On Sacraments

In the sacraments, spirit and matter “kiss.” Heaven and earth embrace in a union that will never end. -Christopher West, Theology of the Body for Beginners

As a young child I was taught implicitly that what really matters is Spirit and what God hates is flesh. Flesh was called the sin principle in us, but at the end of the day, it really lent itself more to being understood as material life, matter, and thus i grew up thinking like many people do, that what matters is spirits.

The sacraments have undone this for me, as has a good theological uinderstanding that the Creator God is the Redeemer God, who redeems CREATION, not just the spirits of creation. Bodies matter, reality matters, matter, matters.

Spirit and matter must surely kiss, because they do no less at the incarnation, and continue to do so in the bread and wine which Jesus called his flesh and blood. This bread and this wine is no ordinary matter of celebration it is when heaven meets earth, the end meets now, and the fullness of the reign of God grasps his creatures in their hearts and bodies perpetuating them in holiness.

Spirit and matter continue to kiss so in the bond of marriage in which the Spiritual reality of the Triune Lord is revealed through the loving and kenotic relationships of the husband and wife. The bond of marriage unites fully a man to his wife so that between them is a physical portrait of the Love of the Trinity, Christ stands between them and through them and in them, perpetuating his love for all Creation, the Father’s love for all Creation and the Spirit’s love for all creation in this act. It is a total union of love, at least it aspires to this, whose fullness is embodied in the inner-Trinitarian life.

This love is not a passing emotion, or a temporary bond that can be dissolved as is the tragic case in our world’s view of marriage. It is a permanent bond that as a sacrament rewrites the history of the parties concerned. In encountering this sacrament, what transpires is that the entire familial life not just of two parties involved but of the entire families of the man and woman and their relationships and friendships are drawn into a new embrace and connection. Marriage rewrites our personal histories so that our biological family is and in some sense always has been and always will be united to those of our spouses.

Spirit and matter carry on their loving embrace in the process of ordination where we recognize the authority of Christ over us, and his call to make us all into images of himself. Just as the mission of Christ was to be set apart for the sake of His ministry, that same ministry of Christ is carried on in the priesthood. Both married priests and celibate priests embody the life of Christ on earth in different and fundamentally necessary ways. Showing forth both a full physical foretaste of Christ’s union to the Church, and a spiritual one through the gift of celibacy.

Confession is a place where our bodies connect with Heaven in a way that shall never end as well. Confession is a beautiful process of reconciliation. Where Protestants in many stripes have “rededication” a process that is confession without the sacramental reality, Catholicism offers a fully embodied and spiritually alive process of rededication called penance/Reconciliation which happens through the gift of confession.

Sin does not merely wound our neighbor, it weakens us and both our bodies and souls need healing from such sins as these. The sinner must not only be sorry for their sin, they must set things right in accordance with God’s Loving-Justice and therefore with great joy and hope penance/reconciliation is the ministry of all Christians. The purpose of the sacrament is to unite our feelings of grief to our bodies and thereby turn repentance into a full act of recapitulation of the sins we have committed by undoing them from within through good works that spread the light of Love back into the world where we had previously spread darkness.Thus the material world is put in contact with the reign of god through our penitent souls and the bodies which carry out the reconciliation as a consequence of that penitential grief.

Then there is the sacrament of Healing, also known as Extreme Unction. The Anointing of the Sick is for the benefit of the whole person, and thereby continues what West called the Kiss of Heaven and Earth. We find this point demonstrated in the liturgical texts of the sacramental celebration: “Make this oil a remedy for all who are anointed with it; heal them in body, in soul and in spirit, and deliver them from every affliction.”

My Systematic Theology professor, Dr. Green, taught us that Heaven isn’t just a spatial spiritual reality out there. Heaven is an already-not-yet, and a time in the future. Heaven is not just a place, but a time when the reign of God is made full. We get inbreakings of this eschatological reality through this sacrament. Our bodies and souls are anointed for healing, and this happens by the spirit through the holy oil.

The prayer of the Church asks that sin and the remnants of sin be taken away, so that the person may be made whole. It also implores a restoration of health, but always in order that bodily healing may bring greater union with God through the increase of grace. For the Catholic Church, healing and health are never an ends, but a means unto discipleship.

Now we have a personal favorite, and one that I will undergo, hopefully this coming Easter, if my priest allows: Confirmation. This is given as a sacramental seal of the Holy Spirit. The deposit of fatih given at baptism is strengthened and deepened as our bodies embrace the gift of the Holy Spirit in a new way and are strengthened in faith by it. Heaven and earth met when the disciples prayed for boldness which is the origin of this sacrament, after their own baptism and the first days of the early church, after Pentecost there was a second major outpouring of the Spirit upon the apostles to give them renewed strength and vigor for their life unto Christ. Heaven meets us through the Spirit in our bodies, empowering us for further boldness and service, by confirming us with the blessing of the bishop to go forth and make disciples with boldness.

I saved this one for last intentionally, I’m not sure why. I know they’re not in a usual order, but that’s just me. I like baptism. Baptism is a great sacrament, along with the Eucharist it is one of the most important sacraments for the Christian life. This is the First sacrament of the Christian life, and no others may be had without it. Just as Israel passed through the sea and ate the manna, so too we pass through the waters of baptism and then can partake of Christ Himself.

He himself cleanses our bodies from all sins having sanctified forever all waters of baptism through his own. As the Church Fathers said, He was baptized to cleanse the waters, that we might be cleansed through baptism.

This cleansing is for the purification not just of souls, or spirits, but of bodies and souls and spirits. The entire person is subject to regeneration when showered with waters from the baptismal font of rejuvenation. It is then we are ushered unto life in Christ.

Christ finally embraces us to draw us into all the other aforementioned ways He might grab hold of our bodies and souls, but He must first reach us through the waters and pull us into the new nation which He has created around Himself.

The end of reality is summarised in these things. In the End, the Great Final End of all things, reality shall look like this. Reality shall be fully and finally embraced by God, and Heaven and Earth shall be sacramentally married, Christ shall fill all things, and all things shall fully be within Him. Not one thing shall be without Him in the end, and reality itself shall become fully sacramental, all things conveying heaven to all others kenotically, and perichoretically. This will be a truly never ending union, which is already present in our midst through the seven sacraments we have right now and all the other sacramental realities breaking into our world day to day. Parents loving children selflessly, children returning the love of their parents selflessly, motherhood, fatherhood, friendship, relationships, truly theological love, charity, faith, hope. All these things are wonderful embodiments of the future kingdom, and against such as these, there is no law.

That’s what I hope for. That’s why I am becoming Catholic.


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