Monday, July 21, 2014

Why Do We Have Sacraments?

We have sacraments because God desires to transform us and bring about an encounter with His grace and life in a way that is considerate of how we learn, and communicate, and grow as human persons. I realize that’s somewhat of a mouthful, so let me unpack it a little.

If God so desired, He could forgive our sins or fortify us against temptation and the devil without giving us any indication of what He’s done. Likewise, Jesus could have forgiven the blind man — or even all blind people — by simply thinking it. But Jesus did not work that way. God does not work that way.


I posit that the reason God does not work that way is because we are sensual beings who live in a material world. We are not pure spirits who operate solely at the level of the intellect. We are spirit and body brought inextricably together. This means that we learn and perceive and communicate through our senses. We must see things, taste things, hear things, feel things, smell things in order to know them.

God, out of His great love for us, is willing to go to great lengths, even seemingly absurd lengths, to reach out to us, to convert us, to give us an experience of Himself. And so, He accommodates our sensuality. He made us to have this material aspect of ourselves and to live in this material world. He has shown by His example that He is not above moving within the things He has made in order to change us, to bring about that sacred encounter.

He did this most absurdly by becoming one of us. Who would have thought that one day our great and mighty God, so entirely perfect, and powerful, and “other-than”, would become one of us? Even today, the Moslems cannot even accept that He would be a Father to us, let alone that He would become one of us! But, God is willing to be absurd, to do the unimaginable thing, in order to save us. He did it through the Incarnation, and He does it today through the sacraments.

If God can bring about this sacred encounter by becoming one of us, then surely He can meet us in the waters of baptism, the words of absolution, the touch of the bishop, the bread and wine, the holy oil, incense, etc. And, through Jesus’ ministry of healing and reconciliation, we see that this is what God desires.

As I said, Jesus did not heal the blind man by simply thinking it. What did He do instead? He spit in the dirt, mixed it into mud, rubbed this mud on the man’s eyes, and told him to go wash in the Pool of Siloam. He used the stuff of this world to change that man’s life forever. Through the sacraments, Jesus does the same for us.

Pax Christi,

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