Oblatio sequitur esse
For many years, we have been familiar with a saying of John Paul II that a man cannot become happy otherwise than through a sincere gift of oneself (according to Gaudium et Spes 24). One form of gift is sacrifice. St. Paul writes about this in the following way: “I beseech you, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good, what pleasing and perfect “(Rom 12: 1-2).
Referring to the words of the Vaticanum II Fr. Francis Blachnicki, one of the fathers of the pastoral and liturgical reform in Poland, adds that first one has to be an owner of oneself, that is, in a certain way to be an owner of one’s being, to then be able to sacrifice oneself: This way of owning oneself, in order to give oneself, must be consistently pursued to the end. It is an attitude of giving and the attitude of sacrificing one’s time, strength, wealth, etc. This attitude pushed to the ultimate limits of devotion literally means to give one’s lives in sacrifice. One has to be willing to die for others, for one’s brothers, and it is only when we go to the end of this road, we enter into the fullness of life – says Blachnicki.
The first part of this text will be based on a philosophical description of the human being, presented by Cardinal Karol Wojtyla, and expressed most fully in his work: “The Acting Person”. There we find the wording operari sequitur esse, which became the inspiration for me to develop a “theology of sacrifice” and referrers to the Wojtyla’s anthropology, combining both philosophical and theological approaches.
The above described attitude of giving and of sacrifice can be expressed in summary form by the Latin adagium, which is the title of my text: oblatio sequitur esse, and referrs also to Wojtyla’s thought. I will try to illustrate how the ability to sacrifice oneself – especially to God – is a well-defined quality of being human.
1. The concept of oblation
The word oblatio comes from the Latin verb offerre, i.e. to offer. Oblation is close to such expressions as sacrifice, gift of oneself, holocaust, and consecration.
In the tradition of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, the concept of oblation for many years has been the subject of deep reflection. Oblation is here synonymous with religious vows, thus we speak about “perpetual oblation”. The Dictionary of Oblate Values says that oblation means an act by which the Christian under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit gives himself to God (p. 671). The gift of oneself is a condition a Christian comes to when they are aided by the grace of God and reflects, on a permanent basis, his surrender to God in all dimensions of the person: thought, will and action. This gift of oneself is a true oblation. Consecration is a form of an oblation, which involves the future that is entrusted into God’s hands either by an internal decision, or by external act, oral or written. Entrusting is the attitude of surrender to everything that happens, every situation authorized by God, which affects one’s existence.
Oblation is an attitude of trust, as proposed by St. Ignatius of Loyola at the end of his Spiritual Exercises, as well as similarly many other masters of the spiritual life. The Oblates make such surrender to the hands of Mary in their daily prayers. This involves a special fervor and intensity of priestly love and zeal in most difficult and demanding works.
The biblical basis of oblation is found in the Synoptic Gospels. Jesus, in his person, reveals a new type of oblation, which involves the whole person, because it gives his life as ransom for many (Mk 10, 45); and teaches that even his disciples are called to this kind of sacrifice (Mt 10, 39). Jesus’ oblation is unique and is perpetuated in the Eucharist. Human oblation is always done through the oblation of Christ, it has therefore Christological foundation.
The desire for a permanent oblation may result in a person entering the religious life, where vows are seen as a form of a definitive oblation. Perpetual vows express the will of a person of total submission to God and an irrevocable offering of oneself.
2. Anthropological foundation
To analyze the conditions to be met by a human person in order to fulfill the act of oblation, I turn now to the philosophical thought of Karol Wojtyla. In carrying out the existential insight into the human condition, he points out that the human being (esse) is determined by two processes:
- vegetative level, which is characterized by a high degree unawareness (e.g. heartbeat),
- the experiential level in which a person experiences that he or she is the author of one’s acts.
At the level of experience we encounter consciousness, which emerges as a basis for responsible action. This fact distinguishes the vegetative dynamism from conscious human actions. In classical philosophy there is a division between human act and act of the human. Wojtyla describes this division as imprecise, because every human act (actus humanus) is at the same time an act of the human (actus hominis). What can help to better distinguish the difference of both concepts is the moment of causation, i.e., the human capacity for experiencing the fact that one is the cause of one’s own actions. In this way, every conscious act engages the whole person, not just one’s mind.
The experience of the causality that we see in humans appears to be the basic criterion by which the human person can make differentiations between what only happens, from what is the proper act of a person (action). The human person, and especially one’s moral values, becomes the first material (subject) of one’s own creativity.
