholic Christians. The motivation for the Catholic teaching that receiving the Eucharist is not a right, however, is shown to be due not to malice or judgment, but love and protection of those who do not receive, for the Church’s disciplines seek to prevent those from partaking in an unworthy matter. Further, witnessing the mystery of the Holy Eucharist is good for all souls who observe it, even if they do not receive. When, for example, non-Catholics and Catholics who are not in a valid marriage are not presently allowed to partake of the Eucharist itself, there is still a blessed union that can occur for these individuals. Practices such as Eucharistic Adoration and spiritual communion are ways to stand in the presence of God made flesh through the Eucharist. They also allow those who are not currently predisposed to receive the Eucharist to pray and ask God to make them able to receive the Body and Blood of Christ in the future.

Cardinal Burke’s closing reflections on Sacramentum Caritatis consider the consequences of being ready to participate and receive the Eucharist. Perhaps no one could have put it better than St. Augustine, whose classic statement forms the basis for this section of the book. In the following passage, Cardinal Burke writes to help us see how the Eucharist is the fulfillment of all of our desire for love, unity, and holiness:

Our Holy Father recalls a passage from the Confessions of Saint Augustine regarding the Holy Eucharist. Saint Augustine writes about the different effect of consuming the Heavenly Bread of the Holy Eucharist in comparison with the effect of eating earthly food. Earthly food is assimilated into our very being; it becomes a part of us. The Body of Christ, the Heavenly Food of our earthly pilgrimage, on the contrary, transforms us into the Food we consume, that is, Christ Whom we receive in Holy Communion.

The Holy Eucharist “expresses at once both the origin and the fulfilment of the new and definitive worship of God.” Participation in the Holy Eucharist is the most perfect action of worship which we can offer to God. It is, in fact, God the Father’s most perfect gift to us in our Lord Jesus Christ. At the same time, it is the fullness of our Christian life, for, in the Eucharistic Sacrifice, we unite our hearts, our lives, fully with Christ, pouring out our life in selfless and ever purer love, that is, Christlike love.

That we are called to become the One whom we receive is the great call to be, as St. Peter puts it, “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4). The Divine One who is Love was made Flesh to allow us to eat His Body and drink His Precious Blood, and thereby to become the One whom we receive. This uniting to God is unfathomable, but is the center of our faith. Cardinal Burke’s writings bring us to contemplate this beautiful mystery and call us to receive Christ.

These words speak so deeply to the fragmentation of our modern society, and to the fact that the Eucharist nourishes us in so many ways. As Catholics, we find our participation in the Holy Eucharist to be the answer to the lack of peace and unity in our day. By participation in the divine life itself, our differences are overcome and the life of God fills our hearts.

To those who are not Catholics, the Church holds out the same offer, and it is something which called out to me when I first started attending Catholic liturgies as a Presbyterian. The Eucharistic presence was what all of my life needed, and it is our prayer at Called To Communion that that call can be answered by all of our readers (Catholic and non-Catholic alike) with a resounding yes to God, present to us via the Holy Eucharist.

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  1. Jonathan,

    A beautiful appetizer of His Eminence’s work. Thank you for reviewing it! I was edified by the brief passage on the union effected by the Eucharist, stronger than any natural bond, stronger than death, buried to spring forth most strongly in the Resurrection. The interdependence of conversion to Christ in all of life and participation in Mass was also good think about.

    You mentioned that +Burke makes the papal encyclicals more accessible. Could any generally educated Protestant layman pick it up and read it?


  2. Hi Barrett,
    I think anyone at any educational level can read Divine Love Made Flesh and profit from it. More educated Protestants such as those who are Reformed will also see the heart of our Holy Fathers Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI by reading Ecclesia de Eucharistia and Sacramentum Caritatis. Cardinal Burke’s writings makes both of these letters more accessible and there is a great personal touch added to them.

    In Christ,
    J. Andrew

  3. I just purchased this book and love it. Thank you for your review. Without it I might not have purchased it. With the bread of Life discourse coming up in this cycle (in the Latin Rite, anyway) there will be much I can use to preach on.

  4. CAI The Eucharist with Cardinal Raymond Burke from Thomas McKenna on Vimeo.

  5. Fantastic work. Anything from the pen of His Eminence lands on my shelf.
    Thanks for the fine review.

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