I mentioned in last week’s reflection that we would dive a little deeper into other ways we can prepare for the coming of Jesus, both at Christmas and at His second coming at a time unknown to us now. This week, we’ll take a closer look at how the Sacramental life helps to prepare us.
Most of us likely know the seven Sacraments of our Catholic Church: Baptism, Reconciliation, Confirmation, Eucharist, Marriage, Holy Orders, and Anointing of the Sick. However, what is a Sacrament and how do these things fit into the picture? Each of these seven Sacraments were instituted by Jesus Christ Himself and are the means by which visible actions and physical matter communicate supernatural realities and His grace to us and allow us to participate in the divine life (CCCC #1131). When we find ourselves in Heaven, we will no longer need physical signs because we will actually be living in the supernatural reality of the Trinity (CCCC #1130). For now, while we are here, Jesus wants to give us a foretaste of what is to come. These Sacraments are literal opportunities to participate in the divine life–in our physical bodies–while we exist in this physical world on Earth until everything is fulfilled at the end. So, with a proper understanding of the Sacraments, it is not difficult to see how regular participation in the Sacraments prepares us for what we will experience much more fully in the eternal Kingdom.
It is also important to understand that the more we participate in the divine life while we’re here, the more our intimacy with Him deepens. The more our intimacy deepens, the more grace we receive. The more grace we receive and the closer we get to God, the less likely we are to sin. So, there is a direct connection between taking advantage of the gifts of the Sacraments and rooting out the tendency toward sin in our lives, helping us to better prepare our hearts for Him.
Let’s take a brief look at how we can practically deepen our sacramental life through each particular Sacrament. As you read through, think about what changes you can make in your life with regard to each Sacrament.
Just because your Baptism happened soon after you were born, or at least a while ago if you converted, doesn’t mean it’s not something to contemplate as you prepare yourself for Jesus. At your Baptism, you received a share in the mission of Jesus Christ as priest, prophet, and king (CCCC #1268). Through your priestly office, you imitate Christ by offering sacrifice to God. You offer your work and your sufferings for the good of the Body of Christ. Through your prophetic office, you proclaim the good news of the coming of Jesus, both in word and deed. Through your royal office, you imitate the servant leadership that Christ brought through His kingship. So, you can continue to reap the grace of your Baptism every day by consciously participating in the mission that was given to you during the rite. Offer everything you do to God, live your life with God at the center of it, and humbly serve your neighbor.
Reconciliation is one of the Sacraments in which we may participate in the actual rite as often as we would like and it is the immediate remedy available to us when we do sin. As I mentioned last week, sin can either damage (venial sin) or completely sever (mortal sin) our relationship with God. However, God is infinitely merciful and loving and wants us to have plentiful opportunities to restore our relationship with Him. If we are truly sorry for our sins, we can go to the Sacrament of Reconciliation and offer God our sorrow for having offended Him and He will forgive us and wipe the slate clean. Our relationship with Him is then restored and we receive more abundant grace from Him (CCCC #1468). The requirement for receiving this Sacrament is only once per year, but the more we participate in it, the more beneficial it is for us spiritually. Frequent confessions lead us away from our sinful behaviors and declutters our soul from sin and its effects when Jesus does decide to take us to Heaven.
Like Baptism, Confirmation should not be forgotten after the day it’s received. Confirmation is the Sacrament which completes what began at our Baptism as it seals or “confirms” our relationship with Jesus Christ and empowers our unified mission with Him. In Confirmation, the Holy Spirit bestows all of His gifts on you, which strengthens your ability to carry out the mission given to you at your Baptism with His help (CCCC #1271). We can continue to take advantage of the grace conferred to us at our Confirmation by calling upon the Holy Spirit to help us to do the right thing at the right time, particularly when it’s most difficult. “I can do all things in him who strengthens me,” (Phil 4:13). We can frequently call upon the Holy Spirit to utilize the gifts He’s given us in the sacrament (Is 11:1-2) and ask Him to grow the fruits of the Holy Spirit (Gal.5:22-23) in our lives to help us this Advent.
Like Reconciliation, the Eucharist is one of the Sacraments we can receive about as often as we would like as the “source and summit of the Christian life,” (CCCC #1324). In other words, the Eucharist is the supreme Sacrament and we are so blessed to be able to partake in it so regularly! The Eucharist is the efficacious sign of the sacrifice Jesus made for us on Calvary and it unites us with the heavenly liturgy. It anticipates our communion with our Lord in Heaven (CCCC #1325). When we receive the Eucharist, we receive Jesus completely in His Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity. Our bodies are completely united to His Body as we become the living tabernacle that holds Him. There is no greater source of grace than this so we should partake in this Sacrament as often as possible. Again, the minimum requirement for receiving this Sacrament is once per year, although we are required to go to Mass every Sunday and every holy day of obligation. Could you imagine, though, the effects if every Catholic took another opportunity or two every week in the gift of daily Mass to physically receive Jesus? Perhaps you can start by spending time in Adoration or making a daily spiritual communion in which you intentionally join yourself in prayer with all those receiving the Blessed Sacrament on that day.
If you are (or have been) sacramentally married, I probably do not have to tell you that the Sacrament of Matrimony provides daily opportunities to receive God’s grace. In marriage, one sinner is joined in an indissoluble union to another sinner. At face value, it sounds like a disaster waiting to happen. However, it is through this Sacrament that God uses the physical world to mirror the supernatural reality of His love for His people, only in the supernatural sense, the love and union is perfect. By offering ourselves completely to the other and by making constant sacrifice, God rewards us with His grace. Additionally, we find ourselves with daily opportunities to practice the mercy and forgiveness that God offers to us every day, which purifies and perfects our souls. The point of marriage is for two imperfect people to help each other get to heaven (CCCC #1640-1641)! How have you and your spouse helped one another to be prepared for the coming of Jesus and how could you do better?
Holy Orders enables particular men to partake in the mission given to them (priest, prophet, king) at Baptism more fully than the laity (CCCC #1581). Priests receive special grace at their ordination which strengthens them in this mission, and they can draw on that grace every day through prayer and sacrifice. It is important to note here, that we can help our priests tremendously by praying for them. Their mission is a big one and as we all know too well, they are subject to temptation and sin as much as any of us are. We should put as much effort into praying for our priests as we put into praying for ourselves and our loved ones, if not more, as they have the unique ability to lead many souls toward or away from the path to salvation. They are helping us to prepare, are we helping them?
Anointing of the Sick
Finally, Anointing of the Sick is a Sacrament that we may use at particular times when the grace would be beneficial for us, namely when we are gravely ill (including suffering from mental illness or about to have surgery), elderly, or our passing to eternal life is imminent (CCCC #1517). Through this Sacrament, Christ the Physician may heal us if that is His will. However, it is here when the Holy Spirit can also provide us with strength, peace, and courage to face whatever is to come (CCCC #1520). This Sacrament is similar to Advent in that it is “preparation for the final journey” (CCCC #1523) as the person spiritually readies himself to meet Jesus face to face and account for the efforts he’s made in life to love God and neighbor.
As we proceed through the remainder of this Advent, we can think of it as a time where we allow God to heal the sickness in our souls through sin and we call upon the Holy Spirit to strengthen us through the graces we’ve received through all of the Sacraments as we journey closer and closer to the coming of Jesus.