3. Offerre (oblatio) sequitur esse
The fundamental truth about the human being, according to Wojtyla, is that one is first an existing being, and only secondarily an acting being. To give oneself, one must first and foremost exist. Wojtyla refers to the teachings of St. Thomas Aquinas, who distinguishes the essence from the existence, while pointing out to the contingency of the latter. The existence occupies a privileged place as an act. Any dynamics that occur in the human person as an entity remains secondary to the original dynamism, which is one’s existence that is esse.
Oblatio sequitur esse because the presence of an act of offering oneself depends on the existence of the human being. The basis of all human activity is one’s nature (humanity), which permeates the entire person.
What is the way of human existence? Any dynamics in the human person, being associated with humanity (nature and subject), is also really personal. There is no place for real affirmation of the human person without acknowledging the fact of one’s existence – and even the right to exist.
It can be argued that the understanding of the human being as a subject and as a value (as a gift) assumes a pre-existing ontological structure of the person. Axiological human understanding must be preceded by understanding on the ontological level.
Using the principles of St. Thomas Aquinas, particularly distinguishing between essence and existence, we can conclude that all actions and acts are integrated into the person. The element that connects what just happens in us and our conscious actions, as mentioned above, is our very existence (esse). To be able to sacrifice means first to just be!
One of the most important conditions of being (esse), for someone who has the ability to sacrifice oneself, is freedom. An encounter with another person is the beginning, the birth, of a responsible freedom. Freedom allows boundaries, because each person is limited by the freedom of others. John Paul II said that individual freedom is inseparable from freedom of all other people, so that there is no freedom without solidarity.
As previously mentioned, according to Wojtyla, the human person fulfills him/herself through the moral good of their actions. Moreover, without reference to God one cannot protect liberty against fraud. Human freedom is a condition whereby it is possible to praise God through others, in dialogue with “you” and God, for His part, does not rule out human freedom, but instead God raises it to the peak of perfection.
4. Oblatio as a way fulfilling one’s life
The human person is ontologically marked by the Highest Good in such a way that one cannot be fulfilled as a person other than through boundless love and responsibility. Wojtyla says that to fulfill oneself and to be happy is almost the same reality; to be a fulfilled human being and realizing that being a person means to be good, are very close.
The conditions set for fulfilling oneself and one’s readiness to self-sacrifice are primarily truth and freedom. Following in the footsteps of Wojtyla, we can conclude that the fulfillment of a person in action points to the close relationship between freedom and truth. This is an anthropological basis for self-fulfillment. A mere liberty does not lead to the ability of offering oneself, but is its condition sine qua non. The issue at stake here is not the very possibility of being autonomous, but of liberating oneself within oneself in order to fulfill one’s human existence by truth. The fulfillment of freedom in the truth, or on the basis of the relationship to the truth, is equivalent to self-actualization and brings a true happiness in the dimension of the person.
A person fulfills oneself if they use well one’s freedom – i.e. does so in the light of truth and the true good is reflected through a good conscience. Freedom comes about through the desire and choice of true good. The human person is called to victory over oneself, over what restrains one’s free will and makes it impossible to live in truth and love. Such is the condition for fulfilling oneself, which is accomplished by acts of moral goodness. Truth and freedom are the basis for the possibility of self-offering (oblatio) through the love of God and another human being.
It is essential for human happiness to have relationships with other people, because participation (solidarity in being human) unites people, and this brings about happiness – to the highest extent, in relation to God. The highest form of happiness for a Christian is union with God in love and total sacrifice of oneself (oblatio).
The ability to sacrifice oneself is possible through the structure associated with the experience of action, the transcendence of the person in action. On this basis we come to the conclusion that freedom and responsibility are the conditions of sacrificing oneself in the love of God. Freedom oriented towards truth is acquired with great difficulty. Pope Francis adds in this context that in order for a person to come to maturity, which is to achieve the ability of truly free and responsible decisions, requires enormous time and patience.
We can express this truth differently and perhaps even more profoundly: the human person cannot be truer than in loving – free to be responsible. Freedom without responsibility is the antithesis of love. That is a great call to the affirmation of the human person and one’s neighbor. Towards the fullness of freedom leads a radical act of love, expressed most fully by oblation, which largely depends the meaningfulness of human existence.
5. Theology of oblatio
A general rule is that the more healthy and mature a person is in both mental and moral dimensions, the easier it is to develop within the spiritual life. When a person is healthy in nature, it becomes easier to receive grace. This grace does not destroy one’s nature, but perfects it as belief in God does not exempt one from their obligation of achieving maturity and develop their talents. Union with God and personal happiness also depends on the degree of integration of the personality and the quality of interpersonal relationships. Grace, in a sense, facilitates maturation of the human psyche. A fully mature Christian will also normally be a mature human being who has defeated his self-centeredness and is opened to transcendence and solidarity. The Gospel proposes to people a new dignity as a child of God, and the ability to offer oneself up in love (oblatio).
Looking at the human person we find the fact of being created, which includes both the existence of the spiritual and corporeal. The human soul is revealed through physicality – for example, through facial expressions and other forms of non-verbal communication. The most important type of affective messages, motivations, intentions or passions are often communicated through nonverbal language.
The body on the other hand covers the spirit and remains impenetrable for recognition. The soul reveals itself through the body in an ambiguous way and its understanding requires a careful reasoning based on knowledge of where the acts come from in order to come to know the existence and nature of the soul. The body also appears as fragile, prone to injury and disease and puts forth many challenges that rely on controlling inclinations and impulses.
Looking at the human person from the point of view of theology, it is necessary to mention also the reality of sin; such is the human condition. Sin is a very personal act, but cannot be reduced solely to the act of an individual, or to their totals. Each sin is an implicitly contained attitude toward another, which determines a person’s life. Sin interferes with one’s relationship with the whole of creation, but also with the spiritual world, and finally with God. The source of sin is pride, revealing a desire to become independent from God and to take his place and is often expressed in the desire for immediate pleasure. The human person is still tempted to make the world his first idol, despite many moments of feeling its inadequacy.
The Word of God gives the human person the ability to accept this basic tear, which is an excessive attachment to one’s own I. Thanks to the adoption in faith of a painful truth about human sinfulness one can in the way of love, by a gift of oneself, become in this world more and more the image of God.
The human person inevitably is confronted with one’s own finitude and suffering. If in this situation one rests solely on the strength of one’s own I, a person will not be able to escape from despair against the threat of one’s demise. However, if one begins to exceed one’s own “self” and take the risk of loving servitude, one finds a new meaning to one’s existence that this world cannot take away, as Jesus says.
The human person is a being who is fulfilled by making out of oneself a gift for others (GS 24). The human person is one’s own property only when one is one’s own master, and further, when one gives oneself to others. Internal fulfillment of a person is made in the space between “me” and “you”.
The human person cannot live without love. One remains an incomprehensible being, meaningless, if one does not encounter love; if one does not experience it; if one does not love; if one does not participate in it.
Spiritual development proceeds through reciprocal influence of supernatural communion, the gift of God’s grace, and the specific human personality. This becomes a gift of God and a human effort. Each person has unique gifts and abilities, but on the other hand, is shaped by influences from the environment. Maintaining an appropriate direction to grow in this context requires considerable effort on the part of the human person.
As a creature the human person still encounters all sorts of limitations of existence, yet on the other hand, as a spiritual being is able to transcend many of them. The human spirit is open – especially to receive God. The soul is not identical to God, but it has something of the divine limitlessness, is a kind of vast empty space that demands to be filled. The human person never satisfies something less than God, and in the sense of action a total gift of oneself. The nature of love is the desire to entrust one’s life to the person one loves. In this sense, obedience lies in the human nature.
The human person is spiritually mature to the extent to which one is able to cross one’s limits. This is particularly true of psycho-physical limitations. The body, when healthy, does not draw attention to itself, however when the body is sick, it will. Through the body a person can enter into relationship with other things, especially other people. The human person is not created to remain in captivity of his own body, but to transcend it. The very word existence indicates a move towards the outside (ex). In a way only the one who is capable of such a move, is truly free, because being a human is apparent the most when it is being for others.
The ability to sacrifice oneself in the name of Christian love (oblatio) is one of the most beautiful characteristics of holiness. This ability is not a natural gift a person receives when coming into the world. It is rather a task to be completed and an ability to be achieved through God’s grace. As illustrated in this text the first is the existence (esse) of the human person, and only from this form of existence flows action. The peak of human action is love, and even more specifically the ability to sacrifice oneself through the love of God (oblatio). Given the complicated human esse, the challenge to be ready to sacrifice oneself is a task that never ends.
The primary step in the implementation of the main task of spiritual life is to achieve the ability of being an owner of oneself, in short, authentic freedom. Freedom shall be responsible and bound by the truth, especially by revealed truth.
Cooperating with grace, the human person becomes first occasionally capable of acting out of love, which also means sacrificing oneself in different situations. In this way, the human person is capable of specific oblative acts. As one grows in freedom and truth, i.e. as one becomes more an owner of oneself, the human person comes gradually to an oblative attitude and constant disposal of giving oneself in love to God and to people.
Being one’s owner in offering oneself makes oblatio an attitude that becomes a source of happiness for the person. The joy of this gift is the result of a long process of maturation in the Christian life, which reaches its fulfillment in personal holiness.
Andrzej JASTRZEBSKI, OMI